Review by yoblazer33

"If feeding on a tree frog produces a game like this, Kojima and his team definitely shouldn't stop."

Introduction: The third installment to the highly acclaimed and brilliant Metal Gear Solid series is finally upon us, and believe me, it does not disappoint. Set deep in the jungles of the former Soviet Union, this prequel takes place during a time when the world is split into two: East and West. The Cold War is on the verge of turning into a blazing hot one, and it's up to you, as Special Forces FOX agent, “Naked Snake,” to make sure that this does not happen.

Gameplay: 10/10. If there was one thing all fans loved about Metal Gear Solid 2, it was the amazing gameplay. You had the ability to sneak, blast, or neutralize your way through every room and situation a dozen times over. The different methods available to get through any specific area were countless. Basically, if you could think it up, the game gave you the freedom to do it. Now, I'm happy to say that Snake Eater takes everything that was so great about its predecessor's gameplay and improves upon it.

One of my only complaints with the previous Metal Gear Solid titles was the radar. Here you had some of the most beautiful graphics imaginable, and instead of enjoying them, you almost felt obligated to spend much of your time staring at a small blue box with a few pixels in it. Not only that, but it made the game too easy, as enemy soldiers were a breeze to get through on anything but the toughest of difficulties. For this romp through the jungle, however, the radar has been gotten rid of. Instead, Snake must rely on his wits, his judgment, and most importantly, his camouflage. The camo system is one of the most crucial aspects of survival: the more you blend in with your surroundings, the less you risk being seen. You start the game with a few basic camo patterns, and can earn several more throughout the mission. Also, you can acquire different face paint patterns to match your camo and increase your Camo Index. The Camo Index is a number on the upper right hand of the screen that corresponds to how well you are hidden. A Camo Index of 100x means you will be completely undetectable, even from a few inches away. An index of 0x or negative numbers, however, means you're begging to be caught.

Also gone are the plentiful life-filling rations. This time around, you heal mainly through natural means (i.e. waiting around for your health to steadily increase). It adds an air of realism to the game and forces you to play smart, as you can easily stumble into a boss fight with half your life already drained. If you are seriously wounded in the course of battle, you'll need to cure your injury from the start menu. Throughout the course the game, you'll have to treat everything from gunshot wounds, cuts, bone fractures, burns, and poisoning. Not curing these injuries will mean your life will increase much slower, so you should take care of them as soon as you get the chance. Your life gauge and Camo Index aren't the only things you'll need to keep an eye on, however. Snake also has a stamina meter which gradually depletes as he goes about his sneaky business. The smaller it gets, the slower he heals and the more his hands shake when aiming a weapon. If the stamina gauge depletes completely, Snake will collapse of exhaustion, which is basically the same as death. In order to make sure this does not happen, Snake must keep his stamina gauge up, and this is where the hunting system comes in. Snake must eat to replenish his stamina, and thankfully for us, the jungle is rife with wildlife, seemingly all of which is edible. Snakes, birds, frogs, fish, crabs, fruits, fungi, and much more: our hero gobbles them all up and even comments on their taste. Beware though; some foods replenish much more stamina than others, and some can even get Snake sick, so always know what it is you're eating. You can usually consult Para-Medic (the medical and nutritional specialist of the mission) on your radio, and she'll fill you in with the nutritional info.

Another new gameplay aspect, and one of my personal favorites, to boot, is the CQC. CQC, or Close Quarters Combat, is a fighting technique developed by The Boss and Snake which allows for lethal efficiency while wielding a gun and knife simultaneously. The CQC is a style of combat much more advanced than the simple “hold up or choke” options presented in Metal Gear Solid 2. By equipping a CQC-ready weapon (handguns, a hunting knife, or your bare hands), you are able to grab an enemy in a choke hold by pressing the O button. From there, you have a variety of options at your disposal. You can choke the enemy with various degrees of severity: enough to either render him unconscious or kill him outright. You can also drag the enemy, use him as a human shield when in First Person Mode, slit his throat (sure to be a favorite of the grizzly gamer), or throw him to the ground and hold him up. My personal favorite, however, is the interrogation. If you press the L3 button, Snake will raise his knife over the captive's throat, demanding him to speak. Many times, the enemy will provide useful information, such as warning you about traps ahead, or even providing secret radio frequencies. You can follow up an interrogation with any of the methods listed above in order to ensure your enemy is dealt with. The CQC is a highly effective way to neutralize individual enemies or whittle down a group of attackers, and is a welcome gameplay addition.

