Review by Sonic The Hotdog
"Old Metal Gear"
Tactical. Espionage. Action. Three words that have been tied together and have since, been associated with the famous Metal Gear Solid series. A series loved by many, but still strongly disliked and misunderstood by other folk. I've always considered the release of each Metal Gear Solid game a sort of milestone in my gaming "career". The first and second Metal Gear Solid games were perhaps some of the greatest gaming experiences that I've ever well, experienced. So it pleases me to see yet another Metal Gear Solid game in my hands. But yet, it feels a bit unusual. Part of me feels that Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is perhaps, too premature. Another two years and maybe could've seen Snake Eater appear in blazing glory on the PlayStation 3; imagine how great that would be! Of course though, it comes at the rather enormous penalty of waiting yet another long block of years whilst salivating over the wonderfully edited trailers and desperately gathering up any small bits of information that springs up about it. Well, the decision has been made by Hideo Kojima, and thus, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater has arrived.
Excellent, a new Metal Gear iteration! As everyone expects, the latest of the series has many new advertised features laid out for us to experience. Nigh everyone knows that Snake Eater takes the series outdoors, into the deep thickets of the forests and woodlands. A far cry from the cold steel that was ever so apparent in Sons Of Liberty and the first game. The massive change in environment was perhaps the biggest thing that Kojima and his conscientious crew could do to the series to differentiate it from Sons Of Liberty, all while keeping it on the same platform. Since we've moved on from right angles and high-security technological bastions, other additions to make the experience more complete are needed. Of course, KCEJ knew this as well, and have thus, added several new gameplay enhancements to the series. The most highlighted one being the new survival elements, which consists of the Camouflage and Hunting/Eating systems. With the lack of stuff to hide behind in the great outdoors, camouflage has become our new method of eluding our foes. By using different camouflage patterns found throughout the game, we can match ourselves to our surroundings (be it in a patch of thick grass or against a large tree trunk). Also working parallel to the Camouflage system is the new Hunting/Eating system, where we must keep our stamina bar healthy by eating game that we've killed or captured in the jungle environments. We've got quite a large variety of dishes on serve here in the forests. Snake, frog, fish, bugs, and fruit; as well as some fancier delicacies such as birds, crab, and even rabbit. Pick what you like, there's plenty to go around! Eating these foods will help replenish our stamina bar, which has largely replaced the old health meter from the past games. Instead of just healing yourself flat-out, we must keep ourselves healthy by eating good food so that our body will heal by itself from the nutrients we've provided. Adds another spin to simply just popping a ration, eh? In addition to these two major elements, the Cure system is also introduced here. Whenever we take some serious damage from the many firefights and dangers present in Snake Eater, we must run post-haste to perform some good ol' first aid on ourselves, lest we'd like to keep bullet wounds, burns, cuts, or whatever the deuce that we've picked up on the battlefields.
On the combat side of things, perhaps the biggest addition is the Close Quarters Combat (CQC) system. Evolving greatly from the relic, punch-punch-kick, of past Metal Gear. We can now strangle hold an enemy whilst being able to target others and manage to look damn cool while doing so. The opportunities to ask our strangleheld enemy for some information is there, as well as the option of just making them kiss the dirt and placing their hands above their head, prison camp style. Other additions (some more subtle than others) are present; such as iron-sight aiming, shooting while hanging, more weapon configurations, and more. New toys to play with as well, the past Metal Gear games tended to be rather light on weapons in the grand scheme of things, but Snake Eater throws that assumption away. Ranging from firearms like the reliable AK47 to the stealthy MK-22 Hush Puppy and ending with the sheer ferocity of the M63 Light Machinegun, Snake Eater gives us a lot of ways to seriously hurt the bad guys with extreme prejudice. Rather stocked, wouldn't you say? Very good, moving on now!
