Okay, okay, this is going to be hard to review. I mean, it’s [i]Metal Gear Solid[/i]! If you’re reading this and you have not heard of [i]Metal Gear Solid[/i], I would physically slap you if I could. But anyway, quick history lesson. 1996 saw the release of the world’s first pure stealth 3D game, though I guess the definition of pure stealth has changed over the years, [i]Metal Gear Solid[/i], itself a sequel to two 2D stealth-em-ups in [i]Metal Gear[/i] and [i]Metal Gear 2[/i]. Now, I first played [i]Metal Gear Solid[/i] in 1999, since it debuted here in Europe at the end of 1997 and well, I had a Nintendo 64 at the time. It took me a while to get used to the unusual gameplay, but once I knew what I was doing I promptly started to enjoy myself. What I found extremely interesting however was the fact that I was seeing quite an incredible story unfold through the cut scenes of the game, and the Codec screen which it used instead of the usual dialogue boxes for those long conversations. I am fairly sure this was the first time a game’s story had me riveted to the screen, even through some of the extremely long Codec sequences. The second was probably [i]Final Fantasy VII[/i]. But that’s another story.
[i]Metal Gear Solid[/i]’s story stood out more however than almost any other story based game, with a plethora of interesting characters, multiple devious twists, and some truly heart wrenching moments. The Gameplay itself just about kept up, thanks to plenty of interesting set pieces and some amazing boss battles. A few years later Konami came up with [i]Metal Gear Solid 2[/i], which I loved equally as much, perhaps even more as once I made sense of it’s rather odd ending, I realised that the story itself was an accurate reflection of many real world truths, such as the growth of the information age and the polarisation of the world. But now we fast-forward to last year, 2005, which saw the European release of the third [i]Metal Gear Solid[/i], and fifth [i]Metal Gear[/i]. And the one that this review shall focus on, but that background information I just gave will help in understanding just why I feel about the series the way I do.
One of the first things noticeable in [i]Snake Eater[/i] is the change of setting – from modern wonders of industry to the natural jungle. Also, not only has the setting changed but also the time period, which is the 60s. Certainly quite the rewind, which means the Snake you play as can’t be Solid Snake. No, he is Naked Snake, the man who will one day become Big Boss, antagonist of the original two Metal Gears. So it would seem [i]Snake Eater[/i] is going to fill in all the back-story about his character. And what a story! Sent into the Russian wilderness to rescue a scientist defector, Sokolov, Snake discovers that Sokolov’s research is one damn good reason to get him out, as his research entails the building of a Nuclear Tank, the Shagohod. But Snake fails this first mission, thanks to being double crossed by the one person he trusted the most, his mentor, The Boss. Knocked off a bridge and left for dead, Snake barely survives. Whilst he is recovering, Volgin, a renegade General in the Red Army, launches a nuclear attack on the Shagohod Facility, causing an international incident that could bring the Cold War to a fiery halt. Left with little choice, the American Government sends in Snake again, this time, his mission to kill Volgin, the Boss; her unit and to destroy the Shagohod. A tall order, but if anybody can do it, Snake can.
Okay, so that’s the basics of the plot covered. I’ll leave it up to you to discover the rest of what is bar none one of the greatest thrillers ever conceived. But now, onto the gameplay. [i]Metal Gear Solid[/i] has always been quite unique to play. Utilising an above the head camera system reminiscent of its 2D ancestors, [i]Metal Gear Solid[/i] has always been about paying attention to radar, using equipment the right way and looking for weaknesses in enemy patterns. [i]Snake Eater[/i] is for the most part, not that different. Except owing to the change of time period you can no longer rely on the technological wonder of your radar, and instead must rely on more archaic forms of navigation in order to avoid or defeat the enemy. Also, the addition of a stamina bar, which must be kept, topped up in order to heal Snake’s health and allow him to perform physically exerting acts. Hunting animals and plants, and consuming them can top up the Stamina bar. This of course adds a layer of realism to the game, creating a far more natural experience to the game, in line with the change to a much more natural setting. Another addition is in the form of physical injury, which must be physically treated using a specific menu. These injuries, which include bullet wounds, broken bones and burns, must be treated as quickly as possible as they hinder Snake’s ability to combat enemies. And many of the bosses are capable of inflicting these unpleasant injuries on Snake making his job all the harder.
However, where I personally believe the biggest changes and improvements to the old [i]Metal Gear Solid[/i] formula introduced by [i]Snake Eater[/i] is to the combat system. Not only is there a greater variety of guns, including for the first time ever in Metal Gear, a Shotgun, but also a major addition to Snake’s close range weaponry, a knife. You see, The Boss taught Snake Close Quarters Combat, a fighting technique that allows for the quick neutralisation of enemies at point black range. Mastery of the stealthy approach followed by the quick CQC takedown can make the game a breeze, but then so could master gunplay. That’s what I love in particular about [i]Snake Eater[/i] – the variety of combat approaches, which do work in the game. And the boss battles with The Boss’s Unit are incredibly memorable. My favourite was the 100-year-old Sniper, The End. My battle with him took close to 30 full minutes, in which I made the conscious choice not to try and engage the old fox, a master of camouflage, in a pitched sniper battle but rather I would discern his location and sneak up behind him, leaving him open to an attack. Speaking of Camouflage, I totally forgot. Camouflage is the crux of [i]Snake Eater[/i]’s stealth gameplay. Again, keeping in line with the game’s natural setting, the game shows a percentage onscreen which indicates how well hidden you are. It’s a simple system that works perfectly, but does result in a lot of crawling through grass.
Cutting straight to the chase, [i]Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater[/i] is an incredible game. Offering variety and depth of gameplay above and beyond any of its predecessors or competitors, and continuing the great Metal Gear tradition of having a story that is rich and exciting beyond compare, it’s the perfect action game. The graphics and sound are of course top notch, but hell, do I even need to confirm that? It’s [i]Metal Gear Solid[/i]! Now that you have sat here and read me blabbing on, I expect you to go play [i]Snake Eater[/i] if you have yet to experience it, or better yet wait for Substinence which will contain Metal Gear’s first attempt at multiplayer. If it’s anywhere near as good as the solo game, the PS2 has its online [i]Halo[/i] killer, but of course that won’t be known until it’s out. In finishing, play [i]Snake Eater[/i]. You will not regret it, and if you do, well I’d be shocked.