The 90s were bloody strange, and 1998 was no exception. We’re talking about the year that Google was founded, that the fervour of the FIFA World Cup was in France, while Bill Clinton was denying all sorts of things in the US, and in Japan, Hideo Kojima released a game that shot him into the halls of video game fame: Metal Gear Solid. It was a strange and different time.
Now, in 2023, the Metal Gear Solid Master Collection Vol.1 has been released, and we’re sitting here scratching our heads and wondering why. Why on Earth would anyone in their right mind pay full price for an unambitious, vapid re-release of the HD Collection on the latest console? Sure, these were individually brilliant games, but the minds behind this soulless cash grab didn’t even take the time to roll everything into a single app.
For all our love of this franchise, it’s difficult to see this as anything more complex than that. There is nothing new here: it looks and feels like it was put together by someone they had in for work experience. Don’t get us wrong: back in 1998, Metal Gear Solid was groundbreaking. First, the story was excellent (if a little barmy), but what shone through was the physicality of the game. There were secrets hidden on the box (remember when games used to come in these?), and the Psycho Mantis trick of unplugging the controller and plugging it into the second controller port (consoles used to have these) was a stroke of genius.
Metal Gear Solid 2 flipped the script by bringing in Raiden to be the Watson to our Holmes. Though the internet was widely disgusted at not being able to play as Snake after the opening act, Sons of Liberty was still very good, and without it, we wouldn’t have the best video game title of all time — Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. The third game, Snake Eater, threw us back in time to the 60s for some origin stories, and if many people – Nick included – are to be believed, it’s the pinnacle of the series.
These were all massive, industry-shaking releases. But that was then, and this is now, as the Master Collection takes great pains to point out. When you load up one of these games, you’re told that with minor exceptions, such as the renaming button inputs to match modern controllers and platforms that aren’t PlayStation, the game has been preserved in its original form.
This, you immediately think, is them explaining away Meryl’s workout scene in a way that won’t get them cancelled. What rapidly becomes apparent, however, is that this also means that they have an excuse not to modernise anything. In Metal Gear Solid, frames pop left right and centre, the edging on the PS1-era detailing is appalling at best, and you’re left covering your eyes and reaching desperately for your rose-tinted glasses. In a world when the likes of Final Fantasy 7 is remade with genuine love and attention, a full-priced half-hearted rerelease of an equally famous game is not going to cut it.
We’re not even looking at an upscaling or any real effort to make it run better on the PS5. Metal Gear Solid is basically the PS1-version of the game emulated on the latest hardware. As exciting as it was to play back in the day, what we’re left with is an ugly port at 30fps in 4:3. The additional screen real estate is used up by a background pattern that we quickly turned off for fear of screen burn. As those who remember blowing dust out of the SNES will no doubt be aware, ugly graphics on a small 90-era CRT are one thing, but ugly graphics on a large modern TV are a sight that gives sore eyes.
The PS2-era Metal Gear Solid 2 looks better than Metal Gear Solid, obviously, but again we’re convinced it looked better in 2011 when the HD collection was released – we’re topping out here at 1080p and 60fps, even on PS5. The same, sadly goes for Metal Gear Solid 3, which controls exactly as well as it did back in 2004. While they are at least HD, the offering is really no better that it was back on the PS3 or 360, two entire consoles ago.
For those who really want to go back and play the pre-Solid Metal Gear games (the NES games from 1987 and 1990), those are also included in the fourth of the five PS5 apps that this collection inexplicably takes up. The fifth is a bunch of visual novels and other bonus material that only die hard fans will sit through. Why all of these separate apps weren’t rolled into this one ‘Collection’ app boggles the mind.
So, who is this Metal Gear Solid collection truly for? And why should anyone buy this latest bundle? Well, to be quite blunt, nobody should buy it, but if you really must buy it, there are two reasons: to relive the glory days of what is otherwise a very good franchise, and to unlock a bunch of trophies in the process. However, do yourself a favour and wait for it to either be a fraction of the price, or for it to hit PlayStation Plus or Xbox Game Pass, which it almost certainly will.