PlayStation cutscene ’em up Metal Gear Solid was a legend in its own lifetime, selling millions of copies worldwide and responsible for a huge shift in mainstream gaming’s attitude towards how games could play and the sort of weighty subjects their plots could tackle. It made “stealth action” mainstream in a way Tenchu, released the same year, didn’t, and producer/director/designer/writer Hideo Kojima a celebrity in his own right. It was for a time the high bar against which all other games were measured, a game so culturally significant everyone had heard of it, and everyone in the industry hoped to make a game like it.
How the heck do you remake a game like that – and do so just one generation after the original’s release, a time when everyone who wanted to play the game not only already had the PlayStation version on a shelf at home but its PlayStation 2 sequel as well? Silicon Knights, creators of Eternal Darkness and co-developer of 2004’s Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, were in an unenviable position: Nobody would accept a Metal Gear Solid remake that didn’t look and play like the beloved PlayStation original, but Snake’s expanded moveset and the drastically improved guard AI from the critically acclaimed international bestseller Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty released three years before this GameCube remake were also too good (and too well known) to politely ignore.
So the end result is this inevitable mash-up of familiar old level design combined with all new and unintended ways to interact with it, and while the end result isn’t as focused or sublime as Kojima’s first take on the Shadow Moses incident a few decades distance does help us to view this GameCube release more as an interesting alternative take than a cocky upstart trying to snatch away the Tactical Espionage Action crown, as a bundle of good ideas and a reasonable response to the external pressures present at the time of its production. Does first-person aiming, easy enemy tranquilising, and a variety of new movement options change the original experience in some drastic ways? Definitely. But these are at worst minor stumbles and at best brand new possibilities found within what is still an unquestionably excellent and highly polished title – and sometimes, if we dare to be honest with ourselves, The Twin Snakes weaknesses were Metal Gear Solid’s weaknesses in the first place. Let’s use the early boss battle against Revolver Ocelot as an example: In The Twin Snakes all you need to do here is pop out from behind a nearby pillar and shoot him wherever you like using that fancy new first-person shooting mode, making this battle with the gun-twirling moustache-haver a breeze and maybe… a bit simple and boring? Right. But what did we really do when we played the PlayStation original? Didn’t we all just run around the edges of a square grey room and press the fire button whenever Ocelot was in front of Snake? What else could have been done in this GameCube remake without straying too far from the pre-existing framework?
And then there are all of those re-shot cutscenes to consider, completely untroubled by the rules that bind Metal Gear’s gameplay, the laws of gravity, and in more than a few instances basic common sense. Ryuhei Kitamura’s (at the time of Twin Snakes’ release the director of Versus, Aragami, Azumi and more) reimagined sequences can’t go five seconds without a dramatic camera sweep (complimented by an audible whoosh) or someone doing a backflip because backflips are cool (the point where Liquid casually performs a flip mid-conversation as he walks along a narrow railing is so wonderfully ridiculous it made me laugh out loud). But love or loathe Kitamura’s eternally explosive slow-mo shot take on the Shadow Moses incident there’s no denying what’s here was made with a lot of love and enthusiasm for the source material, and what’s here was also made with Kojima’s direct approval – nobody in gaming hires a movie director for their new project by accident or because doing so would be cheaper or more time-efficient than working with the original storyboards. Kojima, dedicated film buff that he adorably is, wanted Kitamura’s take on these scenes specifically, and was vocal about having him directly involved in the creative process rather than a marketable name on the back of the box. Besides, during the pre-Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater times of The Twin Snakes’ release Solid Snake not continually being overtly cool and perpetually shoved centre-stage was seen as a real problem with Konami and Kojima’s treatment of the series – one arguably over-corrected since then – and while we can rightly debate all day as to whether The Twin Snakes gave fans the Snake they really wanted or the Snake Metal Gear games should have, there’s little doubt the game gave fans the Snake they asked for.
The Twin Snakes is a remake that’s not only well aware of the status held by the game it’s based on but is also keen to celebrate it – all of it – as well, and this deep reverence frequently manifests itself in all sorts of outwardly incongruous ways; from carefully modelled WaveBird controllers and fourth wall breaking nods directly towards the player (neither of which were present the first time around) to the almost slapstick nature of some of the comical violence found within the cutscenes. But why wouldn’t you laugh out loud when a guard visibly panics because Snake doesn’t immediately collapse after a blow to the back of the head the way he did on the PlayStation – and why shouldn’t Metal Gear Solid have a little fun? In its original form this is a game that let you ogle Meryl until she went beetroot-red, had Otacon say, out loud, on purpose, “This is just like one of my Japanese animes” (the line virtually identical in the Japanese script), gave you the opportunity to get one of your stealth cardboard boxes soaked in dog urine to beneficial effect, fool a guard with a bottle of ketchup, and included an unlockable item that let you photograph ghosts of the development team. As a series Metal Gear’s had official playable crossovers with Ape Escape and Monster Hunter, two card-based tactical games (one memorably featuring a green gorilla-like boss with detachable arms – oh, and optional 3D goggles), Naked Snake eating glowing mushrooms to recharge batteries, Quiet’s breathable boobies, and sarcastic sentient robo-dogs with chainsaws at the end of their prehensile tails – it’s fair to say even in the moments where it would be easy to paint The Twin Snakes as “inauthentic” or even “disrespectful” towards its hallowed progenitor it’s no more outlandish or unrealistic than any other game bearing the series’ name.
Having said all that it’s still a game forever caught between a rock and a hard place; it’s everything it absolutely needed to be if Nintendo didn’t want their latest console to be accused of merely reheating Sony’s past glories, and it’s also notably different from the game everyone already knew, loved, and were hoping to re-experience with a fresh coating of next-generation glory. It’s fair to say there are times when you can tell without any great effort on your part that these old environments were not designed with the new gameplay systems in mind, and Kitamura seems to truly believe that more is definitely more (with more on top if he can get away with it), but even so everything in here is still as Metal Gear Solid as any game could ever wish to be and in the long run a remake that compliments, rather than replaces, the original makes for a more varied and interesting gaming landscape than one where the development team did nothing more than paper Metal Gear Solid 2-grade textures over old walls and leave everything else alone, presenting the world with a hollow rerun of the last generation’s big hit for fear of the backlash they’d receive for straying too far from the “original vision” (even though – as far as I can gather – nothing appeared in The Twin Snakes without Kojima’s direct approval). However you feel about The Twin Snakes changes – the good, the bad, and the plain different – the game still gives us the greatest gift of all: The chance to play Metal Gear Solid for the first time – twice.