game like Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a perfect example of why the game industry is bringing in more money annually than the movie industry. The game is a masterwork of interactive entertainment; blending riveting storytelling with innovative gameplay the likes of which gamers have never seen before. But, to be honest, when I first started hearing details about the game I was worried. The idea of hunting and eating animals, along with using camouflage, concerned me to no end. Well after having spent about 10 hours with the retail version of the game, I can safely say that all of my concerns were premature. Snake Eater, while sticking to the basic feel and flow of a Metal Gear title, takes the franchise in so many new directions (that work) it’s hard to deny that the game is the most impressive installment in the series that I’ve ever seen.
Keep in mind, the follow paragraphs will contain some small spoilers, so please, read further at your own risk.
While the first PSone Metal Gear Solid featured a pretty sound storyline, gamers complained that Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was too convoluted and abstract. Heck, I was one of those gamers left scratching my head after beating the game and I know that I wasn’t alone. Well it seems that Konami has taken that issue into account with Snake Eater. While the story is still full of plenty of twists and surprises, it’s far more level-headed and grounded in reality. Taking the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the turmoil that erupted as a result in the 1960’s, Snake Eater begins with Snake being dropped into Soviet Russia in an attempt to rescue a high level weapons designer by the name of Sokolov. It seems that he’s been working on a top secret mobile tank capable of carrying a nuclear payload (sound familiar?). Disgruntled with his government, he wants to defect to the United States and essentially, take his weapon and knowledge with him. But, sneaking a man of Sokolov’s notoriety out of the USSR isn’t an easy task.
Snake, however, isn’t going into the fray unaided. By his side (actually, via Codec) he has a few allies who are able to help him out. New characters step into the roles that you’ve seen before in previous Metal Gear games, including a gruff military commander who calls the shots, a caring woman who helps Snake save his game and gives him some witty conversation, as well as a military advisor; The Boss. She is perhaps the most important character that you’ll deal with, and throughout the game you’ll bear witness to the odd and strangely romantic relationship between him and the Boss. You’ll also be aided by individuals on the ground, including another potential love interest that goes by the code name EVA. I won’t go and spoil the entire story for you, but I can say that allies will become enemies and enemies will become allies. The political turmoil of the Soviet Union plays heavily into the game, and throughout your adventure you’ll constantly have the cloud of nuclear Armageddon hanging over your shoulder. How’s that for pressure?
But, while featuring an extremely taut political slant, the game also features a heavier focus on the humanistic side of the characters. Individuals become more than simply talking heads on a Codec or some random ally; each character seems to have more human motivations and emotions. Understandably, the deeper storylines behind each character help contribute to their deeper personalities. And as such, the game as a whole feels far more cohesive and believable in the long run.
While Snake is aided by an astute group of allies, he’s conversely faced up against a pretty imposing army of enemies. You’ll recognize characters like standard grunts and patrolmen, as well as some new faces that will probably surprise you. The most impressive enemies are the new Bosses, part of the evil Cobra group (get it, Snake is trying to eliminate the Cobras, hence his mission is dubbed “Snake Eater”). The bosses are named as such: The Pain, The Fear, The Fury, The Sorrow, and The End. Sticking to the franchise’s habit of featuring bizarre adversaries, you’ll face some truly twisted and bizarre foes. The only boss I’ll spoil for you is The Pain. A grotesque shell of man covered with wasp and hornet stings, the man possesses the ability to control the insects and use them as weapons. When he’s not shooting off hornets at you like bullets, he’s swarming them together and using them to drop grenades in your vicinity. Needless to say, the boss battle with The Pain is probably one of the most memorable fights that I’ve ever encountered in a Metal Gear Solid title. But on other note, the things you see later on in the game make The Pain seem like a normal soldier.
Aside from the surprises you’ll find in the game’s riveting story, you’re going to be experiencing some revolutionary new gameplay features. The first is the much ballyhooed camouflage system. Since a large chunk of the game takes place in the jungles of the Soviet Union (there jungles in the Soviet Union?), Snake will have to take advantage of the abundant foliage all around him. Grass, brush, logs, and even mud and dirt play a key role in staying alive. When you start off the game you’re given a few variations of both outfits and face paint. By combining the two together you’ll be able to conceal yourself within your environment. When in camouflage, you’ll notice that you’re degree of concealment is displayed in an on-screen camouflage index. When prone your index climbs higher, indicating that you’re more difficult to see by enemies. While running or walking, the index drops, indicating that you’re an easy target. If spotted by an enemy, you can often escape and hide in some brush. If you’re wearing the right combination of camouflage you’ll then, more than likely, be able to evade capture if you lie prone and don’t move for awhile. Think of the whole system as interactive stealth. While it’s most definitely a new feature and a little tough to get used to, you’ll quickly learn that it’s often the only means of staying alive.
