Review by brutusmuktuk

"May give you a strange urge to eat raw snake"

Hideo Kojima's Metal Gear Solid series is among the most acclaimed of all video game series, and in many regards, it deserves this distinction. Kojima injects his games with bizarre humor and surprising detail, and watching his cutscenes is always a joy. Nobody directs video game cutscenes as well as Kojima. Metal Gear Solid for the Playstation is a classic game in every regard, fully detailing Kojima's themes of nuclear warfare and international espionage. Sons of Liberty, though, while often hailed as a classic, took bizarreness to an excess, especially at the end of the story. When a game ends with a ten minute play sequence in the midst of an hour long cutscene, there's an obvious lack of balance. Snake Eater combines the bizarre and serious to create a thoroughly engaging game that should satisfy both the lovers and haters of Sons of Liberty.

The Good:
+ The story ends very well
+ The visuals and the nice, luscious jungle setting
+ A strong cast of characters
+ A strong attention to detail

The Bad:
—Takes the game a while to pick up momentum
—It's just about impossible to sneak up on enemies
—Finding leeches all over Snake's body

The Miraculous
! Snake's fractured bones heal instantaneously with a splint and bandage

Story – 10/10

About thirty years before the events of Sons of Liberty, Snake finds himself in a Russian jungle during the Cold War to rescue a doctor named Sokolov, who is hard at work under forced labor to create a super weapon. Snake will run into a young hotshot with a penchant for twirling guns about his fingers, a man able to create electricity from his own body, a hornet charmer, a portable nuclear weapon called the Davy Crockett, toy frogs littered about the game, a woman who rides her motorcycle with her jacket unzipped, and chats about eating exotic animals. And this is just a taste of what Snake will come across.

In true Metal Gear Solid form, the game begins with a lengthy introduction detailing Snake's mission, leaving out just enough information so you don't exactly know what's going on. You know where the target is, who he is, and what he's doing, but beyond that, nothing. This is Kojima's way of drawing in gamers and keeping them hooked, because we all want to know what's happening. Early on you meet the scientist, Sokolov, Snake's old friend, The Boss, and Snake's new enemy, Volgin. The initial sequence also introduces you to the Cobras, who serve as bosses throughout the game. Admittedly, these bosses, with the exception of one, leave something to be desired. After the introduction sequence, though, things move slowly and steadily pick up momentum into the game's conclusion.

While many gamers, including myself, complained about the amount of cutscenes in Sons of Liberty, that issue is resolved in Snake Eater. The two hour introduction sequence has about one and a half hours worth of cutscenes, but for the next six hours, there are very few cutscenes to interrupt the gameplay. Kojima doesn't need them because it is simple to determine where to go and what to do through com-link chats. This is also the point of the game when the story is at its worst. Many of the dialogue scenes are so silly that you'll be shaking your head; when you first meet EVA and Ocelot, they'll probably grate on your nerves more than anything. EVA provides eye candy in her beginning scenes, unzipping her shirt so Snake can stare at her cleavage. Ocelot is a nuisance and his purpose is questionable. Later on, these are two characters who become much more intriguing and help move the story in its most interesting directions, even though EVA still wears her shirt unzipped to show off her breasts. That one puzzles me, but I'm sure many gamers won't complain.

At about the ten hour mark, the game really picks up speed. The story suddenly becomes very interesting and builds up until it reaches the climactic end. You will expect that one thing won't happen for one reason, but then are surprised to learn that you are wrong about what will happen and why it happens. And some of the ending sequences are surprisingly poignant. I'm not ruining anything, but if you've played the other games in the series, you probably know, partially, how it ends. There's a lot of explanation at the end, just like there is at the end of Sons of Liberty, but this doesn't enter bizarre territory, thankfully. The explanation helps generate a poignancy rarely found in video games, but if anyone can make a game even slightly touching, it is Hideo Kojima.

