Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes

Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes is built on a recipe that would go on to be expanded and tweaked as the saga progressed; however, ultimately, the point that is driven home by this remake is that the tridimensional framework of the series was both mature and confident from the start

Shadow Moses Island, located in an Alaskan archipelago, houses a facility that is used by the United States government to dispose of nuclear warheads. Aware of the strategic importance of the compound, a group of terrorists plans a bold maneuver that will give them control over the place. Known as FOXHOUND, this small but extremely specialized force was once part of the country’s military, but a series of events led the unit to go rogue. Now following their own agenda, the team succeeds in the operation. They occupy the disposal site, capture key personnel, and send their demands to the president: either he hands them a ransom of one billion dollars as well as the remains of their former leader, the legendary soldier who went by the codename of Big Boss, or they will use the ultimate weapon which the government kept hidden in the facility – called Metal Gear REX – to execute a strategic nuclear strike that would likely trigger a full-blown world war. With their back against the wall and unwilling to conceded to the terrorists, the authorities summon the only man capable of defusing the situation: Solid Snake.

Released for the Nintendo GameCube in 2004, The Twin Snakes is a remake of the original Metal Gear Solid, the first tridimensional entry in gaming’s most famous espionage franchise and a work that had shown up on the PlayStation six years earlier to astounding success. As such, this is a mission that does not need much introduction when it comes to its quality: the source material is widely considered to be a classic, so a version that essentially repackages the same content with updated graphics should be deserving of the same status save for the occurrence of a gigantic blunder. And thankfully, The Twin Snakes – put together via a partnership between Konami and Silicon Knights, of Eternal Darkness fame – does not drop the ball. Still, this GameCube must-have is not a mere reheating of what was there, as it brings some notable changes to the table.

The heart of the experience is unchanged. Snake finds his way onto Shadow Moses Island with the help of the government, but wishing to keep their involvement in the mission hidden in case the events that will unfold have to be denied, that is all the aid he gets. Sure, he can, at any point, contact fellow operatives via different radio frequencies: colonel Roy Campbell will give him general directions on what needs to be done; Nastasha Romanenko has intel on various weapons; Mei Ling not only records his progress, but also provides some good pep talks; and other people are involved too. But as far as on-site activity goes, Snake is a lone warrior: he has to procure weapons and other resources because he is not given any; he has to figure out how to get to his current goal; and, of course, he has to avoid enemy detection.

Naturally, Shadow Moses Island is brimming with soldiers patrolling its entrails. And since Snake is one man standing against what is basically an army, sneaking around is the way to go; after all, despite the fact that when the hero is spotted, players can opt to go wild and start shooting, chances are they will eventually be overwhelmed by the sheer number of extra grunts that will be summoned to the scene by the guards. Therefore, it is by building a series of stealth challenges taking place in rooms and corridors that The Twin Snakes assembles its best and most prominent gameplay facet; and this is one of the points in which the remake diverges from the original.

The basics are still the same. Although Snake can press his back against the wall to look around corners without being seen, the best way to keep track of enemy placement is by watching the radar on the top-right of the screen, where bad guys are represented by red dots and their field of vision by blue cones. Making noise or walking into the edges of the blue area are likely to cause foes to become suspicious and more active in their search; and in case he is spotted, soldiers will relentlessly chase and shoot the hero, only abandoning that state if Snake is either killed or able to escape their sights for a little while. It is a simple framework that worked wonderfully on the PlayStation and that clicks spectacularly once more on the GameCube; a rather unsurprising occurrence since The Twin Snakes replicates the thrilling stealth scenarios of the original Metal Gear Solid. However, taking advantage of the fact that by its release the series’ sneaking basics had already been polished by Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, this remake borrows some upgrades from that other classic.

The result of that junction is that, in comparison to the 1998 release, The Twin Snakes raises the already existing tension whilst giving the protagonist more tools to deal with what he will face, creating a very robust stealth framework. Enemies are sensitive to the noise the hero produces when moving, especially if he runs on metallic surfaces or puddles. They become suspicious if they see footprints left on the snow or caused by wet shoes. If they find the bodies of their comrades, they will immediately alert others. If someone is taken out and does not respond when reached via radio by their boss, reinforcements will be sent into the scene. If Snake is bleeding, players should patch up his wounds with bandages or else the blood drops on the ground might be used to track him. If, while attempting to hide, the protagonist happens to leave parts of his body exposed from certain angles, he will probably get in trouble quickly. Moreover, overall enemy behavior is determined by four different levels of alertness that are dependent on what or who they have seen, with some of these modes disabling the radar altogether.

To overcome those tight patrols, players will have to put Snake’s vast techniques to great use. The character can sneak up behind soldiers to either strangle them or hold them up at gunpoint. He can crawl on the floor, knock on walls to generate noise, briefly hang from ledges, shoot while on the run, attack while aiming in first person, quickly jump out of cover to fire, humorously put books in their path so they get distracted by some reading, and even drag bodies to move them to more obscure spots, such as the inside of lockers. To boot, little by little, as he infiltrates Shadow Moses Island, the spy will come across a vast arsenal of gadgets, like grenades, bombs that diffuse cameras, different weapons, a sniper riffle, a mine detector, night vision goggles, cardboard boxes in which he can hide, explosives, and more.

