You can’t keep a good counter-terrorist down. If you’ve been playing video games for the past six or seven years, you’ve probably become acquainted with the Metal Gear series. Featuring a cast of bizarre characters, destructive super weapons designed for world wide destruction and a complex plot full of twists and turns, the franchise has always delivered solid stealth action for PS2 owners. More importantly, it provided gamers with Snake, a lone wolf whose highly trained infiltration and combat skills were the only thing that protected the free world. And for the latest installment of the series, Hideo Kojima decided to take players back to the source of the game’s mythology. Get ready to take a trip back in time, because we’re heading into the jungle with Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.
Unlike the previous two Metal Gear Solid titles, which could take place today or a few years from now, the setting for Snake Eater takes place forty years ago, shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Without spoiling the plot for any of you, I’ll try to go over some of the minor details that I can bring up. Snake is dispatched to an area in Russia to exfiltrate a Russian scientist who’s working on the development of a new, highly destructive mobile tank platform. (Vets of the series can see exactly where this is going.) However, during his mission, Snake winds up being betrayed, brutally attacked and left for dead. Even worse is the fact that the turncoat is his own mentor, an enigmatic woman known as The Boss. After an impossibly short recovery period in the hospital, Snake is sent back into the field to finish his original mission, defeat The Boss and her new squad of commandos, and prevent a worldwide nuclear apocalypse. You’ll find that there are a number of questions that will be answered for longtime players, as well as a few cameos by longtime MGS characters.
There are a number of substantial changes to the Metal Gear formula this time around, primarily to respond to the earlier era in warfare. For instance, the Codec that Snake relies on to communicate with his superiors still exists, but in a less technical manner. Instead of the ear implant, it’s a simple two way radio system. On the other hand, the radar system that some gamers relied upon to determine where enemies were in an area hasn’t been invented yet. To make up for it, Snake will have to rely on a number of separate devices, which, when used in concert with each other, effectively mimic the function of the radar itself. However, you won’t be able to continually rely on these gadgets, as each one drains juice from a rechargeable battery pack. This not only heightens the level of suspense when you’re moving from area to area, but also requires a greater attention to stealth as you attempt to silently accomplish your mission.
Unlike previous titles, Snake has to pay much more attention to his immediate surroundings. Most of the action for the game takes place in a jungle environment in Russia, although there are a number of marshland areas, mountain ranges and buildings that you’ll have to traverse to accomplish your objectives. In previous games, crossing these areas would make Snake stick out like a sore thumb, due to the stealth suits he’d wear. However, in Snake Eater, players will be able to actively change their gear and their face paint to blend into the background. Actively tracking the positive or negative effects of using a particular camouflage scheme over another, it’s a relatively simple matter to vary your clothes to provide maximum coverage. It sounds impractical until you see it in action; for instance, if Snake hides in grass while wearing woodland camo, he effectively disappears from view.
This ability to hide can come in handy when you need to attack soldiers quickly and silently. Known as CQC, or close quarters combat, the effective use of both a gun and knife can be used to subdue enemies. Outside of throwing and grabbing opponents, Snake can use held enemies as human shields in firefights or interrogate them at knifepoint. If he tires of their company, he can quickly slit their throats or snap their necks, dispatching an opponent. This can also be used on downed foes, so knocked out opponents can be woken up by slapping them around or silently stabbing them to death. Of course, it’s entirely possible that as you’re trying to pacify your enemies that you’ll take damage. There are two separate ways that you can remedy this. For minor issues, such as poisonings, you can use medical treatments to cure your ailments. For more serious injuries, you’ll need to perform a certain amount of surgery, including resetting bones, sterilizing wounds, and bandaging cuts.
You’ll also have to effectively manage your stamina levels in Snake Eater to successfully carry out your mission. Unlike MGS2, stamina plays a much greater role in Snake Eater than it ever has before. You’ll still use the level of stamina to determine how long you can hang onto a ledge or railing before you fall. However, Stamina also affects how quickly you swim, how fast you recover lost health and how well your aim is in battle. A low stamina meter can result in shaky hands and a general lack of accuracy. This meter will gradually decrease over time, but it can be replaced by eating one of the numerous animals that live in the forest. Alligators, frogs and yes, even snakes are available for snake’s consumption, as long as he makes the effort to track down these creatures. Stacking slaughtered animals in his backpack or caging tranquilized prey in cages allows Snake the option to fill up on raw beasts at any time. What’s more, he can tactically throw animals at unsuspecting guards to terrify them.
The one thing that you won’t believe are the incredible visuals that Snake Eater puts in front of you from the moment the game is turned on. Everything from the wind that blows through the grass to the marshy areas that you find yourself struggling to walk through is rendered realistically. It really is impressive to notice the amount of detail that Kojima’s team manages to squeeze out of the PS2 hardware. I’ve said it before in other reviews this year, and I’ll say it again: as many times as people proclaim that the PS2 is just too old, another game comes along to prove them wrong. Character models are phenomenal, particularly in cutscenes, and the attention to Snake’s facial expressions is simply jaw-dropping. You’ve never seen him look this good. I could wax on and on forever about the beautiful graphics, but that’s really something that you should experience. I promise you, you’ll be floored.
In fact, the only significant graphical issue that you’ll probably notice with the game is the constant issue that the series has always had: the camera still uses bad angles or poor choices for camera placement. Vets of the Metal Gear series will know exactly what I’m talking about, but the issues with the camera, coupled with the limitations of not having the radar can be extremely infuriating. Even more inexcusable is the fact that you can’t move while you’re in first person, which really winds up screwing with you since certain motions, like going completely prone, can tend to force this perspective upon you when you least expect or want it.
Fortunately, the voice acting, lead by David Hayter as Snake, is still excellent. Sure, there are a number of overdramatic performances, and there are a couple of moments when you’ll wonder exactly how these actors delivered the lines with a straight face because they’re simply ridiculous. However, in the Metal Gear Universe, it seems like it makes complete sense, which is a credit to the plot and the action of the game itself. The dialog is still bolstered by the exceptional score provided by Harry Gregson-Williams, which is cinematic and sweeping throughout the entire game. Add to that some of the great sound effects (which include the recycled ones from previous games) and you’ve got the elements for a classic title.
One of the things that some players may need to get used to (or possibly reaccustomed to) is the Metal Gear control scheme. Sure, it’s technically not as responsive as some of the other stealth titles out there, but it’s one of those games that experienced players of the series will be able to pick up and jump into right away. Novices may feel somewhat overwhelmed by the number of options available to them, but that’s one of the classic features of the franchise: the ability to specifically pick and choose how you’ll approach each level based on your personal playing style. You can go in guns blazing, go for the completely nonviolent route or a mix in-between. However you decide to take on the game, Snake Eater manages to give you just enough control to do whatever you want to do to accomplish your mission. What’s more, the game is also significantly long enough to satisfy most gamers. Running around twenty or so hours, especially if you try to acquire most or all of the secret items throughout the game, Snake’s adventure in Russia is something that you’ll enjoy from start to finish. If you also consider that there are downloadable costumes, hidden weapons and gear once you finish a mission, and the supplemental “Snake vs. Monkey” mini-missions, you’ll discover that there’s plenty of replay value in Snake Eater.
Not only is Snake Eater a triumphant return to the PS2, it’s perhaps the best installment of the franchise to date. The inclusion of camouflage and greater attention to hand to hand combat via the CQC system are great additions to gameplay. Similarly, the level of detail for environments and characters makes this one of the best looking titles in the series, and indeed for this entire year. You should definitely run right out and pick this game up today if you don’t have it in your console now.