Metal Gear Solid is a series that is defined by its cinematic nature. While often absurd or overly complex, there can be no arguing the richness of the world that Hideo Kojima has crafted during this long-running series. Out of all the choices on offer, I’d say the game that stands shoulders above the rest in the series has to be the third instalment, Snake Eater. Whether you want exciting and unique boss battles, quirky yet rich dialogue, stealth espionage action or memorable cinematic moments, Snake Eater delivers from the James Bond-esque opening through to the climactic battle with The Boss, right up until the end credits roll.
Set in the throes of the Cold War, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is the story of how Naked Snake became Big Boss, and the events that set him on his downward spiral towards becoming the villain rather than the hero. It begins with a simple mission to extract a Soviet scientist named Sokolov from enemy territory, but it soon goes horribly wrong for Snake as his mentor, The Boss, betrays him and hands over a nuke to Volgin, a Soviet General poised to take control of the whole Union. Snake is left bruised and broken by the encounter and is extracted for medical care. After that the game really begins as Snake is sent back into the Soviet Union to take down his former mentor and her team of war heroes codenamed the Cobras. As with all things in this franchise, nothing is ever as it appears and by the end, even Snake himself is left confused about his allegiances. The narrative and pacing, while slow at the start, never fail to impress throughout the game and I dare anyone to not feel touched by the final moments.
While definitely containing a deep and serious narrative, Snake Eater retains its quirky humour, oddball references and the ability to not take itself too seriously that has become a calling card of the franchise. Whether that be from hunting down the strange Kerotan statues, using the Konami Code to find the location of the End, pretending to be Volgin’s lover (someone who looks remarkably like Raiden from MGS2) or calling Sigint while Snake is hiding in a box, causing Snake to ponder if it is his destiny to hide in boxes. This game will make you laugh, cry and scream all the way through.
The core mechanics of the gameplay were retained for the most part; stealth is still a major part of the game and the environments are littered with perfect hiding spots such as hollow trees, tall grass and small tunnels. Snake also comes equipped with a selection of camouflage to help him blend into his surroundings. The more your camouflage matches your surroundings, the less chance you have of being spotted by the enemy. If you are spotted however, don’t worry as Snake has his fair share of weapons at his disposal, and the fantastic level design provides you with plenty of cover to shoot from.
While retaining much of the stealth action that won the series a place in fans hearts, Snake Eater also brought some other new mechanics to the table besides the new camouflage system. One such feature is that Snake will now accrue status ailments and injuries, which range from burns or cuts through to leeches and bee stings; all of these could be cured through the new system which saw you bandaging, stitching and suturing Snake to your hearts content. On top of all these new ways Snake could feel pain there was a brand new stamina system which made you hunt and eat food in the wild. While Snake is able to store food, there’s always the risk of it going bad and making Snake violently ill, losing more stamina than you gained. However, using your tranquilliser keeps the animals alive, meaning that that they don’t spoil.
All of this comes together to give the game a much more “survival” feel to it. Add to that the fact that the radar of previous games is absent, replaced by sonar and other devices more fitting of the time period. These however rely on battery power, something that you don’t always have in abundant supply. The inventory system has also been overhauled meaning you can only equip a select number of items from your backpack, making your selections all the more important. This all fantastically puts across the fact that Naked Snake really was on a survival mission; he was surviving in enemy territory alone and against incredible odds.
Some of those incredible odds come in the form of the well scripted and dramatic boss battles. These are, in my opinion, some of the best in the series so far. The boss battle with the Sorrow sees you walk along a path filled with the ghosts of everyone you’ve killed. Snake’s battle with the almost inhuman sniper the End is a challenge almost to the point of frustration, and the battle against the Boss herself is a truly stunning scene.
The game overall has a level of beauty that was almost unmatched on the system. In fact I’m hard pressed to think of any PS2 game that looks better. Gone are the oppressive corridors and facilities of the previous games, replaced by high quality jungle environments that give a much more open feel to the game, with a level of polish that only the likes of Kojima Productions can pull off. The detail and design is fantastic, with an abundance of hiding places available to plan your takedown from. This means you can not only play the game how you want to, but it’ll look damn good at the same time.
The sound production is as high a standard as the visuals, with the opening theme a sure-fire favourite of all Metal Gear Solid fans. The soundtrack manages to pay homage to James Bond spy films while also managing to build a unique atmosphere. The voice overs breathe life into most of the characters found within this brilliant but tragic story. Ocelot and The Boss in particular have some very well delivered lines throughout the game.
If there’s anything that I could really criticise about the game it’s the fact that it still held onto the shooting and camera controls from the previous iterations, which left the shooting mechanics feel outdated even then. With the AI being genuinely good for a PS2 era game it just made consistently shooting enemies during prolonged fire fights frustrating as you feel like you’re wrestling with an elephant holding a camera. Thankfully this has pretty much been rectified in every game since Snake Eater, and was addressed slightly in the updated version Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence (which is the version that is included with the PS3 remaster).
In some ways however, Snake Eater almost made up for the horrible camera with the much enhanced CQC (Close Quarters Combat) system and the addition of a knife. In fact, I found myself using CQC more than anything else; I would lie stealthily awaiting the movement of a nearby guard and when the time is right charge out, throw him to the floor and rendering him unconscious before anyone was any the wiser. There’s also a few boss encounters such as the Fury or the End where using CQC creates a challenging but fun way to defeat them.
In the end, Snake Eater is a game that will always be remembered as a classic. It is the kind of game that you could play 20 years from now and still get the same feelings from when you first played. It’s also just the kind of thing you need to build up your hype levels for the upcoming return of Big Boss in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.