Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Platform: Playstation 2
Konami had a problem on it’s hands following the release of Metal Gear Solid 2. While it was critically acclaimed and sold in bunches, there was a huge number of people who didn’t like the unadvertised switch in protagonists. People wanted to play as Solid Snake, and what they got was Raiden, a character who just… wasn’t what fans wanted. Add to that a very convoluted story and some needlessly long radio conversations and you had a series that was very suddenly no longer on many people’s must own lists.
So what was Konami to do? They could have made a new game starring Solid Snake, but that would have gone even farther into the future and probably would have been bogged down in even more confusing storylines. They could have made a second game with Raiden, but that wouldn’t have gone over well with the fans. Or they could go back in time to a point where they could help explain the story better. And that third option is what they wound up choosing.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater takes you back in time to the 1960s, to a time when USA vs USSR was a very real and very scary idea to many people. Duck and cover was still being preached, and the word Vietnam had yet to penetrate the minds of most Americans. The year is 1964. President Kennedy had recently been assassinated. Soviet Premier Kruschev is in danger of losing power in an internal struggle for control of the USSR. And out in the deserts of the Soviet Union the future of warfare is under development.
Those are the grander elements of the story found in Metal Gear Solid 3. The more personal elements are those of loyalty, betrayal, love and a desire for power. Each of these story elements is explored here as the story moves from beginning to end. You control Naked Snake, the genetic father of Solid, Liquid and Solidus Snake and the man who would one day become Big Boss. Sadly Gaseous Snake wasn’t the codename assigned to him, but I guess that wouldn’t have been very flattering for such a cool character.
Snake is given a mission to infiltrate a top secret Soviet design bureau and rescue a defector that was handed back over to the Soviets to end the Cuban Missile Crisis. Due to unforeseen events however the mission is a failure and World War III could be declared if a second mission to discover what went wrong doesn’t succeed. Add to this the fact that many things are not as they seem, and you have your typical Metal Gear Solid confusing story. Or do you? Amazingly enough, the answer is no. The story is fleshed out so much better this time around, that you’ll be shocked it came from the same developer as Sons of Liberty. Yes the radio conversations still go on and on, but there aren’t nearly as many of them, and there aren’t many useless ones. In fact I don’t recall one single conversation on the radio that wasn’t important, except for the ones following saves. And even they seemed to be Kojima’s voice, in a sense, talking to you, telling you why he has made these videogames.
In the end the only complaints I have about this story is that it takes forever to end, and that it ends at all. Does that make sense? Well let’s put it this way. The story doesn’t explain everything, so I’d like more of it. In other words I hope Metal Gear Solid 4 continues the story of Big Boss, rather than going forward in time again. But the ending of this game rates right up there with Return of the King in terms of the amount of time it takes to finally put it to bed.
Wow. That’s all I could say after playing some of the stages in this game. Right from the beginning the game looks fantastic, the presentation is amazing, and the idea that this is occurring on a Playstation 2 is just absurd. Metal Gear Solid 2 looked really good; you could tell it was a next generation game. But Snake Eater looks like it’s running on the X-Box, not a Playstation 2. One level has you wading through a river at sunset, and it looks amazing. The final level alone should be considered a work of art. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a level as beautiful as the final stage of this game.
With the good comes the bad however. Starting right after the Virtuous Mission that serves to set things in motion game wise, you are sent into what should be ground zero of a recent nuclear explosion. Only, there is nothing different about the entire area the next time you go through it. Not only that, there is no mention made at all about radio active fallout and not eating the animals in the affected area. Considering the entire series’ anti-nuclear bent, I found that to be very peculiar; not just graphically either.
There isn’t very much here that won’t be familiar to fans of the series. The music is intense when it needs to be, in the background when it’s not required, and aside from the 007ish Theme song, is quite pleasant to hear. That intro song however, yeesh. It tries to emulate the classic Bond intro themes like Goldfinger and fails quite miserably. The music in the end level winds up detracting from the game more than making it more entertaining. The music is meant to pass along your character’s feelings and I for one couldn’t care less.
Voice work is stellar, from David Hayter returning as Snake to Jim Piddock as Major Tom to Lori Alan as The Boss, each and every voice is strong and clear, there is no room for misunderstanding regarding what everyone is saying. Which is good, because this is Metal Gear and things do tend to get wordy. Niel Ross in particular delivers a really strong performance as Colonel Volgin, and I enjoyed every moment he was on screen. The one flaw I found in the voice work is a problem somebody had with acronyms on the script writing staff. There was an organization in the Soviet Military named the G.R.U., which was in many ways the military’s very own version of the K.G.B. It is pronounced GEE ARE YOU. Not GREW, which is how every character says it in the game. It bothered me at first, and frankly still bothers me, since the Metal Gear series has always striven for accuracy, but it isn’t like they mention it every other word. So I’ll just chalk that one up to a mistake somewhere along the line.
The sound effects (like gunfire and so on) didn’t really grab me the way they have in other games, but that isn’t really such a bad thing. Part of the reason is just how good sound design is in games these days. What was considered a fantastic option only a few short years ago, like surround sound, is now considered a required feature. Where the sound effects for gunfire weren’t all that thrilling, the environmental sounds are outstanding. Snake Eater is running in full surround, and it comes in very handy while operating as the stealthy killer you are supposed to be. Turn on the surround sound, crank the volume and start listening to all the things you can hear in the jungle, like soon to be food, guards snoring, or running water. Really well done.
