In Love of Metal Gear Solid, Part 3. MGS3 Snake Eater

No, this is not a porno. It is however probably my favourite out of all the Metal Gear Solid games. Plot wise, it’s a prequel set during the Cold War, which establishes the roots of a lot of the characters and plot elements of the later games. MGS and MGS2 often referenced events in the past which were quite important, but never really expanded on. MGS3 ties up some loose ends, as well as establishing many other elements for use in MGS4.

Gameplay wise, Snake Eater is friggin’ brilliant. It is however, a huge departure from the other games. Thanks to a far lower tech level, staying hidden is much harder as you don’t have radars and the like to help you. You do have gadgets such as the motion detector (which picks up animals and does not pick up stationary guards) and the sonar (which alerts nearby enemies and still picks up local wildlife), but thanks to their drawbacks, they will still only get you so far.

Snake Eater is brutal. You need to check where you are going carefully, and move forward slowly to avoid surprises. Keep a detection tool handy as well- just in case. There is very little hand holding here, you’re dropped into the jungle with only a few basic gadgets to get you started, and from there, you’re expected to avert World War Three.

Unlike in MGS2 however, you are given a potent new tool to use in your fight against the Russians (who strangely enough have better eyesight and co-ordination than the genome army)- camouflage. Snake Eater allows you to change your clothes and face paint to better blend with your surroundings. A very helpful meter in the top of the screen keeps track of how well camouflaged you are in your current terrain, and with the correct camo, your enemy will need to walk over you before they actually see you.

It’s not a perfect system though. Changing your camo requires you to pause the game, go into the menu, select camo, select your clothes, select your face paint and then shift back through the menus to get to the game again. On some terrain you’ll want to do this every ten seconds or so if you are paranoid. When you factor in loading times, this can get downright annoying. Still, technical problems aside, as a gameplay mechanic it’s excellent.

Beyond that, the gameplay is largely unchanged bar the lack of advanced tech necessitating extremely cautious play. Oh, there is one other exception- stamina.

Betamax hates this. I love it. Essentially, it adds a survival element to the game. Over time (influenced by your activities and injuries), Snake looses stamina. As your stamina drops, your health regeneration slows down, your hands tremble so you can’t shoot straight, and you can’t hold your breath as long underwater. You can replenish your stamina by hunting wild animals and raiding the food stores on enemy bases.

In many ways it’s the precursor to hardcore mode on Fallout New Vegas. Your stamina degrades slowly enough that you don’t need to constantly hunt for food, but fast enough that you’re still aware of the fact you need eat. Oh, and taking damage can sometimes result in an injury which decreases your maximum health (as with Dragon Age 2. Sort of), and requires special equipment to heal.

All this helps to really emphasise the stealth element of the gameplay, and even sections where you are expected to fight the enemy (including a great piece against an elite Spetsnaz unit), simply running and gunning is liable to get you killed on all but the easiest difficulty settings.

Story wise, I think Snake Eater is probably the best of the series. For one thing, it’s much easier to follow, bar a sudden jolt in a totally new direction halfway through. It’s concise, it’s to the point, and Kojima doesn’t throw new things in so suddenly I get metal whiplash. The ending too, is something special which still brings me to tears. The only scene I’ve found more emotive in a videogame is the death of Aeries. Like most of the series, the message is simple and to the point- politicians are shits, nationalism is bad and of course- war is evil. Of course I don’t agree with Kojima on every point he’s making, but it is refreshing to see an actual message being put across in an artistic medium which is more often than not nothing more than popcorn.

The sound is great too- solid voice acting and a great musical score, including a James Bond style theme song, which makes no sense at all, but is still fun to listen to. It is a little strange though that all the actors are American when the game takes place in Russia, but despite an odd casting choice they still deliver their lines well.

There are some elements of Snake Eater though which are a bit annoying. Wild animals for example, can be used against your enemies if you capture them alive, which is cool. However the best ones are poisonous, and having sneaked past hordes of GRU soldiers only to be laid low by a tarantula you never even saw is pretty annoying. The boss fight against The End is also a major irritation as it takes the form of a somewhat realistic sniper battle (but for some reason he uses tranq rounds), which means it takes FOREVER (although you can save the game, set your Playstation’s clock forward a week and load- he will then die of old age).

Then there are the parts of the game which are just weird. Raiden makes a sort of cameo, and while it’s nice to see Kojima acknowledging him as the annoying watery twat that he is, ridiculing him in his own setting, it is a strange spark of humour against the mainly dark story.

Ultimately, Snake Eater is my favourite of the series. For me it has the best gameplay elements, featuring a very tough challenge, but offering you the tools to overcome them, along with a well told story and an interesting cast of characters. I found it easier to get my head around than MGS2, and once I did it was very rewarding. It’s far from perfect with a few technical problems and a generally very high difficulty (going for zero detections and zero kills in this game WILL screw with your mind), but at the end of the day it’s a great game, and one I always enjoy playing through.

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