Few game titles have the calibre of the original Metal Gear Solid. Widely regarded as the PlayStation’s defining release, its tale of twins, traitors and terrorism has since set the benchmark for videogame storytelling and action adventuring.
Yet that was all back in 1998. Children that were born then are now discovering gaming for themselves; a new generation is forming, and amidst the GTAs, Need For Speeds and Splinter Cells, the first – and greatest – 3D outing of Metal Gear’s iconic character, Solid Snake, is in danger of being forgotten.
Enter Silicon Knights. In conjunction with Konami, it is they, the creators of Eternal Darkness, who were tasked with the retelling of the Shadow Moses story. Indeed, with this remake, their education of a new slew of gamers has been well-targeted; the struggling GameCube has both the youngest audience and most need for an exclusive title of such quality. And though many may bemoan the fact that this is not Metal Gear Solid 3 on the ‘Cube, the place of The Twin Snakes in the Metal Gear canon cannot be underestimated.
While hype for the PS2’s Snake Eater promised to take us ‘back to the origin’, it is Twin Snakes that elaborates on the series’ chronological recent history in true next generation fashion. The result is Metal Gear Solid the way it was always intended, and though some sheen may have been lost in the intermittent years, the fundamental Metal Gear experience is no less brilliant or unique.
The story of Metal Gear Solid is well known, and Twin Snakes does little to differ from the famous original. Lone government operative Solid Snake must infiltrate the Nuclear Missile Disposal Facility on Shadow Moses Island in Alaska’s Fox Archipelago, in order to prevent a terrorist stronghold, and – as discovered early in the game – a missile attack from a nuclear-equipped walking battle tank, codenamed Metal Gear Rex. The added subtext that Snake’s former unit, Foxhound, is leading the terrorist rebellion is further convoluted by the name of their leader, Liquid Snake; a link existing between Solid and Liquid at which the remake’s subtitle unsubtly hints. Meanwhile, the genetically altered genome soldiers with whom Foxhound were guarding the base are now also Snake’s mortal enemies, leaving our protagonist woefully outnumbered and hopelessly outgunned. In short, it’s a plot-twist-laden one-man sneaking mission which perfectly suits the series’ tagline: Tactical Espionage Action.
Presentation of Snake’s old adventure on GameCube is understandably a big step up from the PlayStation original. Though lacking detail in comparison to Sons of Liberty and especially the more recent Snake Eater, Twin Snakes still updates character models and areas in eye-pleasing fashion – an acceptable middle ground, given the title’s 32bit roots.
What these updated visuals truly open the door for however, is realization of Hideo Kojima’s love of the film genre which Metal Gear so unapologetically mimics. For Twin Snakes, Japanese action flick director Ryuhei Kitamura (best known for the film Versus) has reworked the game’s cutscenes into a veritable visceral bullet-time extravaganza. Though undoubtedly over the top, these new cutscenes fit into the series quasi-cartoon style world of supernatural abilities and giant walking robots, and though lacking true substance, they give the game a style all of its own. In truth, it is an unneeded alteration, but serves to separate Twin Snakes from Metal Gear Solid, and exhibits production values few games ever warrant or dare display, which can’t be a bad thing.
These production values also extend to the sound in The Twin Snakes. The screenplay remains ostensibly unchanged, featuring the same ham-acted good guys and melodramatic antagonist as before. David Hayter reprises the main role with dialogue re-recorded for Twin Snakes, as opposed to recycled in a lower-quality from the original, and delivers the familiar deep growl and dense nature we’ve come to expect from Solid Snake. Most other actors also return from the original MGS and put in similar performances. However, the decision to change Mei Ling’s voice from oriental to a generic American accent has got to be questionable. Also, certain script changes lose something in the translation to English. For instance, calling Otacon, only to hear that “Metal Gear doesn’t have a weakness, I like to think of it as a weakness”, obviously makes no sense at all. On the whole though, some niggles aside, the reworked voiceover is a superficial success.
