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Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes

Developer: Silicon Knights | Publisher: Konami
Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 03/09/04 | Genre: Action

The Metal Gear series is a fairly old one that started on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1987. However, it wasn't until the 1998 release of Metal Gear Solid on the PlayStation that the series became massively popular. MGS was praised for both its cinematic storytelling and new stealth-action gameplay. The PlayStation 2 sequel was hotly anticipated. When it was finally released, it sported some fresh new gameplay mechanics, but most fans were very disappointed in the story. Silicon Knights (makers of Eternal Darkness), working with Konami, merged the new gameplay mechanics of MGS 2 into the original Metal Gear Solid for an impressive remake.

Solid Snake, an extremely skilled military agent, has been called from retirement to for a very important mission. Some terrorists have taken over a nuclear weapons disposal facility and are threatening to launch a nuclear weapon if their demands aren't met. This isn't some regular old terrorist crisis though. There are some exciting mysteries and twists in the plot as Snake will find out. Snake specifically has been called because of certain people involved in the situation and because of his unique expertise and experience. I don't want to spoil anything for you. Suffice it to say that it is one of the best told stories in video games. Don't be fooled by the standard-seeming terrorist threat and demand scenario.

The first difference anyone would notice between the original and the new GameCube rendition is the graphics. Although it's to be expected, polygon counts and texture details are far beyond the original PlayStation game. Character models are especially nice because lots of geometry is used to represent the features of their bodies, clothing, and gear. There are also decent lighting and shadowing effects. That said, I didn't find anything to be extraordinarily impressive on the technical side. It's definitely one of the finer looking games on the GameCube, but technically speaking, games like F-Zero GX or Rogue Squadron show off more graphical strength. The art design is right on. It creates believability for the environments that you'll be in. Some of the in-game animations are pretty impressive. One example is when Solid Snake does a pull-up from a ledge, his back and shoulder movements have detailed animations. Others were not so great, although, it could be due to the lack of full analog control (more on that later).

Cutscenes are an entirely different matter though. All of the cutscenes from the original game have been redone, and they are simply amazing. Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes is one of the most, if not the most, cinematic video game ever. I really appreciate the fact that real-time cutscenes were used rather than full motion video. The animations for the cutscenes are incredible. Facial animations in particular really show the characters' emotions. The voice acting is also excellent. All of the original voice actors have come back to reprise their roles. There is a lot of dialogue in the game which is probably the sole reason that the game comes on two discs. These elements combined with the great camerawork produce really enthralling storytelling. The plot is really mature in both senses of the word. It seems like a professionally produced drama, and things get pretty violent too. I've heard some complain that some of the cutscenes are so long that it makes you bored and takes away from the game. I really don't feel this way because I found the cutscenes very enjoyable.

The voice work was redone for the entire game, not just the cutscenes. Snake has many conversations through a kind of radio device called the Codec with various members of his operations team and others. Some of these conversations are really lengthy, but it is not necessary to listen to most of them to know what is going on. They mostly provide background story and hints about the game. I found it enjoyable to listen to the extra plot information, but some might be compelled to skip it. Regardless, the voice acting is again excellent. Some hardcore MGS fans might be disappointed to find out that a few of the characters' accents have been toned down, but I don't think it's a big deal. I have a hypothesis that maybe Silicon Knights or Konami that the stronger accents might not be entirely PC or something. The music for the game has also been redone. It always seems to set the right mood. There's mellow, yet slightly tense music to keep you on edge as you're sneaking around, and faster, more dramatic songs to keep your blood pumping during battle. Like everything else mentioned so far, the sound effects have been redone too. There's a variety of weapons and gadgets to use in the game, and everything is represented just fine. I never really noticed any sound effects that were not convincing.

Anyone who's played Metal Gear Solid or Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty has a good idea of what the gameplay is like in Twin Snakes. After all, it is a remake with features from both games. The game places a large emphasis on stealth rather than direct combat like James Bond. It is very realistic in that sense. Although snake can engage everyone in combat and try to blaze through the place, players will find that this puts significant strain on their resources (ammo and health replenishment). Indeed, novice players will die many times if they try a James Bond approach. Snake is alone on his mission, and getting the attention of several enemies and trying to fight them all at once usually gets him killed. Instead, the game encourages the player to sneak around a lot. Move quietly. Draw enemies out one at a time. Sneak up behind them and strangle them. Take them out from a distance with a tranquilizer. Or better yet, avoid them all together. That's not to say that snake doesn't have some stronger weapons for when the time comes. However, you'll usually find it much better to run and hide even once you've been spotted rather than take on a whole squad of soldiers. Speaking of being spotted, the enemies have some impressive AI (much improved over the original). Enemies are alert to any strange sounds or clues that they may see. Enemies follow footprints, trails of lost blood, odd sounds and more. When they find something suspicious, they'll take a good look around to see if they can spot you. Enemies are especially thorough searchers after they know that they have spotted you, but you managed to evade them and find a hiding spot. These are some of the tensest moments of the game. It can be a little scary when you're hiding and you have nothing to do but wait for the enemies to finish their search and hope that they don't look in the locker you're hiding in. If you are trying to evade an enemy and he sees you crawl under a bed or into a ventilation shaft to hide, then he will try to get you any way he can. I will actually duck down and hold his gun against the gun and try to fire it at you. If he can't get you with his gun, then he'll lob grenades into you're hiding space to flush you out or kill you. Enemies always call for back up when they spot you (unless Snake has taken out their radio with a well placed bullet). One limitation to the enemy AI is vision range. Each enemy has a certain range of vision. The wideness of this range seems to be just right, but they can't see very far. Snake could be dragging a dead body out in the open directly in front of an enemy, but if that enemy is a certain distance away, then he will not react at all. However, this is really part of the gameplay design, not really a lacking in the AI. A lot of the game is about examining the patterns of the enemy patrols and then moving while avoiding their fields of vision (of course, you need to be mindful of sound, footprints, and other things too).

