Review by EntityGM
A rough-cut gem
So, many years after the fact I finally dusted off this game and got around to actually completing it. I can't fully explain the long wait, perhaps I was a bit burnt out from MGS2. For background, I wrote the poorly titled "Shadow Mode" guide to MGS2 under my previous nick, NinjaRyu. I -love- stealth gameplay. Loved it so much I wanted to play through with absolutely no tranquilizer cheese or leaving any evidence I had been there other than a pile of dead boss-type critters. Knowing that, I ended up blasting my way through several sections of this one. See Gameplay section for my reasons.
MGS3 casts aside any illusions one may have held regarding the realism of the series. The characters are mostly over-the-top stereotypes, some even painfully bad (Ocelot), but I don't fault the game for this at all. It is very obviously made as an homage to the campy early Bond films, right down to the title montage. Even with the silly boss battles and somewhat forced acting, the game maintains a certain... I don't know what (to quote Dr. Evil) and never felt painful. I actually enjoyed the story here more than MGS2. It was simplistic, rather silly, and all in good fun right up to the end, all while maintaining enough twists to keep it relevant. The save girl talks about some pretty cool movies every time you phone in, and the eye candy of Eva helps resist the temptation to skip scenes (which was barely ever present). No complaints here.
The game is pretty. Even in todays PS3 HD-laden world a non-progressive scan PS2 game can manage to be engrossing. The outdoor environments are well designed, from barren mountaintops to lush forests most of the game looks very nice. The bunkers and facilities are often too small and boring though, they didn't have much life to them the way MGS1 (or even 2) did. The elements of the game look good, which makes the camera issues (covered later) all the more upsetting.
Can't complain about much here. Gun sounds are crisp, conversations can be overheard, helicopters approach just the right way. The score left a little something to be desired, at least the main theme, but I chalk that up to my personal dislike of that musical style. The voice acting is hit or miss, but I think it was made that way intentionally, so won't fault Kojima for that.
Replay Value (7.5/10)
I didn't see much reason to replay this. There are some unlocks I suppose, and the challenge of completing it at a higher difficulty, but all that seemed to change was the boss battles and the addition of a guard or two. The bosses weren't that difficult to begin with, and the frustration of the controls just overwhelms any desire I had to give it another go.
The low score for gameplay comes down to one simple thing. The camera system is AWFUL. Seriously, game-breakingly awful. They may as well have called this Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake vs. Camera. No matter where you are, the camera always faces north (which is alleviated somewhat by the game always having you head north toward objectives, mostly). There is a little bit of control, you can move it off-center to varying degrees and lock it there, but it's never enough to give anything resembling a full range of motion. Finding that nearby guard standing 3 feet away becomes an exercise in futility. Either he's north of you, and it's a matter of finding him through the camouflage, or he's west, east or south, and completely off screen.
Thus rather than navigating an intricate system of guards and cameras and other obstacles, as was standard in MGS1 and 2 and their 2-dimensional predecessors, the game becomes a matter of using your radar or sonar or motion sensor to detect things that are often within arm's length. Some don't seem to have a problem with this system, and you'll know whether it suits you in the first 4 screens of the game. There are some workarounds, mostly using the shoulder buttons to peek left/right/up in first person, but all of them expose you in completely unnecessary ways to see things which should be immediately apparent. Hiding in grass just makes the problem worse, as the camera forces itself to first person so you rely on spotty positional audio or peeking out of the grass and hoping the guards laser vision doesn't catch you.
Somehow this got better toward the end of the game. The final battle in particular made marvelous use of hiding in tall grass, often directly in front of your enemy. Throughout most of the game, however, it's simply an exercise in frustration. All of this would have been tremendously eased if the game offered a "Game over if discovered" option ala MGS2. As it stands, getting discovered means an alert, and guards, and even on high difficulties the average guards apparently fire bb guns from the hip because it takes forever and a day for them to kill you and allow a continue. I resorted to jumping on 3-5 of my own grenades as a reset (the soft-reset to load game took even longer).
Thankfully I heard that Subsistence did make some much-needed changes to the camera system. I haven't had the chance to try that version myself, maybe I will someday, but the core game suffers tremendously due to this one simple camera issue.
The other gameplay aspects aren't bad. Eating every 2 minutes during some battles felt forced and unrealistic, but wasn't overly annoying really just another component of the game. The combat is actually a lot of fun in some instances. Boss battles aren't too complicated but can still be interesting (The Fury in particular was a challenging and entertaining fight, as was the final boss). Having to pull things from the backpack to use them and using the menu to change camo broke the pace from time to time but not horrendously so. All-in-all, I still enjoyed the game in spite of itself, which is saying something considering how many times it took to actually get past the camera and just play the thing.
I highly recommend getting Subsistence (I doubt the original's even available at this point). as any improvement to the camera problem is a massive improvement to the game itself. This form of the game has some glaring warts, but for this who skipped this and went straight into MGS4 it's worth checking this one out for completeness. Just don't expect to have much fun if you want a total stealth game.
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Product Release: Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (US, 11/17/04)
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