Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection (PS3) review

Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection gathers together the core games of the Metal Gear series, giving fans a Metal Gear fix like no other and preserving a slice of gaming history.
Photo of Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection (PS3)

For more than 25 years, the Metal Gear series has been surprising gamers, redefining staid gaming clichés, and popularizing the stealth genre that now includes popular titles such as Assassin’s Creed III (PS3) and Batman: Arkham City. Now, Konami has gathered up the core games of the series, releasing all eight games for the PlayStation 3 under one title, Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection. Whether you’re a Metal Gear veteran or just coming to the series for the first time, this collection of critically acclaimed fan favorites is highly recommended.

Sneaking Through History
I first played Metal Gear when I was 6 or 7, playing on an NES at a friend’s house. I still remember it as a frustrating experience—the NES version was a poorly ported version of the original MSX release, making a challenging game even harder—but it marked my first brush with the game. I gave up on the insanely hard game, but remembered it for years. When Metal Gear Solid debuted on the original PlayStation in 1998, I was hooked.

As I eagerly await the release of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain sometime in the next year or so, I jumped at the chance to revisit the gaming franchise that has captured my imagination and kept me sneaking, crawling, and shooting for more than two decades. So when Konami announced the release of Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection, I eagerly purchased it, even though I already own five of the eight included games.

For the sake of brevity, this review will only briefly summarize the storyline of each game, staying spoiler-free for any newcomers. Instead, the main focus will deal with the technical aspects of each game: the quality of the port from one system to another, the differences in control schemes and gameplay from one game to the next, and any notable changes or bugs encountered along the way.

Anyone wanting further details on any of the eight included titles will need to look elsewhere, but information shouldn’t be too hard to find—these are all top-rated, best-selling games, and a lot of ink has been spilled dissecting the plots, characters, and twists of each.

Series Snapshot
The Metal Gear Solid series may be infamous for its convoluted plots, over the top characters, and unique blend of military action with sci-fi and fantasy elements, but at its heart, it’s a simple series. Each game centers around a single special ops commando (Snake, though this name refers to more than one character), sent to infiltrate an enemy stronghold. Facing overwhelming numbers and starting out armed with only a pair of binoculars (and maybe a knife), Snake’s only hope of completing his mission is to use stealth, skillfully and patiently sneaking past enemies, and procuring equipment as needed along the way. Most of the time (though not always) the ultimate goal of his mission is to stop the titular Metal Gear, any of a line of high-tech, nuclear-equipped walking tanks—along with whatever terrorist cell or rogue military unit happens to have captured it. Sneak in, find stuff along the way, stop the bad guys, destroy Metal Gear. It’s a simple enough premise, but over the course of 25 years, the surrounding storylines have gotten very complex.

For example, Solid Snake, the protagonist in several of the Metal Gear games, is actually one of several clones of Big Boss, who is both his unit commander and ultimately his enemy. And Big Boss was originally also codenamed Snake. On top of all of the classified missions and top-secret technology, there is at least one shadowy conspiracy group manipulating events from behind the scenes, and one or more characters working for this group as a double (or triple) agent.

The cast of characters has also grown from a handful to dozens, each with detailed backstories, ulterior motives, and secret agendas. The end result is so labyrinthine in its plot turns and twists that prior to the release of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Konami actually created a wiki dedicated entirely to explaining the plots and characters of the previous stories.

The Collection
The Metal Gear series stretches back to the year 1987, with the release of the first Metal Gear on the MSX2, a Microsoft-led standard for home computer consoles that predated the Nintendo FamiCom (sold in the US as the Nintendo Entertainment System). A sequel was also released on the MSX, but it wasn’t until 1998, with the release of Metal Gear Solid for the original PlayStation, that the Metal Gear series became a best-selling franchise.

Since then a total of 10 additional games have been released on various consoles and systems, including the PlayStation, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, and PlayStation 3 consoles. The Legacy Collection is made up of the 8 games central to the overarching Metal Gear story line. Included in this collection are Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake (both originally released for MSX2), Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions, (both for the original PlayStation and released together as Metal Gear Solid: Integral), Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (both on PS2), Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (on PS3) and finally Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (originally released on PlayStation Portable).

