Release Date: November 17, 2004
Buy 'METAL GEAR SOLID 3: Snake Eater': PlayStation 2
The Metal Gear series has enjoyed an illustrious track record spanning multiple systems. Since its 1987 introduction on the obscure MSX computer, Metal Gear has been known to set standards in stealth gameplay and interactive storytelling. Metal Gear Solid for the original PlayStation exhibited a revolutionary step in creator Hideo Kojima's vision of a highly cinematic video game, and Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty expanded upon the idea. The sneaky badass Solid Snake returns to snap some necks in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, which is more of an evolution of the series than a reinvention. If anything, Snake Eater proves once again that the only logical method in avoiding nuclear holocaust is to send an elite, one-person army to eliminate the threat. MGS3 is the best in the series, and arguably the best fix for stealth fans.
If you've played the first two MGS games, you're already aware of the lengthy, cinematic cut scenes that are associated with the series. MGS3 is no different, as you will frequently encounter breaks in gameplay, which make way for story development. The game takes place in the 1960s, in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The standoff was resolved secretly, when the U.S. government agreed to send a Russian defector named Nikolai Sokolov back to the U.S.S.R. Unknowingly, the Americans had just traded one threat for an even larger one, because Sokolov was the designer of a mobile armored vehicle capable of launching a nuclear warhead from virtually anywhere at any time. Sokolov is the key to the weapon's completion. It's Snake's mission to save the world from the maniacal villains who want to complete the machine, and there are plenty of twists you'll encounter along the way.
The villains are some of the best yet. A young Revolver Ocelot makes his return, alongside a freakshow known as The Cobras. They have names such as The Pain, The End, and The Sorrow. Other major players include The Boss, a former ally of Snake, and Colonel Volgin, a.k.a. "Thunderbolt," who has the ability to control the electricity that pulses through his body. The unique characters provide a vehicle for the story, and you'll always be longing to find out what happens next.
The story itself is outlandish at times, but in a way comparable to James Bond films. While MGS2 turned off some fans (including myself) with a story that walked an extremely fine line between outlandish and downright cheesy, MGS3 spins a tale of espionage that plays outside of your boundaries of belief, but mostly avoids developments that completely ruin the atmosphere. Just don't expect a Tom Clancy storyline, because you'll be disappointed. This is more of a comic book story, so keep that in mind. The overall vibe is comparable to the first MGS, and that's a good thing.
The gameplay mechanics remain quite similar to the previous MGS games, with a few notable changes and additions. Now, a percentage is displayed that measures how well you blend into your surroundings. The higher your percentage, the better you're hidden. By accessing the menu, you can change Snake's camouflage at any point during a mission. The menu tells you how each pattern of camouflage will affect your percentage. You're also able to change your face paint, which affects your visibility to a lesser extent. Standing up or running around like an idiot will also reduce your rating, so even the stealthiest fatigues require intelligent maneuvering amongst enemies.
Throughout the game, you'll find new types of camouflage and disguises that will help you out. Not only is it fun to see Snake wear the different outfits, but it also affects your strategy. One type of camouflage may be effective while lying in a bed of long grass, but you may stick out like a sore thumb when on top of concrete. A situation like this encourages the player to move from one patch of grass to another, as opposed to taking an arbitrary route to your objective. One nit-pick is that you have to leave gameplay in order to switch your camouflage. A quick-change ingame command would have helped the flow of the game.
MGS3 isn't subtitled "Snake Eater" for nothing. You've been thrown into the wilderness, so you must eat like a wild man. Instead of simply gathering health packs to increase your life meter, you will be required to eat pretty much anything that moves in order to build up a stamina meter. Separate from your life meter, your stamina bar dictates how quickly your life energy recovers after sustaining damage. It also determines how long you can hold your breath underwater, how long you can dangle from a ledge, and how much your hand trembles when aiming a weapon in the first-person view. Running and fighting decreases your stamina, so you must eat often.
Aside from snakes, you can consume rats, fruits, rations, frogs, and hornet nests, among many other things. Not all food is created equal, as some types will increase stamina more than others. If you keep certain foods in your inventory for too long, they will spoil, making Snake sick if consumed.
This time around, Snake has ways of overcoming sickness and battle injuries. Serious maladies cause your life bar to drain, so it's important to treat them quickly. A new "cure" option is available in the survival viewer, which allows you to dig bullets out with your knife, sew your wounds shut, treat burns, and cure stomachaches caused by spoiled food. The interface is similar to a stand-up X-ray, and menus tell you exactly what is wrong with Snake. This new system adds a unique character management element, but really wouldn't be missed if it were left out.
Basic stealth moves are still included for your stalking pleasure. Close attacks are now referred to as "Close Quarters Combat," or CQC. These are moves such as throws, chokeholds, human shielding, and the ever-popular throat-slit. Silently snapping a sentry's neck is always more fulfilling than poking him with a tranquilizer dart. You also can trick guards into eating spoiled or poisonous food, or even scare them with venomous snakes. Cool, eh?
MGS3 is more rewarding when played as a stealth game, but when you are discovered, it's kind of difficult to get yourself killed, at least when playing on normal difficulty. If discovered, all you have to do is blast your way out of the situation using the plentiful weapons and ammo you pick up during your mission. However, if this is how you end up playing the game, you're missing the whole point.
A new addition is a strange mini-game called "Snake Vs. Monkey," which is available from the start. Your goal is to incapacitate the stage's monkeys as fast as you can. It's a pretty funny distraction, but not much more than that.
This is probably the best looking PS2 game to date. Although there are games that push more polygons than MGS3, few match its expressiveness and style. Cut scenes are as cinematic as video games get, with tasteful use of special filters and other effects. A lot of the game takes place outdoors, where you'll find lush vegetation in highly convincing locales. The entire game makes the color palette of MGS2 appear bland by comparison. Every character model, from the main characters to the common guards, is a highly detailed showcase of graphical prowess. While hiding in the grass, take a moment to look through Snake's scope, and admire the details of the surrounding environment. It's quite impressive, not only as a PS2 title, but also for a video game in general. Because the PS2 is being pushed to its limits, the frame rate does skip occasionally, but it affects neither the gameplay nor beauty of the visuals.
The sounds of MGS3 put you in the middle of the wilderness. As in all MGS installments, you must mind your loudness, as rustling, footsteps, or gunshots may alarm guards of your position. The music is ambient once again, switching on during high-tension situations. With a surround sound setup, the noises of the swamps and forests are better appreciated. Your "Sounds of the Rainforest" alarm clock has nothing on this game.
The voice acting is above average for a video game, but still far from Oscar material. Many times, there is a stiff quality to the dialogue, almost as if the voice actors did their lines at separate times and locations. Much of the story is revealed through radio conversation, which can be lengthy at times. Fortunately, you have the option to quickly scroll through the transcripts of the radio conversations without having to listen to the drawn out discourse. Overall, the sound is an indispensable ingredient to the game's immersiveness.
There is no doubt that MGS3 is one of the best games of the year, on PS2 or otherwise. Some people may still knock the game for its lengthy cut scenes and super-detailed storyline. However, if you've been complaining about that since the original MGS came out in 1998, you need to get over it, because story and cinematics are part of the MGS trademark. Thankfully, MGS3's storyline is the best yet. The core gameplay is similar, but the new camouflage and stamina additions require strategic adjustments that perfectly fit the deliberate, tactical feel of the game. It's a beautifully crafted game from every angle. Now go eat some frogs.