One of Metal Gear's biggest staples has of course, been it's story and plot progression. Sons Of Liberty, with it's very Ghost In The Shell-like conclusion, alienated many people from the series. Simply because the game seemed to be trying to throw too much information at us while hiding it's inner meaning (which really didn't make that much sense either). Many different theories and plot analyses came up, confusing the hell out of even more people. Not to mention, playing as Raiden didn't help many people enjoy the story in Sons Of Liberty either. Well, Snake Eater is a different story (pun intended). First off, there's no character switch a la Sons Of Liberty, just one guy. The catch is that we play as Solid Snake's poppa, the man who will eventually become Big Boss (dubbed Naked Snake for now). Since Solid Snake is not around in this one, we've gone back in time to the 1960s! Anti-war protests and The Velvet Underground don't make appearances, but the game indeed seems pretty bonafide for the time period, with plenty of talk about Soviet versus US tensions and whatnot. The game's story is based around Naked Snake, one of the best soldiers in the United States Military, and this new mission that will test the all new FOX Unit being set up by his commanding officer, Major Zero. The FOX Unit's goal is to combine spy and soldier into one, and hence, Naked Snake is the man for the job. The setup is that a Soviet rocket scientist by the name of Sokolov wants to seek asylum in the West, apparently he wants to stop making things that kill people. Needless to say, Snake is sent in to take him back to our side. As it goes without saying (I'll say it anyway though, heh), something goes terribly wrong and the mission needs to be aborted. After only a week, Snake gets sent back out on the field again, this time with some new objectives. Take out the elite Cobra Unit, destroy the Shagohod (the Metal Gear), and of course, rescue Sokolov.
The story as a whole steers towards the way the first Metal Gear Solid told it's story, with a simpler method of story presentation as opposed to the confounding circles fired at us in Sons Of Liberty. What's notable here though, is that Snake Eater has far fewer Codec (well, it's a radio now) sequences than past games. Cutscene frequency is a lot less as well, but they're still ever so interesting to watch thanks to Hideo Kojima's fantastic cutscene direction. The relatively poor pacing of Sons Of Liberty has been amended nicely in Snake Eater. Cutscenes arrive just when you need them, and it's rare that there will be a short gap of doing nothing between cutscenes; which was very common in Sons Of Liberty (case in point, the first few cutscenes in the Plant Chapter). The game is interlaced with some rather oblong allusions to classical literature, some used in very interesting ways. The dialogue in Sons Of Liberty was very nonsensical and awkward at times, and while Snake Eater still sounds unnatural at some parts, it shows a much better level of writing than the last game. However, it's still filled with lots of military fluff, presented in the style of 1980's cheesy post-modern military thrillers. But you know what? That's okay! Even with that fact withstanding, its context within Snake Eater makes it seem a tad more sophisticated, and at least it has a cool videogame embedded within it! I was, however, very happy to see that the game pokes fun at it's own flaws. There are numerous low-blows to Raiden in the game, and there are radio conversations that provide some humorous commentary on various situations in the game. I'd wager that Kojima simply wanted to create an exciting story of political intrigue coupled with "Spy vs. Spy", and for the most part, he has succeeded immensely.
Aesthetically, Snake Eater is one hot piece of software. In the effects department, this is one of the finest examples of particle showers around. From the sparks from a torch to a massive splash through a waterfall, Snake Eater has some of the most impressive particle effects of any console. Other graphical trinkets are present: full reflective surfaces, animated grass, and very subtle uses of light blooming (thank you). The water is particularly interesting as it's not pixel-shaded like in many other high profile games with a strong graphics component, yet it features some beautiful reflections and effects. The real-time lighting is lovely as well, especially when strolling through the forest to see the sunlight and it's piercing through the branches. There's a portion of the game that takes place in a cave, where the reflective surfaces and real-time lighting can be seen in their best form. What is probably the best aspect of Snake Eater's graphics is the art direction. The sheer level of quality in the art direction means that the game retains an ultimate level of cohesiveness in the aesthetics. Everything looks good together, nothing about the graphics stand out as better than something else. I've never seen a military-based action game look this good in the art department, and since no one else never really tries to compete, I guess Snake Eater will continue the long monopoly held by Konami in this field. Not everything is peachy though, at the cost of some of the best graphics around, framerate! Sons Of Liberty ran like a dream, a glorious dream at sixty frames per second. Lest you've not figured out by now, hearing that Snake Eater was capped at thirty frames per second left me in a state of great disappointment initially. "How could they have done this?!" I thought. By the time I finally got my hands on the game, I had gotten over that issue for the most part. However, the game does not even retain a locked thirty frames per second, but drops whenever there's massive activity going on. Blast! Well, hey, what can you do? The game's already tied to a bias towards PlayStation 2 architecture, so an Xbox or Gamecube would probably prove even worse unless they totally re-designed the game. Alas, this is likely the absolute best Snake Eater could be in the graphics department with the current generation of consoles. Nothing left to do but accept it.
