Review by Tarrun

"Snake Eater Deserves Nothing Less Than A Perfect 10."

Metal Gear Solid games have always been known for being the pinnacle of their era. The original is at the top of the Playstation's greatest games ever, and Sons of Liberty, albeit having a few problems, was still a huge leap in stealth gameplay. Naturally, when Konami announced that Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was to be released in the fall of 2004, with a short trailer showing a Snake character in the jungle eating fish, wearing a crocodile head, and wading through a river surrounded by a fiery scene, questions and theories began flying around: was this a remake of the original Metal Gear, was the main character Solid Snake, and why is there a military officer who look like Raiden?

Probably the biggest question of all would be the mystery of the main character; during the trailer, hints were dropped that the game took place in the 1960s, which made everyone wonder how Solid Snake could be in the game. To give credit, it was confusing, the character looked exactly like the Solid Snake we know, the Japanese voice actor for Solid Snake was used during the trailer, and Hideo Kojima even referred to the character as “Snake”. Hints were dropped that the main character was Big Boss, the father of the three Snakes, but there was a strong following that believed Solid Snake was still the main character; knowing Kojima there was a chance that he threw in a twist that no one would expect. However, most of the fans were satisfied that, Big Boss or Solid Snake, at least it wasn't Raiden.

One of the best parts of Snake Eater is the balance that's created by combining the pros of the first two Metal Gear Solid games. I always appreciate the effort game developers put into their games when they try something new to a series; it shows that they want to expand the series instead of just throwing out a bunch of sequels that are all the same. This is even true with Sons of Liberty, even though I wasn't the biggest fan of Raiden, I still accepted him because I saw what Kojima was trying to do. This time around in Snake Eater, Kojima not only took the pros from the two games, but still managed to throw in some innovative ideas that fit well with the new design. Fans of the original Metal Gear Solid will feel at home with the classic feel to the game; even if it has a completely different concept to it, it's put together so well that you won't even notice.

Snake Eater begins with the main character parachuting out of a plane, and then flashes back where the still-unnamed main character is speaking with the head of a military team known as FOX. They talk about trying to show what the team can really do by completing a highly classified mission that might disrupt the current standoff going on between the Soviet Union and America.

It seems that a few years back, a Russian scientist named Doctor Sokolov contacted the United States government and asked for asylum from Russia. A team was sent in to extract him, and they managed to get him into Europe safely. Unfortunately, the completion of the mission was held up due to the conflict going on closer to home, the Cuban Missile Crisis. This is where Snake Eater tries to fit itself into history by rewriting it: The Soviet government demanded that the United States return Sokolov, and that the deal that was told to the public was just a cover-up to keep the knowledge of the rescue mission quiet. Although they weren't able to talk to Sokolov, the government determined that whatever he was working on would have to have been extremely important otherwise the Soviet government wouldn't have gone to such great lengths to get him back.

Now return to the present, where the FOX leader tells our mysterious hero that his mission is to find Sokolov and bring him safely over the border. Naturally, the mission is top secret and the United States government will deny any involvement. When the character finally lands on the ground, he removes his mask to reveal to the player his identity: Snake? A quick codec conversation introduces us to Major Zero, the leader of FOX who was in the previous cutscene, and Jack, who receives the codename Naked Snake – or Snake for short.

From here, the player is introduced to Para-Medic, the Mei-Ling character who can save your game, and The Boss, a legendary war-hero who trained Snake to be a soldier; together they created the fighting style known as Close-Quarters-Combat.

From here, there's an introduction to CQC and the backpack system (more on that later) before finally sending Snake on his mission. When you finally reach Dr. Sokolov, he tells you that the heightened security is due to the fact that rumors of a rouge GRU colonel attempting to kidnap him have been going around. He tells Snake that he wishes to work for neither the Soviets nor the GRU, and asks him to lead him to the border, but not before a young GRU Major arrives and kills all of the Soviets guarding Sokolov. The Major happens to be a young Revolver Ocelot, now only known as Ocelot, the leader of the infamous Ocelot team. Snake manages to fend off the entire team and thoroughly beat up Ocelot using CQC, and continues to a bridge that Sokolov ran off to.

As the two are crossing the bridge, The Boss appears and a man drops down from a helicopter that had appeared overhead and kidnaps Sokolov. The Boss admits that she's defecting from the United States and is bringing Sokolov and two nuclear warheads with her as a gift to her new leader, the GRU colonel, Volgin. When Snake tries to stop her, The Boss easily disarms him and throws him over the bridge to a river a few hundred feet below. She then gets into the helicopter with Volgin and watches as he fires one of the warheads at Sokolov's research facility, obliterating it.

