Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a genuine triumph of a video game, combining the expected tactical espionage action from the previous games in the series with a Cold War era spy action thriller to create an enduring video game experience. In many way,s I think the writing, pacing and gameplay mechanics in Snake Eater are some of the best in the whole series, with it ebbing and flowing in a manner that keeps you constantly engaged for what is about to come next, as well as allowing you moments to catch your breath after big action scenes or boss battles.
Once again you play as “Snake”, but this isn’t the same Solid Snake you will have played as in the first two MGS games, a fact that becomes clear when you realise that the game is set in the 1960s, way before Solid was even a glint in his poppa’s eye. I won’t go into too much detail about the characters or story in this because I would hate to spoil it for anyone who has never played the game before, and it really is a story that is best enjoyed when you don’t know what is coming next. The basic gist is that Snake is a CIA operative who has been sent into Soviet territory to retrieve a noted Soviet scientist who has been working on a precursor to the eventual Metal Gear weapons you have battled in previous games. However, things quickly go awry when Snake gets betrayed, thus setting the events of the Snake Eater mission into motion.
What differentiates Snake Eater from Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty is that rather than spending the majority of your time infiltrating claustrophobic bases (though those are still here), you will spend large chunks of gameplay out in the wild trying to avoid detection in vast jungles and perilous mountainsides. There are often multiple ways for you to get through each section of the jungle, including alternate routes and hidden optional areas for you to explore and pick up additional weapons and items. I can honestly say that no one playthrough of Snake Eater has ever been exactly the same as I have found different ways to advance on multiple occasions.
One big change from the previous two MGS games is that Snake Eater does away with your Soliton Radar, which means it becomes much harder to know where enemy guards are positioned. This produces a big change in the gameplay as you will be required to take a more patient approach to scoping out areas since you won’t have a handy radar in the corner of the screen to give you a heads up on where all the guards are. As with previous games in the series, Snake Eater is predominantly based around avoiding detection and ideally sneaking through each section of the game without being seen at all.
To assist you in your quest to avoid being seen, Snake Eater has a camouflage system where you can help Snake by choosing the right clothing and face paint so that he can blend into his surroundings. There is a handy meter in the corner of the screen that gives you a percentage on how camouflaged you are. If it’s as high as 95%, then you can often be in full sight of the enemy and they won’t even notice you are there. Your camouflage percentage often tends to drop if you run around or make quick movements, so it again encourages you to gradually work your way through the section you are in as it will reduce the chances of the enemy spotting you. There are few things more satisfying than applying the right camo and crawling right by the guards without them having a Scooby Doo that you are nearby.
This can be especially pleasing if, like I was on my recent playthrough, you are trying to get through the game without killing a single guard. You are given some non-lethal weaponry, such as guns that fire tranquilizer darts and cigarettes that release knockout gas, something straight out of a James Bond movie. With liberal use of these, including the new Close Quarters Combat (CQC) system, you can realistically get through the game without killing anyone, including the game’s bosses. I eventually had to use lethal weaponry to kill off two of the bosses this time through, but aside from that, I didn’t kill anyone, and I felt a strange sense of pride at the game’s close when I saw the stats to prove it (although I did still get spotted quite a bit due to some sloppy sneaking).
The bosses themselves are an impressive collection of weirdos who mostly have names related to emotions. For instance, the first proper boss you face is “The Pain”, a man who tries to inflict agony upon you by unleashing nest after nest of vicious hornets, whilst former astronaut “The Fury” tries to burn you with his ruddy big flamethrower. Being someone who is both allergic to wasps/bees/hornets as well as an admitted sufferer of pyro-phobia, these two bosses alone drive an absolute bus through my insecurities, and The Fury’s boss battle in particular is one I always dread because he creeps the crap out of me.
By far the most unique boss battle in the game though is the one you partake in with the over 100-year-old sniper known as “The End”. This battle sees you working your way through multiple sections of the map trying to locate The End before either sniping him from afar or sneaking up on him so you can kill him at close range. I was stupid enough to fail to collect the sniper rifle during my most recent playthrough because I forgot where it was, thus meaning the battle was an hour-long struggle that saw me get sniped to pieces before finally managing to get close enough to polish him off with an AK-47, of all things. It was an interesting experience, let’s put it that way, but it does highlight how there isn’t always a set way for you to tackle the challenges the game throws at you.
Along with having to camouflage yourself, you also have to maintain your stamina by hunting for food and curing yourself of any ailments that you pick up during your mission. You can either tranquilize animals to capture them and eat later, or you can kill them, but by doing the latter, you run the risk of the meat going off and then giving you a bad case of food poisoning, which will have a negative effect on your stamina bar. You can check whether food has started going off by having a look at it in your backpack. If the food has the symbol of a fly on it, then you know it has gone bad, which means you will either have to dispose of it or save it for later to feed it to an enemy and cause them to suffer. Vegetarians will be happy to know that you can also forage for fruit and mushrooms if you don’t fancy killing cute forest critters, like rabbits.
Sometimes you will get poisoned from snake and spider bites, or you’ll get injured as a result of getting attacked by enemies or falling from dangerous heights. When that happens, you will need to go into the “Cure” menu and administer some emergency TLC to yourself. For example, if you have a bullet lodged in you, then your life bar will only be able to recover up to a certain point, so to fix that, you will need to remove the bullet with your knife and then treat the wound with relevant curatives, like disinfectant, before wrapping it up in a bandage. Maintaining your stamina level can sometimes be a bit tiresome, but it’s also a neat additional tweak to the gameplay from previous games in the series that suits the overall jungle setting of the game.
Snake Eater looks great, for the most part, with the jungle really feeling alive, and Hideo Kojima directs the heck out of the cutscenes. The only critique I’d have is that sometimes the dialogue doesn’t match the mouth movements of the characters on-screen during cutscenes. Also, the fact that the game has fixed camera angles sometimes makes sneaking around the larger jungle and mountain areas far more difficult as it can be hard to get a grasp of where everything is. This wasn’t such an issue in MGS 1 and 2 as the game generally had a more claustrophobic feel, and you also had the radar to help you. Thankfully, this was addressed in Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence (an expanded version of the original game that came out a year later), which allowed you full control of the camera. If you happen to be playing the original version of Snake Eater though, like I was for this article, then you might find the lack of control of the camera can make sneaking around and combat a tad more difficult.
Sound-wise the game excels also, with a great cast of voice actors (including the return of David Hayter to reprise the voice of Snake) all doing an exceedingly good job bringing the characters to life, and the musical score from the returning Harry Gregson-Williams is stirring stuff. There’s even a James Bond-like opening video at one stage that’s a fabulous pastiche on the genre in general and shows that a lot of thought and love went into the game’s general appearance and atmosphere. Snake Eater really is a treat for the eyes and ears and continues the tradition of Hideo Kojima directing truly powerful cinematic games that take the medium far beyond what people just expect it to be.
I could really keep going on about how great a game Snake Eater is. Pound for pound it is probably the best Metal Gear Solid game you can play when you take all the elements into consideration. It was a fitting way for the MGS series to wave goodbye to the sixth gen of gaming, and it would have made a fitting end to the series as a whole, which is what I think Kojima wanted it to be before getting dragged back into action for Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots on the PS3. If you’ve never played it before, then I implore you to do so. This one is an easy recommendation!