About that staying alive thing, it’s pretty safe to say that in Snake Eater pulling off that task has become far more interactive. While Metal Gear Solid 2 dabbled in the use of bleeding and health loss, Snake Eater goes full throttle with the idea, creating an intuitive and more realistic system of healing. When injured by things like bullets, fire, or even arrows, you’ll begin to bleed. If you don’t tend to your wounds quickly, you’ll eventually begin to lose health. This is the point where you use the need Cure system. Operating much in the same way as the camouflage feature, the Cure menu can be accessed by pressing the Start button. Once in the menu, you’ll get a 3D rendering of Snake as well as target reticules showing off where you’ve been damaged. Each kind of wound needs its own unique treatments, so tending to a bullet wound will be different than treating a burn. Regardless, while viewing your injuries on the rendered snake you can press the L2 or R2 buttons to cycle through your available medical supplies. You’ll find a wide assortment of goodies, including bandages, ointments, poison antidotes, splints, sutures and styptics. Since each wound requires its own set of treatments, you’ll need to discover which items you need to use for each kind of wound.
In terms of items and weapons, Snake Eater also features a new system of toting around your goods. First of all, all items are centered on the new Backpack feature. The quick select mode of picking items and weapons, which is still bound to the L2 and R2 buttons, has gotten a bit deeper mainly because now you can only hold so many items at a time. Each quick menu can only hold eight items. If you want to switch things out of your quick select menu you’ll have to go into your Backpack (by one again pressing the Start button and selecting the Backpack option), where you can then swap in and out whatever you may have on hand. But, the amount of weight you decide to carry around on-hand also is ultimately dictated by your Stamina.
The Stamina meter is perhaps the most important feature in the game and essentially determines how you perform in the field. Placed underneath your life bar on-screen, your Stamina will decrease slowly as you make your way through the game. Once it begins to deplete significantly, your aim will suffer and you’ll deal out less damage during hand to hand combat. You’ll also find your stomach growling at the most inopportune times, which can sometimes give you away to enemies. To refill your Stamina you need to eat, and thankfully, the world of Snake Eater is a veritable cornucopia of tasty treats to devour. Hunting animals provides the most fun and they can either be killed (if you use a handgun) or captured live (if you use a tranquilizer gun). While both types of dead and live food refill relatively equal amounts of Stamina, dead food will eventually spoil on you, which can lessen the amount of Stamina you may get from eating it. Also, all foods aren’t created equal and some animals can actually have a detrimental affect on your Stamina (don’t eat the Poison Dart Frog, for obvious reasons). You’ll also be able to eat fruit that happens to be hanging from trees, as well as some odd items like beehives. Luckily, the world around you is filled with lots of things to eat so when in most outdoor environments all you have to do is wait around for awhile before your next meal slithers, flies, or crawls into view.
To round out the new features, as if the above weren’t enough, Snake also comes out fighting this time around, literally. He has a new set of Close Quarters Combat moves whose main purposes are to take enemies down quick and quietly. While Snake can mix it up with hand to hand combat, including with a knife, he’s also able to engage enemies with CQC and take them hostage and use them as a human shield, throw them, perform take-downs, as well as slit their throats. There are also some special CQC items that are used in tight quarters, such as a handkerchief soaked in chloroform. While up close and personal combat isn’t always the best option, since most enemies are carrying guns, the available moves you do have do come in really handy in a pinch, especially when you’re trying to remain undetected. Also, the moves prove helpful when you’re outnumbered and trying to escape. Grabbing an enemy and using him as a shield will usually give you just enough time to back out of a confrontation and find a hiding place.
While I was initially worried about all the new features in Snake Eater, I have to admit that once they’re all put together, they form an amazing combination of interactivity. While some purists might get annoyed with having to change camouflage outfits and feed Snake, I found both of those features highly enjoyable. Also, it doesn’t hurt that the entire processes of both are quick and easy to use. Aside from having to go into a menu to select outfits and food, I never felt that any of the new features slowed down the game in any way.
