For hundred years of years, passing generations have created new forms of progressive art and entertainment. More recently, radio and mainstream music were introduced to our Grandparent’s generation, while big budget blockbuster movies and color television mesmerized our parents. However, today’s generation has been blessed with an art form that blends every type of entertainment in tandem with every combination of art. Video games are one of the world’s newest ways of telling stories; they display visual artistry, detailed and in-depth crafting, haunting musical scores, and, above all, they engulf their audience through personal physical input. These are the collective elements that shape the video game entertainment industry – and the Metal Gear Solid series.
Once again we take control of the man they call “Snake”, as he embarks on a one-man mission of stealth to foil merciless terrorists intent on wreaking havoc and devastation. Metal Gear 3: Snake Eater has a wonderful story that provides a driving narrative force both easy to follow and yet deathly engrossing. Fans of previous Metal Gear titles will have a terrible time merely trying to put down the PS2 controller due to the game’s edge-of-the-seat anticipation. While not going into specific story detail for fear of delivering spoiler material, you can expect the usual plot twists, turns, double-crosses, creative boss battles, wonderful voice acting, and constant references to past Metal Gear games. And, like other Metal Gear Solid games, Snake Eater plays just like a movie through its great camera work and cinematic realization.
For the most part, previous Metal Gear Solid games have unfolded through indoor environments; just about every wall bent at ninety degrees, and an onscreen radar system displaying nearby enemies – as well as their immediate field of vision. However, in a major series departure, Snake Eater takes place in the heart of a dense, realistic jungle. Planning a course of action is more open-ended than ever before thanks to multiple possibilities when it comes to reaching a destination or accomplishing a mission objective. This certainly helps ramp up the difficultly level, making Snake Eater possibly the most taxing Metal Gear Solid game to date. No longer can you rely on that invaluable (and convenient) onscreen radar to gauge your progress. Watching and memorizing the movements of enemy sentries now takes exacting patience and skill should you wish to remain unseen. Because the game is set during the 1960s, technology is not nearly as highly evolved as it is today. And, even though there are no hindering surveillance cameras, new deadly enemies make their appearances on a stage-to-stage basis; these include eagle-eyed watchdogs along with other wildlife creatures and perilous traps.
Because Snake is running this mission solo, he must rely heavily on survival tactics in order to stay alive; eating and maintaining a healthy stamina meter is a huge part of Snake Eater’s gameplay mechanic. Whenever Snake performs an action, his stamina meter will drop accordingly. Plus, running, crawling through long grass, or swimming will consume stamina faster because Snake’s body is (obviously) working harder. Holding heavy items and weapons will also prove a substantial drain on stamina. But beware, if the stamina meter falls too far, a host of negative effects will befall poor Snake. For example, his hands will begin to shake, causing him to discharge his weapons with diminished accuracy; he will also be unable to grasp ledges, or remain underwater for prolonged periods of time. But, most importantly, his health will not regenerate and eating a ration will no longer revitalize his falling health meter. Health will recover gradually – but only when Snake has enough stamina to promote it. Food must be found and consumed in order to renew a falling stamina meter; and almost any wildlife that crosses Snake’s path is on the menu. Frogs, birds, fish, mushrooms, and wild snakes – hence the game’s title – can be duly shot, killed, and eaten. Instead of using a knife or pistol to kill appetizing wildlife, a handy (and quiet) tranquilizer gun can be used that robs animals of consciousness and preserves them for later use. Snake can also use food as decoy weaponry by throwing live animals at nearby enemies to cause a diversion. Hunting for food is a fun and unique part of Snake Eater because the surrounding jungle is always teeming with life. Maintaining a healthy stamina meter will even charge the batteries in your items; if no food can be found, then the game encourages power saving by turning gadgets off.
Food and decoy hunting are not the only new gameplay elements in Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater. When Snake becomes injured, he must heal himself. For example, if Snake incurs a gunshot wound, many steps must be taken in order for him to successfully treat the injury. First, he must use his knife to remove the bullet (ouch); then styptic and disinfectant must be applied to clean the wound and help stop any bleeding; then, finally, a clean covering bandage must be applied. Also, Snake can receive injuries in many different ways. Leeches must be removed by burning them off with his cigar; poisoning must be cured with a serum; and broken bones must be set firmly to ensure clean repair. Though this is a great idea to incorporate into the game, it could have been a little more developed. The entire curing (and eating) process is a menu-based system, and it can swiftly begin to feel somewhat like a gameplay chore after only a few encounters. Curing a wound is as simple (and unfulfilling) as pressing Start, selecting ?Cure’ from the Survival Viewer, and choosing the appropriate healing methods. While eating food through a menu system is tolerable, curing physical damage this way seems a little unnecessary. If the player actually had to help guide Snake’s knife in order to remove a bullet (perhaps by using the analog sticks), then healing would have been its own gameplay feature. An opportunity missed?
