Review by MGS_MadDuck22

"This was the best Metal Gear out yet!"

Metal Gear Solid 3 is a great achievement, one that fans of the series will love and vividly remember long after most of 2004's other games are forgotten!Ultimately satisfying story featuring some memorable characters; Phenomenal graphics, especially in the cutscenes; Incredibly good music and sound; Open-ended gameplay encourages experimentation.

Snake is in for another richly cinematic, occasionally convoluted, and ultimately satisfying adventure in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, the latest installment in Konami designer Hideo Kojima's long-running stealth action series. Much like its predecessors, Metal Gear Solid 3 begs to be talked about, if nothing else. After all, during the course of the game, you'll experience a story dense with detail and intrigue, one that's often presented using some of the most dramatically staged video game cutscenes to date. You'll also spend about half your time with the game just watching (or listening to) the story unfold, and for every sequence that's extremely exciting and thought-provoking, there's a part that seems needlessly drawn out. Meanwhile, the gameplay itself--despite an all-new setting in a Soviet jungle during the 1960s--really hasn't changed much since the last installment, and it's aged noticeably during these past few years. Consequently, the mechanics of Metal Gear Solid 3 can be just as confounding as the storyline--but also just as rewarding, especially once you reach some of the game's memorable, dramatic confrontations. In short, this is a great game that embodies both the impressive style and the one-of-a-kind spirit of its predecessors.

There's much that needs to be said about Metal Gear Solid 3's story, mostly because it's such a huge part of the game. Of course, there's much about the story that ought to be experienced firsthand. So suffice it to say that the plot here is very much in the same vein as that of the previous two Metal Gear Solids. It's better than the second, in that it ties up its loose ends and ultimately delivers a strong sense of closure. Yet it'll still keep you guessing and second-guessing till the bitter end. Unfortunately, the story gets off to an almost painfully slow start--you'll have to put up with a lot of wordy, sometimes tedious exposition in the first couple of hours, and these hours are almost literally devoid of gameplay. Another possible impediment is the game's highly self-aware and self-deprecating sense of humor, which should appeal to the series' hardcore fans but nevertheless takes you out of the moment, oftentimes on purpose. Playful anachronisms are plentiful, and there are more than a few jokes at the expense of Metal Gear Solid 2's effete protagonist, Raiden. Some of this humor is rather lofty and clever, while some of it falls flat, as if lost in translation from the Japanese. So it's fortunate that the game seems to simply abandon the goofy aspect of its personality somewhere around the halfway point.

Make no mistake: This is a serious story, filled with some shocking scenes of graphic violence, and a helping of strong language and sexual references for good measure. You've never seen any game pull off some of the stunts that this one does. Fairly early on, the high stakes of Snake's mission are plainly exposed. You're introduced to the game's central villain, a sadomasochistic Russian colonel named Volgin, and you also catch a glimpse of the Cobras, a gaggle of bizarre military commandos whom you'll face one by one in some of the game's biggest showdowns. These characters make pretty good foes, but with maybe a couple of exceptions, they're just straightforward comic book bad guys. It's Metal Gear Solid 3's other key characters (and the events they manage to stir up) that are especially interesting.

Much of the story revolves around Snake's complex relationship with a woman known only as the Boss, who apparently trained him to become the elite operative and deadly fighter that he is. The Boss turns out to be a great character, and in many ways Metal Gear Solid 3 is her story as much as it is Snake's, so it's fortunate that she's as endearing as he is. Another major player in the story is Ocelot, whom Metal Gear Solid fans will remember as the eccentric Russian gunslinger with a penchant for torturing his victims. Of course, he's depicted here in his formative years--he's presented as an extremely talented marksman who's still impressionable, despite an arrogant streak. The rivalry that develops between Ocelot and Snake is pretty remarkable: They seem to be at each other's throats less like mortal enemies and more like bitter siblings. Another character, Eva, fills the token "Bond girl" role in the story. Her sultry appearance leaves little to the imagination, but of course there's more to her than meets the eye

In addition to these key characters, Snake will frequently communicate via radio with an off-site support staff. The most notable voice on the radio belongs to Major Zero, Snake's commanding officer, who sounds perfectly official, thanks partly to his British accent. The radio conversations you'll be listening to are functionally identical to the codec conversations from previous Metal Gear Solid games, in that they're sometimes too numerous and not nearly as interesting as the game's also-numerous cinematic cutscenes. Nevertheless, they help flesh out and tie together important elements of the story, and they thankfully drop off in frequency as you press further into the game.