The controls are well adapted to the GameCube controller, and easy to get used to. Certain actions are context sensitive (i.e. standing next to a railing and pushing 'Y' will cause Snake to hang from it, while pushing 'Y' in front of an elevator will open it, etc), which makes things pretty intuitive. Selecting weapons and items is a quick and painless process. It is really easy to get into the game and you'll learn the controls within the first few minutes. In case you didn't read the instruction manual (though you still should), the game provides instructions on how to perform specific actions when necessary. I'd also like to mention that Twin Snakes makes some of the best use of rumble that I've seen. In many games, you don't notice that the GameCube controller can provide vibration at varying intensities. In Twin Snakes, rumble is used effectively in all kinds of different situations and I thought it was cool how different intensities of vibrations were used to convey different feelings to the player. Rumble is even used for a few points of humor in the game. Of course, if you're using a Wavebird, then you won't get to experience this aspect of the game. One thing that I was annoyed with is the lack of full analog control. This seems to be a conscious decision made by Silicon Knights to stick to the original game's design, but I think it was a wrong decision. If you push the Control Stick slightly, Snake will walk, and if you push the stick farther, Snake will run. However, there is nothing in between. Snake can walk at one speed, or he can run at another speed. This is simply not what we're used to with modern 3D games and it is disappointing. It can also cause problems when you are trying to sneak because if you push the Control Stick just a tad too far, then Snake will immediately start running and the sound can alert nearby enemies. Gamers are used to full analog control in console games so that they can move around with varying degrees of speed corresponding to how far the stick is pushed. Turning does also does not feel as smooth as in other games.

The action takes place primarily from a 3rd-person camera that is usually overhead. Combined with Snakes radar (it shows surrounding objects as well as the vision ranges of nearby enemies and cameras), this is an excellent view for all of the stealth action. Snake can press himself against walls, peek around corners, crawl along the ground, and more. New moves introduced in MGS 2 can now be performed in Twin Snakes. These moves include hanging from ledges (another way to hide), hiding in lockers, picking up and moving bodies, and more. Moving bodies is especially useful since other enemies who spot them will become suspicious and start searching for you. To be more offensive, yet still be sneaky, Snake can sneak up from behind enemies and put them in a choke hold or simple knock them out with a few punches. Another new move added from MGS 2 is the "hold up" in which Snake sneaks up behind an enemy and tells the enemy to "Freeze!" If done properly, not only is it then easier to take out the enemy, but you can frighten the enemy and then take their dog tag. Dog tags can be collected and stored in a special menu. The names on the dog tags are those of Silicon Knights and Konami employees, as well as MGS fans who have won a contest to have their name appear on the dog tag of some unlucky soldier. The purpose of collecting dog tags is mainly for the fun of the challenge, just to see if you can get them all. Nothing special is unlocked if you collect them all.

While the 3rd-person overhead camera is great for the sneaking around, it is not so great for combat with guns. In fact, this is one of the things I disliked most about the original MGS. Although there is a targeting system, it is still not that easy to use and especially with an overhead camera, enemies will often be off screen. It is frustrated to try to shoot at something that you can't see. Thankfully, the 1st-person view mode from MGS 2 can now be selected in the Twin Snakes. Snake cannot move while viewing his surroundings in 1st-person, but all of Snake's gadgets and weapons can still be used. This makes it possible to shoot at enemies from a distance, and it allows the player to examine the little details in the environment. I hated combat with guns in the original MGS, but it is definitely a lot better in Twin Snakes. Some complained that this made some of the boss fights too easy (because now you can accurately aim your shots), but I think this is because a few of the boss fights were poorly designed in the first place. For instance, in the original MGS, the first boss fight that you get into has you basically running around in circles blindly shooting because the boss keeps moving around and is rarely on your screen. All though you can lock-on to him, the boss is almost constantly moving and the lock-on system in MGS does not follow targets. I did not find this challenging; I just found this difficult in a cheap way. Now in Twin Snakes, this boss fight is much easier because you can switch to 1st-person view and actually see what you're shooting at. The 1st-person view is a very welcomed addition. That some of the boss fights have become easier is a fault of the original game's design.

