Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes
Metal Gear Solid is a classic. When it first debuted many years ago on Sony’s PlayStation, it instantly set the standard for how a cinematic action game should look and play and to this day remains one of the most beloved titles of the 32-bit era. Of course, when Nintendo, Silicon Knights (of Eternal Darkness fame) and Konami announced a three-way collaboration to bring an updated version of this landmark game to the GameCube console, gamers around the world rejoiced; especially after witnessing what Capcom was able to accomplish with their Resident Evil remake. Dubbed Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, this re-release once again sets the standard for all cinematic action games to follow and currently holds the lofty position of Best Metal Gear Game Ever.
For those not familiar with the series, Metal Gear games have always featured two things: stealth based gameplay and a storyline centered around a highly destructive walking tank (appropriately named Metal Gear). Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes (henceforth Twin Snakes) has both of these elements, but also kicks things up a notch by featuring an epic plot that covers a wide variety of intriguing topics, including: human cloning, post Cold War tensions and nuclear war. References are even occasionally made to events from the first two Metal Gear titles that appeared on the NES (like the fall of Zanzibar Land and death of Big Boss), but the plot is still readily accessible and thoroughly enjoyable for both veterans and newcomers alike. Perfectly blending the kind of high-tech intrigue usually associated with Tom Clancy novels with hip anime-style action, the storyline in Twin Snakes is easily worth the price of admission alone.
The game places you in the role of Solid Snake – an ex military special agent with formidable skills in just about every implement of warfare imaginable. His most notable ability, however, is a penchant for infiltrating seemingly impregnable enemy fortresses without detection. This time around, Snake’s mission takes him to Alaska to investigate a rebellion that took place at a remote military testing facility. The organization that staged the takeover is FOXHOUND – a team that Solid Snake was once a member of and whose leader, Liquid Snake, looks uncannily similar to our main protagonist. Essentially, the game consists of many sneaking/action segments and boss battles, with top quality cinemas (all handled with the gorgeous in-game graphics engine) sprinkled liberally throughout. However, unlike in Metal Gear Solid 2, the cinemas are always welcome and never steal enjoyment from the game by dragging on and on.
Metal Gear fans will be glad to know that Snake retains all of his stealth maneuvers from the original PSOne version, like the ability to flatten up against walls and peek around corners, crawl, distract a guard’s attention by tapping, etc, as well as gaining new abilities previously only seen in Metal Gear Solid 2. Now Snake can aim weapons via first person viewpoint, perform diving rolls and hang from ledges to avoid being seen. Also new is his ability to hide in lockers or stuff dead/unconscious guards in them. Though dated, the sneaking gameplay was already rock solid, and these new additions help bring it up to speed with the current generation.
As far as usefulness goes, many areas have been tweaked so there are plenty of times when leaping over the edge of catwalk or jumping inside of a locker will prove to be invaluable for avoiding many of the game’s heavily armed, patrolling sentries. The downside to all these new gameplay enhancements, especially the new first person aiming, is the game seems much easier now. Some boss fights, like the one with Revolver Ocelot, are cakewalks, when before they were quite difficult. With Ocelot, you can simply aim in first person and blast away without him being able to get even a single shot off at you. Fortunately, things become tougher later on, and playing without a radar helps counter the lower difficulty. Really though, the first person aiming option is much more of a blessing than a curse, because without it you wouldn’t be able to take advantage of useful tactics like blasting a guard’s walkie talkie to prevent him from calling for backup or tranquilizing a sentry who is on a platform above or below you.
AI is always a crucial element of any stealth based game and, thankfully, it’s fairly sharp in Twin Snakes. Guards will react smartly to any sounds you make, whether it is something blatantly obvious like a gunshot or just the subtle clanking of Snake’s boots on some metal grating. If you make a rookie mistake like hiding in a box that is labeled for a different area, you will pay for it, because an inquisitive guard will likely take a closer look, give the box a nudge or two and then lift it up, exposing you to the entire roomful of bad guys. If you are spotted, reinforcements are promptly called in take you out and if you go into hiding they will go from room to room trying to locate you. There are some minor AI holes, however – one of which is the fact that guards will never chase you into a different area. Even if you are being hunted by a number of sentries, all you have to do is leave to the next area, come back, and it will be as if nothing had ever happened. Another issue is that guards never see your weapon’s laser sight even if you are shining it on the wall in front of them or directly in their eyes.
