Review by James Riot

"The predictable movements of Snake..."

Has it really been three years? Three years after Metal Gear Solid 2 captivated the gaming world, for better or worse, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater arrives with surprisingly moderate fanfare. Coming out in the same week as Halo 2 and Half-Life 2 is a challenge for any game, but if this were 2001, and the game was MGS2, this would not have been a problem. As somebody who doesn't take to following video game news, even I noticed the public display of shock at the original sequel. For a type of media that rarely disappoints it's fans, by way of either the developers or merely uncritical players, MGS2 caused an uproar that would arguably tarnish the name of the series, which in 1998 nearly beat out the legendary Zelda in popularity and critically. This is precisely why MGS2 captivated me, and continues to do so to this day.

So I approach MGS3 as a minority. One with expectations, like everyone else, only different ones. Something to follow the dangerous experimentation of MGS2, provide as much shocking, out-of-the-blue twists and turns, and most importantly, to continue it's exciting cliffhanger.

MGS3 delivers on none of these aspects.

Which is not to say that MGS3 is a bad game, and I'll be hesitant to use a word as strong as “disappointment” is reference to it, but that's exactly what I must do here: To an MGS2 fan, Snake Eater IS a disappointment in regards to it's storyline, which is both comparatively straightforward and not fulfilling to the promises that it's predecessor made. By moving the story to the past in 1964, the continuation of the cliff that MGS2 left us hanging on has yet to arrive, and as for filling up loose holes, the new game takes it's precious time getting to the shovel.

To make a lengthy cutscene short, Snake Eater starts out with “Naked Snake”, an agent in a special force called FOX, landing in Russia in the midst of the Cold War on a mission to retrieve a weapons scientist named Sokolov and take him back to America. Typical to Metal Gear form, things end up getting a bit more complicated than they seem. The enemies Snake face in this installment are known as the “Cobra Unit”. Now, a key element to the series thus far are the bosses. We've had FOXHOUND and Dead Cell, both of which were groups that contained interesting, tortured villains who invoke a sort of sympathy from the player and the game's protagonists, no matter how evil they may seem. The Cobra Unit are another matter entirely - we don't know jack about nearly any of these guys, before, during, or after the fact. In the course of the game, we are simply thrown into battle with them, and after we defeat them, we are left only with going on with the mission. The unique emotional aspects that made up a significant part in the previous games are replaced with the genuinely generic feel of “d00d chek it out hez got BEEZ sh00ting out of him so kewl!” Although I've stressed a great deal on Snake Eater in the wake of MGS2, this is an issue that's troubling for the whole series at hand.

But the absolute banality of these characters are balanced out by what may quite possibly be a series of the greatest battles in the history of video gaming itself. Despite being my favorite game in the series, MGS2 had little focus on boss fights. MGS3, on the other hand, has you take on the Cobra Unit by taking advantage of every part of the gameplay that was implemented. Even the most classic fight is stylistically superb and genuinely exciting. The gameplay of these battles surpass every single one in the series thus far, especially notable is the intense, lengthy battle with a sniper that at the time of writing has absolutely everybody in the gaming world talking.

Between these battles is the stealth gameplay that has defined Metal Gear, although there are some major changes this time around. Snake Eater focuses on “survival”. Being 1964, the Soliton Radar system is gone, leaving you with a battery-powered motion detector and AP sensor, neither of which are as convenient or useful. Not knowing the exact location of the enemies should have made the game more suspenseful, but after a while it becomes simply frustrating. You'll realize that the camera angles aren't particularly friendly to the player while he's trying to sneak past the enemy, and the automatic switches to first-person view when crawling through leaves makes it literally impossible to see exactly what you're hiding from. There's also the use of camouflage, which is actually very useful early in the game, although having to go to the menu to switch camos becomes a little tiresome. It would have been easier if you could have switched on screen using the L2 and R2 buttons, like for weapons and items. I don't think I've ever pressed Start so much in my life. But I didn't have to worry too much, as halfway through the game the camos become completely useless, and you'll likely spend the last few hours wearing the same garb with no consequence. Camo is not nearly as useless as CQC, though. For some reason, the game puts a big focus on “Close Quarters Combat”. The menu screen seems entirely indebted to it, although good luck trying to actually use it in the game. The controls are slightly changed from the usual chokehold in the series to make it more advanced, thus, CQC. However, guards seem to be a little too keen this time around to have you just sneak up on them, even at your quietest. Even then, it takes time to master the ability of the chokehold alone, as Snake seems to be more apt with punching. Remember to slightly hold, not tap, the circle button, and if the enemy doesn't catch you (slight chance), CQC is all yours! Tranq gun, please.

