Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater
Let me preface this review by saying that I went into this title with very high expectations, having heard no less than glorious praise and epic odes directed at Kojima for this particular game. Yes, I had never played this game before – it is the last entry in the main Metal Gear Solid franchise I was missing. Well, last year I was in the same situation with Metal Gear Solid 4: I expected it to live up to its “10/10″ status, yet was grossly disappointed – not because of the gameplay, which is fantastic; but because of the story, which I found horrid. In actuality, the same exact thing happened two years ago, when I first played Metal Gear Solid 2: I hated the story, and I loved the gameplay.
I don’t know what I expected this time.
I suppose I had somehow convinced myself that Metal Gear Solid 3 had to be much tighter as a story on account of it being based not on futuristic developments, but on the Cold War of years past. Well I was mistaken. The story, yet again, fails to shine through, while the wonderful stealth gameplay saves the entire experience.
Let’s break it into parts.
Visuals and Audio:
I’m a little conflicted when it comes to the visuals. On one hand, there is a lot of artistic prowess here, with beautiful vistas, dense foliage, brilliant reflections, great animations (good enough even today), and some particularly incredible scenes (the final boss area being a particularly great one). In addition, the 3D effect is extremely good, and it almost seems like the concept of it was first conceived with this game in mind; overlapping foliage, the extent of tall grass, the distance between you and an enemy, and the curvature of walls, rocks, and hills, are all made much more impressive and easy to gauge due to stereoscopic 3D. The game is very often beautiful and memorable.
On the other hand, the game does suffer from frequent framerate drops which do hurt the quality of the game a bit. In my case, I’ve always been quite tolerant of the problems of old 3D games so I wasn’t very affected by the stuttering framerate, but I do know there are a lot of people out there that are very anal about this sort of issue, so I would recommend they watch videos of the game before making a purchase decision.
Oh boy, I could talk for hours about this game’s story, and it’s not because I love it, but because I hate it. Well, not entirely. I pity it, and I hate Kojima for what he did with it. The premise is simple, and typical: nukes, everywhere, and you must stop them. Fortunately, there is no nanotechnology involved in this entry of the Metal Gear Solid franchise, but of course Kojima wouldn’t let that stop him from taking the story through ridiculous twists and turns, creating a sort of Klein bottle with plot holes punched in all over its surface. It doesn’t matter, because all games have bad stories, right? Well it matters here, because deep within the hard, brittle crust of this game’s lore and narrative lie a few truly brilliant, emotional, meaningful, and beautiful moments. It’s true, Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater has some of the most beautiful and genuinely heartfelt moments in the entire industry. However, these moments are incredibly short, as they are quickly brought to a halt by inconsequential plot twists, lengthy non-explanations of the game’s world inner politics, or some such out-of-place lampshading. In the cases in which these scenes actually do run as smoothly as possible, they are either pre-faced or followed by unnecessary padding or ludicrous explanations for the motivation of the characters involved (I’m talking about 10-minute-long documentary footage or codec talks, not any kind of storytelling that actually takes advantage of the gaming or even film medium’s storytelling capabilities).
At any rate, I’m here as a reviewer and not as a critic, so I’ll save the million things I have to say about the story for another time. Quite simply, the game’s story is average. Expect nothing, that way you can just handwave all the ridiculous developments and be genuinely delighted when the great, touching moments appear.
Controls like a Metal Gear Solid game. Those of you that have played other MGS games can now just skip to the next section, as nothing here will surprise you. Otherwise, read on as I go through the good and the bad of the game.
You can change between Walking, Crouching, and Crawling at any time, given the environment allows you, and of course this affects the maximum speed at which you can move. You can perform a variety of Close Quarters Combat on your enemies, including punching them, doing a 3-hit combo, putting them into a chokehold, or just slam them on the ground. When you put them in a chokehold you can do several things: you can “ask” them to give you useful information, choke them to make them go unconscious, slice their necks so they never get back up and alert the other guards, or use them as a body shield while you shoot other guards, who are hesitant to hurt their own friends.
You also have an inventory to manage, which includes a number of foods, medicines and healing aids, usable items, weapons, and camouflage patterns. This is extremely unintuitive and fails to make use of the capabilities of the 3DSÂ in ways that other games have already implemented, Ocarina of Time 3D and Residenht Evil: Revelations included.
But that’s not that big of a deal, in fact it is a minor quibble at best. What is a huge deal is the lack of gyroscope aiming. Yes, you read that correctly; Metal Gear Solid 3D does absolutely no effort to implement gyroscope aiming at all. In case you can’t tell by my tone, this is a horrible thing. The game does allow you to use the Circle Pad Pro for your aiming needs (which I myself didn’t get to try), but frankly that would simply amount to having Dual Analog aiming, which is barely sufficient for shooting in games, let alone remotely as responsive and effective as gyroscope aiming is. I would understand if the Developers thought gyroscope aiming would get in the way of the 3D effects of the game, but the game itself doesn’t even allow you to see in 3D when you use a first-person perspective to shoot (the game has its reasons for this, the first obvious one being that you would naturally close one eye to shoot a gun anyway). It’s a baffling issue, and I cannot find a single legitimate excuse as for why gyroscope aiming would be omitted from this game other than pure laziness.
