Anyone who knows me, knows of my deep affection for Hideo Kojima’s flagship series. Both Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3 sit at the summit of my favourite games of all time. While Metal Gear Solid 1 never quite gets the same applause in “greatest of all time” discussions, its impact on gaming was colossal. It acted as an early precursor of what games could be, delivering a stellar story and tactical espionage action.
I completed the original MGS a good half a dozen times back in the day. Despite its age it still holds up as an expertly designed experience. With this context in mind, the prospect of a love-letter homage to the PlayStation original had me hugely excited for a nostalgia hit.
Enter Undetected – an imitator in more than just aesthetic, it rips wholesale chunks from the 1998 inspiration; some with care, others less so. Can this 2022 effort overcome its forefathers to eek out its own identity, or will it prove an inferior generic clone of a day now passed?
Snake Kaan, Do You Read Me?
Something to point out immediately is that Undetected has been developed by a single person, which is no mean feat. We take on the role of action-hero Tenoch Kaan, our stand-in for the legendary Solid Snake. The icy peaks of Alaska are also swapped for Mexico, where a shadowy group named CIMACORP have taken control of an energy station.
It’s quite obviously inspired by MGS’ version of Shadow Moses and the Genome troops. Enemy soldiers roam around in brightly lit helmets, objects swirl around on the ground for you to pick up, surveillance cameras have large green cones of vision. Hell, Kaan even has a cybernetic left eye and a cybernetic snake-shaped tattoo on his right arm that’s a pretty on-the-nose reference to Liquid Ocelot’s plot device arm.
Undetected isn’t even pretending to not be copying the original, that’s the whole point. For all of the references I noticed and fully lapped up, whenever it tries to add its own original spin on proceedings it falls a bit flat. Voice acting (what little of it there is) is pretty poor, the writing is as standard as can be and the lack of any real characters aside from Kaan makes it a pale imitation, really.
I liked the way it added some more subtle nods to MGS’ narrative and structure, but there’s a not a lot here to grab onto. When you’re basing your game on a giant of the past, it needs a little bit more than just lip service, which Undetected’s story falls into.
This Is A Sneaking Mission… Mostly
Arriving on the outskirts of the energy facility, Kaan is tasked with infiltrating the base and a captured comrade and her team. At this point, the fond nostalgia memories kicked in big time. If there’s one thing Undetected nails, it’s the feel and atmosphere of MGS1.
You track Kaan with an overhead camera that switches viewpoint depending on the environment. A three hit melee combo will temporarily knock out a guard, you can switch to a first-person viewpoint with Shift which will lock you in place. Even the movement animation and sound effects feel like they’ve been made with Kojima’s trademark touch.
Traversing each level requires you to make use of dark spaces, avoiding lit areas, sneaking through tall grass, using obstacles to block lines of sight and utilising every manner of distraction at your disposal. Knocking on walls, leaning on surfaces all return, but there are some notable absences like crouch or crawling, varieties of weapons and or smarter gadgets to deploy.
Kaan is largely limited to using a pistol (with 4 ammo types, all of which are non-lethal), varieties of explosive grenades and his fists. Enemies can down you in 2 hits on normal difficulty, so stealth is meant to be the aim of the game, only it comes a bit unstuck when you figure out the AI.
That AI, you see, is probably more primitive than it was in the 1998 PS1 release of MGS1. Their lines of sight are narrower than a railway tunnel and their ability to respond to the player is restricted to just charging at Kaan in a straight line. The “?” and “!” symbols return but the brain cells required to do them justice unfortunately don’t. Which means you can often run right next to them, and they won’t notice, undermining some of the stealth.
We Have The Foxhound Unit At Home
I really loved the opening couple of levels as I carefully navigated the facility, avoiding combat and rescuing the team (which gives you a HP boost), until the later levels introduced lasers and drones which grind the stealth down. In the end, I was running through sections pretty quick, abusing the explosives and limited AI.
Despite this, there’s still some fun to be had with Undetected’s gameplay. It’s like the Warehouse sections of MGS but with slimmed-down mechanical variety and a more simplistic approach. Finding new levels of key cards and scaring guards into submission with a horror-themed explosive just felt very Kojima.
Those favourable comparisons stop dead in their tracks like Grey Fox getting stomped by Metal Gear Rex when the boss battles get introduced however. There are 4 over the course of the 2 hour runtime and they’re all poor in their own unique way.
The first boss is a sniper who didn’t aim at Kaan once (just stay either side of his laser sight and that’s it), the second is more a war of attrition against drones than a boss. The third is just uninspired and boring, while the fourth has a climactic feel and presentation but is over in less than a minute. There’s no ingenious mechanic to any of them, no test of your skills or resources, just a platter of poor AI and unfulfilled adrenaline rushes.
I’m not asking for Psycho Mantis or even a Sniper Wolf battle – this is a game made by one person. But there’s nothing even on the level of a Vulcan Raven to even moderately test your thinking processes. It’s a missed opportunity and breaks the immersion of what is otherwise a stellar recreation of the aura of MGS.
Not Yet Kaan, It’s Not Over Yet
Speaking of which, the visual work that’s gone into Undetected is pretty fantastic. Little details like the colour gradients, design of the corridors and environments and even the uniforms or equipment go a long way to selling this as more than just an empty attempt to copy MGS1.
The only real thing missing that would benefit both the look and the gameplay is the traditional MGS mini-map, as without it you’re constantly having to swap into first-person view and at first it’s difficult to gauge enemy cones of vision.
I mentioned the sound direction before and I’ll mention it again – the inflated volume of footsteps on different surfaces oozes MGS1’s style, while the music fits both the aesthetic perfectly. I’d hesitantly even say they’d have been okay within the original. None come close to matching Encounter or Escape, for example, but they’re an exceptionally high bar. Undetected’s soundtrack is more subtle but suits it more than adequately.
I can’t lie and say I didn’t have a cheesy smirk on my face when a guard asked “who’s footprints are these?!” after discovering my watery footwork or when they noticed the smell on Kaan after I haphazardly ran into my own stink bomb. The gameplay might be simplistic, an own-brand equivalent of a Waitrose high-end product, but there’s a real cathartic satisfaction it somehow captures beautifully.
I Don’t Believe In Coincidences
Undetected left me in two minds. On the one end, I felt a real, visceral sense of nostalgia which was heart warming and satisfying. On the other, it’s a more shallow, limited video game that struggles to come close to having the depth of a game released 24 years ago. Much like the Snake brothers, it has Liquid’s fallacy of history but Solid’s endeavour and earnestness to make something worthwhile.
It’s a short affair, clocking in at just under 2 hours for me. Though, there’s 4 difficulties, the hardest of which has you hit Game Over upon detection, so there’s potential replayability in there. It’s only really designed with one audience in mind though – people like me who have an unhealthy obsession with the MGS series and clammer for anything that replicates those now decades-old memories.
Is it a good game? Well, that’s debatable. It has its problems and it runs out of steam too quickly, but then you have to consider that this is made by one person as a passion project to service people’s love of an enduring series. It’s a decent game made better by its sentimental attachment, so if the trailer brings back memories of a snowy Alaskan base, then it’s worth you picking up. If not, avoid it like it’s Foxdie.
Undetected is unapologetic in being a love-letter to the original Metal Gear Solid. It’s fan service in a fresh coat of paint and will bring up those fond memories from 24 years ago for those who enjoyed Kojima’s original PS1 vision. Simplistic gameplay and AI make this a lesser experience for those who aren’t fans, but for those who adore the series, it’ll remind you of just how good MGS1 truly was.
Undetected is available now on PC via Steam.
Developer: Antonio Freyre
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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