It all began in Metal Gear Solid, right there on the main menu. Basically, you could take on 10 different tutorial missions all set in a Tron-inspired virtual reality that would teach Solid Snake–or rather you, the player–the ins and outs of being a sneaky, alarm-bypassing soldier. The idea behind this is that players were offered a chance to learn how to be Solid Snake outside of the game while not interrupting the main flow of the narrative-driven gameplay. Ironically, Codec calls from Mei Ling and friends during Metal Gear Solid‘s early hours would still happen, with them casually breaking the fourth wall to tell you how to save or crawl under a table and so on.
I found the 10 VR missions in Metal Gear Solid to be beyond easy. Even bland. I breezed through all of them without fault and then immediately found myself sad, wanting more challenge. Well, Paul, I say to myself, nodding and grinning and lightly stroking my somewhat out-of-control mountain beard, then I have good news…
Welcome to Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions, an entire game devoted to all things tutorial missions, as well as some of that crazy mindfuckery that we’d eventually really get to know Kojima for with the series follow-up of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. VR Missions is exactly what it says on the tin, adding 300 additional training missions for the stealthy gamers salivating for more. Oh, and if one finishes all 300 missions, “mystery missions” are unlocked, and there’s also three bonus missions where you get to play as the ninja Gray Fox. And some kind of photo-taking event that reportedly takes up your entire memory card. I’ll spoil y’all reading this now that I won’t ever see that stuff, as I don’t expect to cross even the 80% completion rate; as of this writing, I’m around 73% and really feel like I’m done with VR Missions, ready to move on in my Metal Gear sojourn to Sons of Liberty (the PS3 version with Trophies!).
VR Missions is divided up into four sets of missions, but only two of them are accessible from the very start: Sneaking and Weapon. Basically, you have to grind out access to other categories by completing a certain percentage of the ones you already have available. This often means playing the same mission twice, but now on a timed version, which is not very fun or even Metal Gear-like, but I’ll get to that in just a bit. For now, here’s a breakdown of what the game offers mission-wise:
“Sneaking” consists of 15 missions, most of which are lifted whole cloth from the VR training included in the original Metal Gear Solid. I ran through them in record timing thanks to having just played them recently, and then you get to repeat these same missions all over again in “Time Attack” form, “Socom” form, and then the dreaded “Socom Time Attack” form. For those counting along, that right there is already 60 missions of the much touted 300 missions.
“Weapon” tasks you with target shooting missions in 5 levels for each of the game’s main weapons. Yup, even C4. You basically take out both stationary and moving targets with a limited amount of ammo to chew through. Some are more puzzle-based than others. Then you get to do it all over again in “Time Attack” form, totaling 70 missions. If you add these plus all the “Sneaking” ones, you get 130 missions, nearly half the game’s content.
The “Advanced” section of missions is a little trickier, as you now have to use the game’s cache of weapons to kill guards and avoid alarms. Your only goal is to obliterate everyone, however you deem fit, which leads to more creativity than previous missions allowed. Unfortunately, before you can play the levels for the next weapon, you must first complete all five of the current weapon’s levels, which only got difficult for me when the Nikita and grenades were involved. Solid Snake is not meant to throw grenades, and I mean that.
“Special” is where VR Missions stands uniquely above itself, and it’s a shame that to get there you have to grind through all those timed modes and redundant missions. You won’t gain access to it until you’ve completed 50% of the rest of the game (around 150 missions). The first section of “Special” is “Puzzle” mode, where you need to use physics to knock off unreachable guards from platforms. Considering you’re using PS1-era physics, it’s not the easiest of tasks, but silly enough ideas. There’s some other stuff, but you need to be above 80% to see it, and alas, I’m not there. This means I’m missing out on the “Mystery” mode where you apparently solve Genome Soldier murders by examining rooms for clues. Oh, and those ninja missions, a fight against a giant Genome soldier (yes, I’ve seen the screenshot), and some kind of endurance run where you have to do like 10 missions in a row on one single bar of health, which I tried once and did not complete.
I was really excited about the idea of VR Missions and even enjoying everything early on, as seeing Snake leap triumphantly when you finish a set of missions was enough to fuel me forward, but as I quickly saw that I’d have to grind out missions to open up more to play…well, my enthusiasm dwindled. Especially when it came to the “Time Attack” forms of missions, which require Solid Snake to move fast and strike faster. He is a man that crouches, that crawls, that slinks around corners, so having him timed to kill X soldiers in X amount of time really makes you throw all that stealth stuff away and just run up to snap necks or pop silently with the Socom pistol. It’s certainly not at all how I like to play these games, and it certainly isn’t how the game was built; for example, try to crawl up behind an enemy, stand, and grab him, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
VR Missions is not the most visually exciting game, as it is the same virtual reality setup from mission to mission. Sometimes it is gold-colored, sometimes light blue. Might even get green at one time or two. Strangely, you can still see the cold breath of Solid Snake and the enemy guards. The music is fine if limited, and all the voice sample cues come from the original Metal Gear Solid, so don’t expect any new story beats here, unless you find hidden layers in how many times Naomi Hunter can say, “Impressive, Snake.”
Again, I’m disappointed that most of VR Missions is the same mission, but on repeat, and that the really crazy stuff is locked away for a long, long time. I might end up looking some stuff up via YouTube as I’m just not interested in grinding out those “Time Attack” levels. A shame, but oh well–this isn’t a traditional game, more like bonus DLC for those that really love these kinds of challenges. Me? I’m ready to move on to Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, and hopefully I’ve grown stronger as a Solid Snake–but not Raiden–thanks to VR Missions. We’ll see, I guess.