Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection review — Get into deep cover

I wrote a review of Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection for the Oakland Press.

What do nuclear proliferation, genome soldiers, nanomachines, code names, U.N. treaties, cloning, psychic powers, double agents, triple agents, cyborg ninja, and a bipedal tank have to do with each other?

They’re all mainstays of the Metal Gear series of video games that began in 1987. The franchise recent released Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection on the PS3, a definitive eight-game compilation that covers 25 years of intrigue, betrayal and giant robots.

Metal Gear is a tactical espionage series, arguably the seminal stealth action game. Though the gameplay has evolved through decades, one thing remains consistent throughout the franchise: Sneaking is key, avoiding confrontation is your primary goal. But the Metal Gear series is more famous for its deep, convoluted, Tom Clancy-esque spy story than it is for its actual gameplay. The more modern games have non-interactive cutscenes interspersed throughout, some running up to 40 minutes. And I can’t get enough of it.

The action oscillates between cautionary tales of a war economy out of control and beautifully choreographed fight scenes between ideological super-soldiers. It rarely gets a bit too preachy, but the thick layer of obvious anti-war themes are tempered by the games’ tendency to not take itself too seriously. One moment you’re having a conversation with the U.S. president about an Illuminati organization controlling the flow of all information, the next you’re running naked through an enemy base trying to fight soldiers while covering your genitalia with your hands.

Series director Hideo Kojima is notorious for doing HD re-releases, upgrades, and “director’s cut” editions of his games, and The Legacy Collection looks like the most complete compilation of Metal Gear titles yet. The collection begins with the original Metal Gear in all its pixelated glory, just as it appeared on the MSX computer system back in 1987, and includes every major entry in the series up to the most recent, Metal Gear Solid 4, updated last year with Playstation Network Trophy support.

There are a couple of caveats to getting the complete series, as not all of them come on the disc.

The first Metal Gear Solid and its spinoff, Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions, are playable through included Playstation Network download codes, so bear in mind that you’ll need your PS3 connected to the Internet to get the full breadth of the collection.

Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2 are somewhat hidden, playable as features in Metal Gear Solid 3. As a bonus, two digital comics are included, set in the Metal Gear universe.

Newcomers to the world of Metal Gear may find the dense story overwhelming, especially if you plan to play the games back to back. If you’re curious about the games but have never taken the plunge, I recommend the first Metal Gear Solid as an entry point, but definitely take some breaks between each title to the give the story a chance to settle, lest your brain be melted with cloak-and-dagger madness.

Series diehards should pick up The Legacy Collection to both serve as a refresher for the upcoming Metal Gear Solid 5, and to fill in any blind spots in your Metal Gear knowledge. For the most part, the games are just as you remember them, for better or for worse, right down to the controls, which vary greatly across the gamut of games. It is somewhat disorienting when jumping from one to another.

While nothing in the collection is anything truly new, it’s hard to argue with the value of the package at $50 for more than 100 hours of stealth action.

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