Of course, what kind of world are all these new gameplay elements incorporated in? How are the different areas of game designed, and how do they differ from the previous installments of the series? In the earlier MGS games, your areas of operation were usually confined rooms or hallways. They provided you with opportunities to experiment and get from Point A to Point B in a multitude of different ways, but in the end, you were still mainly traversing from one end of a hallway to another. You never really had the feeling of absolute freedom that other games this generation immersed the player in. Snake Eater, for its part, does a great job in changing this. The game is less about easily exploitable hallways and more about lush, open jungle environments. These jungles are about as real as they come. You can climb the trees, duck behind them (or a multitude of other things) for cover, or hide in the underbrush. There are several outdoor and indoor environments in the game that are more wide open than anything MGS2 gave us. This gives the player an added sense of freedom and realism, a welcome feature, especially in a game where survival is a key theme. However, these wide open environments are not without their dangers. It's now much easier for enemies to strategically attack you from all sides and spot you from farther away. This is definitely something you'd be wise to avoid, as the enemies in this game are more persistent in their tactics and their pursuit of Snake.

Original, tense boss fights have been a long-running staple of the Metal Gear Solid series, and Snake Eater does an admirable job in continuing that trend. The game features several of the classic MGS boss fight formulas which fans have come to know and love. Want a classic Ocelot handgun duel? You got it, only now the Russian officer is younger and more invigorated, providing several memorable, self-absorbed quotes throughout the battle. Want a corridor hide-and-go-seek confrontation, a la Vulcan Raven? You got it, only now it's with a Cobra member who can easily set an entire hallway ablaze, leaving you little room for safety. Want a close-range, epic final confrontation? Snake Eater gives you not one, but TWO, courtesy of your two main enemies throughout the game. Classic battles aside, though, this game also offers up several boss fights not only original to the series, but extremely fresh across the whole gaming spectrum. The grueling sniper battle with one of the Cobras will forever go down as one of the great boss battles in history. A clash of wits, reflexes, and patience, this one duel stretches across three separate areas and can easily last over an hour. Another extremely dexterous and deadly Cobra member will also test your gaming experience in a battle of speed and improvisation. Finally, another boss provides the game's most surreal boss “fight,” a truly unique experience that's completely dependent on how you played the game up to that point. All in all, the boss battles are extremely well done and, in my opinion, the best in the series.

The few gameplay aspects that didn't wow me were almost negligible and don't really affect the game in the slightest. My biggest gripe is all the time spent in the Start menu. You need to enter the menu in order to eat, cure injuries, or change your camo. While it's nothing more than a mild inconvenience, it can get annoying when you need to change your camo several times in the span of a few minutes. Also, Snake can withstand an inordinate amount of damage. While I haven't tried the Extreme difficulty yet, I find the fact that Snake can take about 20 bullets before keeling over on Normal Mode to be a bit ridiculous. In retrospect, these minor quirks do nothing to tarnish the brilliance of the gameplay, and may only be actual negatives in the eye of the beholder; who knows, most people may like a more resilient Snake.

Storyline: 10/10. Ah, the storyline. Throughout the history of gaming, I don't think any series has approached its storyline in the same way as MGS. Twist after twist, revelation after revelation, all handled with enough finesse and detail to make even the biggest Hollywood blockbuster quiver with fear and shame. It's what every Solid fan expects to be refined beyond belief, and trust me when I tell you that Metal Gear Solid 3 has delivered. As mentioned before, the game takes place in 1964, following the recent Cuban Missile Crisis and the assassination of President Kennedy.

The story, like that in the previous two MGS games, starts off with a simple objective. In your first mission, codenamed the “Virtuous Mission,” your task is to locate Soviet weapons and rocket scientist Nikolas Sokolov somewhere in the jungle and get him out of there safely. Sokolov is one of the Soviet Union's premier scientists, but he has requested asylum in the United States. Of course, the situation quickly gets hairy, and the mission is not a success.