So this leaves the best features of survival gaming: Hunting and Curing. Hunting for animals is as easy as finding an animal and catching or killing it, then collecting it's item box. In MGS3 you have stamina as well as life, which gauges how well Snake will aim, how steady he will move, etc. When your stamina runs low, you can go to the menu and eat whatever you have collected, but be aware that some food may be poisonous or rotten, in which case you can find plants that can heal you. Like the camo, hunting eventually becomes useless, but it plays a major part for the game's first half. If you get hit by a bullet directly, or are burned by a grenade blast, you can also heal yourself by using the same plants or medical equipment you are originally supplied with. If you don't, you won't be able to regain a certain amount of life, at least for an extended period of time.

Most of the best general gameplay moments are thrown out far too early in the game. Coming across hidden installations and armories in the middle of the forest and then destroying them after collecting what's inside, for example, is exactly the sort of kick a stealth game like this needs. Eventually, though, it seems like you're just returning to the same areas and doing the same things. To add on to this, there's the problems with the story. You see, after MGS2 it was probably wise for creator Hideo Kojima to back off and do something a little more mainstream and, for lack of a better term, “immediately coherent”. Immediacy is something that Kojima completely slacked off on, though. MGS3 has almost none of the mystery and suspense of the first two. Events simply occur, and there's very little to question. All of the major plot twists are predictable from the moment they're hinted at, and none of them are actually revealed until, believe it or not, the game's final hour.

The end of MGS3 is said to be especially gripping, but that's only because the only major plot developments take place at the end of the game. Before that, MGS3 did two particular things that affected me: It contained itself in it's own world, having only easter eggs to connect to the other MG games, and second of all, remained a relatively basic mission. In the first two games, everything was not what it seemed, but in Snake Eater, everything is pretty much fine, and that's the biggest problem with the story. Perhaps playing it a second time, after knowing various big reveals, would ease the plodding pace, perhaps not. Either way, we are yet again offered the “evils of politics” morals we were beaten over the head with in the first two games, but this time around there's no actual story to go along with it.

There are four main members of your backup team: Major Zero, Para-Medic, Sigint, and EVA. The first three are probably, save for Snake, the best characters in the game, which makes it a shame they're so underdeveloped. There's always something to be relished when talking to them, which would be easier if the Codec/Transmission loading times weren't so frustratingly long. Never a problem in previous games, every time you press the Select button, look forward to waiting several seconds along with a couple of skips in the audio. Also, you'll have to be talking to these characters on your own time, as #4 is the one who will be contacting you the most and meeting up with you on the battlefield. EVA is your leading lady, and unfortunately, deathly obnoxious. Providing Snake with plenty of romantic interest and sexual tension, EVA, a voluntarily scantily clad spy does her best to zap the drama out of the game and still retaining a lead presence. At least you only had to talk to Rose, who many call the killer of MGS2, a couple of times. You spend hours with EVA and afterwards you'll have to take a cold shower. The result of sudden inspiration from James Bond films, EVA struts around, makes a stunning variety of sexual innuendoes, and makes out with Snake. This is a Metal Gear Solid game, right? All of that lack of plot development is replaced with EVA undressing, seducing, and needing to be killed off right away. We're supposed to care for this character, which would be easy if she wasn't so damn annoying.

The only thing in MGS3 worse than EVA is the also Bond-esque “Snake Eater” theme song. We hear it several times throughout the course of the game, for the same reason as EVA's existence - just because. The end credits feature a song by mediocre Britpop group Starsailor, and I tell you what, I've never been happier to hear Starsailor in my life.

I'm making MGS3 sound worse than it actually is. As I stated before, Snake Eater is actually a very good game, and I don't have a tinge of regret for spending full price on it. The boss fights are incredible, and the end truly is a satisfying conclusion to the game. Another great thing about the game that I have not mentioned is an incredible chase sequence that makes it all worth the price of admission. Yet there's a part of MGS3 that's very cheap - the lack of character development, the eventual uselessness of the survival system, and, most importantly, EVA. Three years after MGS2, there's a bit of padding to the proceedings of the series, but Solid Snake is still out there, waiting to complete his journey. We may have to wait another three years for that conclusion.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 11/27/04

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