Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (HD) Review
Sony PlayStation 3Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was originally released in late 2004 for North America and early 2005 in Europe and it is arguably the most complete, well realised game in the entire series. The story is set against the backdrop of the Cold War and the aftermath of the real life Cuban Missile Crisis is the springboard from which the game weaves its elaborate fiction. According to the game’s story, the real reason the Soviets backed down and removed their ballistic missiles from Cuba was because of a secret deal to return one of their chief scientists who had recently defected to the West. Sokolov had been working on a top secret weapons project as head of a Soviet design bureau but he had become afraid of completing his own creation. After the deal was done and Sokolov was handed back, the KGB forced him to continue work on the project. It wasn’t until two years later in 1964 that the CIA learned about this nuclear powered weapon and that it was nearing completion. As the story begins you play Naked Snake who is dropped into Soviet territory on a dangerous solo stealth mission to rescue Sokolov before he can complete work on the weapon.
I would like to talk more about the story and some of its major players but this HD Collection will be the first opportunity for some people to experience the game and I would prefer it if they discovered the plot’s intricacies and character relationships for themselves. The story is well told with very slick, cinematic cutscenes that in true Kojima tradition never forget to show all the little details that video games rarely bother with. The ‘Virtuous Mission’ that Snake is initially sent on acts as the game’s prologue and completing it will initiate the opening title sequence which is heavily inspired by James Bond movies. Snake Eater tells a story that makes the most of its Cold War background with some great characters, memorable boss battles and revelations that keep on coming, even after the end credits have rolled. This was my favourite game of 2005 and when I think of why video games are important and whether they transcend the gaming medium they are in, this is always the first game that springs to mind.
At the beginning of the game Snake will perform a halo jump from an aircraft and parachute into the jungle where you begin the ‘Virtuous Mission’. After retrieving your Backpack from a tree a long Codec communication sequence will introduce you to your support team over the radio. I strongly recommend listening to this sequence all the way through, not just because it provides important information but it contains a conversation that discusses important themes that will resonate throughout the game and the series as a whole.
The gameplay in Snake Eater is just about flawless and evokes memories of movies like Predator where your goal is to become one with the jungle in order to avoid detection. Like other instalments in the series it is a stealth action game but also combined with the perfect match of jungle based survival. A number of deep gameplay systems constantly reinforce one another, seeming as organic and natural as the jungle habitat they attempt to simulate. Your primary means of avoiding detection is to use camouflage to blend into the surrounding environment. Snake has a variety of camo-uniforms he can equip, each designed to make you less visible in specific surroundings. A constantly updated real time Camo Index at the top right of the screen displays as a percentage how well hidden you are. In addition, Snake can apply different face paint patterns to add a few extra percentage points to the Camo Index making him virtually undetectable.
The effectiveness of camouflage will also be determined by your stance and movement. Lying flat on the ground and remaining motionless will be the most effective way to increase your Camo Index percentage (up to around 90%) but no matter what camouflage is being used it is the best way to stay hidden from enemies. Pressing up against trees or other objects can also be particularly effective while wearing the right camouflage. On the other hand, standing up and running around makes you more visible and wearing the right camouflage won’t count for much in these circumstances. Your Camo Index will change dynamically to reflect your current location, camouflage, stance and movement. From the survival viewer you can see the percentage changes for switching to other uniforms or face paints in any particular situation. Keeping well hidden and being aware of your surroundings is vital because there is no Soliton Radar system that would show enemy locations and their cones of vision.
The sound you make is more important compared to previous games in the series. Camouflage will help you get close to enemies but they might still detect you if they hear your movements in the long grass or your footsteps as you walk towards them. Using the D-pad will switch to Stalking Mode where you can slowly creep up behind enemies, grab hold of them or point at gun at them to hold them up. Grabbing hold of an enemy gives you a number of options such as being able to interrogate them for information, you can use them as a human shield, throw them to the ground to stun them, choke an enemy to make them unconscious or kill them by slitting their throat.