In terms of Snake Eater carrying on the feel and playability of the Metal Gear Solid legacy, however, I’m a bit mixed. First of all, you no longer have the luxury of having a radar to scope out enemy positions and movement. To compensate for this you do get two kinds of temporary radars (motion detecting and sonar) that allow you to gain a bead on relative enemy movement. But, these two radars are bound by a battery life and you can only use them so long before they go dead and need to be recharged. As such, the game seems to feature a higher degree of difficulty, mostly because you’ll often find yourself running headlong into an area without knowing where enemies are positioned. But on the other hand, given the game’s more focused attempt at giving you a more hands-on role in Snake’s actions, this digression doesn’t seem out of place. If you’re required to change outfits and eat food, it doesn’t seem too outlandish that you also need to be more cunning and calculating in how you approach new areas. True, the pace of the game slows at points because of the extra care you need to take in exploration, but Snake Eater still feels like a Metal Gear Solid game.
But this isn’t to say that you’re up against insurmountable odds. Once you are spotted by an enemy you do have some cool options at your disposal to help stay alive. First of all, some enemies carry radios while others don’t. If you can eliminate a radio-toting guard after you’re spotted his allies won’t be able to call for help. Also, there are still a ton of places to hide and retreat to, especially in the jungle areas. And, you’ll come across some familiar items (like the cardboard box) as well as some new ones (like disguises) to help even the odds in the event that you are detected. For the unskilled players out there, you can also “cheat” the system a bit by a process that I like to call “run to the cutscene.” Once you’ve alerted guards, the alarm that ensues usually can’t be shook off until you hide and avoid being seen by the enemy for a certain amount of time. But, if you can manage to race to an area that involves a cutscene, you’ll be happy to discover that your alert will be cancelled and you’ll be in the clear.
On the visual side of things, Snake Eater, while not the most visually impressive title on the PS2, is pretty darn close. Character models are exceptional and the animation is fluid and realistic. The environments are also expansive and full of so much detail and interactivity that you’ll swear that you’re really crawling through the jungle. With so much focus on the jungle environment, it becomes clear quickly that there has been a lot of attention at capturing small and subtle visual nuances, such as the way leaves and brush part as you crawl through them. Butterflies and birds will fly about overhead and can even give away your position if you manage to startle them. Just in terms of level design, Snake Eater is poised to set a new standard for interactivity. To go along with the impressive levels you’ll also be able to watch a plethora of cutscenes, which I dare guess, may even rival the frequency and length of what you’ve seen in movie heavy games like Xenosaga. But while numerous, the cutscenes seem far more relevant this time around compared to other Metal Gear Solid titles. Each cutscene functions solely to tell a story and doesn’t waste time with long-winded philosophical tirades, which was a major sticking point in Sons of Liberty. Granted, some of the cutscenes are long in length, but I feel that they’re entirely worth the effort of watching them. Not only do you end up learning more about the game’s characters and their conflicts, you also get a nice history lesson since many of the movies deal directly with the Cold War era and the events that brought about the near nuclear war from our past.
Aurally, Snake Eater is once again bringing to the table top notch voice talent, including David Hayter reprising his role as Snake. Character dialogue is delivered precisely and believably, with the exception of some of the more over the top bosses. Whether it’s the little quips from Snake after he eats a good meal or the banter you hear between patrolling guards, you’ll be immersed in quality voice dialogue. In terms of music, the game is also packing quite a punch thanks to a Hollywood action movie-esque score from famed composer Harry Gregson Williams. The score alternates from pounding action movie tunes to quite ambient noise, which is a nice contrast and fits with each area in the game.
Overall Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is, in my opinion, the best Metal Gear Solid game to date. Very few franchises ever manage to pull of the changes that Snake Eater is poised to do, but thankfully, those changes seem to fit like a glove. The Stamina and hunting system is deep, but surprisingly easy to manage and the camouflage feature is highly original. While some gamers may not like the new direction that the game is heading in, I hope that once they get some serious time to immerse themselves in the game, they’ll see how all the pieces of the puzzle seem to fit just right.
On a side note, be sure to also check out some cool bonus offerings in Snake Eater. The first is Snake Vs. Monkey, a neat little set of mini-games which has Snake stalking simians from the Ape Escape series through a variety of environments. While more of a diversion than anything else, it is fun to see how quickly you can snag the chimps. The other offering is the ability to download new costumes to wear during the game. A while back Konami held a costume creation contest for the game and four lucky winners were chosen to have their created outfits included in the game. So, if you’re looking for some new duds to deck Snake out in, you better head online.
And so, as they say, one with the movies! Remember, these movies contain some spoilers. Many of the movies available for viewing are taken from cutscenes, so if you want to watch them, do so at your own risk!