These eight games, collected together for the first time on the Playstation 3, are packaged together as two physical disks and a PSN download code, along with two digital graphic novels and a 100 page art book, filled with concept art and graphics from promotional materials used over the last 25 years.

Finding Everything
Unfortunately, the collection is a bit scattered in its organization. The first disk contains only Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, the last in the game’s chronology and second to last game by order of release. The second disk contains Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker.

The first two games (Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake) are also on disk 2, though they aren’t in the main menu of games. Instead, you’ll need to go into Metal Gear Solid 3, and then into the menu, where you can select either of the games.

Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions are actually not on either disk, but are downloadable from the PSN Store using a download code found in the game case. The one code will need to be used twice, as the two games are downloaded separately.

Last, but not least, the two included digital motion comics, which provide a retelling of Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, are also included on the second disk, but won’t be found in the games menu. Instead, they are Blu-ray video files, and are found under the video menu just like any other DVD or Blu-ray content.

Metal Gear 1 & Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake
The first Metal Gear puts you in the fatigues of Solid Snake, a low ranking member of a commando unit called Foxhound. Snake is tasked with sneaking into the mercenary stronghold Outer Heaven and destroying the mysterious TX-55 Metal Gear, a bipedal walking tank capable of launching nuclear weapons. Along the way you’ll be supported by your unit commander Big Boss, and a handful of other characters, providing instruction and assistance via radio. Over the course of the mission, you’ll deal with armed guards on patrol, fight specialized mercenary bosses, and meet local resistance forces and agents on the inside. Ultimately—and this is the one spoiler I’ll include in this review, because it’s essential to every other game and storyline—you meet the villain behind the entire Outer Heaven army, your own commanding officer, Big Boss.

Though you defeat Big Boss at the end of the game, he reappears after the credits, claiming that he will return. He does so in Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. With Outer Heaven destroyed, Big Boss has rebuilt his army and established a new stronghold in the fictitious nation of Zanzibar. His forces have kidnapped the scientist behind a revolutionary new oil-production technology, and are armed with a new version of Metal Gear, and are preparing to mass produce the weapon. Once again, Snake is tasked with sneaking in alone, rescuing prisoners, destroying Metal Gear, and taking down Big Boss and his mercenary forces.

With 2D graphics and a top-down view, the first two Metal Gear games are a blast from the past, artifacts from the 8-bit era. Despite the limited graphics and chiptune music, many of the elements that form the basis of the later Playstation games can be found in the MSX originals, from complex level designs to the use of key cards to cordon off areas for later unlocking.

One of the only problems with this port is the absence of the original game manual for Metal Gear 2. Mid-way through the game, you will find yourself stuck, asked to refer to a character’s photo or trying to decipher a series of taps to find out a character’s radio frequency. Unfortunately, the information you need to find the frequency isn’t in the game, but was in the printed manual. The information is quickly found online, but it’s a frustrating problem nonetheless.

Metal Gear Solid & Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions
The first Metal Gear game on the PlayStation, Metal Gear Solid takes many of the elements of the first two MSX games and fleshes them out with 3D rendered graphics, a full cast of voice actors, and a taut storyline. In this mission, Solid Snake is in Alaska, facing off against members of his old unit, Foxhound, who have captured a nuclear weapons disposal facility and are threatening a nuclear attack if their demands aren’t met. Once again, Snake is called in to infiltrate the heavily armed facility, rescue a couple of hostages, and prevent any sort of attack. Once inside, however, several mysterious complications crop up, and Snake is pulled deeper into a mission where nothing is quite as it seems.

The graphics may have been amazing in the mid-90s, but they haven’t aged well, looking blocky and lacking in detail. But while the graphics look a bit dated, the story still holds up, with a tale shot through with themes of genetic determinism, the meaning of war and violence, and a strong anti-nuclear theme.

