Gamestyle Archive Intro: why does Gamestyle matter and continue to do so? Well its honesty and principles. This review from Daniel is a perfect example. Whilst websites and press critics were falling over themselves to hype Snake Eater there was an apparent fear to criticise and highlight flaws. At GS we were an elite team of gamers who valued honesty and our own wallet; if something was disappointing them it was stated and scored as such. Refreshing in 2004 it sadly remains so in 2015.
Metal Gear Solid was one of the few games to satisfactorily handle stealth, because it eliminated ‘guesswork’. The permanent view of your surroundings and enemy vision indicator made it possible to see and recognise multiple movement patterns simultaneously, plan each move with precision, and always know what needed to be done. But back in the sixties, the advanced radar systems that made this possible weren’t invented. Thus it is that the dreaded ‘curse of the prequels’ lands a wounding blow to Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.
Without spoiling the plot, Snake Eater is set in 1964, where a special operations unit known as “Fox” has sent its operative “Naked Snake” into the heart of a Russian jungle; his mission is to rescue a scientist named Sokolov from a terrorist group who is holding him captive. Sokolov is a Soviet scientist who defected to the US during the Cold War, and whose skills are now desirable for the construction of an ultimate weapon (you can probably guess what that is). “Snake” comes face to face with his old mentor, The Boss, as well as some other familiar faces, who are a part of this elite terrorist group. The story isn’t as overly-complex as that of MGS2, but it sets up the events of the two previous games nicely.
Snake Eater is a remarkably ‘different’ game in the franchise. Large outdoor environments, swamps, trees, long grass and camouflage… it certainly loses its Pac-man style of gameplay; but at the same time, it refuses to let go of certain traditions which shouldn’t still be there. For example, the top-down camera is largely unchanged – switching back and forth when you press up against surfaces – but the radar screen is no longer there. This means that the normal view is the only way to navigate and orient yourself, and the camera is totally unqualified to take on such a responsibility. You can use a combination of the primitive sonar, the motion detector, the binoculars and the personnel detector to locate enemies or animals, but no one device does all these things together. This means you have to continually switch between devices, which can be very intrusive. The motion detector, for example, shows movement as dots; but it doesn’t tell you what they are or if they can see you. Indeed, since the only way to tell is to look ahead of you, you have to keep switching to a first person view, meaning you have to keep stopping and starting. This clear indication of the camera’s insufficiencies highlights why a free third-person camera would have been preferable.
Deep within the jungle, simply staying hidden is not the only concern; Snake has to stay alive as well. With a multifaceted menu system, Snake Eater’s micro-management is often just as important as its actions sequences. If you get injured, you will be required to clean and repair the wound; if you get tired, you will need to catch food and eat it. Your ‘stamina’ is what keeps you alive. A full stamina bar will allow Snake to gradually heal himself over time, whereas low stamina will affect his actions. Aiming becomes harder, wounds heal more slowly, and you can’t hold your breath for as long. It’s a remarkably authentic system, one which is always on the forefront of your mind. As you lie in ambush in the grass, or hide up in a tree, you’ll be planning where your next meal will come from. You can kill animals for food, but unless it’s caught alive, it begins to go bad over time, even when you aren’t playing.
Camouflage is a key feature of Snake Eater, replacing ‘lines-of-sight’ with a more organic visibility percentage indicator, much like Splinter Cell. Different environments call for different camo to be worn (tiger stripe, leaf, tree bark, etc.). There is a fundamental problem with this system, though: it is largely unnecessary. Going from grass onto leaves changes how visible you are, and requires you to change your outfit, but there’s no strategy to this; the only requirement is that you find the camo that has the highest number. One must ask why the game can’t simply do it automatically, or indeed why it needs you to do it at all. It’s a superfluous exercise in menu-navigation that further breaks the flow of the action. If this is all sounding so negative, it shouldn’t.
The Metal Gear Solid franchise has unusually high standards placed upon it, so when a game fails to live up to those, the shortcomings are simply more obvious. Make no mistake, Snake Eater is a lovingly-crafted and often wonderful adventure. The behaviour of the enemies, of the wildlife, the cunningly placed traps and dangers, the overall level of detail… it’s all staggeringly good. There never seems to be an end to the things you can do; sometimes it’s fun just to see what you can get away with. It’s also immensely satisfying when a well thought-out strategy of careful circumvention succeeds as you planned it. The movie cutscenes simply excel in all areas. The action within them is always well punctuated and choreographed; every frame is well considered and visually splendid; even the dialogue contains subtle blends of humour with traditional one-liners.
The game is replete with secrets, extras and in-jokes (seeing the words “time paradox” when Snake is killed is a funny moment) and you’ll no doubt want to replay the whole experience when you’ve finished it once, just to see what else you missed. The boss characters are extremely imaginative and have a variety of interesting abilities, which make encounters with each one totally unique, exciting and well-paced. There are many ways to defeat each one, some quicker than others, but the choice is yours to make.
All the characters are varied and likeable; there’s a unique charm to each of them. Listening to Major Zero’s (Snake’s commander) witty banter over the radio, or Para Medic’s talk about sixties’ movies is rarely tedious, but thoroughly welcomed. Even their names show the tongue-in-cheek humour that makes MGS so agreeable. The musical score is another triumph; it isn’t as pronounced, obvious or memorable as that of the past games, but the music during both action and movie sequences is always perfectly suited, and doesn’t distract you from what’s happening.
In general, most of Snake Eater’s individual features surpass the quality of most other games, point-per-point. Even the graphics would not only look at home on an Xbox, but wouldn’t look too out of place on a next generation console either. The shadows, textures and detail surpass that of MGS2 by enough to be immediately noticeable, and only the occasional slowdown reminds you how much detail the PS2 is having push around at once. The final sequences of the game are a magnificent journey through multiple styles of action and drama, brutal realism and shocking revelations. It is a game of numerous ingenious ideas, and it is clear that Konami didn’t want to simply retread the same old ground. For this, we are thankful; however much of the time it feels as though the core of the game isn’t updated enough to smooth out the rough edges and ‘guesswork’ required to struggle through its slower sections.
With the impending release of Subsistence (essentially Snake Eater’s version of Substance), online play and improvements to the camera system will be a big advantage over Snake Eater’s obtrusive viewpoints and lightweight Ape Escape sub-game. It’s not that Snake Eater isn’t a good game – it is – but there’s little point in buying this version. Gamestyle recommends either waiting for the upgrade or renting this for a solid weekend of tactical espionage action.
Gamestyle Score: 6/10