Review by El Greco

Reviewed: 12/07/04 | Updated: 12/08/04

Relive Metal Gear Solid and the Cold War

As with many people my first experience with Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater came in early May 2003 when a short, low-quality trailer began circulating around the Internet. The trailer exhibited some things that were completely unexpected; Snake eating fish out of a river, diving off a waterfall, and sloshing through a shallow river while a forest burns around him. Many people, including myself, thought it was a hoax because, plainly, it seemed too unrealistic. Metal Gear Solid in the jungle? That’s a laughable concept!

It turns out that my laughter was stifled as soon as E3 2003 rolled around. Hideo Kojima exhibited a masterpiece of a trailer that showed that the game was indeed taking place in the jungle, and to my surprise the final bit of the trailer was the “faked trailer” that had been released just a few days earlier. To many people’s surprise Kojima had yet a few more twists up his sleeve. Not only was the game taking place in the jungle but also you are going to have to hunt and eat your own food and survive the elements.

As exciting as that was I couldn’t help but get my mind off one more thing. About midway through the trailer the numbers 1961, 1962, 1943, and 1964 were flashed up on screen. Obviously this was an allusion to the fact that the game was taking place in the 1960s as opposed to the near-future setting of past games. What did this mean? Only one thing was for sure, it meant that the game would not exhibit the traditional character of Solid Snake at all. Surely this meant the character would be Big Boss, the person Solid Snake was cloned from.

Needless to say my expectations were high yet I was also uneasy at the change of setting and the change of character. The game appeared to be keeping somewhat true to the formula that made the old games great but it was also radically changing quite a few things. Now that the game has been released and I’ve had the chance to (finally) play it I can come to a conclusion on how the game turned out. Were the changes for better or for worse? Well, let’s find out.

Since some of the most radical changes were made to the gameplay I will start there. The new gameplay system in Metal Gear Solid 3 introduces the concept of survival to the player. What this means is that Snake can only do so much before he either needs to rest or hunt down an animal and eat it or find some mushrooms to eat. Now I don’t mean to say that the entire game is a hunting simulator, far from it. Most food will be found on your way through an area so you don’t often have to go far off course to find food.

Snake can carry a massive amount of food in his backpack. This being said it may seem that Snake is carrying enough food to feed several himself for several days or weeks. So theoretically you could stock up on food early on in the game and keep it for the duration of the game. Of course, taking into account the level of detail in the game (covered later on) food will spoil and rot if it is left uneaten for too long. The only way to counter this is to tranquilize and cage your food. However you can carry a maximum of three caged animals at any time.

There are two more new and unique additions to the game. The first of these is the camouflage system that is used extensively in the game. In order to hide from your enemies you must take into account your surroundings and choose a camouflage outfit that best suits your environment. A small gauge in the upper-right corner of the screen represents how well you are hidden. A rating of 0% or lower means that you’re doing a piss-poor job and the enemy will be able to spot you from miles away. The closer you get to 100% the harder it is for the enemy to pick you out of the underbrush.

The second addition is the Curing system in which you can access a menu in-game and manually cure Snake’s wounds. This seems like a cool feature at first however there are some points in the game where you’d rather be playing than operating on Snake’s wounds. How it operates is the surgical tools such as bandages, ointment, knife, suture kit, and disinfectant are accessed with the R2 button and the medicines such as Cold Medicine, Digestive Medicine, and Serum are accessed with the L2 button. By combining these items and tools you can patch Snake up at any given time, as long a you have supplies to do that with.

This brings me to another point. All of the areas in Metal Gear Solid 3 are a great deal larger than anything ever seen before in the series. Often times there are more routes to take through an area than you can count on your fingers. What this opens up to the player is a world that is doubly immersive due to the sheer size of the playing area and the variety of ways that you can make your way through an area.

Perhaps the thing that makes this game more immersive than any other game in the series and even most other games is due to the sheer depth of the gameplay. For example, if you enter an area and blow up the armoury any enemy will take more time to aim his weapon, to be use his aim is true, so that he doesn’t waste ammunition. There is a similar effect if you blow up the provisions storehouse in an area. The enemies around you will become hungry once you take away their food supply so their aim will tend to be off and they won’t be able to do things that they normally do. They’ll react slower and move slower which is a huge help if you find yourself in a gunfight.

