Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes Preview
We spend some time with Konami and Silicon Knights' upcoming Metal Gear Solid remake for the GameCube.
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We recently had the chance to try out a new playable version of Konami and Silicon Knights' upcoming Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes. The game is essentially a director's cut version of the original PlayStation classic, Metal Gear Solid, and it features completely revamped graphics and enhanced gameplay. Originally revealed at E3 of last year, the game hasn't made many appearances since then and has actually had its release date pushed back, which is now scheduled for March of this year. The version of the game we played displayed quite a few improvements over the one shown at E3--mainly with regard to tighter graphics and gameplay.
The game follows the same story as the original PlayStation version and pits Snake against a terrorist group named Foxhound, which is about to cause a heap of trouble for the world thanks to an experimental nuclear weapon called Metal Gear Rex, as well as some prototype army equipment. Improvements and changes made to the new offering are clearly evident the minute you start a new game, as it features a completely overhauled introductory sequence that combines the full-length intro of the original along with some supplemental mission briefing. The basics are still the same: A voice-over from Colonel Campbell fills you and Snake in regarding the current situation, and it also outlines the various Foxhound members you'll be encountering. At the same time, a montage shows "the stealthy one" as he preps for his mission and is eventually dispatched from the sub.
When you finally gain control of Snake, you'll have to stealthily make your way around patrolling guards and take an elevator up one level. As before, you'll find a few items, such as the M9 pistol and some rations, if you choose to explore your surroundings. Fans of the original game will notice that Snake handles a bit more slowly than he did in the PlayStation game when moving through water. This feature has been included in the updated version to compensate for the effects of water resistance. If you choose to take out the guards, you'll notice that some of the gameplay elements from Metal Gear Solid 2 have been incorporated into the game, including first-person shooting and the ability to drag bodies into lockers. Later in the game you'll also be able to hang from ledges, which offers some new options for gameplay. You may also notice that the AI has been fine-tuned so that it's a bit more reactive and poses a greater challenge to you as you go about your business. In some cases, your foes won't let you slink away, and, in fact, they'll even pursue you or lob grenades at you.
The game handles quite well, and the GameCube controller is definitely up to the task of a Metal Gear Solid game. You'll toggle your weapon and inventory on and off by using light presses of the triggers. Pulling them all the way in lets you select new items for use. The Z trigger brings you into first-person mode. The codec sequences, during which Snake receives information from his team, have been updated to reflect the new control scheme. Furthermore, the new gameplay elements are folded into the experience rather well, although we will say that the first-person shooter view definitely makes some boss fights--such as the battle with Revolver Ocelot--a bit of a breeze.
The graphics in the version of The Twin Snakes we played have been tightened up significantly since our previous looks at the game. The level of detail has obviously been bumped up considerably over the original PlayStation game, and the art has been tweaked or completely redone. Snake looks good and moves well, as do all of the other major characters in the game. High polygon counts and detail to match are the order of the day in the game, and it all looks quite good. The various grunts you'll have to deal with aren't quite as impressive, and they maintain their amusing single-file running formations as found in the original game. While not realistic, this fits in well with the game's occasional goofy touches, just as the naughty magazines you'll find, and the box you can use to disguise Snake do.
The environments have also received impressive face-lifts that are most noticeable when you're having a look around via the first-person view. Little touches, such as breakable bottles and other interactive elements, have also been added to bring the areas to life. In addition, you'll find a generous helping of special effects (such as water on the camera lens that drips off when Snake gets out of the water) that add a layer of polish to the game's presentation. While the game's face-lift has buffed up all of the game's 3D elements, the codec screens, which show portraits of Snake and whoever he's talking to, have kept the rich 2D portraits from the original game (unlike in Metal Gear Solid 2, which used 3D character portraits for these sequences).
The in-game cinemas, which are probably the most overhauled elements in the game, look great as well. The all-new cinematics sport a sleek style that maintains the feel of the original game while incorporating a much more cinematic aesthetic that works well. As far as the graphics engine's performance goes, the jury is still out on whether or not the game is going to purr along like we're hoping it will. Twin Snakes will offer progressive scan support, which helps the detailed visuals shine--and this is a good thing. However, the frame rate, which hasn't been very stable in our previous looks at the title, is still being worked on. In fact, the version we played was much more stable overall, although it was still not quite the solid 60 frames that it was supposed to be. There are also some bits of color banding and rough textures that we noticed, but they're not glaring.
The game's audio offers a robust, immersive package that should be impressive, thanks partly to the game's Dolby Pro Logic II support. Moreover, all but one of the original game's voice cast has returned to rerecord dialogue, which helps keep the game sounding fresh. In some cases, the new dialogue is purely functional, such as when the colonel tells you that you have to hit start and the A button simultaneously to bring up the codec screen. However, in other cases, such as with Mei Ling's voice, the new dialogue shows off some refinement. Mei Ling is no longer sporting her Chinese accent, which ends up making sense when you consider that she was purportedly educated in the US.
From what we've seen so far, Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes still looks promising. Despite some of the less-refined graphical elements, the game is still very playable and is still very fun. The new cinemas certainly give the game's narrative an even stronger punch, although we're not sure the opening cinema's copious amount of setup works, as we enjoyed the mystery of the whole experience found in the original game's introduction. The gameplay is definitely good, and it feels right. Despite the original game's age, Twin Snakes still has an undeniable charm that should be worth a look when it ships this March. Look for more on the game in the coming months.