To call the game’s sound effects and music a success however, really wouldn’t be doing it justice. From bullets leaving barrels, casings hitting the ground, punches and kicks connecting with enemy flesh and rockets and grenades exploding, to the revamped Metal Gear theme and beautifully haunting melody accompanying the game’s ending – through every scratch, bang and step along the way – Twin Snakes is an aural tour-de-force for the GameCube.
The cinematic ambitions of Metal Gear Solid, however, have never been in question, and Twin Snakes merely builds on these for the Matrix generation. Instead, much furore has surrounded the series’ interactive elements and the way these mix with the decidedly non-interactive cutscene and codec moments. For Twin Snakes this is no less true; the watch-to-play ratio often being heavily weighted towards the former, yet the cosmetic changes of the game’s cinematics are joined here by the gameplay options of MGS2, making the game a hybrid of new direction and elevated control that propels both the out-of-play and in-game experience.
On the surface, the gameplay additions work well. Control is mapped from the PlayStation pad to the GameCube with little fuss; the lack of two extra buttons is cleverly bypassed by pressing Start with either A or B to access the Codec screen and Pause menu respectively. The lack of the lock-on L1 button of PlayStation 2 MGS2, meanwhile, is not an issue, as Snake now locks onto guards automatically, while first person view is assigned (with some awkwardness) to the Z button. The control system does lack the fluidity of more recent titles in the genre (this is no Splinter Cell), and the camera is still stubbornly top-down, but it’s all familiarly and unmistakably Metal Gear. MGS2’s hiding in lockers, holding up guards and first-person firing only serves to reinforce this fact, as does the use of the latter of these in the game’s ever-memorable boss fights. This is an update, not an overhaul.
Sadly, the effects of this ideology are double edged. The new additions are fun to play with, but these new gameplay options sit against the framework of this new old Metal Gear less convincingly than they do against its sequels. Areas originally designed without these new interactions in mind now face a new approach which skews the difficulty curve unfavourably towards the first time player, meaning the lower difficulty settings present less of a challenge than they did previously. Admittedly, increased enemy AI helps correct this somewhat, especially in Hard and Extreme modes, but the further lack of any reason to engage guards directly (Sons of Liberty’s precious dog tags are little more than an easter egg here, and offer no hidden extras for they’re collection) makes the option to resort to ranged sniping all too tempting. And in areas that were never designed with sniping in mind, with fewer enemies than now needed to make progress a challenge, and (by today’s standards) relatively sparse environments, it takes a disciplined gamer or dedicated fan to wield these abilities in the gameworld the way Kojima would hope.
The Twin Snakes is, then, less balanced than both the original Metal Gear Solid and its other subtitled series brethren. Additionally, Bonus Theatre and Boss Survival modes ripped directly from MGS2 are nice enough additions in themselves, but serve also to remind GameCube owners that this is not a sequel, or even a remake of the old original 8bit Metal Gear games that started it all, as many had hoped upon announcement of a GameCube MGS title. As a remake instead of an old game, the question of developer laziness has to be raised, and the notion that Nintendo loyalists have once again been fobbed off in favour of the PlayStation brand is hard to shake.
Yet, looking past game-development politics, what Twin Snakes represents is important. More than just a lazy cash-in, it’s a preservation of Hideo Kojima’s own special art. It renders the Metal Gear Solid heritage – one of gaming’s most important memories – timeless; to be enjoyed by an already adoring public, those that missed it the first time, those too young to play it then, or those not around then to remember. It’s retro made modern, with a post-modern plot message that will still be relevant in a decade’s time. Overall, Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes is an experience; comfortingly familiar for diehard fans and ready-made for today’s more demanding generation. Though certain new additions sit uneasily against the seven year-old framework, and the genre may have evolved past the truncated structure of its original (and still-present) PlayStation base, at its height, very few titles in the genre can match this or any Metal Gear for sheer style and panache.