Review by Sylvanyze

"Mmm...delicious!"

One of the Playstation's (and gaming in general) defining series, Metal Gear Solid is well known for its myriad of plot twists, original stealth gameplay, and memorable boss fights. And all three of those were more than accounted for in MGS2: Sons of Liberty, much to the dismay of a wide percentage of fans. Well, Hideo Kojima perused the message boards, took some notes, and made the third game in the franchise, MGS3: Snake Eater, the most exhilarating, epic, and just plain awesome game in the series.

I will admit right now that I loved MGS2's story. I'll also admit that I had absolutely no problem playing as the now infamous Raiden. But before you write me off as a crazy fool and hit that back button, hear me this: MGS3 will floor you, even if you despise the decisions Kojima made three years ago. Everything Sons of Liberty haters whined about has been fixed and/or improved. You play as Snake (the whole game), the story is easy to comprehend, and all those questions you've had about the plot are most likely answered.

Usually I prefer to talk about the graphics near the end, but MGS3's visuals are just too jaw-dropping to hold off on gushing about them (diabetics beware, these visuals are sweet). From the lush, individual blades of tall grass waving in the rain soaked wind, to the smooth-as-butter character models outfitted with cloth movement, lip synching and fully rendered mouths (it makes quite a difference, honest), Snake Eater would be a hell of a feat for the Xbox to pull off. The fact that Konami pumped this much power out of the aging PS2 is a testament to Sony's original vision of the console. Each little forest critter is fully animated and ready-to-eat, and you can analyze how slimy/fuzzy it is in the menu screen to boot. Visual touches like stealth cloaking, flames, and rag doll enemies also refine the polish and deliver yet more eye candy. Of course, all this graphical prowess comes with a small fee, and that's the occasional frame rate decline, particularly in heavy rainstorms. It doesn't detriment the gameplay, but it is a bit noticeable.

Seeing as the game in set in the 60s, it's only fitting that the audio be influenced by classic Bond tunes. The main theme song is initially out of place, but you'll learn to love it as Konami injects it into epic and emotional moments throughout the journey. The familiar Metal Gear theme is here as well, as is composer Harry Gregson-Wiliams and a pair of additional vocal themes. But the real reason Snake Eater's audio excels is the eerily-real ambiance. The cawing of birds, slithering of snakes, water dripping from cave overhangs, dust being kicked up, and the whirring of incoming choppers all add much needed tension, and most of all, depth to the jungle. The tempo (and the electric guitars) kicks in when you're spotted, as well. Overall, the audio in MGS3 is incredible, and supports Dolby Pro Logic for all you audiophiles.

But enough about the stunning graphics and awesome sound, the real meat of any Metal Gear title is its engaging story. To avoid spoiling much of it, I'll lay down the *sort of* condensed version. You are Naked Snake, agent of the United States in the mid-1960s (right after the Cuban Missile Crisis). Sent by the CIA to the central Soviet Union, the mountainous jungle town Tselinoyarsk to be specific, on a rescue mission, Snake must extract an ex-Soviet scientist named Nikolai Sokolov and bring him back to the West. Along the way your mentor, codenamed The Boss, catches up with you, defects to the USSR, brings a few mini-nukes as a gift, and unleashes the Cobra unit. KGB leader Khrushchev thinks the Americans are behind the nuclear incident that follows, and the government sends you back to prove America's innocence. I can't reveal much more because the experience just has to be personal. Along the way you will also encounter a lightning-endowed colonel, a gorgeous spy (again, a Bond nod), and a strappingly young-but-no-less-cool Revolver Ocelot. Oh yeah, and the psychotic five-some Cobra Unit. From a delusional ex-cosmonaut with a jetpack and flamethrower, to a flexible, fork-tongued spider dude, to, get this, a masked madman who attacks with BEES, Kojima does not disappoint when it comes to characters and plot twists, again proving his genius as a storyteller.

