With a slight bit of trepidation, I bought the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection…for the Xbox 360.

(Oh, by the way, we bought a used Xbox 360 so I’ve got that back now. Still don’t have a PS3 and I have no idea when I’ll get one.)

Now, my trepidation came from the fact that I thought the Xbox 360 version might have been hamstrung in some way due to the fact that these games are native to the PS3. It wouldn’t be the first time a cross-platform port suffered (I’m looking straight at you, Grandia II for the PS2).

I could not be more wrong. This is by far the best series of HD ports I have ever seen. The frame rate is perfectly consistent, the higher-poly models work well and most of the textures have been upgraded. The goal of the port team (Bluepoint Games) was obviously to create as faithful a port as possible. They even got Paul Eiding (who plays Colonel Campbell) back into the studio to record lines like “To access the CODEC, press the Back button” since the Xbox doesn’t have a Select button. That’s how dedicated they were to making this as smooth a transition as possible.

The only quibble comes from the fact that the control scheme changed significantly for Metal Gear Solid 3 due to the close-quarters-combat system. The CQC system relied upon “soft” and “hard” button presses on the PS3 face buttons; for instance, after grabbing someone you could softly press the attack button to interrogate them or press it all the way down to kill them. (I killed a lot of people accidentally before I figured this out.) The Xbox 360 buttons are simple switches, so a change was required – now you use the left stick button to do the same thing. Hold it down, you interrogate, tap it a few times and you kill. This change did not bug me at all.

On the other hand, there’s the problem of accidental shots. In the PS3 version of Metal Gear Solid 3, you can go into first-person mode to aim, then press the fire button to bring up your weapon. When you release the fire button, you’ll fire. But what if you decide you don’t want to fire? On the PS3, you can slowly release the button and Snake will put the gun down without firing. But again, there is no “slowly” pressing a 360 button. This was solved by using the top buttons – hold RB to go into first-person, then hold LB to bring your gun up. Then press the weapon button. Don’t want to fire? Let go of LB and you’ll lower the weapon.

Frankly I don’t like this system. It involves both hands and isn’t as intuitive as “press to aim, release to fire”. So I’ve been compensating by being very careful with my shots, which has actually made me a better player. But the workaround is there if necessary.

As for the games themselves, they are what they have always been. Metal Gear Solid 2 is a weak game, in my opinion, but I’m currently in the process of giving it another chance, like I did with Final Fantasy VIII. It’ll be interesting to see, after having played the rest of the series, if I can understand the game any better. I’ve already found myself connecting some dots I didn’t (or couldn’t) before. The game is based off the Substance version of Metal Gear Solid 2, so it includes the Snake Tales extra missions and VR training. Unfortunately, the Snake skateboarding minigame was removed, but since that was actually a completely different game using a completely different engine, I’m not surprised, and it’s not a great loss.

Metal Gear Solid 3 is still a gem of a game; less frustrating to play than its predecessor due to the ability to move the camera around while in overhead view. The storyline is great and starts the whole Metal Gear saga off with a bang. It includes one of the strongest female characters ever seen in video gaming: The Boss. I would have paid full price just for this game. And because this port is based off Subsistence, it includes the original Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2 games as well. Unfortunately, the Snake vs Monkey minigame is gone, as is the Secret Theater. Also, the playable nightmare Snake has if you save just after he is tortured is gone, which is a shame. But, again, that was actually an alpha of a completely different game so I can see why Bluepoint might not have been able to get the rights or integrate it properly into the rest of the port.

Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is new to me; I’d played the demo on my PSP but found the controls clunky. When you begin the game here, you’re actually presented with three control schemes: one based on MGS4 (which I picked), one based on Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, and one based Monster Hunter, of all things. So no matter how you want to play the game, you’re covered.

The controls are tight and add even more to the CQC system than was there before. You can now chain CQC moves against multiple enemies and throw enemies into each other, stunning both. If you’ve ever seen that cutscene in Metal Gear Solid 3 where Snake uses CQC to defeat six soldiers at once, rest assured that you can now pull stuff like that in gameplay. Edit: I didn’t know this when I first wrote this article, but there is actually an achievement/trophy for chaining six CQC takedowns in a row, which is freakin’ awesome.

The plot has been fascinating so far, because at this point Snake (now Big Boss) has abandoned all ideals of fighting for a country and now fights only for what he himself believes in. He commands a mercenary group called Militaires Sans Frontières (Soldiers Without Borders). He gets sucked into a conflict in Costa Rica that turns out to be a proxy war between the CIA and the KGB, and since I’m not done with the game yet I don’t know which side he’ll pick.

It’s clear, though, that this game is more about the formation of Outer Heaven, the independent military base created by Big Boss. And this isn’t just in the story. You build Outer Heaven yourself, directing the people under your command to focus on one aspect of the base or another – do you reduce research in order to make sure wounded soldiers get better faster? Which is more important, food or intel gathering? (That’s actually a valid question, since plentiful food means soldiers operate more efficiently.) This aspect of the game is interesting enough that my daughter Megan asked me, “Can I get a game with just this in it and without the sneaking around part?”

To save space on the original PSP disc, cutscenes were done using static images with some animation laid over them. They are artfully produced and professionally voiced – and I didn’t know Tara Strong and Grey Delisle could do Central American accents. The fact that they are not done in-engine does not detract from the game at all.

Quibbles? Well, the environments are small due to the limitations of the original PSP game. But they do get more interesting as the game progresses. The game tries to fit a whole bunch of information on the screen at once by writing text sideways; this combined with the blocky font used made me occasionally have to peer at the screen to figure out what it was saying.

Other than that, I’m having an absolute blast with this game – the addition of the new base building mechanic is well done. You can improve your base while on a mission (by, er, kidnapping talented enemy soldiers and getting them to work for you). And what you do on base affects your missions – upgrading your weapons and equipment will make missions easier. Thus, you can trade time for skill and I seem to recall saying in the past that this is a great mechanic to include in games. And as far as I know, nothing from the original PSP game was left out of this version.

Overall, for $40 you get five of the eight games that currently make up the Metal Gear canon (with Metal Gear Solid, Portable Ops and MGS4 being the missing games). And the ports are excellently done. If you played Metal Gear on the PS2 and miss it or if you’ve never tried it, I highly recommend this game.