"That's great and all, but how does it play?" you ask? Well, let's take a look into it. The controls are very responsive; Naked Snake feels well within our control and manages to have the sensation that he's connected to the environment. Though, it's still a little unfortunate that we still cannot configure the button mapping. There are a few moments where you might run out of fingers to do certain things, but overall it's still more than manageable. The set pieces and level design in Snake Eater are large step-up from those in Sons Of Liberty, in other words, you'll have lots of places to play around in to your heart's desire. A new addition is the ability to move the camera a bit in various directions with the right analog stick and lock it into place. While this will not silence all the outcries against the camera of Metal Gear, it's at least a step in the right direction. Boss battles are an enormous step up from the rather dull ones in Sons Of Liberty, the most atypical one being a grueling sniper battle of attrition in the forest. This battle can be done in over an hour or just fifteen minutes. Though, with the latter option, you'd only be cheating yourself from one of the best boss battles you've possibly ever experienced. Another boss battle is an extremely weird and unsettling "journey" if you may, I'll not explain any further to avoid spoiling it, but it would be supreme if you reach that part of the game late at night! The AI for the enemies is still an issue of some debate. Some say that the enemies are all just really dumb, they tend to make little effort in defending themselves whenever they get caught in a stranglehold. They also react unrealistically under some situations, such as only saying "What's wrong?" after seeing three of their comrades blown to bits with a concussion grenade. All valid points, but then comes the other side of it. Some point out that the enemies are very aggressive when you're in the Alert Mode status, especially in the outdoor parts, where it can often be a long while before you're in the clear. Also while taking an enemy hostage with CQC, his comrade's work together by having one guy sneak up and knife you while his buddies try and draw your attention away from him. Even more valid points! I'll just let you decide on whether the AI is good or bad.
In terms of what you can do in the game, it's almost like a sandbox. One of the fine things about Snake Eater (and the other Metal Gears for that matter) is that it allows you to use your imagination in dealing with your enemies. You are not pigeon-holed into attacking with only one method that the developers envisioned and being forced to use trial-and-error until you find it, unlike another popular stealth game. Snake Eater just gives you a bunch of tools and lets you go. Consider this scenario; at one point in the game we encounter a small outpost in the middle of the jungle. This particular outpost has several heavy machinegun emplacements dotted along the perimeter with guards waiting nearby, as well as an electrified fence. From the two paths from the last area, we can approach from either the west or the east. I approach from the east side and head towards the outpost only to notice a guard waiting at a machinegun emplacement. There's a small patch of tall grass nearby that would provide us with some decent cover, however getting into the outpost from there without getting seen would be very difficult. Instead, I shimmy up to the nearby tree trunk and then look around the corner and scope out the area. I then notice some fuel drums next to the guard, I could shoot these and set him on fire and slip past the fence, however his comrades would come searching in the general vicinity. I then notice that there are another set of drums way on the other side of the outpost, across a helipad. I then quickly jump out and pop a shot at them with my Colt M1911A1. The first shot missed, and caused the nearby guard to leave his post to investigate where the shot came from. I fire again, only this time hitting the drums and causing a huge explosion, possibly killing a guard. The nearby guard then turns around to see what the deuce just happened, and then runs off to investigate the explosion. I then slip in past the fence and am into the outpost. To the left of me is a trench that's recessed into the ground, I gracefully roll into there and start crawling. After I crawl some distance, I notice a guard who's standing watch next to a small building that's right next to the trench. I could continue on with my trench and approach the building from the rear and flank the sucker, but I just toss a White Phosphorus Grenade at his feet. About 4 seconds later, he's on fire and rolling on the ground in pain. So after he's taken out, instead of going into the building, I climb the nearby ladder and hop onto the roof. I decide it's time for some precision shooting with my Colt; I cap another guard who's standing by the exit of the base. Instead of spending ammunition at that point, I lob a Smoke Grenade into a small congregation of troops. While they're weezing at the gas, I then jump off the roof and dash towards the exit of the base. Mission Accomplished.
See, the open-ended approach to the design of the game allows once to have much more fun when visiting the same areas again. In other words, just be creative when dealing with your enemies. That's the glory of Metal Gear. People tend to develop their own playing styles, so it's important to try the game for yourself and see what philosophy you take into handling the various scenarios given to you.