In between adrenaline charged cut scenes is the classic gameplay. There's a lot of changes from past games here, which would seem intimidating to newbies were it not introduced incrementally. Perhaps the two most prevalent modifications are the lack of active radar and the stamina focus. The lack of radar is a welcome change, as it makes sneaking less of a red-light-green-light game and more of an actual STEALTH game. In the wake of Splinter Cell, this addition puts MGS back in the game. Health automatically regenerates, but the rate of regeneration, as well has everything from swimming to hanging, depends on the stamina meter. More on this when we get to food…

The biggest implementation of change is of course the camouflage use. No more wall hugging; now Snake can change design patterns and face paints in order to raise the percentage displayed in the corner of the screen. The higher the number, the less likely you are to be seen. Stance also affects this (standing is less effective than crouching, which is less so than crawling) and if Snake has the optimal disguise, you can lie in patches of weeds or in logs without alerting enemies. The enemies are not morons by any means, mind you, as they can (and will) set off the alarm if you're three inches in front of them. Like the radar, the camo index exemplifies the Espionage in Tactical Espionage Action.

So we have the tactical and the espionage, but what about the action? Three letters: CQC. Spicing up the bland, boring “punch punch kick” combo is the CQC system, allowing for a versatile melee system of knife stabbing, throat slitting, human-shield-using, and back snapping goodness. While it improves greatly on the whole “what to do once caught” situation, CQC also means that running through the levels killing everybody recklessly goes fairly unpunished.

Despite all the inclusions, MGS3 still has the third-person, limited camera sneaky-ness at its core. Quick menus are still accessible via R2 and L2 triggers, but both sides have a weight limit now, which means a few seconds of menu navigating. Also, while the game automatically switches to first person when crawling through grass or tunnels, it remains third person otherwise. And despite added flexibility of controlling the camera and transparencies used when looking through obstructions, coupled with the aforementioned lack of radar, the camera system seems to be showing its age. Series vets won't have a problem, but in the post-Splinter Cell days, a versatile camera control is somewhat of a requirement.

Lastly on the mechanics repertoire is the food and cure systems. You always need to take care of your stamina and you need food to restore stamina. Seeing as you were dropped in the middle of who-knows-where, what's a hungry Snake to do? Why capture and procure food on site, of course. Flora and fauna such as snakes, rats, and mushrooms can be killed or tranquilized and stored for food later. The main difference between live and dead prey is that, while you can carry a lot more dead items, they will eventually spoil and give you heartburn, nausea, and other Pepto Bismol-curing symptoms. Live food lasts forever, but you only have three or four slots for that. When you feed something to Snake, it will raise his stamina various amounts, and he'll give you a taste rating. Obviously, more scrumptious critters yield better recovery, while the opposite is true of disgusting food.

When Snake gets shot, stung, whipped, or poisoned, it's off to the cure menu! Apply the right combination of bandages and medicines to the afflicted areas of the body, and your wounds will heal. Some ailments go away with time, while others will limit your life recovery until treated. Plus, if you're lucky, a pop-up window will show Snake treating his wounds in wonderful detail. Curing during heated gunfights may be a little disjointing, but you'll quickly learn to adapt.

Always one to throw in little homages to past projects, Kojima includes trinkets laden throughout the cut scenes that prove satisfying to find once in a while. Another sub-quest involves finding frog dolls in the environs and shooting them so they squeak endlessly. This doubles as a bonus incentive for replay as well as a viable distraction for nearby guards. And I couldn't mention secrets and replay ability without acknowledging the funniest part of Snake Eater: the bonus Snake vs. Monkey levels. If you've played Ape Escape, it's the same deal here, pants-wearing monkeys and all. Yep, Ubisoft's crazy chimps are making their cameo appearance, and Colonel Roy Campbell drags Solid Snake from vacation to round up some primates. Fun stuff, especially the hilarious opening dialogue (“Can't you get Spike or Jimmy to do it? How about Sam or Gabe [of Splinter Cell and Syphon Filter fame]?”). Rounding out the extras list are downloadable camouflage patterns if you have your PS2 hooked up online.

In the end, Hideo Kojima has crafted one of the most riveting action dramas in gaming, perfectly wrapping up the MGS trilogy and delivering non stop excitement all throughout. From the renowned gameplay to the audiovisual perfection that immerses players in the pseudo-historical world, to the much needed improvements on pacing and tension, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is without a doubt the defining game of the Playstation 2 and one of gaming's finest. Here's to hoping we get a confirmation on MGS4.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 12/08/04


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