When the Soviet Union gets word that an American-made nuclear missile destroyed their research facility, they naturally want an answer. When the United States government explains that the legendary Boss defected, the Soviets demand proof of their innocence, namely finding and killing The Boss. As her last apprentice, they choose the recovering Snake to take on this mission: To kill The Boss and her team known as the Cobras and destroy whatever project Dr. Sokolov was working on.

The game's story is obviously complex, but it's nowhere near as confusing as Sons of Liberty was. In fact, the plot is fairly linear until the end, when new revelations come out and everything ties together, albeit a few cliffhangers for a possible Metal Gear Solid 4. (Yeah, it's been announced already.)

Perhaps one of the reasons that you can understand the characters is because they actually have realistic personalities. Although I don't think many people complain about Solid Snake's hardened, professional, personality, I enjoyed getting to know Snake, he even laughs. He also has a relationship with one of the female characters, and it's a nice change from Solid Snake's “Love doesn't exist on the battlefield” or Raiden's childish, “Do you know what today is?” thing with Rose. And not only do you learn some things about Snake, you also see him grow as a solider throughout of the game.

But Snake isn't the only character that you actually get to know; Ocelot also has a great personality. In fact, he's one of my favorite characters in the game because of this, he has such a believable personality that you can almost relate to him. He's no longer the hardened torture fanatic that we see in the other two games, but a young, cocky, soldier who likes to compete to be the best. Also, you see that he likes to joke around; there's a scene at the very end of the game that shows this, he's such an interesting character that you almost can't help but want him to have a larger role in the game to know more about him.

Although most of the game does have an emotionally dark atmosphere to it, there are some points that are designed to lighten the game. Since it's set in the past, there are several times when a reference to the previous two games or something from the future in general is made. Sure, it can get annoying after awhile, but it only happens a few times so it, at the very least, makes you smile at the dramatic irony. Also, instead of reciting proverbs, Para-Medic talks to Snake about various movies that she likes, including classic horror movies, Godzilla, and the second James Bond movie, From Russia With Love.

Like the story, the sound and graphics department of the game are both superb; I don't think there are many games that can compete with Snake Eater graphically. And not just in the cutscenes, but the entire game is so beautifully created that it makes you wonder how much more real it actually get. In one sense, Snake Eater is a lot like Sons of Liberty with the concept that the detail is more than skin deep; if you really pay close attention to your surroundings, there's a lot going on that you might not even notice. The rain in particular is incredible; whether it's the little splashes in puddles, footprints being washed away, or even having water collect on plants. To really appreciate the graphics, pick a spot in the jungle one time and just look around in First Person or with your binoculars. Just look at specific things and take note of every detail, it will really shock you how much is going on in areas that you sometimes can't even visit.

And the music is just as excellent, I really think that Snake Eater has one of the best soundtracks in a game that I've played; and I know because music is important to me, I want something interesting to listen to, not some half-assed jingle that was thrown in. Snake Eater features a number of songs that make the game so much more enjoyable to be in; there are mixes of slow, dramatic tunes when everything is quiet to fast, intense ones that play during an alert mode, and other equally exciting ones during boss fights. Some of them, like the one that plays while you're fighting the Shagohod, the Metal Gear of the game, is so interesting to listen to that I almost don't want to finish the battle because then it would end. There's also a song titled “Snake Eater” that pays an obvious homage to James Bond, as well as two other songs: “Don't Be Afraid” and “Way To Fall”, both of which are great. And if that wasn't enough, the Metal Gear Solid 2 theme also makes a few cameos, and is even featured at the end credits. But perhaps the most interesting part of the sound section isn't the songs, but rather the silence. At times when no song is playing, you can hear the sounds of nature; there are birds chirping and small animals moving through the grass, rain hitting the ground, or the hiss of a snake that's about to attack.

Snake Eater also features a great voice cast, with David Hayter returning to voice Snake. Snake's support team also has a great cast; Major Zero's British accent that seems appropriate with the more Bond-esque theme. The rest of the characters are also voiced very well, all of the bosses have their own voice that fits with their character and personality, and the regular soldiers have at least six or seven different voices, as well as a completely different voice for Johnny, the father of the solider with the same name in the previous two games. And not only do you actually have a conversation with this Johnny, but yes, explosive diarrhea seems to run in the family.

However, none of that's really important; great music is nice and detailed graphics are always appreciated, but that's not what makes Snake Eater such a success. The gameplay stands out as having some of the most interesting and innovative gameplay I've ever had the pleasure to play. Snake Eater still has that classic Metal Gear feel to it, in fact the controller is nearly the same as it was in Sons of Liberty with few exceptions.

The entire basis of Snake Eater is survival, not just from enemies, but from nature as well. A stamina bar is located right under Snake's life gauge that depletes as Snake does any physical activity; the greater the effort involved the faster your stamina drains. For example, swimming is a very vigorous activity and will quickly drain your gauge whereas walking will barely show any affect. If the bar reaches its end, Snake becomes tired and he won't be able to perform to the best of his abilities, the most important being he can't hold a gun steady. Also, Snake won't be able to find health-restoring items as abundantly Solid Snake or Raiden did, so he has to rest somewhere while his life replenishes; which may take a longer or shorter amount of time depending on how tired Snake is.

