The year is 1964 and Snake is back.
Taking place in the forest of the Soviet Union, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a prequel to MGS1 and MGS2 which will tie up many loose ends and unanswered questions you may have had from the previous games. Once again, you take the role of that stealthy Snake that we’ve all come to love.
The opening moments of the game show Snake preparing to dive out of the back of a plane (the world’s first Halo jump) into the middle of the Soviet jungle. As Snake plummets towards the Earth we see a flashback to Snake and his superior, informing him of a Soviet weapons specialist named Sokolov who is nearing the completion of his destructive new weapon. By using your stealth abilities and learnt weapon techniques you must infiltrate the Soviet base and bring Sokolov back to America. The unexpected plot-twists which we’ve come to expect from the MGS series are back, and will be sure to keep you in suspense.
The whole Snake Eater experience is much like a movie and you may find yourself sitting there engrossed in the story for hours. The first hour of the game is a basic introduction to the gameplay and mechanics of the Metal Gear series. In between the massive amount of cut-scenes you will learn the controls and the new features added to the game. While the cut scenes are intriguing, Konami have thrown in plenty of extras to keep you busy while they unfold, such as being able to press the R1 button at certain times to see through the eyes of Snake and pressing the triangle button to zoom in and move around with the analog stick. If it wasn’t already apparent to you after playing MGS2, you’ll soon come to realize that creator of the Metal Gear series, Hideo Kojima, has a huge fascination with movies. There are countless references to various films in the game, and you’ll even find that this love of movies will be reflected in the conversations between Snake and Para-Medic (who you call over your codec to save the game).
One of the biggest additions to the gameplay is the concept of using camouflage to hide yourself from the ever-watching guards. You begin the game with a handful of camouflage uniforms, useful for a variety of areas that you’ll get yourself into. Along with these are face-paints that you can wear, again ranging in colour to suit your environment. As you progress through the game you’ll pick up more of these camouflages, and in true MGS fashion, most of them are hidden or are rewards for meeting certain criteria in a boss battle. These camouflages aren’t just a fashion statement though, as the more that you are dressed like your environment, the less likely you'll be spotted by guards, indicated by the meter in the top right hand corner of the screen. For those lucky players with an internet enabled PlayStation 2, you are able to visit the online menu and download more uniforms for Snake to wear.
In order to create a sense of realism in the game, you are given a backpack to store your weapons and items you pick up. You can carry up to eight weapons and item on you before you need to start storing some in your backpack. When you need to use these items you can simply go into your backpack menu, via the start button, to swap around your weapons and items from what you are holding to the ones in your backpack. There is a large variety of weapons to collect, including a tranquilizer, sniper rifle, shotgun, knife, grenades and ‘dirty’ magazines (to distract the guards). Three new items in MGS3 are the sonar and radar systems. Instead of the usual map in the corner of the screen, as was the case in the previous MGS games, you now need to equip either an active sonar (shows dots on a map for guards), a motion detector or an anti person sensor (vibrates when people are close), all of which use up your limited battery. This battery can be recharged by simply unequipping anything which uses a battery and moving about. You are also able to collect more batteries as the game goes on, allowing you to use the battery powered items for a longer amount of time.
Underneath your life meter is a new ‘Stamina’ gauge, indicating how hungry you are and if you are poisoned or hurt. As you run around and play shoot-me-if-you-can with the guards this stamina will decrease, and the only way to increase it again is to eat. Scattered through the forest you’ll find snakes, frogs, rabbits, rats and other various animals and edible plants which you can shoot or attack with a knife to kill and capture them. Once you have collected this food you can go into your food menu through the ‘Start’ button and choose what you’d like to snack on, each giving a different stamina boost and response from Snake about what he thought of that food.