Since Snake is all alone – and greatly outnumbered – it is always a good idea to avoid confrontation with the enemy whenever possible. To help him remain hidden, different camouflage outfits and face paints can be equipped at any time. A percentage meter (the Camo Index) is located at the top right corner of the screen and will constantly indicate how well Snake is blending into his environment. The higher the Camo Index number, the less likely it is that enemies will spot him – ala Splinter Cell. Kneeling and lying flat to the ground also increase the Camo Index number and provide extra stealth. If the Index rises high enough, Snake will remain completely unseen, even if the enemy is only a matter of feet away from his position. The inclusion of the Camo Index is a particularly welcome addition to Snake Eater as blending with the environment is an extremely important part of Snake’s survival. And, luckily, the menu system makes switching outfits simple and easy as the value of the Camo Index changes in real time. The programming behind this technique must involve some hefty code usage, but the hard work was well worth it. Many hidden outfits can be found throughout the game, as well as downloaded from the Internet. New outfits can be downloaded from a Konami server if the user has a broadband connection and a network adaptor. Each outfit is saved to a PS2 memory card and can be used at any time during game play.
Hand-to-hand fighting has also been giving a major facelift in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater: CQC (or close quarters combat) must now be used throughout the game. Snake can perform many new actions when encountering an enemy solider, and stalking is the first part of successfully using CQC. The D-pad is now used to slowly stalk enemies – slowly and quietly. If Snake can sneak behind an enemy undetected, many subsequent options are suddenly opened to the player. First, the player can throw the enemy down to the ground, rendering him unconscious; or Snake can grip and interrogate an enemy by holding down the L3 button. This is a great way to gather extra information like secret codec frequencies or where an armory is located. If a player should feel a tad evil (and we all do from time to time), then Snake can slit an enemy’s throat if the circle button is pressed firmly. Enemies can also be used as human shields, too. Other enemies will be hesitant to attack Snake while he’s holding one of their own in the firing line. Also, when using a human shield, Snake can even shoot one-handed weapons with a first-person, over the shoulder view of the captured enemy. The CQC fighting system is well developed and provides players with an entirely new way to enjoy Metal Gear Solid.
Weapons have been upgraded as well. The R1 button is used to enter first-person view mode. If the weapon button is held down slightly, any weapon with a laser sight will pop up. However, if the L1 button is pressed at this time, the view zooms in, creating an even closer shot opportunity. This game makes great use of all the pressure sensitive buttons on the PS2 controller. Realistically, the suppressing effectiveness on handguns and the tranquilizer gun will even deteriorate over time; throwing grenades, food, and empty clips is now easier and more accurate than it ever was before, too.
And, what would a Metal Gear game be without boss battles? If you thought that Twin Snakes (the Psycho Mantis and Cyborg Ninja fights) or Sons of Liberty (fighting an entire army of Rays and a Vampire) had some spectacular boss fights, it’ll please you to know that Snake Eater trumps them all. Just like Metal Gear Solids of the past, each boss battle is extremely creative and totally engaging. Instead of fighting boss characters with animal names (Vulcan Raven, Pyro Bison, Coward Duck, etc) Snake fights characters named after emotions. Bosses with names such as, The Pain, The Fear, The Sorrow, and The Fury all provide memorable battle encounters. The Sorrow’s boss battle will make players realize the sins they have committed on the battlefield; figuring out how to successfully get through this boss battle requires some clever and original thinking. The fight will make you realize who the bad guy really is. You will only ever find enemies such as these in a Metal Gear Solid game.
The codec conversations are, once again, put in place as a guiding hand for the player. Whenever you get stuck or confused, simply call the Major. When looking for advice about food to eat, call the Paramedic. Each character on the radio in Snake Eater acts just like any other codec character seen in Metal Gear Solid 1 or 2. Each conversation is helpful and always well acted. Depending on the situation, each character will say something different every time a call is made. Like all the other Metal Gear Solids, hundreds, if not thousands of lines of dialog, are in this game.