The Twin Snakes puts these pieces together into one incredible quest. While Snake’s abilities come into play in the stealth, the weapons he acquires, the people he rescues, and the development of the plot create a pleasant progression that demands a good deal of exploration, since the way forward is not always obvious or unlocked and there are usually multiple floors to be explored. As a consequence, even if there are punctual hiccups, the sum of the parts ultimately births excellent gameplay. Yes, there are a few places with fixed camera where the provided angle is not ideal; Snake not being able move forward, only sideways, when on first-person view is disappointing since that feature would be perfect in some situations; the quest’s final quarter not only takes some of the focus away from stealth, but also becomes too linear, which makes it a less interesting segment; and the fact running to the next room is sometimes a viable alternative to sneaking around reveals design could have been improved at some points. Nevertheless, the gameplay of The Twin Snakes shines.

In that regard, there is an area in which such excellence is particularly surprising: boss encounters. That is because action games that are somewhat centered on gunplay have never really thrived when it comes to those, but – as it is widely known – the Metal Gear Solid saga goes hard against the grain on that front, and it started showcasing that prowess right from the beginning. The Twin Snakes, naturally, keeps that cast of big baddies intact while updating them accordingly, meaning that it throws Snake into rather absurd scenarios once again, including confrontations against a psychotic psychic, a cold-blooded sniper, a maniac revolver-wielding sharpshooter, and even a tank. Truth be told, there are a few clunky moments in the package, especially because the game is not afraid to go completely wild in its boss ideas. Furthermore, the franchise would certainly improve these duels as it moved forward. However, it is still undeniable that The Twin Snakes pulls off some really nice tricks in this aspect.

In a way, the iconic and absolutely remarkable nature of the bosses in The Twin Snakes is directly related to yet another area in which the game excels: storytelling. As it has been shown time and time again, Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima has always been rather ambitious in relation to plot, positioning himself not only as the franchise’s designer, but also as its writer; and this wish to tell complex stories was evident from the start, with the series’ first entries – released during the 8-bit era – already exhibiting narratives that were quite intricate for the technical capabilities of the time. From a certain perspective, the original Metal Gear Solid was the first moment in which Kojima could explore the full extent of that desire, since it was backed up by the PlayStation and the then recently popularized optical disks, which could carry a lot of data. Consequently, The Twin Snakes comes off as part game, part movie. And while the bosses certainly benefit from that approach on account of how they emerge as threatening full-fledged characters filled with personality and motivation, they are not the only ones that gain from that storytelling focus, as the whole experience is elevated because of it.

The gameplay feels more enticing because the scenarios that play out have more meaning. The flow of the mission is improved because the plot is always moving forward. And the espionage angle is enhanced because the script is filled with twists and turns worthy of the best literary governmental conspiracies. Therefore, The Twin Snakes is nothing short of an epic spy mission whose dramatic contours are made sharper by personal arches, action sequences, bitter losses, and exciting victories. But, as a work born from the pen of Hideo Kojima, it goes without saying that, tonally, the tale told here stands far from the norm, as it pairs up serious events and the threat of nuclear annihilation with surreal touches and a heavy dose of cheesiness.

The effects generated by that unique personality are mostly positive. The wacky elements add an unexpected humorous edge to the proceedings. The surrealism turns the bosses, which are members of FOXHOUND, into lovable lunatics. And the abundant small talks create a warm sort of charm, like when Snake calls Mei Ling and she usually wraps up their conversation by explaining a Chinese saying. In fact, aware of this prowess, The Twin Snakes leans even more heavily onto this quirky spirit by remaking a few cutscenes, as demanded by Kojima himself, to further highlight these absurd undertones, such as when the hero backflips over a door to avoid being seen or when he steps on a rocket fired towards him to jump higher. It is all great flashy fun, but it can certainly cause some negative reactions: many longtime fans of the saga famously dislike the extra cheesiness of The Twin Snakes; and the writing can get a bit awkward when it gets too philosophical or sentimental. Yet, the plot and its numerous lengthy entirely skippable cutscenes stand strong.

Carrying a mission that should take between twelve and fifteen hours to be completed, with at least three of those being devoted to dialogues or cinematics, The Twin Snakes is not exactly a long quest. However, besides being decently lengthy for its genre, it also does a good job in expanding its value. A fairly challenging game with generous checkpoints placed at the entrance of every room, it has four difficulty levels and it allows players to make their journey even harder by disabling the radar as well as activating a mode in which being spotted means instant failure. Sadly, though, that last option is only made available if the mission is cleared once. Additionally, The Twin Snakes encourages replays due to how it awards a performance-based rank to players once the quest is done and it also features an odd collectible: dog tags that are acquired by holding up foes at gunpoint. Unfortunately, there is no reward for the latter.

As a remake of an acclaimed classic, Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes has a lot going for it. Its tight level design, particularly prevalent in the mission’s first two acts, generates challenging stealth scenarios. Meanwhile, the tools and techniques available to the protagonist work towards not only enhancing these espionage sections, but also paving the way for engaging exploration. To top it all off, the quest gains dramatic contours via enhanced graphics, marvelous voice acting, a deep plot, a grand soundtrack, and lengthy cutscenes. It is a trusty recipe that would go on to be expanded and tweaked as the saga progressed. But, ultimately, the point that is driven home by this GameCube gem, which is very faithful to the original, is that the tridimensional framework of the series was both mature and confident from the start. And even if some small changes made here were not universally appreciated by fans, Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes is excellent; perhaps to the point that a few might see it as the definitive version of a game that defined a genre.

FINAL SCORE: 8 – EXCELLENT

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