To replenish the stamina bar, Snake can do one of two things. He can sleep, which occurs whenever you save the game and stop playing; the longer it is before you return to the game, the more sleep Snake gets. The other, much faster way is by eating, which comes in a lot more variety then military rations; although dried food is available in the forms of Ramen Noodles and Russian rations, but they are only found in food storage facilities that are littered around bases. More often then not you'll be eating the local flora and fauna to survive; anything from birds, rats, goats, rabbits, and of course, snakes, are at your disposal. You can use a hunting knife or regular weapons to catch these animals, and with a tranquilizer gun you can even capture them alive. But Snake Eater goes much deeper than simple variety, each food has a distinct taste and can refill Snake's stamina more or less; although the amount of stamina gained isn't always determined by how something tastes. Rations, for example, taste terrible to Snake but fill a decent amount of stamina, while a Reticulated Python tastes pretty good and fills about the same amount of stamina. And if that weren't enough, Snake's tastes change throughout the game, sometimes he'll grow to hate or love something that he previously had different thoughts about.

All of this food is kept in Snake's backpack, which can hold about a dozen or so meals at any one time. This is an advantage because you can find an area that's abundant in a good food source and wipe the entire place out, setting you up with a meal plan that could last you the entire game. Unfortunately, it doesn't exactly work that way; once an animal is killed, it has an expiration date put on it, pass that amount of time and the meal will spoil, giving you a stomach ache if you still decide to eat it, but you can always dispose of rotten food to make room for something new.

Besides food, you also keep all of your weapons and items in your backpack; this prevents useless items like grenades, loud machine guns, or the directional microphone from cluttering up your inventory since you have to manually choose which items you want to appear when you enter your R and L2 inventories. This means that during normal play you can have a knife, a tranquilizer gun, and a sniper rifle in your inventory, and then when a boss battle occurs, switch them all off and equip machine guns, shotguns, and rockets. And to add a sense of realism to the game, the more items you have equipped, the heavier your load becomes and your stamina drains faster. It's not a huge difference, but it gives the player an incentive to choose which weapons are the most important for the moment.

And there are a lot of weapons in Snake Eater, besides the familiar tranquilizer gun, pistol, machine gun, sniper rifle, and rocket launcher, there are some new additions like WP grenades and shotguns. And that's not counting the mounted guns that are placed around the borders of military bases or the large guns that can be used to take down a helicopter while ascending a mountain.

One of the other features is the Cure section, the concept of actually performing surgery on Snake to heal his wounds. For example, if you need to heal a gunshot wound, you first have to get the bullet out with your knife, then stop the bleeding, disinfect it, and then bandage it up. On the other hand, if a poisonous snake bites you, you have to counteract the venom by injecting yourself with an antidote. All of this is completed in a section in the pause menu, and you're given an introduction to it near the beginning of the game. Of course, most wounds you receive will heal naturally, but how long it takes will depend on how much stamina you have and what kind of wound it is.

However, Snake Eater is still a stealth-based game, which means that more often than not, you will or should trying to be as quiet as you possibly can. To accomplish this feat, there have been several additions to Snake Eater, including Close-Quarters-Combat, camouflage, and the stalking mode.

Close-Quarters-Combat, or CQC for short, is the new type of hand-to-hand combat that Snake uses, although the classic punch-punch-kick combination hasn't changed. No, the real difference is when you're sneaking up on an enemy; instead of just being able to put the bad guy in a chokehold, there are several different ways to approach a confrontation. New additions include being able to interrogate the enemy by threatening him with your knife, slitting his throat, use him as a human shield, or slamming him into the ground, knocking him out instantly. Some of these tactics can even be used on bosses, and when you fight The Boss you almost always have to use CQC to either attack or counterattack. To complement CQC, a new form of movement, stalking, has been added. You stalk by using the D-Pad to move instead of the analog stick; while stalking, you're completely silent, allowing you to sneak up on enemies without having to worry about being heard. Even though it wasn't a major addition to the game, it was a nice way to make use of the entire controller instead of having the D-Pad and the analog button serve the same purpose; here, you never have to worry about accidentally making a noise if your finger slips while sneaking up on an enemy.

The last aspect of stealth is camouflage, and this is perhaps one of the most important additions to the game. While it was probably beneficial that Solid Snake's sneaking suit during the Shadow Moses incident was blue and gray, the same color as the walls of the building, there's a slim chance that he would have made it very far in the jungle with the same outfit. With the camouflage, you can choose different combinations of uniforms and face paints to make yourself nearly invisible to enemy soldiers. And there are uniforms for any occasion; one that's a mixture of greens for the jungle in general, a combination of browns, greens and blacks to create almost a “tree bark” effect that works well in almost any area, and even a camouflage made of dark blues to hide you while you're in the water.

