True gaming classics are rare, sometimes appearing only a scant few times per console generation. The impact of these games can be immense, dominating the memories of gamers and providing a benchmark against which other games of the generation are measured. If you were lucky enough to have played through the Metal Gear Solid games the first time round then you can count yourself as having taken part in a glory period of gaming history, a pinnacle of Japanese development and the cementing of one of gaming’s greatest heroes. Ten years ago the very concept of someday being able to play Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty or Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater on a portable device would have blown your mind, or at the very least left you a sobbing wreck in a corner somewhere. With the release of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection on PS Vita that future is now here and you are able to sit on the bus and grind VR missions to your life’s content – and the gameplay is glorious.
As long term readers of TDF will remember we quite liked the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection when it came out on the main consoles, so much so that we in fact gave it both a review itself and we then looked at each of the individual games separately as well. With this in mind feel free to check out our comprehensive thoughts on the games themselves by following the above links. The astute will notice that we haven’t mentioned Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker yet, the reason being that it doesn’t feature in the Vita’s version of the MGS HD Collection. The omission is painful, detracting from both the overall story as well as the completeness of the package. This is made especially so by the portable nature of both Peace Walker’s original console and the Vita. The knife is twisted more by the fact that the decision to leave Peace Walker out was almost certainly commercial, with the PSP original already being available from the PSN and a Kojima Productions employee going on record as saying that the Vita fares well in upscaling the original anyway.
With the value of the ‘missing’ content aside, the amount packed into the HD Collection is still astonishing. The Vita HD Collection does include the Substance version of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and the Subsistence version of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, although as with the main console collection there are a few bits that are not included, such as Metal Gear Online. Sons of Liberty includes five Snake Tales, three hundred VR missions, two hundred Alternative Missions and the Boss Survival and Casting Theatre modes. These tales and missions offer some fantastic additions to the title, with the smaller bite-sized VR and Alternative Missions matching perfectly the pick up and play ethos of the handheld. The hardcore score attack fans among you can expect to spend many many tens of hours chasing some of the more elusive first place scores, sometimes to the point that they will manage to replace the main story as the focus of the title.
Looking to the Subsistence version of Snake Eater instead of an offering of hundreds of mini missions and smaller content instead we get copies of the first two Metal Gear games, the innovatively titled Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake as well as (thankfully) the user controlled 3rd person perspective camera. Dating from 1987 and 1990 respectively Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2 offer an entirely different kind of gameplay than the other titles present, the age of the games and the systems they were designed for providing all of the expected limitations. However, it is surprising how much of the Metal Gear franchise will be familiar to those coming to these titles for the first time, with Metal Gear representing what is probably the earliest example of the whole stealth action genre.
Even with these included titles however things aren’t quite what they seem. A recent investigation found out that the MGS HD Collection for the Vita not only wasn’t running in HD (which wasn’t very surprising) but that it didn’t even run at the Vita’s native 960x544 pixel density but instead played at a 720x448 base resolution, essentially running as a slightly better 16:9 version of the PS2 releases. While it is disappointing that the maximum benefit hasn’t been squeezed out of the Vita, in all likelihood this probably has more to do with limitations of the service rather than the hardware. Coming in with a download size of 3385MB the PSN version of the game is close to the largest size it can be, with the limit almost certainly being set so that Sony can ensure that everyone with their smallest memory card can play anything that is released on the PSN. So, rather than providing two (or even three if we return to Peace Walker’s absence) larger sized games with denser resolution, we instead receive Sons of Liberty and Snake Eater bundled together, not quite as shiny as they could have been. Ultimately the games still look great on the Vita’s screen, even more so if you played the originals on some of the horrific TVs that graced living rooms and bedrooms until the advent of cheaper flat screens, but there will always be the knowledge that they could have been made to look even better.
Potential looks aside, one thing the Vita does deliver is a set of non-intrusive touch controls throughout the HD Collection. Mainly forced due to the absence of the R2 and L2 buttons, these range from the simply fantastic weapon and item equip controls (where you can quickly touch a bottom corner of the screen and drag your finger to what you want equipped) to the painful implementation of pull-ups (use the drop and grab button method to level your grip – trust me on this). Additional controls can be found in first person mode, with the screen controlling sidesteps and standing on tiptoes and so forth. Unless you have a penchant for hanging around in lockers trying to look around it’s likely that your main experience with the touch controls will be with equipping stuff, leaving you able to walk away from the game with an overall positive view of them. Incidentally, menu controls (including saving and loading) are all done in the traditional button controlled way, which means a quick trip to the Codec or radio to check in doesn’t leave you trying to dance all over the Vita’s face with your fingers.
There is one last feature the Collection can boast of, and that is the new ‘Transfarring’ functionality. This allows you to transfer your saves from the Vita collection over to the PS3 (if you have a PS3 copy of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection of course) and continue playing on the big screen, and vice versa. It’s a nice touch and it allows you to keep the game going on the go and then enjoy it from the sofa when you get back in. Interestingly enough the transfarred save also unlocks any trophies you have won on whichever hardware you are playing on, giving the trophy hoes a strong reason to double buy. Again, the absence of Peace Walker means you don’t get the whole transfarring experience on the Vita, but you can move save games from Peace Walker over to the PSP version, so all is not lost (apart from extra trophies, of course).
All things considered, both Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater are true gaming classics, shining beacons from the glory days of the PS2 that still provide strong arguments to be individually considered as ‘full marks’ kind of games. The opportunity to play them on the Vita is one which is gratefully received and getting both of them in one package screams value. However, as a collection, the implementation of the Vita version isn’t as accomplished as those released earlier in the year on the main consoles. The lack of Peace Walker is nearly unforgivable and the intentional capping of the potential resolution quality means that these games in this HD Collection on this console will never be as good as they could have been. Is this a deal breaker? It shouldn’t be. Drop the readies and slip right back into the stories – just don’t miss your bus stop because you are too intent on finishing that VR mission.