Review by bluej33

Reviewed: 09/14/09

He's oh so good, and he's oh so fine...

Pretend for a moment that you've not been directed by somebody (most likely myself) to this review but have rather stumbled across it by chance. You see my score, maybe skim my review, and dismiss it as just another piece of rabid fanboyism; a few hundred exuberant words attempting to explain why Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence is the best game in the Metal Gear Solid series and why Kojima is basically raw, thought-provoking creativity personified. Big deal, you might think.

My point here is don't dismiss me just yet. Yes, I absolutely love Metal Gear Solid 3 but I feel that I've been blessed with an ingrained ambivalence with regard to Metal Gear Solid that stems from my hatred of Hideo Kojima. What I'm trying to say here is this: I don't really like the series all that much. One was overrated and a little meh, two was enjoyable but had some serious camera-balancing issues, but three is just so...right.

Evolutionarily, the Metal Gear Solid series has gone something like this: the first title was basically a puzzle game. Shooting was a thoroughly unreliable way to get past obstacles and so sneaking was the only way to go. Metal Gear Solid 2 maintained that same top-down camera view that made shooting so difficult, but at the same time encourage combat a bit more by offering a first-person view from which to shoot.

Essentially, the problem that Kojima has had to deal with is balancing the sneaking and shooting elements. It's a “stealth action game” or whatever the hell, after all, so he should want to make sure that the gameplay mechanic encourages stealth over sneaking at least to a point. Let me explain: Metal Gear Solid 2 made shooting difficult, which was a good thing. But by essentially using the same mechanism for shooting and peeking around corners, the game made sneaking just as difficult as sneaking.

Metal Gear Solid 4 epitomizes the other end of the spectrum; the camera is great for peering around corners and the like but shooting is also so easy that there's not much of an impetus to take the sneaky route through the game.

So this is confusing and I'm not doing a very good job explaining it so let me just get down to it: Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence is the perfect blend of shooting vs. sneaking mechanics. You've got free reign over the camera, making sneaking simple and fun and convenient. On the other hand, you've still got to resort to the inconvenient first-person view for firing a gun. The end result is a gameplay mechanic that really does encourage sneaking. Perfect.

Throw in a plot that's less over-the-top than Kojima's other games, surprisingly decent writing, a phenomenally well-developed main character, and a Cold War setting that meshes perfectly with the series, and you've got yourself what is without a doubt the best Metal Gear Solid game in the series. Naked Snake aka Big Boss is an excellent character and makes regular old Snake seem shallow and boring.

Which is not to say that this is a game free of flaws. Like all the Metal Gear Solid games, Subsistence (i.e. Kojima, really) tries to hard to be funny and tries to hard to be profound. And of course, there's the series trademark postmodern, meta-game self-aware scenes that just fall flat on their faces. I hate it. Still, as far as profundity and creativity are concerned, Kojima has taken a turn for the subtle and the nonsensical. It's not as if he's ever really made much creative sense anyway, so I'm perfectly comfortable with his images taking a back seat to gameplay, for freaking once.

Most indicative of Subsistence's merits as a game is the fact that I actually enjoyed playing it. Previously, playing these Metal Gear Solid games was such a chore; I didn't really want to play them, but instead felt obliged to essentially (admittedly, there's probably more to it than this, but:) because I felt a touch guilty about playing/reviewing Metal Gear Solid 4 without having touched the series' three previous games. With Metal Gear Solids One and Two, I played through as quickly as possible, holding my nose and running through on tiptoe. Metal Gear Solid 3 is a fun, substantive, relish-able game.

And to sweeten the deal, Metal Gear Solid 3 is the only game in the series, save naturally the first one, that is pretty much a standalone experience. Because it operates as a flashback in the timeline of the series, there's very little in the way of pretentious, esoteric allusion to plot elements explored in other games (I'm looking at you, Metal Gear Solid 4). In short, Subsistence has just about everything you'd expect from an ideally-crafted Metal Gear Solid game: good story, well-balanced gameplay, and surprising accessibility. Even if you're not into the series, Subsistence is a must-play.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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

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