In addition to the Metal Gear Solid Game, you’ll also get a download of Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions, an expanded collection of training missions, challenges, and puzzles based on the handful of tutorials found in the main game. The graphics and control scheme is identical to that used in Metal Gear Solid, but the wide range of missions should provide a challenge to anyone who enjoys Metal Gear Solid.

One quirk introduced by the change from physical disk to digital download—you lose the information found on the original game case. When trying to contact a character named Meryl, the game points you to examine the game’s packaging to find her Codec frequency. In 1998, this was a fascinating way to break the fourth wall. Today, with a digital download, it’s a frustrating oversight. Once again, the information is easily found online, but not in the game or the included materials.

The control scheme appears at first glance to be D-pad only, but you can use the joysticks, after changing the PS3 controller settings from digital to analog. You can also switch controller assignment in the PS controller settings, which comes into play during one intense boss battle. Open the controller settings menu, switch from 1 to 2, and you’re good to go. It’s not quite the same as physically unplugging and switching controller ports, but it does the job.

Midway through the game you’re also asked to swap disks, an artifact from the original PlayStation release which was too large for a single disk. While the physical necessity of changing disks is gone, it’s still a part of the game, which might lead to some confusion. As with the controller swap, it’s now done with a tap of the PS button. In the menu that comes up select “Disk 2″ and return to the game. Hit start to continue and you’re done.

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
The familiar sequel formula gets thrown on its head in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Once again, you start off as Solid Snake, infiltrating a barge that may be smuggling a new Metal Gear prototype. Things quickly get out of hand, and you find yourself pulled into a mind bending tale of manipulation and control. Instead of the cold dark environs of a giant Alaskan fortress, you’ll now work your way through a barge and water treatment plant, with brightly lit blue-sky exteriors and cramped building interiors. By the end of the game you’ll be facing down multiple Metal Gears and a small army of tech-enhanced soldiers. As you battle the rogue special ops team Dead Cell, you’ll uncover the larger conspiracy behind the main plot, and begin to learn about the Patriots, the shadowy group that’s pulling the strings.

The game has been tweaked with HD graphics, but otherwise, it’s the same game that was released on the PlayStation 2 in 2001. They gameplay is improved from Metal Gear Solid, with better default camera angles and controls, including the introduction of an over-the-shoulder camera letting you aim and shoot more like you would in a first-person shooter. You also have more interaction with your environment, hiding in storage lockers, peeking over objects, hanging from walkway handrails, and even jumping (after a fashion).

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
The next installment of the Metal Gear Solid series takes you back to the mid-1960s, in the middle of the Cold War. Snake—this time Naked Snake, later known as Big Boss—is sent deep into Soviet Russia to exfiltrate a weapons scientist that wants to defect to the USA. During the course of this simple mission, Snake unexpectedly comes face to face with his mentor, codenamed The Boss. The Boss is there to defect to Russia, and she’s brought gifts for her new country—two Davy Crockett man-portable nuclear warheads. She meets up with a GRU colonel named Volgin who promptly uses one of the weapons against his own countrymen, plunging the entire failed mission further into chaos. This entry in the Metal Gear Solid franchise has Snake sneaking through lush forests and swamps to reach Volgin’s fortified stronghold and defeat the Shagohod, a nuclear-equipped tank that serves as a sort of proto-Metal Gear super-weapon.

In keeping with the outdoor setting of the game, MGS3 places a strong emphasis on survival and camouflage, with a camo index ranking your choice of concealment, a system of health tracking that requires treating injuries, eating regularly, and staying healthy. Thanks to his special forces training and a knowledgeable support team, Snake is able to gather food and medicine from nature, trapping animals, gathering medicinal herbs, and even performing a bit of self-surgery to patch up gunshot wounds.

The hand to hand combat system is also changed from a simple punch and kick combo to a complex system called CQC (close quarters combat) that lets you grapple with opponents, fend of a handful of soldiers, and interrogate hostages. The camera controls are also improved, using the free rotating camera seen in the Subsistence release of Metal Gear Solid 3 instead of the static overhead camera used in the game’s original release.

