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Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions (PlayStation) artwork

Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions (PlayStation) review

"Many series have had spin offs. Few series have had successful spin offs. I'm not sure what it is about Metal Gear that makes it so viable for spin off material. Maybe it's the tongue-in-cheek attitude that Hideo Kojima usually attaches to these side plots. Maybe it's the fact that they aren't really spin offs, but more ad-ons to the main games. Maybe people just really like Snake. "

Many series have had spin offs. Few series have had successful spin offs. I'm not sure what it is about Metal Gear that makes it so viable for spin off material. Maybe it's the tongue-in-cheek attitude that Hideo Kojima usually attaches to these side plots. Maybe it's the fact that they aren't really spin offs, but more ad-ons to the main games. Maybe people just really like Snake.

In any case, VR Training was the ad on to the original Metal Gear Solid, all the way back on the PS1 (wow... I guess it really was a while ago now). For those of you that played the original game, you'll probably remember that the tutorial was done in the format of a VR simulator, in which you had to sneak past/stealthily kill guards. For my money, I think the VR Training was one of the more genius tutorials in a game. I've always liked games which found ways to teach you how to play that were in-game. The VR Training went one step further and was really a game in itself. Upon completion of the basic tutorial, you unlocked the ability to go through it again, with a time limit. It all sounds very basic now, but for people who liked the mechanics of Metal Gear Solid, it was great fun, and gave you a challenge to look forward to after beating the game.

I hope you had a similarly high opinion of the simulator. Otherwise, why did you purchase this game? I mean, it says right there in the title, VR Training. You certainly can't claim false advertising on that one. Nope. VR Training. And that's what you'll get in spades. Don't expect plot. Don't expect new and improved graphics. Expect gameplay, fine tuned and used in ways the main game would never allow.

Did you like Metal Gear Solid's gameplay? That's really the main question you have to ask when coming into this game. If yes, then you should definitely pick this up. If not, stay away, stay far far away. In fact, stop reading this review this instant and go look up some other game. Disruptor is another PlayStation game in the Action genre that has been attracting activity lately, so you might want to check it out and see what all of the fuss is about!

For those of you still reading, it's fairly certain that you'll find VR Training to be a worthy addition to your Metal Gear collection. In addition to the basic levels provided by the main game (and copied here with more objectives available) there are tons of new modes of play. Of particular note are the "mystery" missions in which you have to figure out from a lineup of guards "whodunit" by looking for visual clues, the Ninja missions in which you get to play as the fabled Grey Fox, and a puzzle mode where you have to knock over guards in a certain trajectory to create a chain reaction of falling guards. All told there are over 300 missions to test your mettle on. Rarely have I seen simplistic gameplay taken this far and made so versatile. Each mission is unique, so you won't be feeling cheated by repeated strategies or situations.

As far as a challenge goes... well, be prepared to sweat some bullets and maybe even toss some controllers. In many ways, this game is much harder than the main game, so just because you beat Vulcan Raven with your eyes closed on expert, don't expect to breeze through the missions. Frustrating isn't really the word, though... a better word is disheartening. The first time you attempt many of the missions, you'll get a sense of impossibility that can be seriously disarming. But most of the challenge is simply figuring out the right path to take through a level, or the right pattern in which to strike. Once that's figured out, the controls are good enough that accomplishing it isn't so hard, making this more of an exercise in logic than in finger dexterity.

A word here on the evolution of gameplay... it might not seem immediately relevant, but hear me out. Player options have been rapidly increasing in games of late. Whereas we used to have the most basic of options (run, jump, and if you were lucky, shoot) we can now expect at least three or four ways to deal with a single enemy, whether it be from an arsenal of weaponry, combo upon combo of melee mastery, or environmental manipulation. Think Bioshock. You could set an enemy on fire while electrocuting the water at their feet while your hacked bot shot at them. Done well this can make the player feel empowered, or even present them with extra challenge, as they have to constantly redesign their strategy to fit every new room. Done poorly, it makes a game overly easy and can leave a player lethargic, as they find themselves constantly faced with any number of redundant options.

Unfortunately, many games seem to follow the course of the latter. It stands to reason that developers need to start looking more at level design and less at complex combat. In effect, when they throw a bunch of options at the player, they are really taking the responsibility of creating a good game off of themselves. It's much easier to program a bunch of moves into the main character then it is to visualize and create a functional game world. It's a lot of icing on a rather poor cake.

I bring it up now because the later Metal Gear games lost their simplicity in favour of making Snake a one man army. In Metal Gear Solid, when you snuck past enemy soldiers after monitoring their patrol paths, maybe using a cardboard box or knocking on a wall a few times, you felt accomplished, special even. In Metal Gear Solid 4 you had fairly instantaneous access to what was essentially an infinite ammo rocket launcher. Facing that, nothing really feels all that special. Just kind've crispy.

Games like The Super Mario Brothers should prove by their durability how the most simplistic gameplay can reign supreme if placed in the right setting. The original Metal Gear Solid was an excellent example of this, and the VR Missions are a celebration of that fact, not looking to complicate things, but rather to work within the boundaries to present something creative and fun. It's unfortunate that the later games didn't continue in this vein.

Well, with one exception. Metal Gear Solid was never really renowned for its aiming controls. Without a first person mode and a very touchy auto aim, some of the VR missions requiring shooting become needlessly frustrating. It made sense in the main game, because the point was to encourage sneaking, but here it feels silly not to have a solution, making a fairly obvious stain on an otherwise excellent gaming experience.

Unlike this review, VR Training won't rock your world or change your philosophy on life. Its goal is obvious: provide the player with more of the same. That it manages to do so in a refreshingly original manner is testament to the amount of time the developers put into it. These days, the graphics may seem a bit dated, and the aiming controls antiquated, but the game isn't trying to hide anything. You'll know from one look at the title whether this one is for you.

zippdementia's avatar
Community review by zippdementia (October 31, 2008)

Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.

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