The lush jungle landscapes in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eatermade it a perfect choice for Nintendo to use to show off the 3DS' capabilities. Seeing the same visual clarity in the third dimension was nothing short of breathtaking, and it certainly helped that the game beneath the visual splendor is a modern masterpiece. People were excited at the news that the tech demo would become a full-fledged port, but dread crept in upon early reports of the game's performance and constant delays. We tested how well Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D fares for gamers who are on the go.
Despite this being the third game in the Solid series, it actually serves as a prequel to the franchise. Set during the 1960s at the height of the Cold War, Naked Snake, ancestor of Solid Snake, is sent on a mission to rescue a defecting Soviet scientist who was commissioned to work on a tank that's capable of delivering a nuclear payload. While the mission goes smoothly at first, it goes off course when The Boss, Snake's mentor, defects to the USSR and provides two nuclear missiles to the Soviet army. When one of them goes off, both the U.S. and USSR try to prevent nuclear armageddon and to accomplish this, Snake is sent in to find and kill The Boss, who is blamed for the incident.
Many people called Metal Gear Solid 3 an instant classic, and the game has certainly earned that moniker due to the gameplay mechanics that it introduced. The use of camouflage to better disguise yourself was excellent, and the various combinations became addictive as you tried to either make the stealthiest — or silliest — possible combination of face paint and clothes. The use of food for stamina became a nice side-quest as you tried to hunt down animals to get the most stamina from the kill. Using sonar instead of radar added some tension to the proceedings, as you couldn't properly tell whether an enemy saw you until you saw them first. The story is well told and had some great pacing, even though it had some quirky characters and bosses along with fairly lengthy monologues on philosophical topics, like nuclear war and a soldier's duty.
Snake Eater 3D still delivers plenty of excitement when it comes down to basic stealth and combat. The open jungle environments give you more opportunities to sneak up and hide from enemies than compared to the more sterile environments of the previous games. Even though you'll still get into some parts of the game containing structures, it's the jungle environments that are more memorable because of the flexibility. Thanks to the change in viewpoint from a top-down perspective to a third-person one, the combat feels more visceral. Shooting is better, and it feels more natural to execute the close-quarters combat, especially for series fans coming from Guns of the Patriots or Peace Walker on the consoles. Boss fights, as usual, are some of the more exciting parts, and the ones here are about as memorable as the ones in the first Solid game.
Beyond the controls and ability to play the game in 3-D, the game sports a feature that's unique to the console: the use of custom camouflage. With the camera on the 3DS, you can take pictures of just about anything and use it as a camouflage pattern, giving you a limitless number of patterns to use in the game. It's a small thing, but it's fun.
As many positives as there are for the game, there are also a few knocks against it. Despite being based of the Subsistence version, none of the extras from that title are present. Little things, like the encyclopedia, and bigger ones, like the original MSX Metal Gear games, are gone, leaving you with the game and nothing else. This isn't all that bad, but because the structure is left intact, you have a title that isn't very suited for portable play. The long cut scenes really lend themselves to sitting down and paying attention. Even though those scenes are already broken down into segments, the segments are long enough that you can't simply pick up the game and play for a few minutes unless you intend to not follow the story.
The controls can be very hit-and-miss, depending on your preferences. The Circle Pad does a fine job of moving Snake and shows that it is a viable replacement for a more traditional analog stick. The triggers handle aiming and attacking and despite their size, they work well for the given actions. The touch-screen's use as an instant submenu provides quick access to functions like camouflage selection, instant weapon arming, and radio communication.
From there, though, things get very different. The system's gyroscope is put to use during the game's balancing portions, and unless you like to walk while you play or have unsteady hands, it feels tacked on since you're not in danger of falling or losing your balance. Like one of the configurations of Peace Walker on the PSP, the face buttons are used for camera movement while the d-pad handles instant weapon use, climbing over fallen branches, and certain actions when holding an enemy, such as interrogation or breaking necks. The configuration works well enough in slower situations but falter in heated combat, especially since the camera controls don't feel as precise or as quick as a second stick.
If you get the Circle Pad Pro accessory for the system, the controls are much closer to the console counterparts, with the Right Circle Pad taking care of camera duties while the face buttons and triggers handle some of the d-pad's other actions. The only thing that makes it awkward is the placement of the Right Circle Pad, which is directly across from the face buttons. If you can get over this, though, you'll be fine.
The 3DS is a pretty powerful machine, and the graphics do a good job of showing off that power. Instead of simply porting everything from the PS2 source, Hideo Kojima's team decided to remake everything specifically for the 3DS, and the results are excellent. The character models look just as detailed as their console counterpart, and the environments retain the lush look. Particle effects come through well, and animations are smooth. The development team was able to make the game look like the PS2 version in practically every way. The only place where the game stumbles is the frame rate. The frame rate holds steady most of the time, but when you get into cut scenes that have lots of action or intense firefights, the frame rate gets lower than what was seen on the PS2 version. It doesn't happen too often, but it is something you'll have to contend with every once in a while.
Like some of the more recent high-profile releases for the system, Snake Eater 3D sports some great 3-D. There are a few parts where the classic 3-D trick of making objects pop on-screen is used, but generally, the effect is used to give the game even more depth. The environments feel richer because things aren't so flat, and even the little things, like watching Snake in the background of radio communication, looks a little better this time around because of the added depth. Interestingly enough, the game turns off the effect when you're aiming or when you have to balance the system while walking on beams or branches. The effect is subtle but a nice touch for those worried about having to manually turn off the effect during those game portions.
The sound quality remains the same as its predecessors. Like the graphics, the voices were re-recorded specifically for this game, and they come off much more clearly as a result. It also helps that the performances are top-notch and lend the game some serious credibility even during some humorous moments. The music is also done well, as the score provided by the series veterans does a great job of evoking the right mood without overwhelming the scene. The effects are the real highlight; they do a masterful job of putting you right into the jungle environments. Every animal sound that periodically plays really enriches the atmosphere and does so with a stereo track that has more sound separation than most other games on the system. Even though the sound is much better heard through headphones, the game does a good job of pushing that aural experience through the system's own speakers.
Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D is a very good game. Everything, from the story to the graphics to the sound and gameplay, hold up very well more than seven years since the game's debut. However, the lack of extras prevents this from being the definitive version of the title. If you have only owned Nintendo systems, then this is an excellent version to play to experience one of the best stealth games and a joy to see in 3D. However, if you own either an Xbox 360 or PS3, the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection is a better deal since, for the same price, you get four other games to go with the package. If you still play with the PS2, then the Subsistence version will be just fine.
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