Before I became far too spoiled with choice when it came to games, I played a lot of the original Metal Gear Solid on the PlayStation. “A lot” here really does mean a significant amount: during one of the lulls of the summer holidays that inevitably arrive towards the rump of that six-week break, I’m sure I may have played it through five times in a week. Such was the appeal of that game to me: the first game that had really made me consider that games didn’t just have to be premised around half-formed premises like “saving someone” or other permutations of saving the day; or indeed the opposite if we consider the likes of Carmageddon and Grand Theft Auto. Games could be about things, ideas wider than the immediate context of a gameplay loop.
And yes, I would readily accept that my willingness to lap up the very badly informed discussions of genetics, fate and their interrelation in the original Metal Gear Solid was likely somewhat down to my youth and lack of access to a wider range of culture: of course I’m aware now that games have been about ‘things’ forever, but to a ten year-old me, this was mindblowing.
The revisiting of Shadow Moses, the site of the events of the first Metal Gear Solid, in Metal Gear Solid 4, then, should have been a thing that evoked the nostalgia and affection that I so obviously have for the game that was associated with this area. It did not: it left me cold. There was something borderline offensive about dragging up the past in a game the subtext of which appeared to be so heavily rooted in its creator’s lack of desire to continue working on the series. To find this offensive it probably somewhat precious of me, but I had spent so much enjoyable time in this locale, to go back to a hollowed-out, souless version of it was somewhat upsetting.
The Twin Snakes‘s version of Shadow Moses, however, feels like a loving homage: a version of the game made prettier and given some little gameplay niceties from the Metal Gear Solid 2 engine, keeping the original spirit intact. Yes, some of the cutscenes have been revised to make them look like scenes from the most questionable of action movies; yes, the original voice actors for Mei Ling and Naomi have been replaced with far inferior versions (with the Mei Ling replacement removing any characterisation that was given by delivery in the first iteration of the game and Jennifer Hale being Jennifer Hale for her rendition of Naomi); yes, the inclusion of first-person aiming does make several of the boss fights trivial. These things may be true, but there is definitely something to be said for the purity of the way the game has been put together.
This isn’t a mindless remake: attention has been paid to where the original fell short and areas have been changed to make them more player-friendly while not allowing for them to be trivialised. In the original version of the game, there is a painful amount of ladder-climbing towards the end of the game that has to be repreated a total of eight times: in the Twin Snakes version, this is all-but removed with some smart level redesign that mitigates some of the pain of some of the required backtracking towards the game’s climax. Even tiny things like the replacement of Sony paraphernalia with Nintendo equivalents shows the level of details with which the original game was combed for this remake.
It’s easy to be cynical about the practice of remaking games, but where a meaningful technological leap has occured between the original and a more modern version of the game, it’s hard to argue against the idea that making an already beloved game better could only serve to increase people’s enjoyment of it.