A brand new re-release of a bunch of Metal Gear Solid games that take in the series' history from 1987 right up to 2004 should, you would think, be cause for much celebration. Hideo Kojima's jaw-dropping stealth spectaculars remain as vitally important as ever, absolute must-plays for any student of gaming history, and a little care in how they're presented in this package would surely earn Konami a very easy win.
However, far from making things easy for itself, Konami has decided to do very little revamping, reworking or remastering here, serving up seven games with very little in the way of upgrades, for better or worse. As a result we've got Metal Gear Solid running at 14:9 and 30FPS with no boost to its resolution or performance on Series X, whilst both Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater are based on their 2011 HD versions, both running at 60FPS - which is nice - but with no upgrades to resolution, graphics or audio quality whatsoever.
On the one hand, with such an expansive collection presented this is a still a stellar bunch of games to dig into, regardless of the lack of overall effort made. You've got Metal Gear, Metal Gear 2 Solid Snake, all the VR Missions, Subsistence and Substance versions of MGS2 AND MGS3, and even the NES version of Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake and Snake's Revenge. That's plenty, and it also leaves the door wide open for a tidy second collection that takes in the later games in the series.
You also get some nice added bonuses, most especially in the form of "master books" that dig down into the history of the franchise with lots of interesting facts and illustrations, as well as soundtracks, screenplays and digital graphic novels. However, Konami really has done the bare-ass minimum with this one, even managing to fumble how these games are served up to the player by having each title sorted into its own menu - there's no quick and easy switching here - with a separate home-screen launch icon for each of Snake's adventures. We get that they're making it so you can purchase the games separately, but it still feels incredibly sloppy, disjointed and annoying to have a separate app for each game on your console with no way to hot-swap between them all.
It's also frustratingly difficult to find what you're looking for, with menus taking you here and there and bonus content and extras hiding all over the place. It's a messy business, especially considering how easy this should all be, and it smacks of not really giving a damn, not putting nearly enough respect and effort into presenting this incredible series in the manner in which it deserves.
And it is, despite everything, still an incredible series. Regardless of the lack of TLC here, once you're actually in the slick sneaking boots of Solid Snake, well, there's nothing quite like it. Metal Gear Solid may be showing its age slightly (maybe more than slightly if you're a young'un) but it's still a mesmerising and properly iconic game. Sons of Liberty and Snake Eater are sublime experiences that every self-respecting gamer should make time for (we will not hear a bad word spoken against Sons of Liberty) and even the older NES titles are absolutely worth a look, especially if you have an interest in exploring how this most famous of video game characters evolved over the decades.
You can't keep a good snake down, basically, and honestly if these games weren't as excellent as they are, this collection would be in for a real kicking here. There's no excuse for the lack of effort, heck we've even seen PC modders get that version of this volume's MGS2 and 3 running at 4K with very little effort. It just feels as though there's zero good reason why we're looking at versions of these games that don't make any advance on the HD Collection from 13 years ago - in fact, in some cases it seems as though that version actually plays better, with Digital Foundry reporting there's better image quality and anti-aliasing to be found by booting into the 2011 collection using backwards compatibility. Not ideal!
In the end, what we've got here is a superb collection of games once you're actually in and playing. There's nothing quite like Metal Gear Solid and blasting through them again is always a treat, we'll take any excuse for a re-run of this lot. It's just a shame, then, that Konami didn't come out firing on all cylinders, as a little more effort to make this collection feel cohesive; basic improvements to image quality, resolution upgrades, smoothing out of framerate bugs and so on, would have made for a very easy win. Instead we're begrudgingly handing out a rather average score to a bunch of games that deserve soooo much better.
Metal Gear Solid: Master Collection Vol. 1 presents Kojima's genius in a package that could, and should, have been so much more. There's a bunch of stellar games to dig into here, you're guaranteed a great time once you're actually playing this iconic series, but this is a franchise that deserved more. Where's the TLC? Where's the resolution bumps, refined controls, visual upgrades and so on? Konami has managed to add a few nice extras, and there's a good showing in terms of how many titles are packed in here, but the overall performance and presentation, given the power and potential at the dev's disposal, leaves much to be desired.