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Metal Gear Solid HD Collection
Graphics: 9
Gameplay: 8.7
Sound: 9
Control: 8.5
Replay Value: 8.5
Rating: 8.8
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Armature Studio
Number Of Players: 1

As we anxiously await news of Metal Gear Solid 5, we can always look back at the glory of the vaunted series and revisit its finest moments. If you’re on the go a lot, one of the best ways to reminisce is to pick up the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection for the PlayStation Vita. Although it doesn’t include Peace Walker (the fantastic PSP adventure), you can’t go wrong with this package, which reminds us why the franchise is so freakin’ legendary.

If you saw – or perhaps even own – last year’s MGS Collection that released for consoles, you know the high-definition overhaul looks great. The graphics really do hold up well and can absolutely shine in certain situations; this goes double for the Vita’s brilliant screen. It’s just so crisp and sharp, and you’ll be hard-pressed to nitpick. Given the tremendous choreography and stunning visual presentation so typical of this acclaimed series, you have to expect greatness at every turn. The detailing shows its age a little but that’s about it.

The audio is in much the same boat, as it’s vintage MGS with all those familiar voices we so well remember, and the classic soundtrack that adds just the right touch of style and ambiance to our sneaking. The way the effects and music are blended allows both to perform their jobs efficiently without one taking center-stage, and the Vita handles this balancing awfully well. Overall, in terms of technical proficiency, this handheld Collection doesn’t look or sound like most “handheld” productions. Konami and Kojima don’t believe in “average,” after all.

The Vita iteration of last year’s compilation is indeed minus Peace Walker, but nobody is going to complain about Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. There are also ports of the first two Metal Gear titles, which are based on the updated mobile phone versions. So despite the obvious omission of a great portable MGS, there’s plenty of content to keep you entertained for long periods of time. Plus, the games haven’t lost that essential tension we felt when first playing them.

That’s key, because so much about the MGS experience revolves around the atmosphere. I was a little worried about how that atmosphere would be captured on Sony’s portable, but I probably shouldn’t be surprised at how it turned out. Whether you’re slinking along, shadowing a patrolling guard, leaning tentatively around a corner, or simply hiding in the dark, planning out your point-by-point tactical attack, it’s no less involving on a smaller screen. You’ve still got multiple ways of achieving your goals and above all else, the stories and characters are memorable.

It’s actually very similar to the console installment released last year but of course, the developer has tossed in a few Vita-specific functions. These are hit or miss depending on your comfort level with the unit in question. The primary touch-screen controls are the same between MGS2 and MGS3: Peek around corners, a camera-zoom during cut-scenes and when looking through binoculars, etc. You also touch the screen to cycle through your equipment, which is necessary because we don’t have the double shoulder button sets we had with the PS3 controller.

All of that works just fine, even if I still prefer the traditional buttons. The biggest problem centers on the implementation of the rear touchpad…I think they tried to do too much with it. For instance, if you switch to the first-person view in MGS2, you swipe left or right on the screen to move the character. Gliding your fingers outward lets the character stand on tiptoe (which is a little bizarre), and the touchpad can also be used to control a hanging/shimmying Snake. It’s not that it doesn’t work, it’s that it’s a little too involved and adds unnecessary control complexity in my eyes.

Then there’s using the rear touchpad to execute a knife strike in MGS3. …just be very careful of how you’re holding the Vita, because an ill-timed blade attack ruins everything. But hey, it’s nice to have slick options and I think some people will really enjoy the Vita-specific controls. They are reliable and relatively accurate and they can add extra flavor to the adventure. That being said, I’ll stick with the traditional buttons, although I admit that could be due to the fact that I have a certain aversion to touch commands of any kind.

The rest is pure MGS goodness. As I said above, the games really look quite amazing on the Vita, the stories remain top-notch (despite the long cut-scenes, which I happen to like), and the pacing, challenge, and overall style is absolutely second-to-none. I’ve often said MGS3 has one of the best endings in the history of gaming and I’m stickin’ to that. MGS2 blew everyone away when it hit the PS2 back in 2001 and there’s a damn good reason; it was total next-level epicness from start to finish. Besides, it’s tough to find pure stealth experiences these days and nobody has done it better than Kojima and Co.

Oh, and let’s not forget about that wicked cool “transfarring” feature, which allows you to share save data via USB. You could do this with Peace Walker, too, but there’s an upgraded feature here: The Vita iteration lets you upload saves to the cloud, which is a definite bonus. And being able to tie together the console and handheld installments of such an amazing franchise is awesome, no matter how you look at it. More games need to take advantage of this cross-platform feature, I say; it would always be welcome.

The Metal Gear Solid HD Collection for the Vita is probably what the fans expect, and that’s a good thing. The portable-specific controls have a few problems and we don’t get Peace Walker but other than that, this is quintessentially MGS from top to bottom. When you’re out and about and you’ve got some downtime, your fancy new Vita is just begging for some classic stealth action. If you’re a fan, it’s a no-brainer. If not, you might want to do some research…the controls may feel awkward for the uninitiated, which does remain a significant stumbling block for newcomers.

Besides that, Metal Gear Solid F…T…W.

The Good: Vita’s brilliant display makes HD visuals pop. Great audio balancing. Two of the best games in existence are featured. Vita-specific features can be cool control options. General atmosphere is well captured. “Transfarring” is nice to have.

The Bad: Touchscreen functionality isn’t perfect. Controls can feel dated and awkward to newcomers. No Peace Walker.

The Ugly: “No, I did not want to stab him…*%^&($&$ rear touchpad.”

7/17/2012   Ben Dutka