After the failed Virtuous Mission, the plot rapidly begins to pick up. Without spoiling anything, here's the meat of the new mission: Apparently, during the Virtuous Mission, a nuclear explosion destroyed a Soviet research facility. At the same time, an American plane was spotted near the scene of the explosion. Suspecting American influence in the disaster, Soviet Premier Khrushchev calls President Johnson. The Soviet leader makes it very clear that if America does not prove their innocence regarding the explosion, he would be forced to “unleash Armageddon.” Not particularly itching for a nuclear war with the Soviets, the U.S. government sends Snake on a new mission to prove America's innocence. During this mission, codenamed operation “Snake Eater,” Snake will need to cripple the leaders of his opposition, rescue Sokolov, and destroy a newly developed weapon called the Shagohod. Along the way, you have the help of your classic radio team as well as a KGB agent. So just why would a Soviet KGB be aiding Snake? Well, I'm trying to write this review without even the tiniest of spoilers, so you'll just have to play the game and find out.

A big complaint from many who played Metal Gear Solid 2 was the storyline. It was, at certain points (especially near the end), too intricate for its own good. It spiraled more than a strand of DNA, and by the game's ending, you were either frustrated or incredibly bewildered. Kojima listened to these complaints and addressed them with this third installment in the series. Of course, the story still features its fair share of plot twists and intricate character relationships (the summary I gave was just the bare bones of the plot), but each one is handled brilliantly. The average gamer won't feel confused or puzzled by the story if they've been paying attention and watching all the cutscenes.

However, a point to bring up lies with the bosses of this game. For the most part, they are little more than glorified cartoon show villains. In the previous games, every boss character you faced each had their own back stories, motivations, thoughts, and personal reasons for acting the way they do. In Snake Eater, it's the exact opposite. Of course, this will lead to conflicting opinions. Those fans who enjoyed the character development of older bosses will be moved away by this game's batch. Conversely, those who could do without it will find these bosses very refreshing and fun. I happen to fall into the latter group. With all the major goings on in a typical Metal Gear Solid plot, does anyone really need anything to confuse them further? As if MGS2's main storyline wasn't convoluted enough, did anyone really feel they needed to know about Fatman and Peter Stillman? What about Vamp and Fortune's relationship? For me, it felt like overkill. These bosses change that. They're not here to linger and moan to Snake about their angst-laden troubles. They're here to look cool, kick ass, and provide you with killer boss fights, and they perform their duties admirably.

However, don't take the game's bosses as an indication that all characters lack development; quite the contrary. Snake, The Boss, and Revolver Ocelot are some of the coolest, best developed characters in a video game. For fans of the earlier games, you'll see a younger Ocelot. Brash, cocky, but surprisingly impressionable, the handsome Soviet gunslinger plays an incredible supporting role. However, it's Snake's relationship with The Boss that steals the show. Undoubtedly one of the most touching stories I've ever seen, it could very well leave you in tears by the game's end. And while I'm talking about the ending, let me just say it's the best ending I've seen in a video game. It's that good. Please, if you don't believe me, beat the game, watch the ending, and tell me I'm wrong. I welcome all Emails, but I'm confident there will be none. =)

Visuals: 10/10. When I first played Metal Gear Solid 2 three long years ago, it took a fishing pole and some duct tape to get my jaw off the floor and keep it in a semi-acceptable position. The graphics, simply put, were amazing. I had a feeling that no console game would equal MGS2's visual buffet until the same Konami team sat down and created a sequel. Well, the sequel is here, and the team can take solace in knowing that they succeeded on all fronts.

Everything in this game screams of visual quality, down to the minutest details. Individual blades of grass bend accordingly when you walk or crawl over them, and slowly readjust themselves once you have passed on. Animals frolic about the dense jungle floor with painstaking realism. Of course, the character models are some of the best in the business yet again. Every character model in the game, from the enemy guards, to the bosses, to Snake himself, are meticulously detailed. Their facial expressions are easily distinguishable and very realistic. Their movements are fluid and lifelike; in fact, there are times when the character models display a heavier aura of realism than the voice actors do. This may partly be attributed to slightly “over the top” voice acting, but from Ocelot's wickedly stylish hand gesture to The Boss's crippling CQC maneuvers, the animations are simply breathtaking.