Typically you will want to be avoiding gunfights with the enemy since the enemy AI has been upgraded to a level beyond what was exhibited in Metal Gear Solid 2. Before, in Sons of Liberty, you could take an enemy hostage and prevent the enemy from attacking you as long as you kept your victim in front of you. Snake Eater changes that. Now the enemy will only hesitate for so long. One of them may come up and stab you with their knife, they may circle around to flank you, or they may even sacrifice their comrade to get rid of you. You’ll be surprised how cunning the enemy can be in this game, you won’t often be able to escape from a gunfight unscathed, in fact you almost never will.

Besides upgrading your enemy’s tactics and intelligence there is also a very good improvement on your end dos that you can do anything from sneak past enemies undetected or blast your way through an attack team to escape from certain death. One of the new features is “Stalking Mode”. This allows the player to move Snake around slowly and quietly as to not alert nearby enemies. This means no more running up behind guards and taking them out, you’ll have to at the very least walk to not be noticed. If you start running all through a level you’ll find yourself being discovered more than you want to.

Though perhaps the single biggest addition to the gameplay is the CQC (Close-Quarters-Combat) system. I’m sure you’ve seen movies such as The Bourne Identity where Jason Bourne disarms and defeats his enemies with his bare hands when he has no choice but to do so. That is essentially what CQC is. Here’s how Metal Gear Solid 3’s military advisor, Motosada Mori explains it:

In actual battle, it is used in the jungle, bushes, and indoors when you cannot use a gun. It is also used when terrorists with hostages are in a facility or an airplane. The technique has been developed for when you have to fight multiple enemies that are very close to you, or when you don't know from where you will be attacked. It is a total combat technique, studied by actual special forces, used when you are close to enemies and you have to be able to fight with your bare hands, knife, and gun accordingly.

Some of the most enjoyable aspects of the game are the boss battles that you go through during the course of the game. They each provide the player with a unique experience that has either never been seen before in any way shape or form or it’s a traditional boss battle that has been tweaked or radically changed so that it provides an experience that is almost wholly unique. Perhaps the best example of this is a sniper battle about midway through the game in which you must hunt down and track your opponent through binoculars, thermal goggles, a directional microphone, distractions, and whatever else you have at your disposal. This battle alone takes well over one hour to complete.

As always Snake is sent into his mission almost completely unarmed. He will start this mission with his Survival Knife and a pistol. This forces the player to tread softly during the early parts of the game and the game’s emphasis on survival becomes apparent. During the course of the game however, Snake will pick up assault rifles, explosives, grenades, a sniper rifle, and even a chloroform handkerchief to smother his enemies. This opens up the player to be a little more reckless because he can counter attack teams with just about any weapon he could ask for.

One of the biggest departures from the previous games in the series is the lack of the Soliton Radar. Since Snake Eater takes place early on in the 1960s the high-tech radar has been scrapped in favor of some more old-fashioned systems. You are now equipped with a Motion Detector, Personnel Sensor, and Sonar device. Using all of these you can locate the approximate locations of your enemies as well as the locations of any animals around you. This means no more vision cones for guards or anything else. All you have to work with are some primitive gadgets that will tell you approximate positions. This should please some veterans of the series who found it too easy to simply dodge the vision cone of the guard and keep walking. This makes the game significantly harder so players who are new to the series may not find this game especially easy to complete.

One reason for that is because Metal Gear Solid has a very unique control system that is different from every single action/adventure type game. People who have been playing lots of first-person shooters or any other action-adventure game on the consoles will have to spend a good hour getting used to the unique control system of the series. That will most likely discourage some people from continuing further but that’s unavoidable.

That being said I must say that despite working reasonably well in the jungle setting the old-top down camera and controls going along with it do feel aged, to say the least. The game controls exactly like Sons of Liberty does and when you take into account that Sons of Liberty took place in an all industrial-type setting and Snake Eater is set in the jungle there is obviously something wrong. The control scheme worked better than well in MGS2 but since the controls are essentially a port of that control scheme there are some parts in the game that become obnoxiously tedious because the control scheme simply doesn’t work well.

Aside from sprucing up the gameplay (for better or for worse) the game was also done on a completely new graphics engine that looks far better than any other game on the PlayStation 2. This refers to the entire game, not only do the cinematics in this game look spectacular but the gameplay does as well. In fact the gameplay looks just as good as the cut-scenes. Why is this? It is because the cut-scenes in the game are rendered using the in-game graphics. This means that anything seen in the cinemas will show up in gameplay and vice-a-versa.

The graphics are only surpassed by the incredible attention given to detail. Most of it is so minor you would never notice it unless you were looking for it. Just a few examples: when it rains the rain drops will make realistic splashes on the ground or make very believable ripples in any puddles they fall into. After it rains the grass and ferns in the game will be covered in water and when you run through a patch of them the water will fall off and splash around. If you try and do that again it won’t happen because the water has already fallen off. In other instances Snake will be treading through some mud and when he emerges he’ll be covered in mud and whatnot. Again, these aren’t things vital to your enjoyment of the game but you’ll certainly be amazed at how deep the level of detail is in the game.

