What a thrill…
This Christmas, I decided that I would invest in the Metal Gear series. I hadn’t played any of them except for a little bit of The Twin Snakes, but something made me want to start playing through the series. It was something I always wanted to do, but I was held back by the fact that I still to this day have never owned any generation of the PlayStation. Thanks to the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection on Xbox 360, however, I was able to finally start experiencing one of the most critically acclaimed video game series of all time. I was originally just going to get Phantom Pain because I was interested in the game play and I knew that the story didn’t require a ton of knowledge of previous games to understand, but I ended up getting the HD Collection alongside it. So, that’s six Metal Gear games that I spent about $40 on. I decided to start with Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater because I wanted to play through the game chronologically, and because I don’t have Twin Snakes at my house right now to let me play in order of release. I can say for sure now that I’m extremely glad that I was finally able to play through it, because it’s been some of the most fun I’ve had playing video games in quite a long time.
Being someone who considers himself a writer and storyteller first and foremost, I was anxious to see just how I would feel about Snake Eater‘s story and Hideo Kojima’s storytelling. I knew that it was unique and filled with a fantastic amount of detail and writing that many serious writers would consider to be pretty bad. Knowing this ahead of time, I had to tell myself to be in for a potentially long-winded, dialogue-heavy experience. Surprisingly, I ended up enjoying it quite a bit! The game takes place in 1963, right in the height of the Cold War. You play as Naked Snake, a soldier and CIA operative under the FOX unit. He’s tasked with assassinating his former mentor, known only as The Boss, who defected to the Soviet Union and launched a nuclear warhead in Soviet territory. The leader of the Soviets allows the U.S. one week to prove they weren’t responsible, so it’s a race against the clock for Snake to clear his country’s name and to eliminate The Boss.
The story is rather simple, especially compared to the level of complexity that other games in the series are famous for. People have compared this game to a James Bond film, and I can definitely see why. It’s a story about a spy infiltrating a foreign country and dealing with femme fatales and over-the-top evil villains in order to stop a national threat, so the comparisons seem obvious. Also like James Bond films, the story is entertaining, not because it’s a sensational story with amazing writing, but because it’s more of a popcorn spectacle than anything. The story is easy to understand (in the Metal Gear series, that’s kind of a big deal), but the writing ranges from fairly standard to just plain bad. I’m not sure whether to blame the English translation or Kojima’s style of writing, but I will say that it never got in the way of me enjoying watching the cut scenes. I guess that, objectively, you could say the story isn’t very good, considering many of the characters are one-note and the writing isn’t the greatest, but as fun entertainment, it’s very satisfying.
What really stood out to me, though, is Snake Eater’s game play. Even after twelve years, the game play has remained relatively solid (sorry, not sorry). Mechanically, it’s extremely sound, and the game makes the most of its game mechanics to deliver an amazing experience. I haven’t had much experience with stealth in games before, so it was really refreshing to handle the dangerous situations the game throws you into. The controls, though, are something I had to adapt to. They’re fairly different compared to the modern shooters and action games of today, which makes sense because of the emphasis on stealth over direct confrontation. This mostly applies to shooting (which, of course, you’re not encouraged to do), as you use the X button to shoot instead of the right trigger. It was something I got used to after a while, and while shooting your way through the game is definitely possible, it feels much less rewarding because shooting enemies can be a bit cumbersome due to the unique control scheme.
The stealth game play, I believe, is fantastic. I mostly handled my encounters by trying to sneak past guards and avoid fights, or by taking everybody out with CQC so I could maneuver through the jungles of the Soviet Union more comfortably. CQC, by the way, stands for close-quarter combat, which is one of your best friends in the game. You execute it by sneaking up behind an enemy and pressing the dedicated CQC button. It’s an awesome mechanic; you can interrogate information out of enemies, use a guard as a meat shield if you find yourself getting shot at, or just outright kill or knock them out. If you want, you can also hold them up at gunpoint (though I rarely did this; CQC was usually good enough for me). In addition, you also have to factor in your camouflage, as enemies will easily spot you if you don’t blend in well with your environments. You can choose which suit to wear and which face paint to use in order to best hide from opponents. It’s a system that allows you to take more risks without making you totally invisible, and I really like it.