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
Coming back to the present (or near future), Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots takes place a few years after the events of Metal Gear Solid 2. Solid Snake is now called Old Snake, because his cloned body is undergoing accelerated aging. Mirroring reality, the game’s fictional world has shifted to a war economy built around the use of PMCs (private military companies), mercenary forces that are used to foment and sustain war-for-profit around the world. Despite his apparently advanced years, Old Snake is called up on another mission, this time as an assassin, tasked with killing an old foe, Liquid Ocelot, who secretly controls all of the major PMCs.

The mercenaries are all part of a control system called SOP, which ostensibly puts limits and safety controls on conflicts by restricting the use of unauthorized weapons, preventing attacks on civilians, and allowing more direct monitoring of individual soldiers. In reality, SOP is actually a method used by the shadowy Patriots organization to control wars directly, and by extension, the global economy. Ocelot plans to hijack this system, wresting control away from the Patriots, but plunging the world into chaos. This mission takes you to locations across the globe, and in contact with characters from Metal Gear’s entire history, providing a conclusion to Solid Snake’s part of the Metal Gear saga.

The gameplay is much like that of Metal Gear Solid 3, but with improved camera controls and a streamlined combat camera that makes for easier navigation through bombed out ruins and chaotic battles. Hand to hand combat again centers around CQC, though it is slightly different from that seen in Metal Gear Solid 3. Additionally, where MGS3 added health and survival to the mix, MGS4 adds a Psyche Meter. As Old Snake traipses through war zones and hides from enemies, you’ll need to pay attention to his mental state, and he faces enemies that specifically influence his psyche, manipulating his emotions and perceptions during battle.

Also, weapon acquisition is different, reflecting the Patriot’s extensive control of warfare and illustrating aspects of the new war economy—you’re unable to simply use the weapons you acquire on the ground, requiring assistance from a weapons launderer. Extra weapons provide you with currency to buy equipment, and your weaponry needs are met through a black market gun-dealer. Since Guns of the Patriots was a PlayStation 3 release to begin with, there is no significant difference between this release and the original.

Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
Ten years after the events of Snake Eater, Snake (now codenamed Big Boss) has left the employ of the United States government and started a mercenary group called Militaires Sans Frontieres (or MSF). He and his right hand man Kazuhira Miller have recruited a number of soldiers for this army without borders, and they are hired to respond to an armed group operating within Costa Rica. The mission winds through a twisted plot involving the CIA, the KGB, and Sandinista rebels. A rogue CIA operation has brought nukes into Costa Rica, and Snake’s mission will bring him face to face with the first Metal Gear designs and artificial intelligence programs that will later be central to the Patriots control of global affairs.

The focus of gameplay shifts in this title, from being solely a one-man infiltration to being a team effort. As Snake builds up his MSF forces, he’ll recruit soldiers to his army, and build up Mother Base, the precursor to Outer Heaven. As a result, there is a strong focus on recruitment, team assignment, resource allocation, and cooperative online play. The control style is also a bit different, adapted from the PlayStation Portable (PSP). As a result, the button assignments are changed up, and some familiar functions, like crawling on your belly and creeping along walls, are discarded for a more streamlined control scheme.

A Solid Collection
All in all, Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection is a fantastic value, and a good choice both for veterans of the series and newcomers who want to see what all the fuss is about. Having all of these games collected together and available for the price of a single new release game makes it a bargain, and even collectors who already own several of the old titles will appreciate having all of the games available on the one system. For those who haven’t explored the Metal Gear saga before, this collection is also an excellent way to experience the full series, experiencing the story lines and filling in any of the gaps about character relationships and histories. As fans across the globe eagerly await the next installment of the series, Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection is the best way to get up to speed and to explore the rich world Hideo Kojima has brought to life.

Specifications
Genre Action Games
Platform PlayStation 3
ESRB Rating M for Mature

Verdict
Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection gathers together the core games of the Metal Gear series, giving fans a Metal Gear fix like no other and preserving a slice of gaming history.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc