To say Hideo Kojima’s magnum opus series Metal Gear Solid (MGS) is popular would be an understatement of the highest degree. MGS1 revolutionised stealth mechanics and story delivery for video games. MGS2 uncannily predicted the future of information control with an incredible follow-up meta-tale. MGS3 re-contextualised the entire series, with flourishing action and some of the series’ best-written characters.
I’ve made no secret of my adoration for the entire series. They’re my favourite games of all time, without question nor debate. None are perfect, but each of them have their own valid claims and supporters as 10/10 experiences in their own right. As such, it’s no small task to bring these heralded titles out of Konami’s freezer, especially in light of the controversial departure of its creator.
Which brings us to 2023, 36 years after the original Metal Gear released for the MSX, we have the Master Collection Vol. 1. With a remake of MGS3 announced and the series seemingly re-entering the fold at Konami, it made sense to package the original titles together. MGS1 particularly had almost no means of being played outside of backwards compatibility up to the PS3 era.
Solid Snake’s and Big Boss’ origin adventures are back, ready to embark on another stealth mission. Is this the definitive version of a much-beloved franchise, a Metal Gear that stands tall above the others? Or should the series have been left to the archives of technology past, a “meme” that shouldn’t have passed on? Activate your stealth camo and tighten up that bandanna, we’re at the sneaking point.
This Is A Sneaking Mission
Let’s start with the obvious question – what’s new in Metal Gear Solid: Master Collection Vol. 1? Well, not a whole lot. MGS1 is the big hitter here, given that 2 and 3 were ported in the HD collection (the same versions present in this collection). All appear to have been ported directly over to work on current-gen hardware with minimal graphical or performance improvements.
Sadly, while every game has been upscaled to 1080p and 60fps (excluding MGS1 at 30fps), there’ll be no 4K resolution or visual upgrades. Which feels like a bit of a missed opportunity, in earnest. Despite this, the sheer content offering bundled into this collection is enormous. All three Metal Gear Solid games, Metal Gears 1 and 2, plus two fully voiced digital comics, screenplay and master books, a digital soundtrack and everything in between.
MGS 1 and 2 additionally arrive with their ridiculously opulent VR missions, including Snake Tales for 2. Overall then, while there’s not a lot new to the games we know and love, it’s the most comprehensive place to experience them all. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit disappointed to not see these amazing titles further improved in terms of visuals, but the amount to play borders on an infinite bandanna’s worth.
Thankfully, the games themselves are still phenomenal. Despite its pixelated age, MGS1 still basks in the atmosphere of the snowy Alaskan winter. MGS3’s jungles are teeming with wildlife and the imposing sight of Groznyj Grad still looms menacingly on the horizon. The visual direction was always stellar in this series, and they hold up today surprisingly well as a result.
Try To Remember The Basics Of CQC
So, the next important question – how does Metal Gear play in 2023? For the most part, brilliantly. MGS1 will be the most difficult for the majority, owing to old-school tank controls and slightly more obtuse game design. Most of this was due to the limitations of the PS1 at the time, but it’s still not always ideal to play. The section involving the PAL key, or having to backtrack for a sniper rifle, for example, will simply not be appreciated by many in today’s times.
MGS2 holds up superbly, thanks to the depth of mechanics that were introduced and were far ahead of their time. MGS3, to my own shock, was much more difficult than I remembered. Having to consider camouflage, lines of sight and not having any radar system made it much more immersive, and more difficult.
What’s most striking when playing these in the Master Collection, however, is that they’re all so much fun to play. Whether you’re taking on the almost boss-rush design of 1 or collecting dog tags from stubborn soldiers in 2, the MGS series is brimming with organic gameplay. Ironically, given Kojima’s penchant for completely over-explaining even the most mundane details, the devil in MGS’ detail is learning all the intricacies for yourself.
In a time where immersive sims and organic gameplay is heralded for many as the peak of the industry, I can foresee many new fans jumping into these titles and getting completely lost within their sandbox. Not forgetting that Metal Gears 1 & 2 were at the top of the gaming mountain in terms of quality when they were released, too. Now for the proverbial Kerotan in the room, the stories.
We’re Not Tools Of The Government, Or Anyone Else
We all know what the Metal Gear series is famous for, the seemingly never-ending stream of cutscenes, codec conversations and reams of dialogue. As with the gameplay and visuals, Metal Gear Solid: Master Collection Vol. 1 takes the hands-off approach Revolver Ocelot would be proud of. The stories are completely untouched, which for me, is a boon, rather than a curse.
Content warnings at the start of each game explain that some elements are outdated. Which, they certainly are, in places. Whether it’s the Meryl in her underwear easter egg, Raiden’s sexuality being repeatedly questioned, or Snake “stimulating himself” to a poster in a locker, the weirder, stranger part of MGS is alive and kicking. While these elements may affect some with sensitivities in today’s world, preserving the original vision – warts and all – is probably preferable to censorship.
Luckily, the narratives and stories themselves can hold up to the weight of their “memes” with much more gusto. Replaying through MGS2’s mind-melting finale, deconstructing the nature of truth and control of digital information is fascinating in light of what we now know about advertisers and big tech, for example. Additionally, MGS3’s emphasis on “scene” and context determining allies from foes feels so much more impactful, in a society which feels far more polarised now than it ever has.
There are still the cringe-inducing dialogue sections, bloated over-explanations and character “quirks” that are off-putting or endearing. Yet, these stories have all aged like a fine clone soldier possessed of all the dominant genes. In some ways, I’m glad Konami chose to simply release these titles in their original state, with few alterations, as it’s fantastic to experience them all over again with new context to draw meaning from them.
These are titles that have a lot to say. If you can stomach the hours of cutscenes, you’ll be hard-pressed not to feel compelled to listen to at least some of its philosophising.
So, You Like To Play Castlevania?
So far then, I’d sum up Metal Gear Solid: Master Collection Vol. 1 as an easy win. Five incredible games, all with their stories, visuals and gameplay re-released in their original glory. There’s little to rave about in terms of upgrades, but then, why change a classic? Some load times have been improved (MGS3 is lightning quick) and the additions of screenplay and master books are wonderful.
As a mega-fan of the series, this collection is simply fantastic. All my favourite games, characters and bonus content wrapped up in one Solid package. Also as a fan, though, I expect that given these are relatively easy ports to make, it should be done to perfection. Sadly, that isn’t quite the case, with each game having some minor problems.
MGS1, almost inexplicably, has colossal framerate drops that occur when pressing up against surfaces. The fight against Vulcan Raven was almost a slideshow at one stage due to this. MGS2 locked up on me twice during codec conversations, and MGS3’s upscaling is… wonky, sometimes. Eva’s hair strands went berserk for absolutely no reason during her entrance, and Volgin’s face in one cutscene was inadvertently comical due to it contorting in the strangest of ways.
These are all relatively small issues, but this is a collection of games, two of which have already been ported before. Plus, we’re on current-gen consoles now. Quite simply, these should run perfectly. The fact that they don’t is frustrating and it’s relatively inexcusable. Much like Otacon, they’re an incredibly talented and entertaining being, but they’re prone to pissing themselves when placed under pressure. There’s also still the odd typo in codec conversations too, which is amusing.
Not Yet Snake! It’s Not Over Yet!
The minor bugs and the initial deflation of a lack of significant improvements slowly gave way to the inherent quality of the package, in the end. I thought of nothing else as I raced to get a PSG-1 to save Meryl. I laughed overzealously when I sent Raiden plummeting to his doom as he slipped on bird sh*t. I sang my own praises as I remembered the location to catch the Tsuchinoko in the heart of MGS3’s jungle.
Then there are the series highlights. Taking on Psycho Mantis who can still break the fourth wall like a hammer meeting glass. Going toe-to-toe with a Harrier fighter jet on a bridge, with nothing but a Stinger missile launcher. All the highs, all the emotional lows. Sneaking up on The End or straight up shooting him in the head, way before his boss battle, because that’s a thing you can do.
Kojima was, and is, a master of his craft. You may not always like the stories, the dialogue or the over-burdening cutscenes, but the man just knows how to make thrilling and unique gameplay experiences. Veterans of the series will feel right at home, ready to connect to all of the nostalgic moments. New players get the consummate experience: all of these magnificent titles in one place.
Could Konami have done more to smooth over the titles? Most definitely. Are they still masterpieces of the medium? Absolutely. As a returning fan, I couldn’t be more excited and more emotional to be playing Metal Gear Solid: Master Collection Vol. 1. If Konami were hoping to win back Metal Gear fans, they’ve made a sensationally Solid start here. Fingers crossed for Metal Gear Solid Delta: Snake Eater.
Metal Gear Solid: Master Collection Vol. 1 brings together five stellar video games from a beloved series. While a lack of further improvements and minor bugs get in the way, newcomers and die-hard MGS fans alike can find a trove of incredible content in this bundle. Kojima’s masterpieces have been respected, honoured and have demonstrated their quality through the ages, a meme passed down worthy of the title of Big Boss.
Metal Gear Solid: Master Collection Vol. 1 is available on October 24th on PS5 (review platform), Xbox Series S|X, Nintendo Switch and PC.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy from the publisher.