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In 1998, a new genre was born with the arrival of Metal Gear Solid, the game that effortlessly defined virtual stealth action and brought it into the mainstream. A huge commercial success, the game has a loyal fan base that is well-earned due to its incredibly cinematic story, well implemented action and also quirky break-the-fourth-wall humor. In 2004, the success of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty prompted a remake of the first game. This version implemented the control scheme from MGS2 , as well as improved graphics, new voice acting and a very distinct cinematic style.
But which one is the better game? Sure, The Twin Snakes makes a lot of improvements to the original, but does it lose something in that process? Is it the ultimate version of Metal Gear Solid? There’s only one way to find out…no, don’t go and play them! What are ye, thick?! Read my review! It saves time and has explosions!
In both games, you play as Solid Snake, a retired member of special forces FOXHOUND. He has been called back into duty because a group of terrorists have taken hostages on Shadow Moses Island, and are threatening to launch a nuclear missile. As Snake, you must infiltrate their base, rescue the hostages, and nullify their ability to launch a nuclear strike. Along the way, you will encounter a new strain of Genetically Engineered Soldier, the rogue members of FOXHOUND and, most terrifying of all, the terrorists’ secret weapon: Metal Gear.
Both games retain the basic story and gameplay elements, and thus, both games are deserving of high praise. Stealth action was a genre more or less unheard of before MGS, and its success resulted in plenty of ‘Me too!’ clones, such as Syphon Filter and Splinter Cell. Unlike MGS however, they lacked that incredibly cinematic feel and the light touch of in-your-face humor.
The novelty of staying hidden from your enemies, rather than running in, willy nilly, with guns-a-blazing, was an original concept then and still not altogether common now. No game has implemented the concept quite so famously as this franchise. It gives the player a profound sense of danger, as though you really are up against insurmountable odds. Of course, you will end up taking on tanks and helicopters by yourself, and that also adds to the tension. But it’s ok. Because you can smoke while doing it. And that makes you look cool.
Which is another thing that MGS should be praised for: The sheer variety of things you can do that have little or nothing to do with the main narrative. Cigarettes can be equipped and, while they have only one minor function, they also take away your health, meaning they are more or less a fun novelty. There are also cardboard boxes you can hide in to avoid detection, and a camera with which you can take selfies and photos of your enemies, while they put more holes in you than a chunk of Swiss cheese. Unlike most cheeses however, you have the ability to fight back.
You start off with nothing, but over the course of the game, you pick up a wide variety of weapons, many of which are notably different from those you might have seen in other action games. You have your standard pistols and grenades, but you are also given remote control bombs, chaff grenades to scramble enemy electronics and Nikita missiles, that can be controlled via remote control. These high-tech gadgets give the game a bit of 007 feel, which is acknowledged in one tongue-in-cheek unlockable costume.
Sadly, you are not given a watch with a miniature circular saw in it, or a toaster that is also a submarine.
On top of this arsenal, Snake is also well-trained in hand-to-hand combat. He can do a punch-kick combo, flip his enemies over his shoulder, or, with an application of stealth, very audibly snap his opponents neck. Solid Snake: Not just a pretty face.
All of these skills and weapons are sorely needed for the stupendously presented boss encounters throughout the game. Rather than simple exposition, the characters you engage with feel fully fleshed out and significant. They aren’t just slightly bigger thugs, but complex individuals, whose defeat tends to carry some emotional weight. These battles are often quite extreme, with the odds largely in your opponents favor. Imagine finding yourself in a Heavy Metal gig while wearing a One Direction t-shirt. Those kinds of odds.
However, this isn’t to say the game itself is particularly difficult. Hints can be obtained through the Codec system (a type of in-built radio).
Both games’ most notable flaws are their length which, excluding cut scenes, will probably take a measly 3-4 hours to clear. It’s a shame because you will find yourself investing hugely into the game story and will be all the more disappointed to find it’s over so soon. The difficulty can be increased for replayability and, considering the special items that can be unlocked, there are plenty of reasons to do this.
So, how do the two games differ?
The Twin Snakes implements a number of improvements onto the original. Most noticeable from the beginning are the graphics.
Many might remember the original being a stunning achievement in visual expression, but memory can be deceptive. Time has not been kind to the original Metal Gear Solid. Taking characters with flat and featureless faces seriously is tricky. Observe Exhibit A:
Look at him there. Look deep into his eye holes…intimidating eh? I’ll bet you wouldn’t mess with that face. Imagine him saying “We’re out of time!”. Only instead of moving his lips, his expression remains the exact same and he just nods his head in sync with the words.
And the unfortunate thing is, these characters talk a lot. Which sort of emphasizes the lack of jaw muscles…
The Twin Snakes definitely improves on this area. The graphics aren’t revolutionary by today’s standards, but it’s some the best you will see on the Gamecube. The cinematics are especially impressive. And the weather effects, i.e. the snow feels incredibly natural, as though you were stuck in a giant, military themed snow globe (which WILL sell, as soon as I can find an investor!).
