That's one Solid Snake, alright...
Believe it or not, stealth action games haven’t always been around. Not until 1998 would the gaming world be set ablaze, with the now infamous Metal Gear Solid. The series itself spans the course of decades, and has since received both the praise and ridicule of many, due to its dialogue-heavy storyline. And just five years after its initial release, someone at Konami apparently thought it was a good time to release a remake of the classic tale—and thus Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes was born.
The story of Metal Gear Solid is about as saturated and provocative as they get, so large that it couldn’t all fit within one game. Although the game starts out simple enough, don’t let it fool you; the plot quickly becomes a tangled web. The game puts players in the shoes of a government agent of sorts, attempting to thwart a nuclear catastrophe. As Solid Snake, you are forced out of early retirement and back into the field. A group of next-generation Special Forces has taken over a nuclear disposal facility on the Alaskan isle, Shadow Moses. They’ve taken some important hostages and are making demands, posing a nuclear threat to the United States if they don’t cooperate. To further complicate matters, they’re being led by the elite unit FOXHOUND, a group of complete nut-cases. This structure is really just a forefront to something greater, as throughout the course of the game Snake will grow as a human, learn to asses his surroundings, and shape his own destiny—as well as his enemies.
The core of the gameplay pits you in a third-person perspective, where you take action against enemy soldiers patrolling the facility. It’s like putting a kid in a candy store, where everything is for the taking, which in this case is the life of your opposition. There are a variety of ways you can take out your foes, whether it be conventional or extraordinary. A quick bullet to the head can solve many a situation, but you may find yourself aching for more creative methods, such as knocking enemies unconscious or snapping their neck. But above all else, it depends on the situation.
Making noise or being spotted is not a choice idea, as an alarm will be sounded and reinforcements will be called. The enemies are good at overwhelming you, so your best recourse is to stay out of sight. You have a better chance of surviving if you take the necessary precautions and—above all else—have patience. Until you get a suppressor for your main handgun, you’ll probably want to resort to the pistol loaded with tranquilizers. This puts enemies to sleep and allows you to pass unnoticed. Placing your back against a wall is a keen idea, as you can then peek around corners while remaining concealed, and fit into tight spots otherwise unreachable. Hanging off of ledges can also apply to a certain situation; just remember that you have a grip meter to keep an eye on. If an unfortunate turn of events happens to alert the guards, do yourself a favor and hide in a locker, or perhaps under a tabletop. If you’re interested in giving them a run for their money, try shooting pipes or other objects to slow their travel, or perhaps set a trap for them. These tense moments can really get the adrenaline flowing, but it’s important to remember the stealth aspect of the game, as Snake is better suited to the shadows.
With all this emphasis on hiding and running away, you’d think that there wouldn’t be a lot of attention put on weapons…but you’d be wrong. The gear you amass throughout the game serves up a sizable inventory, letting you to tackle just about any situation. To aid your itchy trigger-finger are the likes of pistols, rifles, grenades and missile launchers—and several variants for that matter. Pistols are equipped with a laser sight, and are best for focusing on intricacies, which is made considerably easier with the inclusion of a first-person aiming mechanic. Rifles come in the assault and sniper variety, where one is for full-frontal battles, and the other is for picking off enemies from a large distance. Grenades come in many flavors (none of which are cherry), and can prove to be invaluable assets. Beyond the realm of weapons, you can also find performance-enhancing drugs, and the all too recognizable cardboard box. Heck, even the cigarettes Snake carries have uses other than blackening your lungs, as the smoke itself can be used to detect infrared beams; this man is clearly the MacGyver of the future!
Solid Snake has more than just tricks up his sleeves, however. While he may appear to be your generic super-soldier (with his advanced sneaking suit and all), looks are incredibly deceiving. Though he’s definitely a killing machine, the thing he does more than anything is ask questions. Poor Snake was sent into his mission essentially blindfolded, and it seems that no turn of events ever unfolds as expected. As you progress with the game and learn of new plot twists, chances are Snake is learning with you—making the relationship between character and player that much more seamless. His voice itself is synonymous with the character, and—while gravely and over-acted—provides yet another layer of depth to the man of the hour. His past is something to marvel at, and by the end of the game chances are that your outlook on him will have changed significantly. The supporting characters themselves only add to the experience, as they all have their own dark history to deal with.
