etal Gear Solid 2: Sons Of Liberty was supposed to be the last Metal Gear for series creator Hideo Kojima for quite awhile. Becoming sick from working on the game so hard, he vowed to give the series a rest for some time. But, showing just how unpredictable the video game industry can be, he bounced back almost immediately with Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Today I got my first chance to spend some serious hands-on time with the game and am happy to say that despite my previous apprehensions about the direction the game seemed to be going in, I walked away satisfied and optimistic for the things to come from the game and the mind of Kojima-san.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater opens with Snake aboard a secret military plane tearing across the sky above an undisclosed area in the Soviet Union. Donning a futuristic looking air suit, Snakes jumps out of the plane and skyrockets to the ground. Once landed, he receives a message on his handy Codec. It seems that Snake needs to investigate the area around and him and neutralize an enemy encampment in his general vicinity. From that point on, “Operation Snake Eater” has begun.
Snake, having landed from his drop, is smack dab in the middle of a lush and expansive jungle. As a result, you’ll be surprised to see that gone are your typical Medal Gear crates and lockers. Essentially, you’re new hiding place is everything that you see around you; the trees, the ground, the grass, the water, and everything in between. We’ve filled you in on the camouflage system in our previous coverage of the game, but it was nice to finally see and experience that system first-hand. First of all, all costume changing is done via a menu, not in real-time. A press of the Start button will open up a special menu that lets you change your camouflage, organize and manage the contents of your backpack, as well as view and eat any stored food you may have. The camouflage menu is pretty straight forward and has a selection for changing your outfit and one for changing your face paint. A 3D model of Snake is also shown to give you an idea of what he’ll look like after you make your outfit and paint selections.
Overall, the camouflage system seemed to work pretty well. Faced with a patrolling soldier, I did manage to successfully hide against a tree while wearing a treebark pattern outfit and some black face paint. But, other times, I found the system to be a bit too hit and miss. Sometimes, I seemed to be completely hidden and undetectable, with a camouflage index of 95%, only to be immediately spotted and shot at. Other times, I managed to actually remain undetected while possessing a much lower index. I realize that the game is still in development, so hopefully there will be a bit more balancing in the overall effectiveness and reliability of the stealth system.
Control-wise, however, the game is shaping up pretty well and from the get go, Snake Eater plays feels like you would expect it to. The analog control felt silky smooth and Snake now has a few new moves to help take on the evils that await him in the jungle. The new stalking move is performed easily with the PS2 D-pad, allowing you an easy and fool-proof way of switching between normal analog stick control to more stealthy and calculated movement while stalking. Stalking is also used for more precarious actions, such as when I turned Snake into a tight-rope walker as he inched his way across a very narrow steel girder that had enemy soldiers stationed underneath it.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the game was the food and stamina system. Underneath Snake’s health bar are five blocks, each one signifying a level of stamina. As you play through the game, you’ll lose stamina, which results in Snake losing the ability to heal from his wounds as well as maintain a steady aim while in combat. Snake’s health bar now continuously refills, granted that he has a high enough amount of stamina. While the pace of the healing is pretty slow, it still proves helpful, especially during those times when you just want to lay low and remain unseen for awhile. Since the game supports a first-person viewpoint, great loss of stamina will be reflected in the fact that your aiming while in first person will be greatly hindered by a bad case of the hunger shakes.
The actual method of gathering food is even more innovative. At any given time, you’re literally surrounded by a smorgasbord of tasty vittles. On the ground you may find some mushrooms or a snake slithering around the ground. Up in a tree you may spy some birds or a hornet’s nest. Even more dangerous things like crocodiles prove to be a good meal. Collecting food comes in two forms: live captures and killing. A live capture requires that you shoot any food item (as long as it’s an animal) with a tranquilizer gun. Once tranquilized, a small animal cage will appear on the ground for you to collect. Killing any animal simply requires the use of any lethal firearm or explosive device. One you’ve killed an animal, a small can will appear for you to collect (much like the Rations from previous Metal Gear games. While going around and blowing up crocodiles with grenades may sound like a good idea, there actually are some considerations to keep in mind when going after live or dead kills. First of all, live animal provide more stamina than their dead counterparts simply because of the fact that they’re alive. Metal stored in cans will eventually rot and turn foul, which can result in making your even weaker or even sick. The ability to tote around your food live and eat it at your leisure proves to be a bit more helpful than toting around a bunch of cans that could go bad at any moment.
The actual means of filling your belly with food is pretty varied and allows you utilize some interesting means for tracking down your prey. Since all animals register body heat, you’ll be able to use thermal goggles for tracking down the more elusive prey, like snakes and frogs. Running around in thermal view and trying to catch a tiny frog may sound a bit odd for a Metal Gear game, but the execution of doing it is surprisingly fun. Overall, the feature of collecting and eating food is a nice diversion from the combat that you’ll usually be dealing with and is a nice way to break up the action if you’re feeling overwhelming at any given point.
The next feature that really impressed me was the close quarters combat that was recently divulged by Konami. While the system came across as a bit complicated awhile ago, seeing it in action and actually pulling it off was impressive. All close quarters combat is utilized through the Circle button. When sneaking up behind an enemy, a press of the button will cause Snake to grab an opponent and slam them to the ground. Approaching an enemy from the side will result in Snake grabbing an enemy and holding them around the neck. At this point, you have a number of options at your disposal; you can interrogate the enemy by pressing the Square button (which results in you getting some handy gameplay hints), you can use them as a human shield by moving Snake around, and you can slit the enemy’s throat. Each option serves a unique purpose while you’re playing and being able to correctly identify which action you should perform can ultimately affect just how successful you may be in the game. For example, say you take an enemy hostage. If you slit his throat, he’s dead and his body will not only be useless, but could also alert other guards to your presence. Using the enemy as a human shield, however, helps to give you a bit of insurance in the event that you are spotted. Enemies won’t usually fire on their comrades, so as long as you have a soldier in your grasp, you’ll be relatively safe from any damage.
Perhaps the biggest concern I had in the game was the idea that since Snake is in a pretty large jungle, there wouldn’t be any means of hiding after you got spotted by an enemy. Unfortunately, from my time with the game today, I’m still having that concern. Previous Metal Gear games allowed you to evade enemies and eventually shake them off with some clever hiding. The jungle element, however, doesn’t seem to fit in the overall sense of the series so far, and I found it pretty frustrating to be spotted and not have a real means of getting away. Also, since the game has no real radar, actually locating enemies on the sly seemed a bit too unforgiving. While Snake does have a sonar device that allows him to see any living objects in his general vicinity, it makes a great deal of noise, which isn’t too helpful for when you’re trying to sneak up on someone. Having to constantly switch to the sonar device was a bit annoying and the gameplay crawls down to a pretty slow pace as a result. The stalking move does prove helpful for when you’re trying to both scout out your location and sneak up on an enemy, stalking is so slow that it brings the game to a screeching halt.
Overall, I have to give Hideo Kojima and Konami credit for trying something new. The new close quarters combat, camouflage system, and stamina and food features are all highly innovative and enjoyable to experience. However, I’m interested to see how the promised levels of the game that don’t take place in the jungle. While the jungle is an interesting environment to play in, it’s also a pretty unforgiving place in regards to actually staying alive. The cool thing about previous Metal Gear games has been the fact that you always had a good shot at making a mistake but also saving your butt. So far, Snake Eater is more tuned towards playing with perfection, a pursuit that can often prove to be frustrating.