Whatever your personal feelings on Metal Gear Solid 2, there's no doubt that the once-revered franchise has come down in the world since that incredible trailer wowed audiences and left journalists scrambling for superlatives at E3 a few years ago - selling countless PS2s in the process. At E3 this year, not one but two MGS titles were shown, and to describe the reaction as "muted" would be an overstatement; the fact is that following the disappointing MGS2 and given the wealth of incredible stuff at the show, MGS just isn't that high on most people's must-see lists any more.
It didn't help that one of the games on display - and of the two, the only one that was actually playable - was Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, a GameCube conversion of the original PlayStation MGS which, despite having input from Kojima and Miyamoto, not to mention being developed by Silicon Knights (creators of Eternal Darkness), looks shockingly poor.
It's not the fact that it's a remake of MGS that bothered us particularly - after all, MGS was a truly stunning game and the prospect of playing it with enhanced Cube-quality graphics and some of the niftier bits of MGS2 thrown in is actually rather tempting. However, it didn't take much playtime with the game to realise that that's not what we're getting.
Instead, this seems to be an almost exact port of the PlayStation game, with only very minor graphical enhancement and nothing very special in the gameplay department either. A few new cut-scenes seem to be in store, so expect some more plot exposition to be thrown in, but that's your lot as far as we can gather.
If this was an obscure, little known game being brought to a mainstream system (like Ikagura's transition to the Cube for example), we'd probably applaud it, but MGS can be picked up for under a tenner in most game retailers, and even if you've thrown out your trusty old PSX, it'll work happily on a PS2. So really, what's the point - and more importantly, is this really the best use of the development dream-team of Miyamoto, Kojima and Silicon Knights? We think not.
Colour us eaten
Thankfully for Metal Gear fans, the disappointment of Twin Snakes is easily compensated for by the other MGS on show at E3 - namely Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (someone really should tell Konami how bloody dodgy these names sound to British ears). We've already seen that Konami are fully capable of throwing together jaw-dropping trailers that aren't really representative of the games involved (the legacy of MGS2 rearing its head), but we really do want to give this one the benefit of the doubt - and many of the signs are definitely good.
Snake Eater takes place in a jungle environment, which looks absolutely excellent and makes the bland interiors of MGS2 seem even blander. Foliage sways, long grass moves realistically as enemies run through it, and there are plenty of pleasingly gnarly trees and bushes around the place - not to mention rivers, waterfalls and lakes. Because the environments are so different it's hard to do a direct comparison, but we're hugely impressed with the progress made over MGS2 in a graphical sense at least.
Obviously the move to a jungle (which reminds us a great deal of the setting of Metal Gear 2 - some connection here to the series' past, perhaps?) is going to require a significant change to the gameplay as well, and although we're reticent about speculating too much here (trailers can be very misleading after all), the whole game does look a lot more action-oriented than MGS2 did. Stealth is still going to be key, obviously, but Snake does seem to spend a lot of time running about with an assault rifle, and seems to have a variety of new moves at his disposal - including climbing trees and then dropping on passing enemies from above. How very Predator.
Stealth + Survival
Two other factors seem set to impact upon the gameplay in a major way, the first being the element hinted upon by that title - Snake Eater. One of the screens which flashed up while we watched the trailer was "Stealth + Survival", and we were treated to the lovely sight of Snake tucking in to a raw fish and a raw snake. Could it be that this game is going to add jungle survival elements to the gameplay, forcing you to hunt for your own food - and perhaps defend yourself from the wildlife as well as your enemies? Okay, we're into the realms of speculation here, but if done properly this could give a fascinating new twist to the gameplay of the series.
The other factor which will affect the gameplay is the timeline in which it is set - because Snake Eater is in fact a prequel to all the other titles in the series, and seems to be set in the early 1960s - although we're not sure how that works, as it would mean Snake is 40 years younger than he is in Metal Gear Solid 2, and he doesn't look to be in his sixties by then! Perhaps the character in the game is actually Big Boss, the soldier from whom both Solid and Liquid Snake were cloned... Or perhaps the dates given in the trailer were just completely wrong, who's to say? Either way, the earlier setting is likely to rule out familiar gadgets from the series, such as the radar, the codec and other such technological wonders - again hinting at a fairly radical overhaul of the series gameplay.
Two things are certain - firstly, that the trailer for MGS3: Snake Eater is every bit as interesting as the MGS2 trailer was, even if it doesn't look as stunning or groundbreaking to modern eyes. The new game (which is not being designed by Hideo Kojima - he is simply acting as scriptwriter and director on the cut-scenes) may well be quite a departure for the series, and if this means that Konami are responding positively to criticisms of MGS2, that must surely be a good thing - whatever your opinion of the second game was. Secondly, it's also certain that if Konami can't get the game right this time around, they may not get another chance, and it'll be an uphill struggle to convince gamers that the series is worth bothering with - and blatant cash-ins like The Twin Snakes really aren't going to help.