Control & Gameplay:
Those of you who read my review of Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes will recall that I judged the controls in that game and found them to be wanting. Well, sadly not a lot has changed here with Snake Eater. You are given the choice of controlling Snake with Metal Gear Solid 1 controls or Metal Gear Solid 2 controls at the beginning, but after trying both I found that neither really felt that much different. Leaning against walls is still a chore. For a game that requires people to crouch and lie down and stand up all in quick succession like this one, they really should have fixed the way you do it in game. Many times I was spotted and had to fight off hordes of guards because the awkward controls wouldn’t let me do what I wanted when I wanted. The same problem occurs with the guns. It all comes down to how well you can adapt to the analog control buttons on the PS2 joypad.
New this time around to the gameplay is the element of keeping yourself fed and your stamina up. This will require you to hunt wild animals, loot enemy guards and shoot fruit out of trees. Also at one point in the game you will be feeding not just your own hunger but that of your compatriot, who will let you know in no uncertain terms how hungry they are. Your stamina bar will slowly depreciate the longer you go without food. At about halfway down the bar your stomach will start to rumble, and it will be very loud. This can and will alert guards, so keep yourself fed.
A new stalking feature has also been added to the game, using the d-pad. While stalking an enemy guard your stamina bar will decrease at a much faster rate, so I guess running around is easy but walking slow is hard. At any rate, the stalking feature is supposed to work hand in hand with another feature, which is CQC, or Close Quarters Combat. CQC is really just an expansion of the unarmed combat that was found in prior Metal Gear Solids, with taking hostages, interrogating people you’ve grabbed from behind being core elements of the feature. New with Snake Eater though is the ability to deflect melee attacks that Guards and others will attempt to attack you with on occasion. CQC will come in very handy in the final Boss fight, so the more you understand it the easier that level will wind up being.
What isn’t so brilliant is the lack of any real way to crouch and walk, ala the ninjas in Tenchu or CJ in GTA. It would have eliminated the awkward stalking controls and given a more realistic weight to sneaking around. While the controls do work well with CQC, getting Snake into a position to start stalking and then switching over to the D-Pad to actually stalk is very clumsy at best, and will end in failure until you finally get the hang of things. Good, but not quite there yet.
Overall it’s pretty well balanced as far as difficulty. I really enjoyed the boss fights. Except for the final fight, which while stunning to look at proves to be a real pain to complete. White field of flowers plus white camouflage on enemy boss make for excellent visual but awful fight.
As with previous Metal Gear games, you are rewarded with different things when you beat the game without killing anybody. Add to that all the various collectable frogs that are found in the game and acquiring all of the camouflaged uniforms and face paint schemes and you have a game that could easily be played through 3 or 4 times. With that said though, there is only one ending, you don’t get to play as anyone else, and the story doesn’t change with added difficulty.
Replay Ability: 7/10
Did you enjoy Metal Gear Solid but have trouble finishing Metal Gear Solid 2? Do you enjoy super-spy movies like James Bond? Do you think Sean Connery is the best Bond? Are you a cold war buff who longs to hate Commies again? If so then this is the game for you. Snake Eater has fixed what got broken and added its own distinctive features to the series to make a terrific game.
Yes, it’s a sequel, but this game bleeds originality. Close Quarters Combat alone shines as a bastion of uniqueness, with all of the abilities you can bring to bear on the enemies you find. Then add to that a boss fight, which you can completely skip if you are aware enough (Or devious enough as I just found out. Lets just say clock management takes on a whole new meaning here). Mix in the catching and eating your own food to keep you going (Not even GTA San Andreas makes you CATCH your food), and you have a very original gameplay experience. Yet I’m STILL not done listing everything original in this game. Snake Vs Monkey (more on this later) is a humorous sideshow that lets you laugh a little after saving the world yet again from the horrors of Metal Gear.
The story is what will keep you playing this game. It’s not the best story in a game ever, but it’s certainly very enjoyable. This might have something to do with expecting it to go off the rails at any moment and then realizing the game has ended without a train wreck, I will admit that. The game clearly benefits from a story that has somewhat believable villains, a strong protagonist, and a somewhat plausible alternate history storyline set during the height of the Cold War. All of the various extras that have been thrown in also give this game an added level of addictiveness, but nothing that will inspire lawsuits down the road.
From all of the inside jokes that were included in the game, I think it’s pretty clear that Hideo Kojima understands what he did wrong by introducing Raiden in Sons of Liberty. There are numerous references to him, including one interesting scene where Colonel Volgin proves that Snake (who is disguised as a Russian Major who looks very like Raiden) isn’t the soldier at all. All of these scenes just gave me the impression that he was willing to laugh it off if you were.
Another thing about this game: I guess the Metal Gear production crew had some time on their hands while developing Snake Eater, or maybe they finished a level ahead of time. Either way, Konami have added a mini-game to MGS3 that has you taking control of Solid Snake once more to capture…. monkeys. Some of the Ape Escape monkeys to be exact. Having Solid Snake chasing after the Ape Escape monkeys is a brilliant addition, if only for the intro CODEC conversation alone.
Short Attention Span Summary
Metal Gear is back. No other way to say it really. The franchise was badly in need of rescue following Metal Gear Solid 2, and I’m happy to report that the job has been done. Call off your dogs, put out the torches and put down the pitchforks, the game is really really good.