Featured Game: Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Posted by Sam Hale
After Metal Gear Solid 2, the fanbase was split into two; supporters and opposers. This marked the beginning of a game called Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. While it may have been successful, not everyone was happy with Metal Gear Solid 2. Fans were expecting a more traditional story and the philosophical meta-narrative wasn’t for everyone. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is the ultimate result of this reaction and is not only the greatest game in the Metal Gear Solid series, it’s one of the best games of the previous decade.
When Hideo Kojima created Metal Gear Solid, he pictured a trilogy of games that would tell a bigger story. After the release of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty in 2001 only one piece of the puzzle remained; a third Metal Gear Solid game was unavoidable. Instead of continuing Snake and Raiden’s story, Kojima decided to turn back the clock and tell the origins of Snake’s father, Big Boss.
Kojima was looking for a drastic change in setting for Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, according to an interview with Game Pro. The jungle setting was a natural choice and a perfect contrast to the strictly urban areas of the first two games. In the same interview Kojima mentioned that fan reaction to Metal Gear Solid 2 influenced the development resulting in a simpler story and the lack of a second protagonist. Before beginning work on Metal Gear Solid 3, Kojima and his development team watched Predator, which gave the team several ideas for some of the action scenes in the game.
The jungle environments created a new set of challenges; a new game engine had to be created from the ground up to handle the uneven terrain and realistic foliage. The change in setting also addressed a growing concern of Kojima’s. In an interview with IGN, Kojima admitted that he felt that players relied too much on the radar in previous games instead of using their senses. The omission of the radar also meshed with the focus on survival, which forced the player the manage their stamina and hunt for food.
Kojima also wanted a new direction for the bosses of Metal Gear Solid 3. He focused on creating characters that would provide an interesting gameplay challenge and then presented these ideas to Character Artist Yoji Shinkawa. Many of the boss battles, such as the sniper duel with The End were examples of things that Kojima wanted to see in other video games. As a result of Kojima’s creativity, Metal Gear Solid 3 has one of the greatest boss battles in video game history.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater made its media debut at E3 2003 and was released in North America on Nov. 17, 2004. Just over a year later it was repackaged as Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence with an online multiplayer mode, 3D camera control and bonus features. It was later given an high-definition remake along with Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker as part of the Metal Gear Solid: HD Collection in 2011.
It’s difficult to fathom the number of things that Metal Gear Solid 3 does well because nearly aspect of this game is near perfect. The story is easy to follow yet complex, the gameplay is exciting and tense, the writing is funny and dramatic when needed and the voice acting and soundtrack are superb. The game has this hypnotic ability to make the player forget that they’re playing a video game. Immediately after the credits rolled, I wanted to start a new game and experience it one more time.
The retro aesthetic of 1964 is a welcome change from the strictly modern setting that many stealth games seem to be trapped in and there’s something oddly charming about the antiquated gadgets that are abundant in this game. The setting and story are evocative of an old espionage thriller. There are many subtle nods and some not-so-subtle nods to spy movies such as an unlockable tuxedo and a musical title sequence taken straight out of a Bond film.
The player controls Naked Snake, a CIA operative who’s part of the newly formed special forces unit called FOX. Naked Snake is actually the father to Solid Snake from previous Metal Gear games and has yet to earn his more famous codename, “Big Boss.” Snake is sent into the USSR during the Cold War to rescue a Soviet scientist named Nikolai Sokolov, who is being held against his will at a weapons research facility. Sokolov specializes in weapons design and has been working on a new type of nuclear weapon.
After retrieving Sokolov, Snake escapes the area, only to run into his mentor, a woman known as The Boss. The Boss breaks his arm, defects to the Soviet Union and escapes with the Sokolov. She is joined by the Cobras, her old unit and Colonel Volgin, a sadistic madman who can shoot lighting out of his hands. While leaving the area, Volgin fires a portable nuke at the research facility.
The United States is implicated in the incident, which puts the world on the brink of nuclear armageddon. In order to prove the United States’ innocence and avoid World War 3, Snake is sent back into the Soviet Union one week later to rescue Sokolov, take down Volgin and the Cobra Unit and kill The Boss.
Snake is joined by a support team via a radio which is led by Major Zero, a no-nonsense British man and commander of the FOX unit. Zero is accompanied by Para-Medic, a young physician and movie enthusiast, and Sigint, a weapons and technology specialist. Additional side characters include EVA, a KGB double agent with orders to assist Snake and a younger Ocelot from previous games, serving under Colonel Volgin.
The side characters are all well-fleshed out through optional dialogue and each has their own backstory. The optional dialogue is notable for including some of the funniest conversations I’ve heard in a video game. Just like the previous Metal Gear Solid games, the attention to detail here is simply outstanding.
The voice acting and music are excellent, as is to be expected from a Metal Gear Solid game along with great performances from all the characters. David Hayter is once again perfect in the lead role, giving Snake the right mix of a confident soldier and an emotionally distant man. There are no weak characters here, everyone pulls their weight. One character in particular however, shines above the rest.
