Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater Review – Commencing Virtuous Article…Now!

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Publisher: Konami
Developer:
Kojima Productions
Genre:
Stealth, Action/Adventure
Platforms:
Nintendo 3DS
Release Date:
February 21, 2012
ESRB:
M-Mature

There’s usually little reason to be anything but excited and perhaps a little curious whenever Hideo Kojima, a man now regarded as one of the most prolific game designers of all time, announces a plan to release a new project. I would be lying if that excitement were blunted a little when the next bout of games pouring forth from Kojima Productions would be joining the growing wave of HD collections and 3D re-imaginings. Metal Gear Solid HD Collection has been in stores for a few months, and the Zone of the Enders collection is on its way. Most recently, MGS 3: Snake Eater had been released as a 3D game on Nintendo’s 3DS. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have many problems with seeing some of my favorite games re-mastered for HD or even 3D, but it would be yet another lie if I said I wouldn’t be more excited to see those series continued in new releases, with fresh characters and narratives. But, because of the radically classic nature of almost all of these games, especially those belonging to the MGS franchise, the lack of excitement melts away with the prospect of being able to relive the many landmark moments found within and throughout each of those titles – especially Snake Eater.

It’s worth noting that Snake Eater, the third Metal Gear Solid game (originally released for the Playstation 2), has been re-released thrice…two of which showed up in the same fiscal year. Snake Eater appears in the MGS HD: Collection released for PS3 and 360 (and soon Vita) and was also chosen to be Kojima Production’s project to help support the somewhat lacking third-party selection for Nintendo’s 3DS. In the end, it seems like the developers chose Snake Eater for this task simply because it had a “3” at the end of the title – which lent itself conveniently (for better or worse) to being shifted into a “3D” instead. Was it a decision born out of laziness or necessity, or because Snake Eater is just that damn good?

Using the game's "Camo Index" mechanic, blending in with the environment and stealthily completing your missions is more important than ever

As apprehensive as I may have been going into it, I was certainly not going to let it cloud my judgment for the experience as a whole. Kojima’s knack for cinematic storytelling is hard at work as per the usual here in Snake Eater, and the cutscenes (of which there is an abundance, also as per the usual) are extremely well written and retain the classic military grit and jargon that permeates the Metal Gear Solid series. Moving backwards in time from MGS2, Snake Eater turns its focus away from the veteran Solid Snake and Sons of Liberty‘s slightly psychotic newcomer Raiden to tell the story of Naked Snake, Solid’s predecessor and the eventual bearer of the legendary title of “Big Boss”. The story follows Naked Snake during the height of the Cold War as he infiltrates deep into Soviet Russia on what at first seems to be a routine search and rescue mission to procure a defected Soviet scientist. Of course, it’s never quite that simple. Things start to snowball once Snake discovers plans to build the first Metal Gear, a gigantic nuclear missile-launching mech, are hard underway and the scientist he’s been sent there to rescue is being forced to design the titular weapon of war.

The story is unchanged from the original game, and the basic premise of all MGS titles circles around the same basic premise of “deploy one man army, find gigantic walking death mech, destroy said death mech, and prevent the complete domination and flaming baptism of the earth”. Snake Eater, however, has the fortunate bonus of placing the player into a hopeless, survival-based environment/time period and also having them step into the shoes of the iconic Big Boss, the ultimate soldier and the series’ staple Darth Vader-type villain (you know, starts out good, turns into bona fide badass villain a decade or so later). Also, the supporting cast is as good as ever, presenting new characters such as the lovely femme fatale assassin “The Boss” along with the Cold War-era Fox Hound (a super-secret special ops unit), as well old characters such as the DARPA Chief Donald Anderson (who goes by the name “Sigint” in Snake Eater).

The Metal Gear series has always had a penchant for being able to build solid relationships and developments between Snake and the supporting cast, even though the forum they’re usually interacted with is in the Codec radio communication screen and with only facial portraits to give them some semblance of animated life. Through their dialogue with Snake and reactions to the varying situations throughout the storyline, the designers and writers are able to bring the player in close to the characters despite some of them never even physically appearing on screen. But, there is always the same credible “flaw” present in all Kojima Productions games, and that is the insane amount of cutscenes and dialogue to be digested. This closely relegates Kojima’s own love for film-style storytelling, and while this is no drawback to this reviewer, some players will definitely find the ability to skip some of the lengthier story sequences a godsend. Fortunately, the return of competent voice acting talent makes the story that much more enjoyable to sit through – we all know how hard it can be to find decent VOs these days.

The usability of the game's menu is very high, with the touch screen compatibility granting access to an intuitive inventory and resource management system.

Visually, the game translates quite well to the 3DS’s smaller screen and auto-stereoscopic 3D capabilities. The colors are bold and vibrant; foliage and fallen trees are bursting with newfound 3D life, growing out of the corners of the screen and reaching at the player’s eye. Snake’s just as grizzled as ever, and the smooth rendering of his beaten fatigues and weary but sharp visage shows that the character is still alive and well – whether he’s cruising Naked…or Solid. However, just because it translates well does not mean that the graphics aren’t beginning to show their age. When the game was first released, the visual quality was striking and groundbreaking – which can be said of any Kojima Productions title at the time of their unleashing. However, using the system’s 3D capability, this often leads to model edges becoming somewhat jaggy and textures suffering slightly. Even still, without the 3D turned on, there are textures and models in the game that feel slightly lazy – even for a Playstation 2 game. Unfortunately, the HD update available on consoles does the original game more justice as far as aesthetics are concerned. When measured up against the 3DS’ visual achievement found in games like Resident Evil: Revelations, it’s hard not to compare every hardcore title to those same standards.