Though with all of these things happening in-game, the console sometimes gets overloaded and the game slows down. It’s an annoyance but it really doesn’t detract from the enjoyability of the game because they only happen when you manage to screw up so badly that you’ve got enemies coming at you from all directions, bullets kicking up dirt, rain falling, grenades exploding and killing some of the local fauna and so on. Being the optimist that I am, I like to look at it as another excuse to avoid gunfights.

To accompany the superb looking graphics in Metal Gear Solid 3 is a soundtrack that surpasses that of it’s predecessor and perhaps every other game in existence. It’s hard to deny that Metal Gear Solid 3 simply sounds spectacular. The game is scored by Hollywood composer Harry Gregson-Williams who composed the main theme from Sons of Liberty as well as a good deal of in-game music. The new theme I have not heard in it’s entirety (still waiting for the soundtrack) but from what I have heard it is very well done and packs the same kind of punch that the original theme did. Williams also did a good deal of work on the in-game music and it sounds equally as good.

Aside from the instrumental contributions by Harry Gregson-Williams there are also a few vocal songs in the game that deserve mentioning. The first is the song we heard in the TGS 2003 trailer called “Snake Eater”. It’s an obvious homage to the James Bond films that were coming out in the 1960s and also help to pay respect to Bond’s inspirations for the series. The song is used in the game’s opening sequence, before the main screen. The next song is “Don’t Be Afraid” by Rika Muranaka, the woman who composed the ending songs to both Metal Gear Solid and Sons of Liberty. It doesn’t take a huge presence in the game since it is only heard for a few moments during the final scenes of the game. By itself it isn’t a very well-done song, nothing that I would listen to on my own but it is very well used where it is needed.

The biggest surprise in the music department was seeing that Konami actually licensed a song for the ending credits of the game. This was surprising since the last two games had songs that were composed by Rika Muranaka, a Konami employee. I had my doubts when I first discovered this; much to my delight I discovered that they used the song I had never heard before, “Way to Fall” by Starsailor. It’s a very fitting song for the end of the game.

The voice acting in the game is right on target when it comes to quality. David Hayter returns yet again to voice the role of Snake and sounds not a bit worse than he did in any of the other games. Taking the place of Colonel Campbell is Major Zero who sounds official enough, sporting a British accent. The role of the mission data specialist has been filled by a character named Para-Medic who will, in addition to tending to Snake’s medical questions, save Snake’s game data. One good thing to note is that the old proverbs and “do you know what day it is tomorrow?” conversations have been replaced by talks about classic movies such as Godzilla, James Bond, The Great Escape and so on.

My only complaint would have to be that some of the characters are either not voiced well or their voices just do not fit their appearance. Luckily most of the times you see this is with a minor character, there is only one major character in the game whose acting is a problem. I won’t delve into that right now since it will become apparent at almost the first appearance that character makes.

Maybe this would be a good point to bring up the story of Snake Eater. This game takes place in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Snake is being sent into the Soviet Union to rescue a scientist named Nikolas Stepanovich Sokolov who has requested asylum from the west. Snake must infiltrate the jungle, find Sokolov and make his way to the extraction point. Needless to say (as has been shown by the trailers) things go terribly wrong. Snake fails his mission and winds up in the hospital waiting for the hammer to fall. This portion of the story is less than 10% of what the game ultimately has to offer.

Snake is then assigned a new mission, a follow-up mission. An American nuclear warhead has exploded on Soviet soil and destroyed one of their most valued design bureaus. The Soviet Union is demanding that the US provide an explanation. When they eventually do the Soviets demand that America prove its innocence. Snake is sent back into enemy territory to start Operation Snake Eater with the help of a KGB agent.

Why is the KGB helping Snake? As it turns out a rebellious Colonel named Yevgheny Volgin is threatening Khrushchev’s government with a new weapon called The Shagohod. This weapon is nearing completion due to Sokolov being forced to work on the weapon. Khrushchev is frightened by the fact that Colonel Volgin has his hands on a nuclear warhead and has control over the Shagohod, which is getting ever closer to being completed. So Khrushchev demands from the US what ultimately becomes Snake’s mission. Eliminate the opposing party, destroy the Shagohod, and rescue Sokolov.

