If there's been something of a disconnect between the success of Nintendo 3DS and the buzz the media - including us - helped create at the last E3, it's almost certainly down to the fact that the platform holder and its third-party associates have yet to unleash their big guns. The Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater demo on 3DS was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the behind-the-scenes presentation we attended, and one year on it's still looking like an extremely exciting game.
Konami's recent press conference offered us our first opportunity to take a look at some post-E3 Metal Gear Solid 3DS footage, the vast majority of which is gleaned from the real-time engine cinematic that kicks off the game and looks very, very faithful to the PlayStation 2 original. But how close is it, and what - if anything - can we learn about the Metal Gear 3DS engine tech based on what's been revealed thus far?
We unearthed a copy of Snake Eater on PS2, captured it via HDMI on our backwards compatible PlayStation 3 and put together this head-to-head video (please excuse some creative licence on the logo sections!).
The results are intriguing - in some respects there are obvious downgrades from what we see in the PS2 original, but on the flipside, this isn't just a basic port. Clearly Konami has put in some effort into making use of the hardware features of the 3DS, over and above the stereoscopic 3D support.
To begin with, the most obvious thing that springs out from the footage is that the game is actually rendering at around 800x480: this is interesting in that the perceived wisdom is that 3DS's screen has a native resolution of 800x240, or 400x240 per eye. Screenshots from Konami have also confirmed the higher resolution. This is intriguing in that it means that the new handheld version of the game actually has a higher precision look (in 2D mode, at least) than the original PlayStation 2 version of the game, presumably running at the Sony console's standard 512x448 resolution. Whether this will actually be noticeable on the 3DS display remains to be seen - we've seen 800x480 Ridge Racer 3D shots, but we don't see much in the way of evidence of a 480p res in the final game.
There are other advantages to the new 3DS game too. You'll notice that Snake's HALO costume now boasts shiny specular and normal maps that aren't present in the original PS2 game: an interesting example of how Konami is leveraging the specific feature set of the DMP PICA200 graphics chip in the 3DS. There's also evidence of some higher-resolution textures in there too, though it's hardly a night-and-day difference. Another 3DS advantage can be discerned at the very end of the video: the cut-scenes involving the forest appear to cause some serious frame-rate issues for the PlayStation 2, but the 3DS doesn't seem to have any issues at all at the same hotspots.
This is not to say that the new handheld version is superior in all respects. Reflections in the HALO suit's visor appear to be absent, bloom is dialled back, while motion blur and depth of field effects appear to be completely absent too. Depth of field being omitted is perhaps understandable - in a stereoscopic 3D game, the eye itself should be changing its focal point: natural DOF, if you will.
There's also plenty of evidence in the closing stages of the video that the richness of the foliage is somewhat pared back on 3DS compared to the PlayStation 2 original: a lot of this can be attributed to the background foliage in the depth of field effect being absent, but in the shot at 01:08 in the video, you can also see that the overhead canopy is more sparse in the handheld version.
Regardless of the difference, the overall impression remains hugely positive. This is a creditable recreation of the PS2 classic, better in some respects, and of course fully supporting true stereoscopic 3D, an effect that worked extremely well in the rolling demo we saw last year but is obviously unrepresented in the comparison. There's still plenty of time for Konami to improve the game still further too: the word is that Metal Gear Solid on 3DS will release towards the end of this year...
Will you support the Digital Foundry team?
Digital Foundry specialises in technical analysis of gaming hardware and software, using state-of-the-art capture systems and bespoke software to show you how well games and hardware run, visualising precisely what they're capable of. In order to show you what 4K gaming actually looks like we needed to build our own platform to supply high quality 4K video for offline viewing. So we did.
Our videos are multi-gigabyte files and we've chosen a high quality provider to ensure fast downloads. However, that bandwidth isn't free and so we charge a small monthly subscription fee of £4.50. We think it's a small price to pay for unlimited access to top-tier quality encodes of our content. Thank you.Support Digital Foundry