"Hideo Kojima has clearly ingested one too many Russian Glowcaps."

As an American plane flies over a seemingly pristine forest over U.S.S.R. airspace, a soldier prepares to take the world's first HALO jump. The soldier, after taking a moment to take what may be a final drag on his favorite cigar, gets up from his uncomfortable seat and equips himself for the descent. Not too long after, he jumps out of the back of a plane with utmost confidence, despite being unsure of whether or not he would be alive upon landing.

The scene is the Cold War, just after the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis. After the Soviets were equipped to the point of being able to unleash a nuclear winter upon any point in the United States, they decided to lay down the arms in exchange for a Russian-born scientist that fled to the United States, Sokolov. Sokolov had been working on research so important to the Soviets that the Cuban Missile Crisis ended in exchange for his return to the country.

However, the United States isn't about to give up such powerful research to the Soviets quietly. This is where you, codename Naked Snake, come in. Your mission is to infiltrate the base in which Sokolov is being held, and to rescue him so that he may be returned to America. Unlike previous Metal Gear Solid titles, you are actually given a weapon to start off with and are given official recognition by the United States government to undertake the mission.

Hideo Kojima's final project as official director of the Metal Gear Solid series gives a precursor to the story that veterans of the series already know. The main character has been put into a new era, the 1960s, and a new environment, the jungle. But unlike previous installments of the Metal Gear Solid series, the main theme of the game is not as much stealth so much as it is survival. A direct infiltration of land under Soviet jurisdiction would be a bad idea shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis, and as such, you are thrown into the middle of an out of the way jungle with minimal supplies and left to fend for yourself. You are given regular contact with your commander, a medic, and a weapons specialist, but on the field, you are completely on your own; just the way fans of the Metal Gear Solid series like it.

Survival is done by becoming one with nature, as well as using the environment around you to your advantage. The radar of old has been replaced with a Camouflage Index. In simple terms, the higher the percentage within the Camo Index, the less likely it is for the enemies to see you. There is a slight learning curve to the Camo Index, but it is nothing extraordinary and it will feel natural to most players as they progress through the game. The Camo Index is affected by everything, from how fast you're moving to the clothes you wear to the noise you make. As you progress through the game, you will have to crawl through underbrush, be as quiet as possible, and utilize the various costumes and face paints that you will acquire throughout the game.

But it goes much deeper than simply going through the game and avoiding all contact with the enemy whenever possible. You have to worry about keeping your stamina up, keeping yourself healed, and what items to carry. In past Metal Gear Solid titles, you had immediate access to everything you picked up, and getting shot simply drained your health. Metal Gear Solid 3 takes this a few steps deeper. At all times, a Stamina Gauge appears under your Life Gauge. Every action you take decreases your stamina, and the main way to increase it is to eat. You don't have any home-cooked meals with you, so the only way to feed yourself is to capture or kill the various animals around you. Seducing an animal with your tranquilizer gun will allow you to capture them alive, but you cannot do this to large animals. Flat-out killing animals allows you to capture anything, but dead animals or plants will eventually go bad and give you food poisoning should you attempt to eat them. It's important to keep your stamina as high as possible, because Snake's Life Gauge regenerates automatically. The higher his Stamina, the faster he regenerates his health.

Various scenes and weapon attacks will not only injure Snake physically, but will force you to heal him through field surgery within the Survival Viewer (the Start menu). The game takes a lot of injuries into account, including broken bones, burns, and gunshot wounds.

In terms of weapons, you are limited to what you can bring onto the field with you. You are restricted to eight weapons and eight items, and though this may seem like a lot, there will be many points in the game where you will have to rearrange your Backpack to fit some key situations.

In the event of enemy incident, aside from the standard combat seen in Metal Gear titles of the past, a deeper feature was added: Close Quarters Combat (CQC). Co-developed by Snake and his mentor, The Boss, CQC is a series of close combat attacks that involve immobilizing and swiftly killing your enemy. It sounds complicated, but all there is to it is to simply press and hold the circle button when near an enemy. This will cause Snake to put the enemy in a headlock with a knife to his throat, and from there, a world of options are available to you. You can interrogate the enemy, break his neck, slit his throat, knock him out by throwing him to the ground, use him as a meat shield, or even steal frequencies that reveal radio stations. CQC is a very new, yet important facet of combat within the game.