Perhaps the most compelling acquaintances are the ones you meet on the battlefield. The members of FOXHOUND are quite the lovable cast, and provide some of the most memorable encounters in all of video gaming. What’s more is that they all seem to be linked to Snake in one way or another, not unlike an episode of Lost. They all have a specific gimmick to call their own, and more importantly, very distinct voices—which make them all the more recognizable. Sniper Wolf is an immaculate sniper with an obsession for whoever her target may be, Psycho Mantis has a knack for telekinesis and reading peoples minds, and Revolver Ocelot wields…well, a revolver; he also has a thing for torture. But perhaps the most important antagonist of all is the leader of this organization, Liquid Snake. He bears a striking resemblance to our hero, but has long blonde hair and a decidedly English accent. Throw all that in with a cyborg ninja and a giant robot and you’ve got yourself a game.
Much like the stars of the show, the game itself screams individuality. It’s comforting at times to know that a story with as much weight as Metal Gear Solid’s can find the time to take a break. It’s very self-referential, and at times can become laugh-out-loud funny. Pull out your pack of cigarettes, and prepare to be lectured on the dangers smoking can cause to your health. Does Colonel Campbell seem familiar? Look no further than Rambo. Easter eggs are also in major abundance, and are just waiting to be uncovered. The re-playability is immense, as the game contains a glut of bonus material—you just have to look between the lines to discover it. Just messing around with the enemy sentries can be very amusing; a cardboard box and a bottle of ketchup is all you need for a good time.
Times are good indeed, as in case you’ve forgotten—this game has been remade. For one, all of the voice-work in the game has been completely re-recorded, so everything feels fresh for veterans. In light of the additions Metal Gear Solid 2 brought to the formula, some gameplay tweaks have been made. The biggest of these enhancements would be the first-person perspective, which makes it much easier to aim your weapon at whatever you choose—be it a head or the occasional surveillance camera. All you softies will be happy to hear of the inclusion of non-lethal weapons, such as the M9 pistol and PSG1-T. And for maneuverability’s sake, moves such as climbing over obstacles and the diving somersault have been added. Yet the biggest improvement comes from the cut-scenes themselves, as they have been completely revamped. Now featuring stylish acrobatics, you better start getting used to Snake doing some incredibly huge back flips.
No matter how cool Snake looks, he still can’t conceal all the missteps this restoration has taken. While the first-person view certainly provides some fun, it essentially breaks the game. This along with the M9 make the game extremely easy, as if it wasn’t enough already. This wouldn’t inherently be a problem, if the game wasn’t a direct port of its predecessor. Both enemy and weapon placement seem to be identical to the original, and the game design does little but shoehorn these new elements into something that’s not really built for it. Although most of the voice acting is substantial, it can be slightly disappointing at times. The performances on whole don’t seem as eccentric as they used to be, and this was one of the initial charms about the game. The dialogue is practically the same, line for line. Which begs the question: why were the voices redone at all? The voice actors themselves have aged, so it doesn’t make any contextual sense. On top of that, when battles get heated you’re greeted with a massive frame-rate drop—who knew slowdown could be this fun? The tip of the iceberg: The Gamecube controller is missing four buttons; basic functionality is hindered because of this. Pressing Start + A to open up the codec screen is about as intuitive as performing open heart surgery with your elbows.
But hey, don’t blame it all on the Game Cube. One of the fundamental problems with Metal Gear Solid is just how dated it is. It’s amazing what used to be acceptable design philosophy a decade ago. The controls themselves are needlessly complicated, unless you find holding three buttons simultaneously while aiming and shooting intuitive. Battles with the crouching mechanic await you—as going prone by accident, crawling backwards, and spinning around in place is a common occurrence—especially during intense moments. To compliment Snake’s abstract snow-angels, are a wonderful lineup of stick figure-like animations. Climbing, running, crouching, and shooting—it all looks awful. How about those next-generation forces? If by next-generation you mean poky enemies with no peripheral vision. With the ability to see three feet in front of themselves, these genetically enhanced soldiers may need to get their prescription adjusted.
In the end, Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes is essentially the same game with a fresh coat of paint. Of course, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as this opens up the intriguing world of Snake to an entirely new generation. What lies beyond the candy-coating is a powerfully gripping narrative, one that impeccably blends fact and fiction, crafting a unique method of storytelling. Once positioned as a phenomenally realistic experience, it’s definitely less “real” by today’s standards—yet remains unparalleled. While it certainly isn’t for everyone, you at least owe it to yourself to give it a whirl, as you might walk out an enlightened individual.
- Michael Rivard