The cutscenes, to absolutely nobody's surprise, are brilliant. Metal Gear Solid is the undisputed king of the video game industry when it comes to production values, and this game proves just why. Action, suspense, drama, and all of it done with the in-game graphics engine. Only that crazy Kojima…

Technically, this game pushes the PS2's graphical capabilities to their limits. Because of this, there could be slight slowdown if there's too much action on the screen at once, such as a firefight between Snake and several guards. That's the price to pay for graphics as good as these, though, and the occasional hiccup in the framerate is nothing more than a minor annoyance. Oh, and one final note about the graphics: there is a boss later on in the game who wields a flamethrower and jetpack. Allow your eyes to feast on this visual bounty, because the flame and jetpack effects are probably the prettiest things to ever grace a PS2.

Sound: 10/10. Several months ago, I downloaded a Metal Gear Solid 3 trailer. Among the cool sights and sounds was a jazzy theme titled “Snake Eater.” Ever since I heard that song, I knew the audio of this game would, well… kick serious ass. Of course, the sound effects are top notch. Your weapons sound great, the outdoor environments are teeming with the realistic sounds of life, and the lush underbrush of the jungles and forest shuffle accordingly when Snake walks or crawls over them. However, this is Metal Gear Solid, and these effects are all to be expected. Thankfully, Snake Eater provides several things in the audio department that separate it from the rest of the pack.

Most notably, and the thing which this series does better than anyone else in the business, is the voice acting. Snake Eater does not disappoint here; on the contrary, it excels. Every character, with very few exceptions, sounds completely believable and lifelike. In a game where the storyline and character development are absolutely imperative, realistic voice acting is something that needs to be done right, and the Konami team nailed it. David Hayter (the voice of Solid Snake in MGS1 and 2) returns to provide his talents for the voice of Naked Snake. In addition, the voices for the other major characters, such as Revolver Ocelot, The Boss, and Eva, are all done well and help draw the gamer into the story. The bosses sound exactly like how they look: extreme. Since this was the whole idea behind a majority of the bosses this time around, it fits the bill perfectly. Of course, no Metal Gear Solid title is complete without Snake's classic Radio support team. Major Zero, the “Colonel Campbell” of this game, has the perfect voice for a commanding officer. His British accent gives him that “official” sound and just makes him more likeable as a whole. Your other two radio contacts, Para-Medic and Sigint, are voiced well enough, although Para-Medic can sound a bit mundane and drawn out at times. No biggie. In actuality, the only voice job I didn't enjoy was that of Colonel Volgin. He just sounded too “over the top” for a main villain. Sure, it's fine for the regular Cobra Unit bosses, as they only get about two speaking lines anyway, but for a character who's a mainstay throughout the game, it starts to get annoying.

The music in this game is phenomenal. As I said before, Snake Eater, the game's opening song, is one of my favorite pieces of music from any game. It's jazzy, upbeat, and sets a perfect mood for the 1960's timeframe; much like the intro to an old James Bond movie. Harry Gregson-Williams, the famous composer who scored Metal Gear Solid 2, returns to work his wonders with this game. His classic MGS theme is back (although its role is not as prominent thanks to the Snake Eater piece), as well as new tunes throughout the game, which capture the game's stealth theme perfectly. The final song, titled “Way to Fall,” is a beautiful way to finish the game's epic, masterful ending. Make no doubt, it will grab you. Very well done.

However, I do have one grievance regarding the sound, and this turns out to be my biggest gripe about the game in general. As everyone already knows, Snake does not use Nanotechnology to communicate with his team via Codec in this game, as that technology has not yet been invented. Instead, he simply uses a radio. Many times, when attempting to reach a contact via the radio, there will be a pause before they finally address you. This is done purposely in order to add a sense of realism. After all, you're in a jungle thousands of miles away from your support team; a pause in the communication is realistic. However, I think it's overdone. There are several times where these pauses can be upwards of four seconds or more before every call. If you hardly use the radio, it shouldn't be a problem, but if you enjoy listening to the conversations, it will be a bother. However, even this gripe is negligible when you consider all the things the game's sound does excellently.

Conclusion: There is absolutely nothing about this game that doesn't scream quality and effort. Kojima and his legendary team have busted their humps once again, and it shows. The graphics, sound, production values, and storyline have all set the standard for the PS2. Snake Eater is not only my game of the year, but quite possibly the single best gaming experience I've ever had. Buy this game. You will not be disappointed.

Final Score: 10/10

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 01/07/05

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