Of course that’s hardly a good summation of the story. If you’ve ever played or heard of Metal Gear Solid or its sequel you know that the stories are much deeper than that. There is a good 10+ hours of story in this game so fans hoping for yet another lengthy and gripping story won’t be disappointed.

One thing that I was saddened by after playing this game is that Kojima listened to some of the backlash that followed the release of Metal Gear Solid 2 . In case you don’t know what I’m referring to I’ll explain it. Metal Gear Solid 2 was released in late 2001 after a few years of eager anticipation and hype. Fanboys were jumping at another chance to play as the rough-tough protagonist of the original games. Solid Snake. However when the game was released they discovered one of the most shocking twists they could have imagined. Not even close to halfway through the game the playable character was switched from Solid Snake to the rookie, Raiden. As if that wasn’t enough the latter portion of the game contained so many huge plot twists that the players could hardly keep up with the story and inevitably at the end people were turned away by the complexity of the story. Now me, I love a story like that, one with many plot twists.

Getting back to my point, Snake Eater has toned down the plot twists that I love so much to the point where the story is really straightforward and doesn’t need to be told twice to be understood. Now while this is a good thing for people who are going to play through the game only once this turns off some of the more enthusiastic players such as myself because there’s no need to go through it again. Everything already makes sense.

There are enough interesting side stories to pursue in the game. One of these is the relationship between The Boss and Snake, which is revealed over the course of the game. It’s hard to get a grasp on until the end of the game but you’ll appreciate it quite a bit once you do get a hold of it.

Ultimately the story of Metal Gear Solid 3 is a continuation of Hideo’s Meme x Gene x Scene (MGS) theme throughout the series. This game covers the “scene” part of that theme. Scene has been defined by Hideo as the events you experience and how they shape you into what you become. The events he experienced in his mission shaped him into the person who created Outer Heaven, a country where warriors are respected and revered rather than simply being the tools of politicians.

One thing I’ll admit about the ending is that it actually made me cry. I’ve sat through some movies that should have reduced me to tears but I’ve always been able to hold it back. The enormity of the ending and what ultimately happens to Big Boss is rather frightening and it has a huge emotional impact on most people who have played through the game.

The beginning of the game is very heavy on story, the first 3 hours of the game will probably have you playing for around 1 hour and the other 2 will be spent watching cinematics that build up the story. Luckily, the story sequences drop off in frequency soon enough and you get to spend a whole lot of time actually playing the game as opposed to watching it. One thing that I must warn of people new to the series is that the game does have quite a few bits of humor that relate specifically to the last game so instead of laughing at it you’ll just have a big “?” over your head. The humor is very self-depreciating at points and it makes the game seem downright silly at times. Luckily this altogether stops about halfway through the game and the game takes on a very serious and dark mood.

That aside…one of the main attractions of the Metal Gear Solid series has always been the over the top bosses and this game is no different. Without spoiling anything I’ll just say that you have to fight off a boss that can control swarms of bees, one that wields an impressive looking flamethrower and a jetpack, one who can climb trees like a spider and make himself invisible, a sniper that’s well over one-hundred years old, and a quite a few others. All of these bosses have wacky names to boot: The Fear, The Pain, The End, The Fury and such. If you’ve enjoyed battles in previous games you won’t be at all disappointed with the ones in this game.

Although one complaint that I have is the bosses have little to no back story to them so the bosses mainly just stand as obstacles and challenges to get past and when you’ve defeated them you simply move on. There’s absolutely no development of most boss characters in the game and that will lead some players to be a little irked since all of the bosses in previous games had some sort of back story to them, you got to know them either before or after you battled.

All of this said, Snake Eater will wind up taking you anywhere from 15 to 30 hours to complete on the first time through. People complaining about the shortness of previous titles will have absolutely nothing to complain about this time since the first time through the game more than makes up for the money plopped down for it.

Final Score: 10

How can I justify this score? Well, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is simply the best game I’ve played this year and certainly the best game I’ve played in years. The gameplay provides enough options, depth and entertainment that playing through it once is not enough. You’ll want to go back and try things out, mess around with the enemy, think of ever more creative ways to take out a foe and whatever else your heart desires. This game provides more than enough replay value in the gameplay.

The story too will make people want to go through and complete the game at east one more time since it is simply a great story to watch unfold. The accompanying acting and music sounds great (with a few minor exceptions) and overall the game has very few faults.

Despite what I said, I would only recommend this game to people who have played the previous installments of the series since the story relies heavily on the player being familiar with the events that took place in those games. If you liked what you saw in the last two games you’ll definitely want to pick this game up. It’s more than worth whatever price you pay.

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

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