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When is a game not a game? When it’s a digital graphic novel. PSP owners irked by the absence of a proper Metal Gear on the PSP get another stopgap between now and next year’s Portable Ops. And no, it doesn’t contain any card combat, but it’s certainly a unique take on the Metal Gear universe.
In the Digital Graphic Novel you follow Solid Snake as he tries to infiltrate Shadow Moses Island in Alaska, held by the elite FOXHOUND unit, in order to destroy an experimental nuclear tank called Metal Gear. Sound familiar? It should, because it’s the same story as the original Metal Gear Solid. As the title suggests, what you’re getting here is the animated version of IDW Publishing’s 2004 MGS graphic novel. Rather than paper pages you get the action happening on screen, complete with speech bubbles, but with added music and sound effects.
It’s not animated in the traditional sense, either. Rather than Disney-style cel animation, what you have is something that evokes the visual style of Yoji Shinkawa’s familiar artwork (drawn by Ashley Wood, artist of the original comics), animated in a fashion reminiscent of those animated storyboards that you sometimes find as a special feature on DVDs. The artwork is excellent, ranging dramatically in style from line sketches to something more realistic while remaining consistent throughout. Scenes largely consisting of dialogue are still and limited to camera pans, but action scenes are more kinetic, complete with onomatopoeic words to go with the sound.
Running at a couple of hours in length, the main title follows the plot of the original almost to the letter. Whereas a film adaptation might trim some of the fat around Snake’s infiltration – finding some extra grenades in a storeroom at the helipad near the beginning, for example – this revels in illustrating almost every gameplay sequence in the game. Aside from some slightly abridged dialogue (though what remains is faithful to the original script) what we have here is a comprehensive record of the game.
So it’s really not really a game at all, then. Well, if that wasn’t muddying the waters enough, it’s not a film either. The main story, named VR Simulation, makes up only part of the complete experience. By pausing the story and entering the Mental Search mode you can pore over each panel to find ‘memories’ – little hidden hotspots which range from items and characters to more abstract items like relationships, ranks, and… uh… body parts. There are over 200 of them hidden away and finding every one is a task reserved for only the most fastidious of players. For the rest of us it provides a convenient way to get a closer look at the artwork, although it’s hard to resist searching when the cursor starts spinning wildly, indicating one of the little hidden buggers nearby.
The final mode is the Memory Building Simulation, in which you can take the memories that have been uncovered and link them on a three-dimensional matrix, eventually creating an intricate diagram of almost everything in the game. It’s as unexciting as it sounds to be frank, and really only there for those meticulous enough to find all the memories and go the extra mile to link them together. It’s not helped by awkward navigation, as a D-pad and unwieldy analogue nub do not make an intuitive control scheme for navigating in 3D space. On a similar note, the menus are far from easy to negotiate, and something as simple as saving your progress can take some digging around.
Ultimately the Metal Gear Solid Digital Graphic Novel is nothing more than fan service, and those for whom the paper-based version was an essential purchase will certainly get a kick out of it. It’s only £15 and good at what it does, so might be worth a look for a more casual fan in lieu of a UMD movie or two; just don’t expect to find much to do beyond ogling the pretty pictures.