The story takes place in the wake of the Cuban missile crisis, and involves Snake's attempts to rescue a brilliant Russian weapons specialist--someone who's developed a machine so dangerous that it could disrupt the Cold War standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union, and shift the balance of power squarely into the hands of people like Colonel Volgin. Snake's mission is ostensibly to rescue the scientist, but if you've played previous Metal Gear Solids, then you'll rightly expect that his mission won't be so cut-and-dried. At any rate, Snake's encounters behind enemy lines will take him through everything from dense jungles, leech-infested swamps, and quicksand to heavily guarded military complexes. The game's setting is cohesive and believable, and it offers a good amount of variety and plenty of tactical opportunity. In the jungle, Snake is forced to be a survivalist and use the environment to his advantage. This leads to the game's new elements of play.

These include having to use camouflage to remain well hidden, the ability to mend broken bones and treat other serious injuries, and the necessity of eating anything that's even remotely nutritional to recover stamina. The camouflage system is the most important and best implemented of these. Basically, at any time, you can access a menu to choose from various uniforms and face-paint schemes, different combinations of which can help you blend in better with your surroundings. More types of camouflage can be found hidden throughout the game. The optimal camouflage for any situation tends to be pretty intuitive, but you needn't rely on intuition, since there's a percentage indicator onscreen to explicitly tell you how well hidden you are. If you lie prone while decked out in the right camo, you'll be virtually undetectable. Conversely, if you go running around, guards will either see or hear you. So you'll need to move carefully and slowly to avoid detection, especially since you don't have access to a fancy radar like you did in the previous games. You'll need to actually look and listen for signs of foes in your vicinity, which gives the game a very deliberate pace. This may not sound exciting, but the environments are so convincing from an audiovisual standpoint that it's easy to become immersed in the hunt.

Snake's a one-man army, so even if he is detected, he can usually fight his way out of a bind. He's a master of "CQC," which simply stands for "close-quarters combat," a fighting style that lets him use a pistol and a knife simultaneously to capably deal with any threats. Among other things, CQC lets Snake take hostages and use them as human shields while returning fire at their cohorts. However, getting into out-and-out firefights really isn't desirable, and it's usually avoidable. For one thing, it's quite easy to take down your foes with a well-placed shot to the head from a silenced firearm (or any of the game's numerous real-world weapons, for that matter). For another thing, even if you are caught, you can often simply run right past your enemies, whose AK-47s and other weapons cause surprisingly little damage to Snake at the normal and even the hard difficulty settings. So, in contrast with the game's realistic looks, its action really isn't realistic at all, and the consequence of failing to be stealthy tends to be more of an inconvenience than a penalty. This isn't necessarily a bad thing in gameplay terms, but it dampens the sense of danger that the game tries to evoke, since it's so easy to gun down or simply evade droves of enemies.

It's fairly easy to recover from all the injuries you'll sustain, too. You'll notice that, unlike in previous Metal Gear Solid games, there aren't tons of life-giving rations lying around this time. Instead, you'll gradually recover your health through natural healing. For best results, you'll want to keep your stamina meter maxed out, as well as quickly treat any serious injuries you've sustained. Snake will sometimes suffer deep cuts, fractures, burns, or other major injuries, indicated by part of his health meter turning red. You can treat these injuries literally at any time by going into your menu and using a combination of healing items like disinfectants, sutures, and bandages, all of which you'll usually have in ample supply. The idea of having to use survival medicine is a good one, but the abstract way in which you administer the treatments and the fact that you can heal yourself even in the middle of a firefight makes this system hard to swallow. It mostly just serves to interrupt the pacing of some of the game's major battles, since you'll find yourself switching to your cure menu each time you're hit.

As for recovering your stamina, which gradually dwindles as you go about your business, that's where eating comes in. The game's jungle settings are teeming with critters like snakes, rats, spiders, birds, and more, and all these are fair game. You'll have to kill or tranquilize them first, though.

Snake can hoard a ton of food in his backpack, to the point where it seems like he's carrying around a zoo instead of just enough food to stay alive. While it's pretty fun to experiment with eating all the different types of plants and animals you can find, if only to hear Snake's reactions at having to sample each of them, the food system ultimately isn't a big deal--it's easy to find enough food to keep your stamina gauge nice and high at all times. If you let it dwindle, your healing rate will slow down and your aim will grow unsteady, but you'll rarely find yourself low on stamina unless you let it drop on purpose. If nothing else, though, all these new features do help give a sense that Snake really is out there all by himself, trying to survive in the harsh jungle.

For anybody who liked the last games, this one is the biggest hit of them all.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 11/07/05

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