Hideo Kojima is well known for placing Easter Eggs in his games, and Snake Eater has tons of them. Watch what happens when you throw a grenade in the mouth of an alligator, or when you sever all the ropes on the rope bridge. You can even make Snake vomit if he is spun around too much on the menu screen. Cameos from characters that were in other games are also hidden in the background. Holding and interrogating enemies can unlock hidden codec music radio stations, too. Not having any VR Missions may be a little disappointing, but a new mode of play has been introduced in Snake Eater: Snake vs. Monkey sends Snake on a hunt to capture monkeys from the hit Playstation game, Ape Escape. Before the hunt can begin, a short and funny codec conversation between the Colonel and Snake will add more humor to the (already bizarre) situation. Snake even references Gabe (the main character in Syphon Filter) and Sam Fisher (from Ubi Soft’s Splinter Cell). Only Hideo Kojima could put something like this into a game.
The graphics in Snake Eater are some of the best on Sony’s PS2. There is no doubt that each environment pushes the system’s hardware to its limit. Each section of the game actually feels like a wild enveloping jungle. Trees are dense and numerous with random, crazy branches jutting out all over. Texture maps are high resolution and so lavishly detailed that, at times, you will feel as though you’re walking over thick mossy terrain. Rays of light seep between the overhanging leaves and branches of the tallest trees. Plus, each character model is composed of a high polygon count while moving with full-motion capture. Getting the PS2 to render all these things, along with extensive wildlife and enemy AI running in real time is a processing wonder in itself. Furthermore, the cinematic quality of the FMVs and in-game camera angles are some of the best gaming has to offer, especially during the game’s closing sections. The environments even change in a mock real-time chronology as light shifts from day to night, and weather swings from clear to rainy.
Metal Gear would not be the same without the music from Harry Gregson-Williams. The mood of the game always fits the theme of the music; fast paced music accompanies intense firefights, while a slower beat will follow the player’s footsteps when sneaking around. The sound effects go hand-in-hand with the musical score, too. Gunshots, and other ambient sounds are all realistically executed, and the voice acting is composed to the highest standard. The game also runs in Dolby Prologic II Surround Sound.
Snake Eater’s story ties up loose ends from the first and second game. But did Solid Snake somehow travel back in time to the 1960s? How did Revolver Ocelot become so involved in the dealings with Metal Gears? And where did the Patriots come from? Snake Eater ties up the series by answering many questions and loopholes found throughout the ongoing story. Not only does Metal Gear Solid 3 push the stealth genre to its very limits by inducing knockout gameplay and unrivalled cinematography, but the continuing story rivals any novel or Hollywood movie. Hideo Kojima has essentially rewritten history books with a (fictional) conspiracy theory that extends from the Bay of Pigs, through the Cuban Missile Crisis, and well into the 21st century. Each character also has a unique personality but fits perfectly into each story. The amount of detail within the story, as well as the gameplay, is beyond jaw dropping.
The game is a non-stop roller coaster ride and even rivals the intensity and action of almost any major blockbuster action film. The finale is unforgettable and will likely have players doing things they’ve never done before in gaming. Throughout the game, Snake will endure beatings, torture sessions, broken bones, poisonings, burns, lacerations, hunger, and mental conflicts of the highest order. But Snake continues his mission, regardless, even while tolerating these horrific actions, which is why he’s one of the most badass characters in gaming history. From the hard, rough edged voice, to the unmatched combat smarts and athletic physical attributes, playing as Snake is a constant pleasure and privilege – indeed, he only multiplies the game’s attraction.
From beginning to end, Snake Eater is hugely enjoyable – putting the PS2 controller down and walking away from the console has never been so difficult. The only notable problem with the game lies in the Cure system; but, while it can become laborious over time, it cannot be overlooked as an admirably original way to play through the game. Collectively, the unforgettable story, creative gameplay, superior PS2 graphics, and wondrous music and sound composition will make Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater a huge favorite. Snake Eater fits seamlessly alongside Metal Gear Solid titles of the past, and anyone with direct knowledge of the series will quickly come to realize what a masterpiece this game is. You don’t really play Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, you experience it.