These CQC or Close Quarter Combat techniques are extremely useful for when you are detected and can help to even the odds or simply give you time to escape. Holding up an enemy is useful for gaining additional items but since there are no Dog Tags to collect in this game, holding up soldiers isn’t as important and interrogating usually yields only basic gameplay hints about that area. You can always tranquilise enemies from a distance and obtain useful items from them while they are asleep. If you are discovered by an enemy soldier the game cycles through the tried and tested Alert, Evasion and Caution phases before eventually returning to Normal mode if you stay out of sight.
The different areas in Snake Eater feel more like living breathing natural environments than levels in a video game. Each area is teaming with life and Snake will have to hunt for food during the course of the game. You have both a health bar and a stamina gauge which will affect many aspects of gameplay. Whenever Snake’s life bar is depleted it will gradually recover over time and how fast it does this will be determined by how much stamina you have. Eating food will keep your stamina bar full while exerting yourself will reduce it over time. Even the combined weight of the weapons and equipment you have made available to use from your Backpack will influence how quickly your stamina bar decreases. Low stamina doesn’t just affect health recovery, but can cause trembling hands when aiming weapons in first person view, reduced breathing capacity underwater and lower levels of grip when hanging from objects.
Using your senses and some useful gadgets will help you in your search for food. Hunting for animals, finding plants and fruit to eat is almost a game in itself. It is possible to see and hear creatures like frogs or birds as they sometimes give away their location and their movements in the tall grass can also be seen or heard. You can crawl through the long grass and use your survival knife to kill creatures or the tranquiliser gun to capture them alive. Food that is tranquilised will be stored in one of three cages that will keep it fresh to be eaten at any time. But anything obtained using the knife (or killed in any other way) will eventually spoil over time and could make Snake ill. Even freshly obtained food will spoil if you save your game and don’t play for a while because Metal Gear Solid 3 will track how much time has passed between sessions.
Sometimes creatures can be hard to find so using different equipment will help you in your search. The Active Sonar can send out a ping with the left analogue stick button (L3) showing locations of animals and even enemies in the immediate area. This can be useful for tracking the relative direction of potential sources of food but enemies will hear it if they are nearby. The Motion Detector can be useful because it is a more passive device but it only shows moving creatures or enemies so you will need to rely on the noises a stationary animal or bird makes to track it down. Additionally, there is a Directional Microphone which amplifies the sounds in a single direction which has many invaluable uses throughout the game helping you detect creatures moving, hornet nests, enemy footsteps and even breathing. Just like Metal Gear Solid 2 there is also a useful Anti-Personnel Sensor that will alert you to the proximity of nearby soldiers.
As well as regular enemies you will also face a number of memorable and quite inventive boss battles during the course of Snake Eater. I will give you two examples of these that won’t spoil the plot of the game. In one boss battle you face off against an expert sniper in three areas of jungle which is a battle of wits, skill and even patience. This epic sniper duel will force you to use your camouflage to stay undetected while using equipment to track your enemy and eliminate the sniper. Another example of a boss battle is against an enemy who is essentially already dead but as well as dodging his attacks as you wade through a river you will also have to avoid contact with the dead soldiers he summons. This can either be an easy boss battle or more challenging depending on your style of play because you will have to avoid all the enemies you have killed up to that point in the game. Just like Snake most of the bosses have health and stamina bars and they can either be killed with weapons (life) or neutralised non-lethally through punches or tranquilising rounds (Stamina).