Sound has been another important component of the Metal Gear Solid series. Snake Eater further enhances the quality by offering Dolby Pro Logic II, which is also masterfully implemented into the game. In fact, I'd go as far to say that it's some of the best use of the Pro Logic II middleware I've heard in quite some time. The game also features sounds for even the most subtle things that other games wouldn't even care about, such as the sound of a leather coat being stretched while a character is walking. Such attention to detail is much appreciated by me. The sound quality is very good, with all the voices sampled at high bitrates. Many other games with heavy voice-acting (Shenmue) tend to downsample the quality of the voices, and while it's not really too much of a problem, it's still worth mentioning. The music has been a very large part of the Metal Gear franchise. Everyone remembers the airy Gaelic tones of "The Best Is Yet To Come", then theme of the first Metal Gear Solid as well as the brooding and ominous sounds presented by the soundtracks. Sons Of Liberty spun things around more, by adding some Middle Eastern influences into the soundtrack, of which worked extremely well for the most part. Snake Eater provides us with one of the most varied soundtracks to ever grace a videogame. Many compositions on the soundtrack are embedded with a 60's style guitar, which manages to work better than what I had expected. The campy theme, "Snake Eater" is an interesting homage to James Bond, of course. However, the soundtrack also features some very solemn tracks as well. "Debriefing", played during the end of the game, is an extremely moving and powerful work. The game also has some very beautiful piano compositions interlaced within. The number of remixes on the Metal Gear theme is wonderful, as well as Harry Gregson Williams' new remix of the main theme, which is an absolutely awesome piece of work. Norihiko Hibino composed most of the in-game music, and his works shines just as much as Williams'. The soundtrack relaxes with the healing radio tunes, which feature some cool surfin' rock guitar solos and hand-clapping lounge music. Some don't like these for some reason, but it's always nice to see a soundtrack have variety. It goes without saying that the sound component of Snake Eater is absolutely impeccable.
A nagging personal problem that I've encountered with Snake Eater is the polish factor. Snake Eater is a very polished game compared to the industry standards. Taking the time to realistically mimic the movements of grass when running through them is quite an achievement in this day and age, in fact, I cannot think of another game that does such a thing. However, other things remain less polished about Snake Eater. The fact that guards seem to only have one "warning" phrase, that one being "What's wrong?", seems to be chalked up to carelessness. The framerate of course, attributes to this fact as well. The buttery sixty frames per second of Sons Of Liberty still make it look sublime, even after three years since it's release. The clipping problems are more noticeable at thirty frames per second and there also seems to be some weird instances where the game limits our control of things. One such instance is if you're prone and crawling and you hit a wall, Snake will not sit up and shimmy his back to the wall in a crouched position a la Sons Of Liberty. Instead, he'll just keep on crawling. I'm contemplating how this would've slipped the eyes of the normally immaculate design tactics of KCEJ. Since the game is centered in outdoor environments, it's understandable that they didn't take the time to add more trinkets and easter eggs on the indoor sections of the, though, it still would be very nice if they did. This mostly comes from the fact that I was a big fan of the easter eggs and neat things you could do in Sons Of Liberty. I could of course, surmise that KCEJ was intoxicated with the ambition to create a fully breathing jungle and so didn't spend much time polishing up the more miniscule of things, and I can accept that fact. Though, the game would impress me even further if they had done so.
Alas, I'm not here to suggest what should be added to Snake Eater, but to tell you how good it is in it's current state! Rest assured, Snake Eater is one sexy piece of game. The overall package of Snake Eater achieves a level that only few other games can realize, but it's expected coming from the masters of PlayStation 2 coding at KCEJ. It's probably one of the most cohesive games around, with almost equal care given to gameplay, graphics, and sound. And the presentation is absolutely second to none with some of the most wonderfully choreographed cutscenes ever. Some of the martial arts seen on display here are absolutely fantastic. While I love the game, I still must say it's not something that everyone can get into immediately like Halo 2 or something. Snake Eater's controls can be daunting to some people, as it requires some decent skill to pull of advanced maneuvers such as drop catching and auto-aimed jumpout shots. The camera is something that I know some will detest, but I can accept it well enough. Another point I should mention is Snake Eater's denoument and conclusion. It is absolutely mind-blowing. In this day and age when most games just slap you in the face and just thank you for playing, Snake Eater just blows the doors open. It is definately one of the best game endings I've ever experienced, and is something to look forward to while playing. My god, what a great game. Thank you KCEJ and Hideo Kojima for delivering this fine piece of interactive entertainment.
+Finely tuned gameplay
-Not as polished as Sons Of Liberty
-Some sound glitches
-Inconsistent framerate in parts
FINAL VERDICT: 9/10
...I'm still in a dream...Snake Eater...
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 01/14/05
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