The ‘Cure’ menu is yet another added feature in MGS3, and is where you go to heal your wounds after being attacked. If you are shot by an enemy soldier, you may need to go into the cure menu, remove the bullet with your knife, apply styptic to stop bleeding, stitch yourself back up and apply bandages. If you don’t do this and decide to keep your wounds open and bullets inside you, the pain that Snake is being put through will cause your stamina meter to decrease. Swimming in a dirty lake can even result in having leeches stuck to your body. How to remove them? Burn them off with your cigar, of course. The entire idea of being able to heal yourself is very realistic and fits perfectly with the rest of the gameplay.
As is becoming the trend in latest games, MGS3 offers a non-linear gameplay experience. You have the opportunity to complete the game any way you wish, from running through the forest like a hooligan, shooting everyone you see, or going the stealth route, creeping through the long grass past the enemies. The guards will act completely differently depending on which way you choose to approach them, sneaking through the grass will make them suspicious and come looking for you, while running up to them and grabbing and interrogating them will make them shake in their boots and give you ammo, items and codec frequencies. However, the main concept of the game is to be stealthy, and your overall grade at the end of the game will reflect how well you kept hidden and didn’t raise attention.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater offers a huge amount of added extras that you might not discover in your first play-through. Right from the get-go you can alter things in the intro movie, title screen, and opening game sequence. Once you get into the cave section of the game you can equip your active sonar to confuse the bats into thinking that you are one of them so that they will no longer attack you. To be able to experience all that the game offers you will need to play through the game multiple times and even then you’ll still find little tricks and hidden things which you can do.
All good things have to come to an end, and for me it’s the camera. While some people may be able to complete the game without even thinking about it, one of the first things I noticed was how hard it can be to see around corners and what is coming up ahead of you. The camera follows you from above, and while the player is able to move it around slightly to see what is coming in each direction, it seems to lack full control. You may find yourself constantly going into first-person view to see what’s in front of you.
As stated already the majority of this game takes place in the Soviet forest, which looks very crisp and clear thanks to the game’s graphics engine. Snake Eater creates a great sense of atmosphere while creeping through the forestry, with a misty, eerie feeling, enhanced by the occasional bird flying and frog jumping about. But what really brings the forest to life are the snakes. Whilst crawling about you’ll notice many of them, and they’ll be sure to notice you. As you make your way through the grass you’ll often notice other animals creating crunching sounds and movements in the surrounding vegetation, causing you to constantly turn around wondering if you are being followed. Much like the snakes, you will also affect the terrain as you make your way through it, crawling over the grass will cause individual stalks to bend under your weight, and bounce back once you move away. It’s a nice touch that increases the atmosphere hugely.
When you’re not in the forest, you’ll most likely be in an old warehouse or building. Just like the forest, these building look great, with no detail missed on their design, complete with cracks in the walls, puddles on the floor, and the occasional book lying around. And just like the forestry, you’ll come across guards and the occasional scientist who look just as fitting in their environment. The character models are very crisp and defined, with no ‘painted-on’ bits and pieces. Snake especially looks good - right down to his famed facial hair.
As always, the Metal Gear series never lets down with music, and with a great score by Harry Gregson-Williams once again, it’s no wonder. The Metal Gear Solid theme music has returned, albeit in smaller pieces scattered throughout the game, and instead a James Bond inspired theme takes the main stage for the opening intro theme. Each of the characters and bosses that you come across has their own theme music which will subtly sneak into the game each time that character makes his or her presence. The alert music will create a sense of pressure and excitement with its fast, quick tempo, which will fade into a less energized melody once the enemies have seemingly lost you, with the feeling that the alert could break into full swing at any one moment. Birds squawking, crickets chirping and the sound created by snakes slithering about increase the entire environment mood.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a huge game, and the sheer amount of hidden items and tricks, coupled with the different way of completing parts of the game mean that you won’t get bored for a long time. Even once you’ve finished the game through a few times you can amp up the difficulty settings, or have a go at the mini-game, Snake vs. Monkey. And for us lucky PAL gamers, we’re treated with the Dual Mode and Demo Theatre. All fans of the previous Metal Gear games will love this instalment, while PlayStation owners looking for a good, solid stealth game should pick this one up.