To measure how well you're hidden, the camouflage index ranges from about negative thirty or forty to one hundred; being in the negatives means that you stick out like a white guy at The Apollo, and a complete one hundred meaning that the enemy would literally have to step on you to notice that you're there. However, as long as the index is reading an eighty or eighty-five you can consider yourself in good shape.

And you will have to be hidden as best as you can, because the radar has been completely scrapped from the game. In the lower difficulties, a primitive sonar item replaces it, but in the higher difficulties you're left with nothing. I know that for me, this wasn't much of a transition since I usually turned off the radar in the other two games, but for someone who was heavily dependant on the radar, you'll have to get used to not seeing those little red dots and cones and learn to look around in First Person more. And trust me, looking in First Person is absolutely necessary if you plan on completing Snake Eater; the overhead camera view is definitely showing its age, either you can't see far enough ahead of you or you can't see anything behind you. I don't know how many times I could repeat it; thermal goggles, binoculars, and First Person view are your three best friends in Snake Eater.

The reason that you need to be so cautious while you're trekking through the jungle is that the enemy AI is a lot more intelligent than it's been in previous games. They go through their routes a lot slower and look around more carefully, and if they see something suspicious they'll search the area with binoculars instead of running up into possible danger. And if they go into Alert mode, they form groups and try to surround you, and will even sacrifice a comrade that you've taken hostage to get to you. Also, like Snake, each of them has a knife, an assault rifle, and a pistol; so getting into hand-to-hand combat isn't always the best idea, because a slash from their knife will result in a cut wound that will have to be treated. And since the areas are a lot larger with multiple routes out of each one and soldiers are wearing camouflage uniforms, you have strategize the best way to attack or avoid them, because Alerts and Cautions go on for a lot longer than they did before.

There are also some interesting points of detail that bring the enemy AI up a few notches. In most areas, there are food and ammunition storages that can be destroyed with TNT; blowing up these facilities causes the soldiers to change their tactics. For example, if you destroy the ammo storage, soldiers, including support teams, will be limited to one clip of ammo in their main weapon and one in their pistol. This causes them to aim more so that each shot they use counts, and afterwards they run up to Snake and attack with their knife. On the other hand, destroying food storages will make the soldiers in the area to go hungry, causing them to get tired and lose their concentration while aiming like Snake does.

If there's one thing that I can complain about in Snake Eater, though, it's the boss battles, which is a shame since over half of them are incredible; it's just that a few were disappointing that it's worth mentioning.

Like Dead Cell in Sons of Liberty or the FOXHOUND team in Metal Gear Solid, each member of the Cobra unit has a distinct ability that they use to attack; there's The Pain, a soldier who's learned to control hornets, The Fear, a spider-like soldier who leaps from tree branch to tree branch while under stealth camouflage, The End, an ancient sniper who's superb in camouflaging himself, and The Fury, an ex-astronaut who uses a flamethrower. And then there are the fights with Ocelot, Colonel Volgin, the Shagohod, and The Boss.

For the pros, the battles with The End, The Fury, The Boss, and Ocelot are amazing; The End in particular stands out as one of the most unique and enjoyable battles I've ever experienced. You're set in a massive jungle and are forced to hunt out The End, who's set himself up in a perfect sniping point. It's a battle of wits, whoever can hunt the other first wins; there's a very good possibility that the fight can take up to an hour, not because you'll be killed but because it can take so long to hunt each other down; it's really the pinnacle of what a battle of snipers is all about.

That said, I have to admit that some of the boss fights, the battle with The Fear and the Shagohod, were more than disappointing. With The Fear, it just seemed like fighting Vamp in a jungle setting, which although is not necessarily a bad thing by itself, felt a little cheap. As for the Shagohod, after fighting both Metal Gear Rex and the army of Rays, I was expecting something a little more intense, but instead I found that the battle was way too easy; even on Extreme, there was not one point where I had the sense that I was in danger.

That aside, there's really nothing else to complain about in Snake Eater; the graphics and sounds are excellent, the story is interesting, the enemy AI is actually intelligent, and the bosses are, for the most part, simply incredible. Snake Eater manages to pull off a perfect blend of the first two Metal Gear Solid games; and if that weren't enough, the game can last a good twenty to thirty hours, a step up from both previous games.

On a final note, Metal Gear Solid 3 is simply one of the best video game experiences I've had in a long time; playing it brought me back to when I could sit in front of the television for hours on end guiding the main character through whatever puzzle I needed to tackle. If you can understand that Hideo Kojima was trying to allow the player to live through a movie, then you can really appreciate Snake Eater.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 12/14/04

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