Gamestyle Archive intro: most of the Gamestyle team were at the ECTS event in 2003 and enjoyed a day out playing video games including The Twin Snakes. Daniel James enjoyed the experience and gives us the full review.
Published: March 2004
After being less than blown away at ECTS last year by a preview build of Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes it pleases Gamestyle to say that things turned out for the better. Playing the finished version feels like meeting an old friend again for the first time in years: You’ve both grown up; you’re both a little wiser; and you’re not entirely acquainted until you get to talking again. Once you do, it’s like you’ve never been apart – you remember the good times, make each other laugh again and (on this salutary occasion) contribute something new.
For the uninitiated many figure Metal Gear Solid to be ground-zero for the modern explosion of popularity in stealth-action games. It defined the genre featuring a highly-focused ruleset governing modular levels primarily viewed from a top-down perspective. In play each room provides a wealth of opportunities for meeting the challenge of making it to the exit – avoiding all the enemies or taking them out silently is entirely up to you. A radar system that sits comfortably in the top-right corner of your screen makes the task a bit easier than it initially seems. Displaying both enemies and their range of vision (shown on the radar as a cone) you won’t have to guess at the safety of hiding spots (unlike other more recent entries in the field). It may not be particularly realistic, but it makes for a more fair and manageable experience. If spotted by the enemy their alert status raises (easily identified by an animated exclamation point over their character on screen) – meaning they will ruthlessly hunt you down. Hiding silently is your best option here because attempts to fight it out will lead to your demise – and when your mission is of global importance staying alive is the ONLY option.
An excellent story (that twists, turns and intravenously feeds you with just enough mission information) propels the gameplay. Terrorists have captured Shadow Moses Island and are threatening to launch a nuclear missile unless the government responds to their demands. As Solid Snake, you have 18 hours to infiltrate the base and establish whether or not the terrorists have the ability to launch a nuclear weapon – and stop them if they do. Operating solo your ‘Codec’ (a two-way transmitter imbedded in your head) provides the only means of communication with HQ (or anyone else with a Codec system). It can be used to gain helpful strategies when you are stuck (by consulting with your handlers) and smoothly integrates the save function into the game. The already renowned in-game cinematics which push the story forward have been given a major overhaul. Featuring some expertly directed action sequences they keep the adrenalin running right at the limit. Some elements cross that line tantalisingly depicting Snake performing actions beyond what he can do in the game – jumping over missiles, dodging bullets with balletic grace and busting martial arts moves in Matrix-style slow-motion. If nothing else, they are incredibly impressive.
Apart from the pronounced visual makeover Silicon Knights made some other additions to Konami’s seminal 32-bit classic. Although Gamestyle is sure the intentions were good, the results vary due to some interference with the perfected balance of the original form. Firstly (and most notably) nearly all of the moves from the game’s sequel make it into this update. Introduction of the first-person viewpoint means you can now tackle guard patrols from afar, opening more possibilities for clearing rooms; however it also makes a certain first boss encounter almost without challenge (squeezing off a few headshots easily delivers a quick victory). This ‘change of perspective’, compared to the occasionally too close top-down view, affords new insight that almost suggests toggling into first-person as standard practice. Other options – like the ability to hang over upper platform railings, hide in lockers and use the M9 tranquiliser gun (to put guards to sleep and covertly drag them from patrol routes) – mean you can avoid detection in more ways than before; but they also make patrol routes less effective – why wait for the opportune moment to pass when you can circumnavigate guards in a far easier manner? In other words tackling a room full of guards is no longer solely a case of finding a silent route from A to B, without crossing over any lines of sight from patrols or cameras.
The extra avenues available give more freedom but at the expense of some of the rewarding calculation needed in the original. In order to compensate for this, the ‘Genome Soldiers’ finally live up to their initial description of having highly developed senses of hearing and vision. They also exhibit a new-found sense of professionalism (periodically radioing in with their status). This makes the opening levels of the game decidedly difficult to pass as a result since you will only have your initial abilities. But the difficulty soon levels off accompanied by an increase in the amount of fun you can have with the acquisition of every new gadget. Other than the above issues, further criticisms would be nit-picking – things that only fans of the original would pick up on.
It is precisely these fans who Gamestyle feels will be disappointed because ultimately The Twin Snakes offers very little new content. Indeed, the VR training mode from the original is no longer present (though a Boss Survival mode replaces it); and a few visual anomalies even creep in with one or two out of place lesser-defined textures and a particularly bland night vision goggle effect (hardly even required due to the game’s poor contrast level making everything look grey and murky). Likewise, although of high standard the remixed music and rerecorded voices (some more monotonous than the original) may not find appreciation with nostalgic fans. Without the training mode you’re thrown in at the deep-end and control can be a little daunting, but it all clicks after a while. Snake now moves with full analogue freedom using the control stick, which seems to make perfect sense. For the most part control is very responsive and doesn’t interfere with spying gymnastics like pressing up against right-angled walls and surfaces (though crawling can be a bit tricky).
It seems almost unfair to bring up the one or two very minor problems with The Twin Snakes because everything about the game is of a higher standard than you’d find almost anywhere: the excellent characters, the consistent and strong gameplay, the exciting action sequences, the high-quality graphics, and the thrill of stealth in all its glory. Plus the extras (hidden dog tags to collect from guards throughout the game, new ways to tackle each situation) along with the usual added replayability (thanks to bonuses such as Stealth Camouflage, Unlimited-ammo Ribbon, the Camera and the Tuxedo) make this an excellent package. It’s a trade-off of perfect balance with extra freedom. One with which after playing all the way through, Gamestyle can find little overall complaint. If many of the extra moves and features have no actual requirement to the gameplay, their presence is of very little detriment (and offers some new ways to have fun).
Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes continues the same stealth appeal as its forebear for an audience who never knew, and Silicon Knights’ unique style fits in nicely with the way the game never forgets it is a game. There’s not much here to renew interest for old fans (save the most dedicated), but for everyone else prepare to be amazed – Solid Snake is back!
Gamestyle Score: 9/10