Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
by Polly

When I finally achieve my lifelong dream of blowing up the entire planet with some kind of giant waffle maker unmanned robot of doom, and God comes down from wherever he's at to name off the greatest videogames of all time (because that's what'll happen!), there's no doubt that the original Metal Gear Solid will be in that very small number. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty will probably be stewing in Hell, but it may just find a spot in Purgatory. While the story reeked of Decoy-balls, the gameplay was just a whole hell of a lot of fun. That game laid what would become the solid foundation for the final PS2 iteration of the series, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. I have been through Hell and back since December of last year trying to play this game. I've had the misfortune of owning TWO bad copies and actually ended up destroying one of them on my way to finally completing this game.

And I'm glad that I finally got around to completing the game, because through all the frustration of having botched copies, and even having one copy delete FOUR YEARS OF SAVED DATA from one of my memory cards, I still felt fulfilled when my journey had ended. In some sick, twisted, masochistic way, it ended up being completely worth it.

The game that gave birth to the action/stealth genre has come a long way since the gritty MSX days. Even back then Kojima tried to invoke an element of cinema into the games because of his love for movies. When Metal Gear Solid dropped in 1998, it had a cinematic presentation completely unrivaled by anything else at the time. The voice acting was spot on and the cutscenes themselves were very well done provided the limitations of the PSX. Metal Gear Solid 2 raised the bar in a lot of ways gameplay-wise, but dropped the ball on the story and forced those of us who loved Snake to play as a new sissy pansy crybaby not suited for a "serious" mission at all. Metal Gear Solid 3 continues to build onto the tried and true formula.

Metal Gear Solid 3 introduces a few new elements into what's essentially the Metal Gear Solid 2 engine. If you're familliar with MGS2, you'll be able to pick up and dive into MGS3. However, now that you're stuck without the advantages of the Soliton Radar System and other fancy doohickeys from the previous games, things are going to be a little slower. Snake now has to rely on his own instincts, and you've got to utilize proper camouflage. Enemies don't have a "cone of vision" anymore. If you're in their direct line of sight and you're not well concealed, they're gonna come over and poke around. Staying hidden means maintaining a high Camo Index percentage, and you do this by going into a menu and changing Snake's uniform and Face Paint to match the surroundings. It's a really neat feature that adds some realism to the game, but also serves to help bog down the pacing quite a bit.

In order to change Snake's current Camouflage you have to pause the game and enter a menu called the Survival Viewer. From here you can do a number of things, like switching out the weapons and items Snake is carrying to, of course switching Camouflage. You can also use this menu to cure Snake of injuries he may have sustained and feed him. That's right. Snake is like your own little war hero tomagachi! He gets hungry, he gets hurt, he poops himself...well.. he can puke anyway.

Snake gets hungry. When Snake gets hungry his performance begins to drop a bit. And the rumblin' in his belleh can attract unwanted attention. So in order to cure the hunger, Snake must hunt wild animals and plants and store them in his backpack for later use. Snake won't like choking down just anything, and there are a lot of poisonous and rotten things out there in the woods to eat too. So, it's always a good idea to have a lot of food around in case. And IF Snake should happen to eat something that gets him to puking and making butt-butter, there's the Cure menu. The Cure menu is where you cure wounds and other ailments that Snake has suffered. It's important that you cure these wounds as soon as possible, because not only do you lose stamina and get hungry faster, but your performance is hindered and you can't regain your health properly.

The Survival Viewer is a good idea, but in practice it hinders the gameplay by breaking up the pace of the action. Had there at least been a way to quickly change Camo on the fly, I could have forgiven it.

Another problem is the in-game engine. The game engine just can't quite keep up with the scope of the large areas it's trying to present. It's not a graphics thing, it's a gameplay thing. There are times that you end up being spotted by enemies you can't even see off-screen or even in first-person mode. I shouldn't have to be warding off attacks from enemies I can't even see. The game's engine has grown from two games that were comprised mostly of small-ish indoor areas, and the angles you get with the camera reflect that and do a horrible job of helping you get a feel for where you're at and where you're going in this games immensely large and populated areas. They should have taken a cue from the Splinter Cell series in this respect and given the player more control over the camera. It's not a game-breaking problem, but the engine is showing its age and could really use a complete overhaul.

Seriously, if you can't tell from the pictures that Metal Gear Solid 3 is the best damn looking PS2 game out on the market right now, then you're fucking blind. Everything in this game is just God damn gorgeous. The environments have such amazing and lush detail, and the character models are probably some of the best I've seen in gaming ever, and everything is very smoothly animated. The bump in graphical goodness has claimed a casualty, however. The silky smooth 60 frames per second frame rate from MGS2 is gone most likely due to the large environments. Making matters worse, there's in-game slowdown because of all the detail as well. While it's only noticeable in a couple spots (most notably the fight with The Fury), it's still a bit of a disappointment that they couldn't have fixed it.

Audio-wise, MGS3 tops both of its predecessors in terms of soundtrack, ambience, and overall quality of the voice acting. There's not a whole lot of music in the game, but what's there is really a nice treat for the ears. Harry Gregson Williams handles the score once more and does a phenomenal job of getting action and emotion across so well. The Metal Gear Solid series has always had some top notch voice acting (for a videogame anyway) and this time around is no exception. I think it's probably the best voice over work in videogames right now. Everyone's part is played to perfection and they're all quite believable. There's a dropped line or two here and there, but it's easily forgiveable, because the whole cast is entertaining and well suited for their parts.

Metal Gear Solid 3 is a game that made me laugh with its unique self-depricating humour, and it tugged at my emotions in a number of ways I'd never quite experienced. By the middle of the game, I literally couldn't wait to get my hands on one of the main villians. And by the end of the game, I'd actaully found myself saddened to the point of a few tears. In all my years of gaming, a game has never touched me that way before. It's a story right on par with a blockbuster movie, and probably won't be topped for quite a long time.

Metal Gear Solid 3 is far from perfect. It has its flaws, but those flaws aren't so nagging that you shouldn't look this one up. And hey, it's $20 now, so what the hell right? No reason that this game shouldn't be in any action gamer's collection.

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