As for the shooting itself: as long as you have sufficient stamina (gained from eating and resting) you can pull off perfect headshots at any range even with your starter tranquilizer pistol, which also happens to be roughly all you’ll ever need to beat the majority of the game (not that any fun-loving gamer would restrict himself like that on his first playthrough, anyway). Having lower stamina does affect your accuracy a great deal, and it feels reasonably balanced.
Definitely a mixed bag. A mixed bag of sweets and candy, but a mixed bag nonetheless. The thing with this game is that it is strangely bipolar, taking great strides in some terms while being absolutely retrograde in others.
The great: Stealth is taken pretty far ahead with this game. Granted, ever since its original release we have now gotten more advanced stealth titles like Metal Gear Solid 4, or even Splinter Cell Conviction (though I’m not so sure about that one), but we have also gotten games that have not taken stealth very far (Deus Ex: Human Revolution, for example). In that context, this game was at the forefront in its time, and doesn’t sit far behind even today. You have guards with predetermined paths, sure, but their AI makes leaps when they catch a glimpse of you, and in general their paths are complex enough to be hard to pick up unless you pay some very special attention. Also, the addition of camouflage patterns affecting your “stealth percentage” (whatever that means) is intuitive and a very tactile mechanic, to the point that gauging the chances of you being seen by an enemy under different circumstances quickly becomes second nature.
The addition of all the “survival” mechanics (food, medicine) is also a very ambitious one, but in my opinion it is underdeveloped and doesn’t really do as much for the gameplay as it could. Still, it’s satisfying to kill a snake, eat it to recover stamina (tasty!), and then resume your stealth sniper duel, so I have to give Kojima kudos for such an ambitious move.
On the other hand, the wrong: there is very little emergent narrative, or even any narrative through gameplay. Let me explain. You know how, in games like Metroid Prime or Deus Ex, you can learn a lot about the game’s lore by simply looking at what has happened to buildings, sculptures, decorations, and even people? And you know how sometimes you can even find “memos” or “reports”, or even “newspapers” that tell you a great deal about the nature or state of the game’s world? Well, there are very few – if at all – of these devices in Metal Gear Solid 3D. There’s just practically nothing to be learned about the Kojima’s world by looking around or reading, or even through experiencing different scenarios or environments. Instead, the game is very clearly sectioned into “gameplay” and “cinematic” portions, the latter being activated whenever you reach your current objective, or rather whenever the hell Kojima feels like it.
This is a huge problem, as it carries grave consequences to the game’s actual storytelling and which is the cause of my darkest anguish. To be brief: if Kojima had opted for delivering all his insane techno-babble and geopolitical ramblings through optional in-game literature (or audio records, animated codec talks, or whatever), then the very powerful storytelling surrounding, for example, The Boss, wouldn’t be getting ruined by constant interruptions and off-the-side lectures. As a metaphor: the game’s cinematic sequences ‘read’ less like a novel and more like an ars technica ‘gadget’ review.
This is certainly one of the strong points of the game. I heard somewhere that this game was pretty short, but it actually took me roughly 18 hours to finish the game in Hard Mode, which was much longer than I expected. In addition, this is the kind of game that is a real blast to replay for speedruns or just to get the multiple ‘titles’ (I’ll get to them shortly), and of course it helps that if you skip all the cutscenes you probably cut the game time by about half.
There are also a number of unlockable weapons, silly camouflage patterns, and titles. Titles are essentially the game’s achievements, given to you for completing tasks of skill or exploration. For example, you can get a title for eating every single type of food in the game, while another title will be awarded to you for completing the game with a low number of retries, enemy kills, and alerts activated. Those that care about playing a game multiple times to the point of mastery will certainly find a lot to do here, in fact I believe this is the very reason why this game is so celebrated in gaming circles, similar to the way Super Metroid and Metroid Prime are celebrated for their “speedrun factor”.
Altogether it is a strong showing in terms of content, and chances are you’ll find yourself replaying this game at least once, regardless of whether you cared for the story or not.
This game is a real trip. On one hand, I love the Metal Gear Solid brand of stealth gameplay, and this game delivers it in droves. Even when taking into account the missed opportunities for improving the inventory and controls – gyroscope aiming included – I find it a joy to play through this game. It is still fresh, unique, and ambitious, all things that I value highly in my games. It doesn’t hurt that the sheer gameplay is also still a lot of fun.
On the other hand, I cannot justify the horrible story in any way, and I am appalled that Kojima would be so careless with the few brilliant scenes he does have in the game. More than that, it is obvious that the problems of the story could have been greatly lessened by taking a few now-common measures like adding in-game literature to expose the game’s lore, or audio logs to help flesh out some of the lesser characters (the game’s many bosses, for example).
Looking at the whole picture, I certainly still see the game as a great experience, and definitely as a classic worth playing, even if IÂ really can’t tolerate storytelling on par with B-level anime.