When I first arrived on the PC gaming scene, I ran into to something that was previously unheard of: add-on packs. For those of you unfamiliar, an add-on pack contains extra missions or levels to a game already released and aims to satisfy gamers looking for more after beating their favorite game. Nowadays, however, the practice is pretty common. Companies such as Blizzard have released extra missions and levels for their popular Warcraft and Star Craft series, which are available for retail sale, while others are releasing entire levels for free on the Web. It's a win-win situation for fans and developers; fans gets more of his or her favorite game for little or no money while the developers get some extra revenue without actually releasing a new game and, along the way, they get another chance to develop fan loyalty. This practice, however, is not as common in the console industry. Cost issues and general frowning upon by console manufacturers barred this practice from taking place so console developers have gone down another route, a route that benefits them far more than it does the gamers. They, instead, release add-on games at regular price and try to pass them off as real games. A case in point is Konami's Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions, a game based on the original mega-hit, Metal Gear Solid (MGS), that shook the industry almost to its foundation only a year ago. It offers new levels and lots of extras that they believed any MGS fan would love and, hopefully, would make the fans forget that they weren't playing a real game. It's time we see what we actually have here.
As soon as I started up, I was greeted by all the awe and great feelings I had when I first picked the game up. I remembered every bit of hype that preceded its release and the amount of praise MGS received when its release finally came. VR Missions comes with 300 missions for me to complete and offers a few bonuses, which I'll get into later. All of the missions are fun and some are indeed very clever. There are sneaking missions where I had to get from point A to point B without being seen, weapon-sneaking missions where I had to stealthily kill all the guards on the stage, and weapons-proficiency stages where I had to destroy a certain number of targets with a variety of given weapons and limited ammo. As I progressed further, special missions became available, which allowed me to play as the Cyborg Ninja (from MGS) and others presented murder mysteries for me to solve (the Columbo fans out there will be thrilled with this particular option). However, even with this bit of originality, most of the missions made me feel like a rat running though a maze. After about a hundred of these missions, I was begging for an actual game to play.
For some perspective, I need to mention that VR Missions is actually the third disc of an enhanced version of MGS that was released only in Japan. I'm guessing it was never released here because Konami felt they could sell it separately since all of the enhancements were already in the US-released version of MGS. In all honesty, I found this out just before I wrote this review, but while playing this game, there wasn't a time when I could shake the feeling that something was missing. In hindsight, what is missing was apparently MGS. Whereas extras like bonus movie footage, out-takes, and trailers are included in DVD editions of movies to compliment the main event (the movie itself), VR Missions, on its own, always felt like an "extra" without a main event, which should have been MGS. Having been stripped of MGS, VR Missions barely has legs to stand on.
As fun as the VR missions are, they can be completed relatively quickly and once they are gone, so is the need to the play this game. There are some bonus features like game trailers, which were shown at trade shows over the years, and never-before-seen FMV movies, that are unlocked as you progress through the game. But after a couple of viewings, they aren't worth your time. The other additions are downright embarrassing. Snake can now walk around in a tuxedo (a la James Bond) and play the international spy and womanizer Konami wants him to be. But saddest of all is the option to take pictures of Naomi Hunter. Yes you read right, you are encouraged to take pictures of a pixelated 3D render of a female game character. The further you played, the better your chances are to take pictures of different models of Naomi. This is something that must have been on the top of the list for Japanese gamers who get off on this stuff, but I'm not into it so it's a pointless endeavor.
Like most other add-on packs, VR Missions is just a diversion. More than anything, it's intended to keep you busy while the developer works on a new game or a sequel for release at a later date. In the PC industry, gamers understand that and revel in it because of the relative cheapness and availability of these add-ons. Those factors don't exist here, so we'll have to put up with add-ons released as complete games until there's a better alternative, but in the meantime, that doesn't mean we have to like it. VR Missions offers nothing that will hold the most gamer's attention for any amount of time after the nostalgia wears off. As an adjunct to the original MGS, it's stellar; but by itself, it's a rip-off.