For those who have played Metal Gear Solid 2, the controls will feel very natural. For others, the controls are simple enough so that most players will get used to them very quickly. What won't feel natural is the drop in frame rates from past titles to this one. The Metal Gear Solid engine was originally designed for indoor stealth gameplay, but Metal Gear Solid 3 has to compensate for the engine being moved to mostly large areas by dropping the frame rate down. This doesn't cause that much of a problem, but it can still be a nuisance.

Graphically, the game is absolutely beautiful. Konami put everything they had into making Metal Gear Solid 3, and it shows. Immense detail is given to every facet of the game, from the largest mountain down to the tiniest spider, and everything in between. Musically, though this game does not quite live up to the standard set by the first two games in the Metal Gear Solid series, but it gets the job done well enough outside of one major exception: "Snake Eater", the game's title track. "Snake Eater" is a Bond-esque track, and though it's role as title song can be argued for or against, the song is constantly, annoyingly thrown into your ears at some of the worst times in the game.

No Metal Gear Solid title is complete without a story chock full of plot twists, and to this end, Snake Eater's story is the main strength of the game. There is a nostalgia factor for the players who have played past titles in the series, but even if you enter the series by playing Snake Eater first, that's fine as well. Snake Eater serves as a prologue to the events of Metal Gear Solids 1 and 2, and you can jump right into Snake Eater without fear of having missed out on anything important. There are a couple of easter eggs that you may not catch, but that's a minor technicality.

For the most part, Snake Eater's story is flawless. It's ripe with plot twists, an anti-war, pro-patriotism theme, and is presented in absolutely perfect fashion. Few game series are better at storytelling than Metal Gear Solid, and though Snake Eater can be dry at some points, the overall feel is both shocking and climactic; it's everything that a story should be, rather than the standard god-slayer storyline seen in most RPGs out there.

The main exception to this is the Cobra Unit. They, along with Volgin, serve as the main villains of the game. The problem is that most of the Cobra Unit has no background story whatsoever --- only its leader and an ex-member have any type of solid explanation to them, while the rest of the members meander around like bumbling idiots while saying little more than their own names when you finally battle them. If I wanted to hear that, I would go and watch one of the Pokemon movies.

Another major con with the game's overall performance is the deep detail being counterintuitive to the gameplay, as well as the game being far too linear for over half of the journey. In an effort to reduce backtracking, the game takes it a few steps too far and practically eliminates it altogether. This prevents you from becoming attached to any of the areas you visit in the game, whereas this was not the case in past titles. The gameplay is also flat-out boring until you reach the mountains. All of the detail put into jungle survival is nice, but it gets old fast. Unfortunately, most of the true action in the game doesn't take place until it is half over. Furthermore, late in the game, you'll have to hit the start button every time an enemy so much as sneezes on you to heal the various wounds you'll incur. This takes away from the action and only serves to slow the game down, which gets very annoying very quickly. Even worse is when this happens during boss fights.

This all adds up to what I like to call a flawed masterpiece. When the game is at a high point, the feeling of playing it is like none other; but then the game turns around and begins to blare "Snake Eater" at a rising crescendo during the final boss fight, and you're left scratching your head in wonder of what the hell Kojima was thinking in allowing clearance of such infernal nonsense. I'd like to say that the entire game doesn't play out this way, but sadly, I can't; however, this does not mean that Snake Eater is not a game worth playing. It most definitely is, but there are a lot of little things to deal with as you go along that make Snake Eater the worst of the four main Metal Gear Solid titles.

But that's on par with being only the fourth smartest genius at Princeton, so it all works out.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 03/23/05, Updated 10/29/10

Game Release: Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (US, 11/17/04)

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