Snake is extremely capable of dealing with whatever comes at him, which is a good thing, because the opposition he faces can be pretty difficult to deal with. I played on the easy setting because I wasn’t sure how quickly I’d be able to get used to the stealth game play, and even then, I found myself at the mercy of KGB soldiers quite often throughout. Most of that was me still learning how to play the game, of course, but the encounters were fairly challenging to deal with. I won’t say that the game is very hard overall (Again, I was playing on easy, so how would I know how difficult it can get?), but it managed to challenge me quite a bit throughout. However, the 3D camera introduced in the Subsistence re-release of the game and brought back for the HD Collection balances this challenge out pretty nicely. The original game had a fixed camera, but the new fully controllable camera allows you to really get a good view on what’s ahead and compliments the stealth mechanics well, especially since this game doesn’t have a full radar system.
The only part about the game play that I’m not completely sold on is the Survival Viewer. Your health regenerates over time, but Snake will sometimes suffer injuries that drain his health until they’re treated. You have to pause the game and open up a menu that will allow you to use your medical supplies to fix your injuries. On one hand, it’s pretty immersive, as you have to work in order to heal yourself, which feels pretty realistic. On the other hand, it takes you out of the immersion because you sometimes have to constantly pause again and again to treat new injuries that pop up right after you’ve just healed something. This is especially aggravating during boss battles, and while we’re on the subject of that, the boss battles overall are pretty great. The early game bosses aren’t really interesting; most of them end up being “wait and shoot, then repeat,” but the bosses slowly get better, concluding with a rather intense match against The Boss that really tests your ability to sneak around and use CQC.
Aside from the game play, the presentation itself is also phenomenal. The graphics in the HD Collection aren’t too different than the original PS2 aside from cleaner textures, but they still look really good. The environments, in particular, really benefit from the HD update; they look absolutely beautiful. We’ve come a long way since the pixelated and semi-human models of Metal Gear Solid, and hell, even the 8-bit sprites of the original Metal Gear games. The game also has a very dirty and depressing color palette that really works with the graphics to deliver something incredible to look at. The visuals have this kind of murky quality that really makes you feel like you’re in a deep jungle. Most of the colors you’ll see are dull greens and browns, not just in the game’s environments, but also the menus. The sky, for example, is often cloudy and a dull shade of blue or yellow. The only times that things get any brighter is when you’re in buildings, but even then, the setting manages to maintain a dank and dark atmosphere that’s incredibly immersive.
Another thing that adds to the immersion is the fact that, for most of the journey, there’s no background music. Most of the time, you only have the ambient sounds of the jungle to keep you company while you sneak around. I’m glad that they decided to keep music dedicated to when the action gets more intense, such as during boss battles or when you’re seen by an enemy. It leaves me significantly less distracted while I sneak around, CQC-ing everybody in my path. When music does play, though, it’s pretty cool stuff. I especially like the alert and caution themes; they really highlight the danger that you’re in while the enemy is searching for you. Of course, there’s also the main theme of the game, Snake Eater, which is just plain awesome. The sound design, too, works really well. The ambient sounds that play are always changing based on where you currently are, which keeps the game feeling fresh throughout.
All in all, I’m really glad to have finally experienced this game after years and years of being tormented by my inability to play it. Even though the game is over a decade old, it’s one of the most unique games I’ve ever experienced. As I’ve stated, I’ve never had that much experience with stealth-based video games, so playing Snake Eater really opened my eyes to how entertaining being stealthy can be. With an entertaining, if sometimes cheesy, story line and game play that’s unparalleled to anything I’ve ever experienced before, I can easily classify Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater as one of the best games I’ve played in the past few years. It’s a classic, plain and simple, and it’s made me incredibly excited to play through the rest of the games and find out what else I’ve been missing all his time.