It’s quite hard to adjust at times to the new controls that are present in the 3DS iteration of Snake Eater. While not too outlandish, the use of the face buttons to control the camera doesn’t seem like much to ask but it can be rather clumsy in heavy situations – especially those where Snake is coming under heavy fire or unwanted attention, and quickly and accurately aiming your gun can mean the difference between life and dying in the middle of the jungle…sweaty and alone. There is less reliance on action-packed blockbuster set pieces in Snake Eater (unlike the series’ other three entries) and more on stealth and survival. Snake must eat food he finds in his mission in order to keep his stamina and energy up high otherwise he can keel over from the exhaustion. Things like fruits and even animals that the player hunts and kills are required for maintaining a steady energy and health level. The inclusion of  “status effect” types of damage that can be dealt to Snake in this entry (some act like poison, others target the player’s ability to regain energy and stamina) make this particular mechanic even more important to the core design of the gameplay. Keeping quiet, undetected and alive is more important than it ever was.

Pink...is so hard for a man to pull off. Especially one that'll knock you out cold while you're on the toilet.

In light of this fact, adjusting to the 3DS’ control scheme can be eased into and gradually felt out. Again, the only times this can falter is if the player is thrown into a situation where they must quickly aim their gun – an area that is easily the game’s biggest shortcoming. Because I was not able to review the game based on using the 3DS’ second analog stick peripheral, I cannot make a solid judgment towards how much this alleviates the awkward camera control. I’ve been told that it helps tremendously, but it was unfortunately not something I can comment on. In my opinion, it would be rather prudent for a developer to try and make central features like camera control as convenient and accessible as possible without the need of an add-on accessory, and Snake Eater unfortunately fails in this category.

One of the new features that is brought to the 3DS version of the game is the ability to take pictures with the rear and front-facing cameras on the device or real world objects and localize the visual data into camouflage that Snake can don on his in-game model. The effectiveness of this camouflage, just like before, is measured through an interface called the “Camo Index” that displays in the top-right of the screen. The index makes the player aware of how effective or ineffective the camo they’ve chosen is for the current situation. Taking pictures of actual grass and leaves is actually quite helpful to helping the main character blend in with his surroundings, but it can be just as fun to take a picture of your cat licking itself and plastering it all over the front of Snake’s shirt. Clever usage of the game’s translation to the current platform? Maybe. Hilarious? It definitely can be!

Context-sensitive commands are used in certain situations such as this, in this instance giving the command as to how Snake is going to deal with this unfortunate soldier.

Another added, but somewhat tacked-on, feature exclusive to the 3DS iteration of Snake Eater is the use of the handheld’s gyroscopic motion controls. Similar in nature to the Playstation 3’s SIXAXIS controls, certain situations require the player to keep near-perfect balance of the system in their hands or end up facing an untimely occurrence of slick shoes (like in The Goonies). The most obvious example of this comes from the infamous scene included in the original trailer and demo of the game that shows the player guiding Snake across a rickety old rope bridge. Another situation involves Snake climbing up trees and balancing on one of the branches to gain an advantageous position over an enemy. If the 3DS system isn’t kept at a balance, Snake acts like he just stepped on a banana peel and falls of the side of whatever object he was balancing on. This rarely leads to outright death, as Snake is able to grab the side at the last minute and pull himself back up with a press of the action button and an inhuman showing of upper-body strength.

Snake Eater is, in many ways, the perfect culmination of the series’ development – or at least it was. It strikes a great balance between the stealth techniques needed to clear the game’s stages, the heavy survival-based mechanics, and the unique boss fights that the game offers sprinkled throughout the storyline. For those interested in speedrunning the game, skipping through the majority of the story scenes still leaves a good chunk of enjoyable gameplay – perhaps the most enjoyable of the Metal Gear Solid series. Take or leave the new features added to MGS3D, the game remains a highlight of the franchise. However, with Snake Eater being released in the HD Collection as well, fans have two different options of how to experience the game again – and like I mentioned before, sometimes the HD remaster does the game a little more service than this one. Personally, I would have liked to have seen Metal Gear Solid, the first game in the series, be the one chosen for this particular project simply because it is my favorite of the four and it was chosen to not be featured in the HD Collection. For those who haven’t played the game before, MGS3D is a very likeable way to experience it for the first time, especially if those same people don’t want to purchase the HD Collection or simply don’t have access to one of the major consoles. With the Platinum Games-developed action spin-off Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance closing out the year, Snake Eater 3D may be the last chance to experience the series’ classic stealth-based gameplay before Metal Gear Solid 5 is released.

The Good:

+ No matter the incarnation, Snake Eater remains one of the highlights of the franchise’s evolution in gameplay mechanics

+ Glasses-free 3D adds a whole new layer of depth and immersion to Hideo Kojima’s classic series

+ Camo system supporting 3DS camera is clever enough

+ Storytelling, script and voice overs are superb – a staple of the MGS games

The Bad:

- With Snake Eater now receiving two upgrades this fiscal year, one wonders if the untouched original Metal Gear Solid might not have been a more ambitious project for the 3DS

- Quality in the visual department is good, but not great – the game’s age is far more apparent in this iteration than its HD Collection counterpart

- Reliance on 2nd analog stick peripheral to NOT make camera control clunky and awkward is almost unacceptable – mostly because this can end up having some detrimental consequences during gameplay

 

3.75 out of 5 star

3.75 out of 5 stars