Gameplay – 9/10

Subsistence marks the first time the Metal Gear Solid series has used a controllable 3-D camera, instead of the problematic camera of previous games. With the exclusion of radar, the new camera is necessary. To hide from view, Snake has learned a few tricks from Sam Fisher. But Snake goes beyond hiding in shadows; he needs to wear specific camouflage to hide in specific areas. Hiding in tall grass requires different camouflage, obviously, than hiding amongst red brick walls. Unfortunately, enemies sometimes spot you even when you're 95% concealed, and being spotted is almost inevitable unless you subdue your enemies with a tranquilizer gun. Also, it's just about impossible (I never succeeded) to sneak up on an enemy and grab them from behind. They always somehow detect you and turn around. And this is on Normal mode. You get used to tranquilizing enemies and hiding their bodies, but later on, you will find yourself shooting sleeping enemies in the head because they wake up too quickly. Just make sure you get your two items worth before killing them.

Speaking of items, there are a lot of weapons and gadgets in this game, but you won't use most of them. I was loaded up on grenades and threw only a fraction of them. Some of the weapons are virtually useless, like the chaff grenades. The guns are useful because sometimes being caught is inevitable, so having a large arsenal of weapons is nice. Fortunately for you, enemy AI isn't very good when it comes to gunfights. The enemies spend a lot of time sidestepping and staring at Snake and not enough time shooting him. There are a few occasions you can build up a massive body count, odd for Metal Gear Solid, because the enemies ignore their gun's trigger.

Snake Eater has a few features new to the series that are worth mentioning. There is the stamina meter, just below the health, that records Snake's fatigue level. It also serves to keep Snake's health up, which replenishes slowly on its own (taking a cue from Master Chief?). When the meter drops to half way, Snake's stomach grumbles, so you have to fish through the backpack for something to eat, such as an animal—alive or dead. Levels are filled with a great variety of animals to capture, like snakes, goats, vultures, magpies, frogs, and crabs. If you keep a dead animal in your back pack for too long, it will rot and give Snake a stomach ache. Nothing a little digestive medicine won't cure. The Cure screen is also new. Sometimes Snake gets shot and has to remove the bullet, or he gets badly burned, or cut, or fractures a bone, or is poisoned by a cobra or tarantula. When this happens, you enter the Cure screen and apply the appropriate medicines and bandages. It's a neat idea, but it's a hindrance because you have to pause the game, sometimes in the middle of a gunfight, to use it. These are novel ideas that could be greatly improved if pursued further.

Snake Eater has its fill of classic moments. Hopping out of a pond, noticing your stamina meter drop quickly, and opening up the Cure screen to see Snake covered in leeches is one such moment (watching him kill them with his cigar is another). Other moments include a ladder that takes about five minutes and ten meals to climb, disguising yourself as a high-ranked officer and getting away with doing basically anything you want, and a chase sequence at the end that is similar to the end fight in the original Metal Gear Solid. The boss fights are mostly good. The sniper fight with The End is probably the second best sniper fight I've played, requiring the sort of patience you'd think a sniper fight would require.

Visuals/Sound – 10/10

This is a section that requires little telling. The game looks great, taking place in the fresh jungle environment of Russia, and the sound is excellent, with a great voice acting cast and a nice combination of wildlife noise.

Longevity – 9/10

The game clocks in at around 20 hours for your first play through, which is roughly the combined length of the previous two games. Gamers always find a reason to play through the Metal Gear Solid games again, and this is no exception. There are plenty of weapons and outfits to unlock, as well as new modes on the Subsistence disc, such as online play (unplayed by me), duel mode (fight the bosses again), Snake vs. monkey (Ape Escape: Metal Gear Solid-style), and the secret theatre. Unfortunately, these modes aren't as addictive as the VR missions in Substance before it, which I played for hours on end. The duel mode and Snake vs. monkey game are decent, but the secret theatre is hilarious, especially after you've beaten the game. There's plenty to do and see after you've beaten the game. Metal Gear Solid fans have already bought and played this game, and for those of you still skeptical, trust me, it's worth playing.

Overall – 9/10

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 12/11/07

Game Release: Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence (US, 03/14/06)

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