Although new abilities from MGS 2 have been added, I don't really think it changes the game that much except for the 1st-person view. The 1st-person view makes the shooting things less frustrating. The other moves do give the players more options, but aside from a few additional lockers placed throughout the buildings, the level design is identical to that of the original game. That means that there aren't really any level design elements that take specific advantage of the new additions. This isn't a completely bad thing, as the original level design was already good. It just means that if you have already played the original game, don't expect the new additions to totally change the experience. Twin Snakes is mainly the same game in a fancy new suit.

Aside from an array of guns and explosives, Snake can also pick up a wide array of gadgets such as thermal vision goggles, a mine detector, and more. Different items can be used to distract guards, provide additional defense, or avoid traps. Some items (and weapons) are optional, but the player will be at a definite advantage if he or she explores and finds every item and weapon.

Snake will also encounter boss enemies throughout the mission. Players will appreciate the fact that each boss fight has some unique elements and they are good opportunities to put varying skills to the test. One thing that some people complain about is that the cutscenes can be so exciting and dramatic that the gameplay pales in comparison. This is the most evident during a boss enemy's introduction cutscene and the following battle. You might wonder if the boss enemy got drunk between the end of the cutscene and the start of the battle. For example, you'll watch in horror at the extremely precise and deliberate shots of a master sniper during a cutscene, but when it is time for Snake to battle the same sniper, it's as if she is falling asleep at the rifle. You'll watch a gruesome cutscene in which a mysterious ninja effortlessly tears through any and every obstacle, human and object, but just a few moments later in a fight with snake, he is reduced to a repetitious pattern of moves. It's not really that bad actually. It's just a clear sign that you're playing a video game, and perhaps a testament to the excellent production values of the cutscenes.

One of the main downsides of the game is its length. A first time player could probably beat it in 7-10 hours. A second time player (or someone who knows the original MGS) could easily beat it in half the time. Indeed when you reach the end of the game, you will realize that the game world (the nuclear disposal facility) is not even that large. The flow of the game feels just fine, it's just that it might be over too soon for some. There are incentives to play through the game multiple times, although, I don't think the average player will bother playing it more than twice if they even play more than once at all. There are some different difficulty levels, as well as a new mode called "Game Over If Discovered" that becomes unlocked. In addition, the game gives the player a ranking at the end of the game depending on a variety of factors, and this information can be entered at the games official website. So you can try to compete with the rest of the world to see how good of a black ops agent you can be.

I really think that players will enjoy the cinematic experience of Twin Snakes. The story is very creative and provides plenty of drama and even humor at the right times. The character development is excellent and each one has a distinct personality. The writing is good most of the time, and as I explained, the cutscene direction and voice acting do a great job of bringing the story to life. If you have never played Metal Gear Solid before, then I really think you should consider buying Twin Snakes. It is one of the finer games on GameCube. If you consider yourself a MGS fan, then you are probably going to want to pick this game up too. This is a very good upgrade to the original that I think fans will enjoy. If you have played the original MGS, but you don't consider yourself a huge fan then you might want to try before you buy. The reason for this is that even with the new additions, Twin Snakes is not that different from the original. This is a pretty straightforward upgrade with obvious technical improvements. Though Snake has gained some new abilities, because the level design is the same as the original, it doesn't change the game that much. This remake is not something like Metroid Zero Mission or Resident Evil for GameCube which were designed to give new experiences to even players who knew the original games inside and out.

Metal Gear Solid The Twin Snakes is best played through with the strategy guide released by BradyGames and written by Rick Barba. Besides assisting you in completing the game, the guide will help you get all of the secrets in every level and even includes some developer secrets. You will also find maps of all of the areas and an art gallery in the back of the guide. This 142 page guide is filled with full color pages. In the past, some of the guides we have seen used some pretty bad screenshots. However, all of the images in this guide are of very high quality. You can't go wrong purchasing this guide and some stores, like Gamestop, will even offer you a discount when buying both the guide and the game.

I have to also reveal a little bit of my bias here. If I had reviewed the original Metal Gear Solid in 1998, I probably would have given it the same grade that I am giving Twin Snakes. I think that MGS was a good game worth owning, but I didn't feel that it was as great as all of the PlayStation fans were making it out to be. For me, it comes down to the fact that I am more impressed with the cinematic presentation of the game rather than the gameplay itself. That said, Twin Snakes is a fun game and a good remake, but it does not provide a very new experience to those who have played the original.

By Andrew Thivyanathan - 03/22/04
ESRB Details: Blood and Gore, Suggestive Themes, Violence
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