Twin Snakes can be finished in around eight to ten hours the first time through, and significantly faster than that on subsequent completions. Of course, there are a few good easter eggs to be unlocked by playing through multiple times and the ranking system from the original makes a return appearance. The ranking system works like this: after beating the game you are given a grade based on how many times you were spotted, the number of guards killed (less is better here), amount of rations used and a number of other criteria. Earning the coveted Big Boss mark is no easy task, and will keep completionists busy for quite some time. There are also the dog tags that can be collected from the guards by sneaking up and getting them to “freeze,” though acquiring all of them doesn’t unlock anything in the game. It would have been nice to see Silicon Knights throw in some VR missions like we saw in Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance to help bolster the longevity, but Twin Snakes will keep you coming back if only because it is so damn fun to play.
On the PSOne, Twin Snakes was a gorgeous game, but if you look at the two versions side-by-side, it is shocking how much better the GC version appears. Silicon Knights reworked absolutely everything to take advantage of the Cube’s potent hardware and the end result is one of the most striking titles on Nintendo’s charismatic system. It’s especially noticeable when watching the slick cut scenes, because no matter how close you get to the characters or environments, they still look stunning. Anger, sadness, confusion and a variety of other emotions are flawlessly portrayed on the highly detailed faces of the in-game character models, and this infuses the many cinemas with an amount of potency not normally found in video games. There are points in the game when just seeing tears stream realistically down someone’s face will tug relentlessly at your heart strings. It’s refreshing to see a game accurately depict this amount of emotional complexity without resorting to computer graphics FMV.
Besides the characters themselves, the innards of the military base and surrounding outdoor areas are also beautifully modeled and very convincing, though the Cube’s inability to handle Xbox-quality textures is apparent. I won’t hold Silicon Knights hold responsible for this, however, as it’s just a limitation of the system. Plenty of nifty little graphical flourishes have been thrown in as icing on an already exquisitely decorated cake. While using binoculars outside, look up and snowflakes will land on the lens and melt into tiny water droplets that accurately bend and refract the light. Examine the environment after a heated firefight and bullet holes will be realistically scattered about, monitors destroyed and glass shattered. In one area, Silicon Knights even threw in a GameCube and Wavebird controller, a “dirty” magazine featuring Alex (heroine of Eternal Darkness) and Yoshi and Mario dolls (which, oddly enough, reward you with cute noises when you plug them with bullets). On top of all that, the framerate is incredibly stable for the vast majority of the game, with slight stuttering occurring only on a few isolated occasions, and even then never affecting gameplay.
The audio in Twin Snakes is easily on par with a big budget Hollywood motion picture. Gunshots, ricochets, explosions and other general sound effects are clean, discernable and full of oomph, especially if you have a decent audio setup. Fans of the series will be glad to see David Hayter reprising his role as Solid Snake, though sometimes his ever-present grumbling sounds more like constipation than actual machismo. In general, the voice work in the game is fantastic and allows for a glimpse into every character’s personality, regardless of whether they are good or bad. Cam Clarke’s portrayal of Liquid Snake is the best of an excellent bunch; his haunting laughter tends to stay with you long after your Cube is powered off. Some may be disappointed with the game’s sparse use of the classic Metal Gear theme, but the replacement score is fantastic in its own right and accentuates the on-screen drama masterfully.
Overall, you won’t find a better cinematic action game than Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes. Yes, it is both brief and linear in nature, but the story is presented with such a brilliant combination of style and substance that you’ll want to come back and experience it over and over again. Even if you’ve played through the original PlayStation version a dozen times back in the day, this game provides enough new content in terms of gameplay additions and improved visual punch to warrant a purchase. Though Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater appears to be a PlayStation 2 exclusive (for a little while anyway), GameCube loyalists can be happy knowing that, for the time being, they have the Best Metal Gear Game Ever all to themselves.