Real talk: I wouldn’t have a career in journalism if it wasn’t for Metal Gear Solid. More specifically, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.
My first mentor in the industry gave me a crack at a work experience gig back in 2006 on a UK PlayStation 2 magazine called PSM2. Why? Because we both loved all things Metal Gear. That, and he saw just enough potential in a stupid 21-year-old kid’s barely coherent ‘review’ on Naked Snake’s Cold War sneak ‘em up that he gave me what felt like a ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ level job opportunity.
Apologies for the slightly self-indulgent stroll down memory lane. There is an eventual point to these ramblings, I promise. Though I haven’t seen my friend and former colleague in a few years — largely due to the pandemic — it’s precisely because of the appreciation I have for how much he’s helped me throughout my career that I hope my old Snake-loving pal doesn’t go anywhere near Metal Gear Solid: Master Collection Vol 1.
Certainly not in its current shambolic state.
A hastily put-together bundle of old MGS games, it’s a disgrace to Hideo Kojima’s franchise. There’s absolutely no chance the video game visionary would give this blatant cash grab his endorsement if he was still a Konami employee.
I’ve spent the last day or so testing the recently released Master Collection across three different platforms. The results are often as painful as picturing Psycho Mantis in a mankini.
Made by Rocket Studio (who I’m hesitant to assign too much blame to, as I have no idea what kind of timeframe or budgets its developers were working to), damn is it a hot mess.
Having just hit PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S and Nintendo Switch, it’s already being dunked on like that astonishingly shoddy King Kong game the interwebs went to town on mere days ago at time of writing.
I’ve only had the chance to go hands-on with the PS5 and PC (and by extension), the Steam Deck version of the MGS: Master Collection, and first impressions ain’t pretty. Hell, they’re so hideous on two of those platforms, they make Quasimodo look like Timothée Chalamet.
‘Hands-on’ is an extremely generous way to phrase my experience with Solid/Naked Snake’s trilogy of half-baked remasters on Steam Deck.
Yes, technically the complete Master Collection includes the original 1987 NES entry and subsequent MSX2 sequel, Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, released two years later. Let’s be honest here: 90% of the people looking to pick up this bundle are doing so for updated takes on PS1’s Metal Gear Solid, PS2’s Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, and its subsequent 2004 prequel, the aforementioned MGS 3: Snake Eater.
If you take nothing away from this article but the following, let it be this: avoid touching MGS: Master Collection on Steam Deck for the time being.
Right now, MGS 2 and MGS 3 are near unplayable. Unless you’re willing to dive into the Desktop Mode of Valve’s handheld, download and unzip an obscure audio file, then run the game with a very specific command line, these two sublime follow-ups to the 1998 espionage opus simply aren’t playable beyond their start menus.
They’ll tease you by initially booting, but as soon as you clear the opening menus, they both crash before you ever have a chance to choke your first guard to sleep. MGS 2 has booted for me exactly once out of a dozen attempts, and even then the audio was completely broken — the game’s dialogue currently refuses to play if you’re somehow lucky enough to get past the start menu.
I know publishers/developers are under no obligation to make their PC ports up to the level of being deemed ‘Steam Deck verified’ quality upon release, but they should at least be playable, regardless of how badly optimized they are.
In the Master Collection’s defense when it comes to the Deck, at least MGS 1 plays without issue… other than the fact it has no tweakable graphics options and you’re forced to play it in a 4:3 aspect ratio with distracting vertical Metal-Gear themed borders taking up much up of the portable PC’s 7-inch screen. Ugh.
Snake’s iconic trilogy at least functions on my Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090-powered rig. Yet even one of the best gaming PCs on the planet can’t get around the fact there are precisely zero tweakable graphics options available to PC gamers, regardless of your level of hardware. It’s absurd that the PC version is currently locked to a resolution of 720p when both the PS5 and Xbox Series X editions run at 1080p.
The notion of playing games that are now legally old enough to drink on a 4090 that you’re forced to endure at such a low resolution even on the best gaming monitors is utterly absurd and insulting. After the last 12 months of high-profile, half-assed PC ports, it’s the last insult I hope fans of PC gaming are forced to suffer through this year.
Snake my day
The PS5 version does hold up considerably better in my short experience with the bundle, though a large part of that is down to the fact the games are actually playable without the need for code tinkering. Also, these basically ancient titles really should be running at 4K on PS5 and Xbox Series X, too.
1080p is hardly an acceptable resolution for Snake’s games on a console that’s capable of handling Cyberpunk 2077 at 60 frames per second with ray tracing features.
On that fps topic, there has been some mixed reporting as to what frame rate Metal Gear Solid 2 and Metal Gear Solid 3 actually run at on PS5 and Xbox Series X. Pre-launch, Konami stated 60 fps was the target, but then certain stories suggested both games would be locked at 30 fps. Playing on one of the best OLED TVs, my LG set’s Game Mode HUD tells me both games are running at 60 frames per second, and they definitely look like 60 fps to my obsessive eyes. Still, that doesn’t forgive that horribly unambitious resolution target.
Yet such is the underlying mechanical quality and sheer playfulness of both Sons of Liberty and Snake Eater that I can almost forgive the lack of effort/funding that’s gone into this collection. Almost.
On my LG G3 OLED, which I’d argue is the best TV in the world, the high-end set’s damn near peerless image upscaling makes both former PS2 games look surprisingly smooth on my 77-inch screen. But it shouldn’t take the advanced picture processing techniques of an OLED set that costs a heap of cash to make 20-year-old games look borderline playable.
Though I’ve yet to play the Switch version, I’d bet dollars to donuts the best way to experience Metal Gear: Master Collection Vol 1 (snappy title, huh?), is currently on the Switch OLED. Although not that many dollars.
Such is the quality of that superb little screen, I’m pretty sure the handheld’s perfect black levels and the 1:1 pixel ratio of playing these old games on a 720p display will help hide many of the muddy textures seen in the quite horrendous state of the current PC bundle.
Even then, charging $59/£49 for a bunch of barely patched up old games with the barest amount of tweaks is a tough sell; even a Nintendo console hasn’t been graced with an MGS title since that awesome, oft-forgotten version of Snake Eater on the Nintendo 3DS.
If you’re even half the Metal Gear fan that I or my old Kojima-obsessed compadre are, the MGS: Master Collection is likely to prove a major disappointment, especially if you go near it on PC.
Technically, the PS5 and Xbox Series X versions we’ve just been served up aren’t much more advanced than the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection Bluepoint Games developed for PS3 and Xbox 360 back in 2011.
That’s a shameful state of affairs for one of the all-time great video game franchises. Solid Snake and the legacy of Hideo Kojima’s fourth wall-breaking series deserve far better than this.