Metal Gear Solid: Digital Graphic Novel Review
True to its title, Metal Gear Solid: Digital Graphic Novel is an interactive comic book.
It collects the entire 270-some-odd pages of the Metal Gear Solid comic book series onto a single PSP disc. Players can now interact with the story thanks to the implementation of an virtual-reality memory game, but the real selling points for this disc are all of the animations, music, and sound effects that elevate the presentation from a mere read to a legit multimedia experience.
Kris Oprisko's adaptation simultaneously nails every nuance of Hideo Kojima's masterful story from the first Metal Gear Solid game while also fleshing out plot points and characters to such an extent that you'll actually feel like you know EVERYTHING about the "Shadow Moses" incident by the time you're done reading.
Fans that are familiar with the concept artwork that Konami artist, Yoji Shinkawa, has turned in for all of the various games will appreciate what comic artist Ashley Wood has done for this adaptation. Snake, Campbell, Ocelot, and all of the other characters look a bit younger than we're used to seeing them, but Wood still manages to incorporate Shinkawa's designs and expressionistic style into his vision. Color is used sparingly, with deep blacks, rich purples, and all manner of shading used to bring the world of Shadow Moses to life.
Somehow, Konami managed to digitize Ashley Wood's artwork without sacrificing detail. Each panel is sharp and the text is clear. Whenever you need to, you can always enlarge or shrink the current panel. They did have to slice each page into multiple screens in order to format the graphic novel for the PSP, but, thankfully, Wood's page layout lends itself very well to being broken up in this manner. On the downside, you'll have to sit through 1,000-plus individual screens in order to see the story through to the end, as opposed to 271 printed pages.
They also jazzed up the whole thing by incorporating music, simple animations, and sound effects. You won't mistake what you're seeing for video; it's more like a web Flash animation if anything; but the overall result is pretty sweet. There's just something right about hearing the Metal Gear Solid soundtrack in the background while you watch the story unfold. One of the coolest effects is how the foreground layers peel back when you zoom the camera viewpoint closer to the page. For example, in the scene where Snake is face-to-face with Liquid's Hind-D helicopter, Snake will fade and peel away when you zoom-in close, allowing you to get a complete view of the Hind-D (its chopper blades kicking up dust). It's these added touches and features that justify picking up the PSP version and leaving the printed collections on the shelf.
In contrast to Konami's earlier Silent Hill Experience disc, which mainly had viewers interact with a collection of video clips, the interactive portions of MGS: Digital Graphic Novel are actually hands-on and tie into the on-screen presentation. Each page has a hotspot hidden someplace. When you position the on-screen cursor over a hotspot, you'll gather a tidbit of info to play with in the Memory Map game. The Memory Map game is a "connect the related topics" type of logic puzzle that you can toy with when you're not paging through the graphic novel. By connecting related topics, you'll unlock new info bits and artwork that aren't available in the graphic novel itself. All of the added bits of info provide insights into the franchise's development, straight from the files of Hideo Kojima, Yoji Shinkawa, and everyone else that's played a role in bringing Metal Gear Solid to life. The Memory Map game isn't something that you'll play forever, but it's definitely worth a few hours of poking around.
Navigating the whole thing is painless. You can go back or forward a page at the tap of a button and select individual pages from a master index. Otherwise, the pages advance automatically roughly every ten seconds. Camera controls are mapped to the main buttons, allowing you to zoom-in, zoom-out, and pan across enlarged pages with ease. Anytime you need to, you can save your spot to the memory stick, like a traditional bookmark. Progress in the Memory Map game can also be saved to the memory stick as well.
I'm not sure that I'd like to see more digital graphic novels on the PSP, or any game system for that matter, but I'll definitely issue a pass to Metal Gear Solid: Digital Graphic Novel. The way Konami has transformed Ashley Wood's artwork into a highly-navigable, multimedia presentation is is nothing short of awesome. The price is right, too. At $19.99, this disc costs the same as a single volume of the collected comic book series. Since each of the two volumes costs $19.99 individually, you're basically getting both for half-price.