Survival is further complicated by the fact that Snake can get injured, fall ill or get poisoned during the course of his adventure. Metal Gear Solid 3 features a Cure menu to deal with all manner of illnesses and injuries that the game will throw at him. Sometimes injuries will disable a portion of Snake’s health bar and it won’t return to normal until his wounds are properly treated. While it is quite a detailed system it was also quite smart to streamline it so that it is impossible to do it wrong. Even so treating some injuries will be a multi-stage process that will require medical or surgical items to carry out the procedure. For example, to treat a deep cut you might need to apply Styptic to stop the bleeding, disinfect the wound, sew up the cut with a suture kit and finally apply a bandage. There are obviously other procedures for treating gunshots, burns, broken bones, poisons, removing leeches etc. It is always good idea to keep your medical supplies stocked up and enemy soldiers often carry these useful items.
This HD version benefits from having the enhanced 3rd person perspective camera from the Subsistence release. This gives the player more user friendly camera control but you can switch between the two systems with the click of the right analogue stick button (R3). While the new camera is superior there are times when switching to the original has its advantages such as seeing further in the jungle or checking you are heading in the right direction. The higher resolution also makes it possible to be more precise when aiming at the heads of distant enemies with the tranquiliser gun. Some people have commented that it is still easy to accidentally fire weapons when you don’t intend to because of the pressure sensitive buttons on the Playstation 3 and on the original Playstation 2. I never had this problem and I think it is caused by releasing the button too quickly instead of gradually reducing pressure on it. It is also worth mentioning that the cutscenes have a degree of interactivity, sometimes there will be an alternate viewpoint that can be accessed and you can always zoom in and look around the scene.
Please note that when you start a new game you will be asked a rather cryptic question about which Metal Gear Solid game you like most without any explanation of what your choices affect. If you choose that you like MGS1 your stamina will drop more slowly and you won’t need to hunt for food as often. Picking MGS2 will make you wear the Raikov mask during the opening sequence and when you first land in the jungle Snake will remove it. Choosing that you like MGS3 will unlock more camouflages for you to use from the start as well as all the story cutscenes in the Demo Theatre mode. You will have a number of difficulty levels to choose from with European Extreme being the hardest and at this setting if you are seen by the enemy the game will end.
Few believed that the Playstation 2 would be powerful enough to produce such realistic looking jungle environments yet it is a testament to the technical achievement of the original release that this HD version still looks superb more than seven years later and almost on par with today’s games. It can betray its age if you get close to some of the textures and when you are crawling that is bound to happen. But it never breaks the illusion of an outdoor setting and that it is a living breathing world. Without a doubt this is the best Metal Gear Solid 3 has ever looked due to its HD upgrade. The jungle environments are vibrant and alive as grass is flattened realistically as you crawl through the undergrowth. I suppose the lack of lip synching in the cutscenes would be considered a negative point by today’s standards but that was how it was in the original.
The sound in this game is phenomenal whether it is the awesome distinctive soundtrack, the stylist cutscenes or the incredible gameplay. Sound is often something that game developers take for granted and to their credit Konami have always put a lot of attention into the audio side of their Metal Gear Solid games. When you can crawl in the jungle with just a knife equipped, close your eyes and listen to the sounds of the jungle around you (made by the wildlife), then successfully hunt for food you know you are playing a special game from an audio standpoint. On the whole the voice acting is excellent with only a few rare corny lines in the game. David Hayter as always turns in a good performance as Snake, Major Zero sounds appropriately authoritative and Lori Alan was absolutely superb as The Boss.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was one of the best games released for the previous generation of consoles and it not only survives the transition to HD brilliantly, it reinforces the belief for me that this is nothing short of a masterpiece. Hideo Kojima succeeded in realising his vision of a truly interactive cinematic experience, with a complex intelligent and compulsive story, staggering attention to detail and superb gameplay which all combines to make a game that is much more than the sum of its parts and perhaps even transcends the gaming medium itself. This is a game you owe it to yourself to experience, to immerse yourself in its world and to savour every moment of it while it lasts. Games of this quality are very rare and they deserve your complete undivided attention when they do come along. The best games stay with you long after you complete them and Snake Eater remains one of the finest examples of this for me. There it is, I have carried out my mission and the review is complete – “loyalty to the end”.