As far as side characters go, Ocelot steals the show. He seemingly walks into every scene straight out of a western and is even accompanied by his own musical cue. He’s a determined yet charismatic gunslinger who takes every opportunity to show off. Every time Ocelot’s in a scene it boils down to him showing everyone how cool he is. His character is deeper than this though, he believes in honour, a fair fight and in loyalty. His developing rivalry with Snake is entertaining enough to carry the entire narrative, not that it needs to.
The narrative itself is pretty straightforward. There’s emphasis on character development and plot and less focus on the theme. Make no mistake, there is a theme to the story but it’s not thrown in the player’s face as often as in Metal Gear Solid 2. This game delves into the theories of nuclear deterrence, the misuse of science and the politics of war which have all been touched on in previous Metal Gear Solid games. A lot of how Snake feels about having to kill his mentor are implied through these themes, which is a subtle way of showing and not telling. That being said, Metal Gear Solid 3 isn’t as thought provoking as it’s predecessor, instead opting for a story more suitable for a thinking-man’s action movie.
The plot serves it’s purpose in keeping the player motivated to continue. There’s a sense of escalating tension as the story reaches the conclusion. The narrative is well-balanced, effortlessly shifting between humour, action and drama. There are even a few touches of romance thrown in, mostly implied via Snake’s reluctance to kill his mentor, thus destroying his only maternal figure in his life.
Speaking of which, The Boss is probably the strongest female character in video game history. This particular depiction of a woman in media is more respectful than most movies and TV shows. Not only does The Boss completely kick Snake’s ass every time they run into each other, but she’s one of the few examples a strong female character with no sexuality to speak of. She’s a bit of narrative device to deliver the themes to the player but not to the extent that it feels as heavy-handed as Metal Gear Solid. The Boss knows that her days are numbered so it’s only natural for her to be feeling philosophical. Out of all the Metal Gear Solid games, this game has the best characters and the best story.
Story wouldn’t matter without good gameplay and in that regard, Metal Gear Solid 3 is one the finest stealth video games ever made. In comparison to the quick, urban stealth of its predecessor, it’s more methodical and deliberate with its pacing. Snake doesn’t have a radar; the player must use their eyes and ears to find the enemy. The narrow hallways of previous games have been replaced by wide open jungles and swamps.
The most prominent added feature is Snake’s ability to camouflage himself. Snake’s uniform and face paint can be switched in the menu in order to blend in with different surfaces. This has tendency to slow down the gameplay although given the already methodical pace, you won’t really take notice. A camo index at the top of the screen indicates how well Snake is hidden. The player will spend a lot of time crawling on the ground. This slower pace lends itself to strategic thinking. If the player wishes to make it through an area undetected, they will need to create a plan before moving in. The stealth has more build up as a result and this adds to the tension of the gameplay.
The forest environments are full of atmosphere. Every area is populated with various animals with their own sets of behavior. Birds fly away when the player approaches, tall grass rustles when the player walks through and lighting effects are so convincing that at times, the player will feel like they are in a jungle. The ambient noise of birds chirping, snakes slithering and frogs croaking adds to this atmosphere.
There’s a greater focus on survival in Metal Gear Solid 3 than in previous games. Snake has a stamina meter that slowly drains over time. Stamina affects Snake’s ability to hold a gun steady and the speed that his health regenerates. Certain actions like crawling or stalking drain Snake’s stamina. The player has to hunt for food in order to replenish Snake’s stamina. They must also manage Snake’s injuries which include bullet wounds, broken bones and burns. Refusing to do this is a bad idea as Snake’s maximum health decreases with every untreated injury.
Neutralizing enemy guards is more satisfying mostly because of the addition of CQC. Snake can quickly throw a guard to the ground to knock him out or can grab hold of the guard. CQC can be difficult to learn at first, but once mastered it provides a fully satisfying experience. It also means that fighting enemy guards up close, a tactic that was suicidal in previous Metal Gear Solid games is now viable. It’s difficult to get surrounded in the open areas of the jungle and the CQC results in the combat being more balanced. To make up for this, enemies are more sensitive to sounds. Taking out an enemy up close requires the player to slowly sneak up behind them.
Outside of the stealth gameplay, there are couple boss fights spread across the story. Every boss fight in Metal Gear Solid 3 is a blast to play, the best one being a sniper duel with a hundred-year-old soldier. I feel like I’m repeating myself in saying this but the bosses are expertly designed around different features of the game. For example: the aforementioned sniper duel focuses on camouflage and maintaining stamina.
Metal Gear Solid 3 will last you between 12 and 15 hours the first-time through. However, a new game plus is available and there are plenty of collectibles to find and special items to unlock. Even without all of these bonuses, the story is worth playing through a second time, especially to see all the hints and optional dialogue you might have missed.
There’s just something so exciting and tense about Metal Gear Solid 3. There are very few aspects of this game that feel out of place. Outside of awful lip-synching there’s little to complain about. The story is well-executed and the game is an absolute joy to play. It’s almost hard to believe that ten years later this game is still a unique experience and I highly recommend to anyone with even the smallest desire to play a stealth game. If you haven’t played Metal Gear Solid 3, you’re missing out.