Say goodbye to the multiplayer but hello to touchscreen controls.
After winning high marks for last year's conspiracy compilation bonanza Metal Gear HD Collection, including a 9.0 from IGN, Konami is hoping to top itself by bringing the same lovingly retouched versions of Hideo Kojima's signature series to the Vita. Konami unveiled the portable version of the HD Collection at a press event in New York today and I got to spend some time with the stealth classics to find out what's new and different for the PlayStation Vita.
For starters, the compilation isn't quite as complete as the home console versions. For the $39.99 price tag you'll get Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, and the first two Metal Gear games from the MSX2 system. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker has been cut from the package along with the online multiplayer features it offered. However, the Vita version of the game will support Konami's "Transfarring" feature, allowing owners of the PS3 versions of MGS2 and MGS3 to transfer their save files back and forth.
The biggest interactive change comes with a number of unique touchscreen controls that add some subtle flexibility to the experience. In Snake Eater, you'll be able to do a quick stab with your knife vua a sideways swipe on the back touchscreen. You'll also be able to switch weapons from in game by holding your finger over the weapons icon in the bottom corner, which will bring up a floating menu of all the weapons in your backpack. The same long-press can be used with the item icon on the left-hand side of the screen to swap out your cigarettes for thermal goggles without having to dig through the complicated inventory menus. It's a simple idea and not especially revolutionary, but it adds an immediate sense of ease. It's a welcome change from the intrusive menus from the original, which even the 3DS version of Snake Eater forced players to negotiate.
When Snake's in cover you can also swipe left or right on the front touchscreen to pan the camera a few extra inches to get a better view of what's around the corner. This felt slightly clumsier since you have to keep pressing the left analog stick up to stay in cover, which means you'll have to use your right hand to swipe while your left hand supports the weight of the Vita and keeps pressure on the stick at the same time. It's not exactly impossible, but after a few uncomfortable attempts I was happy enough to just make do with the analog sticks for viewing adjustments. You can also zoom in and pan the camera during all the cutscenes, which felt pretty superfluous in the opening parts of the game but could conceivably add some dramatic intensity later on when the character drama intensifies.
Sons of Liberty has a few unique touchscreen controls of its own, which won't be applicable to Snake Eater for unspecified reasons. Swiping upward on the rear touchscreen while in cover will let Raiden (or Snake) stand on his toes to see over objects. While in first person you can also swipe left or right on the front touchscreen to sidestep. Overall, Konami seems to have been conservative with the touchscreen controls in both games, adding things that work decently but aren't intrusive or impossible to play around if you don't like them.
Swiping tomfoolery aside, the bigger prize in the HD Collection is the updated visuals given to Sons of Liberty and Snake Eater. Neither game has been rebuilt from scratch, but the PS2-era graphics have seen an increase in texture resolution, character models have more detail, and the vibrant OLED display is a fantastic compliment to both games. The golden lighting and dusky browns and greens of Snake Eater are sharpened into a neat and clean image that trumps the murkiness of the original PS2 and outstrips the meager draw distance of the 3DS version. Sons of Liberty looks even better to my eye. Though not as technically advanced as Snake Eater, the austere look and simple geometry of the plant look fantastically sharp and modern on the Vita screen.
PS3 Screen of MGS3
The Vita's second analog stick is also a major improvement on every previous Metal Gear handheld game. It feels like a major evolution after having muddled through Snake Eater on 3DS without the benefit of the Circle Pad Pro. Like with the PS3 and 360 versions, having camera control at all times makes the games feel a lot more flexible and accessible than having to fidget around with fixed camera angles or pretending the face buttons are an analog stick.
It's disappointing to see that the one PSP game Konami had included in the console version of HD Collection hasn't been brought over to the Vita, and the absence of the accompanying multiplayer mode makes it even worse. But what is here is a pretty potent package for anyone with an interest in stealth games. The Metal Gear Solid games are an acquired taste, but they're designed with a sense of adventure and experimentation that few games match. And though the Vita version isn't quite as complete as the home console version -- it will admittedly be $10 cheaper -- it looks like a fine translation of two of the most famous and infamous titles made in the last decade of pop gaming.
Konami hasn't announced a final release date for HD Collection on Vita but the representative on hand said it will be out in stores and as a PSN download sometime this summer.