As is the case with most remakes, action and set pieces take the spotlight. Snake is expressed as more of a completely badass secret agent than ever here, and how positive an addition this is will be a matter of taste. There is no doubt that it is awesome! Scenes which were barely a minute long and involved nothing other than a casual chat are suddenly exploding with incredible acrobatics and slow motion. It looks, as previously expressed, awesome. Yet, at times, awesome is not the word we want to describe something truly breath-taking. ‘Awesome’ more often than not, is detached from ‘class’.
In short, there is a lot to be said for subtlety.
The way in which the Cyber Ninja is presented in each game is a perfect example of this. In the original, he is a mysteriously ominous character and this is expressed wonderfully in one terrific scene, in which we see a corridor of mutilated corpses, at the end of which we know he is waiting. In the remake, however, we actually get to see these soldiers being killed in an adrenaline fueled massacre. As ‘awesome’ a scene as that is, it doesn’t instill as much fear and anxiety in the player as their imagination might have in the original. It causes the Ninja to lose some of his mystique. This application of heavy exposition is applied in many more instances throughout the game.
The controls in the remake, however, are improved upon greatly. It’s a great asset to have Snake being able to actually sneak/walk quietly, whereas in the original game he could only run. It is now a lot easier to sneak up on soldiers and ‘talk’ to them….with bullets! You can also hang off of ledges and hide in lockers, like in MGS2, allowing for more hiding places should you alert the soldiers to your presence.
And of course, there’s the inclusion of being able to shoot in first person mode. Again, whether or not this is an improvement is somewhat ambiguous. It certainly makes things easier, some might argue that it makes the game altogether too easy. After all, avoiding security cameras was one of the primary challenges in the original, but if they can be simply shot and put out of commission, you can saunter through most of the game completely unhindered.
The soundtrack is another area in which the games differ noticeably, though it is clear to see which is better. The original’s score had a lot of haunting melodies and well placed atmospheric music that set the tone of a beautiful, almost gothic, military nightmare. The remake, while not terrible, takes a clear step back from this. It includes a bastardized version of the MGS2 theme song, which will please some, but for the most part, the music has become video-game-bland rather than truly memorable. The voice acting is a bit of a mixed bag, however. All voices have been re-recorded for the remake, and while in some cases it is an improvement (Liquid’s speech at the game’s end is particularly good, and a lot clearer), there are moments when it is a let down, such as Mei Ling’s character no longer having a pronounced Chinese accent.
Other additions to The Twin Snakes aren’t really major enough to be relevant. There are empty gun clips that can be thrown to distract enemies and naughty books that can be left in corridors to stop them in their tracks. While a fun novelty, it will hardly be implemented continuously by the player, as it is much easier to just shoot them in the head or crotch. Additionally, soldiers can be held up this time around, meaning that you can force them to dispense of any valuable items they might be holding, including dog tags, health and ammo.
They can then be put to sleep with the tranquilizer gun rather than being killed, another element for the more humane among you.
In terms of bonus content, the original and remake have noticeably different features. The original featured VR training, an additional ten mini-missions to help the player get to grips with the many concepts of MGS. (This was such a fun concept that Konami later released a spin-off, Metal Gear Solid: Special Missions, based entirely on the VR training. You could play as the Ninja and also got to photograph low resolution hot girls….awesome). The VR missions included a sneaking mode, time attack, weapon mode and VR mission (survival mode).
The Twin Snakes gets rid of this section completely and instead offers a Boss Survival mode, in which you can take on every boss in the game, one after another, and see how long you can survive. Other extras include a Dog Tag viewer which is fairly unimpressive, and a Demo theater, so you can watch all the cut scenes from beginning to end.
When dealing with a classic game such as Metal Gear Solid, it’s a relief to see that the original has held up so well over time, and also that the remake retains most of what made Metal Gear Solid great. Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes is the better game. But only when taken as a standalone experience. The controls are smoother, it is visually more impressive and, while certainly easier than the original, it is still far more enjoyable to play.
Those who consider themselves hardcore gamers would ideally want to play the original at least once before indulging in the fan service that is the remake. Because, while The Twin Snakes is better, it still loses something in the process. The first Metal Gear Solid had a very distinctive tone, darker than all of the games that followed it, and this sets up the sequel perfectly. MGS fans will remember a lot of haunting scenes, such as approaching Psycho Mantis, fighting Sniper Wolf and huge plot twists at the end of the game.
The remake retains all of these scenes, but the effect they have on the player is noticeably blunted, as the developers were clearly favoring style over substance. Play the original once, so you can have that stunning experience of a wonderfully subtle and well crafted story. Having done that, and with the Snake’s tale planted firmly in your mind in the way it was meant to be told, then opt for The Twin Snakes. After all, remake is a generally more enjoyable in terms of gameplay and ranks higher on the ‘awesome’ scale.