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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (PS2)

By Michael Palisano

Konami's superb Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater represents an innovative installment for the series. Snake's must traverse natural environments that open up entirely new strategies to the game. The structure and interface is similar to previous titles, yet the outdoors setting gives MGS3 a very different feel. MGS implements sophisticated combat and camouflage systems that add a new dimension of strategy to the gameplay. The coherent quest and fast pace makes Snake Eater much more engaging throughout with realistic environments that seem come alive with various creatures. Join us as we go undercover and find out why MGS3: Snake Eater sophisticated mix of action, stealth and, cunning make it another landmark in the series' evolution.

Set in the 1960's at the height of the cold war, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater allows players to discover the origins of Solid Snake and many of his adversaries. Players familiar with previous MGS titles should find many similar elements this time around, along with a few interesting twists that keep the gameplay fresh. The standard in-game interface is still here, with basic inventory management controlled using the two shift keys. This allows Snake to change weapons and gadgets during the game. Players will also find a less developed version of the Codec they can use to communicate with other characters or save the game and is once again accessible using the select key. These basic systems operate in a similar manner to the previous titles, but there is now a new twist in the form of a new Survival sub-menu. Pressing on this key allows you to access Snake's backpack that contains his medical equipment. Using this, the player can heal snake from a variety of injuries including bites, burns and gunshot wounds. Snake can also enter this menu if he's poisoned by getting bitten by an animal or other wildlife. This is surprisingly intuitive system adds a lot more depth and makes for a more authentic experience that makes you feel like you are in the wilderness as well. It seems like a superfluous feature at first, but adds more realism to the gameplay. Players simply apply the medical supplies such as ointment and bandages to the affected areas, indicated by large circles. Once he's fixed himself up and recovered from his injuries, he can also perform other tasks from this menu as well.

In addition to medical emergencies, Snake can use the Survival menu to access food, change his fatigues and manage his items. This is part of the game's new camouflage system where what Snake wears is as important as what he does. Each outfit has a different effect on Snake's visibility, and the key is to select the right outfit that allows him to blend in with the environment. His camouflage effectiveness is displayed in game as a percentage onscreen. This indicator changes depending on Snake's location, whether he's standing or crouching, and the overall density of the environment. Snake can also change into other outfits, such as a scientist's lab coat to avoid detection in lab environments, for example. Snake's appearance can alert guards to his presence, but they'll also be able to hear him if he makes too much noise so you need to be careful when sneaking around. When the guards are alerted to his presence, Snake can evade their capture by staying undetected for a time, when a countdown clock appears onscreen. If he's spotted or makes direct contact with a guard, they'll call in reinforcements, which makes his job even tougher. While going through each mission undetected is usually the best way to go, there are instances when combat and fighting are unavoidable.

When Snake makes contact with an opponent, he can battle them in a number of ways. Snake has an impressive array of weapons throughout the game that he can use including standard pistols, silenced guns, sniper rifles plus an array of grenades and bombs. Snake can also use an array of gadgets such as a radar detector, sonar units, binoculars and more. During combat, Snake can shoot at opponents using either first person or third person view. Snake can evade opponents using a variety of techniques, such as rolling, jumping, or running away. However, the combat system has become more sophisticated this time around thanks to a new system called CQC, or Close Quarters Combat. When he's engaged with an enemy at close range, he can now juggle between his gun and knife extremely quickly, allowing him to down foes much faster than he could previously neutralize them. This added flexibility adds a lot of strategy to each battle, and is devastatingly effective against standard opponents, who drop like flies when this is done right. However, the enemy AI has been tweaked to handle these new moves, so you have to time these moves perfectly or else have your foes take advantage of your mistake.

One of the biggest changes in Snake Eater that differentiates it significantly from previous titles is its use of natural environments. In previous games, Snake could only hide in the shadows to escape detection. In Snake Eater, he can use the forests and lakes to his advantage. For example, he can now climb up trees and hide from roaming guards, or use overgrown grass as cover. Snake's also been given an upgrade in his swimming skills, allowing him to dive into lakes, rivers and ponds effortlessly. This added dexterity gives him more moves but Snake has to worry about natural foes now, since the forests are teaming with animals who are very much alive. The forests have many snakes that will attack and bite you if you get to close to them. Once bitten, their venom will gradually weaken Snake, until it kills him. However, these creatures aren't just opponents, when Snake shoots one of them, they turn into food which he can collect as rations that he can eat. Snake also has to worry about other foes such as crocodiles when he's traveling through swamps and bats when he's in caves. The more natural environments also offer other challenges. Each area's varied terrain and uneven layouts makes Snake Eater a much more unpredictable game. As you walk through these areas, you'll also have to worry about hidden traps and landmines, which can cause significant damage if you aren't careful.

What's most surprising about all these new features and techniques is how seamlessly Hideo Kojima and company have integrated them into the traditional MGS gameplay. Nothing about the controls and interface feels gimmicky or strange. The increased complexity of Snake Eater actually works well with the game's elaborate plot to create an immersive, believable world that draws the player into the action effortlessly. Using the Close Quarters Combat system isn't as difficult as you'd expect and the intuitive controls work well with the action. The new camouflage system works well and is a useful addition to the series that doesn't detract from the overall experience either. While elaborate, the controls remain consistent throughout the game, allowing you to move throughout each mission with a precise, deliberate effort. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the camera system which still relies too heavily on static, above the character angles. This makes it difficult to see where your opponents are at certain points, and makes for some frustrating demises. However, players still have the option to switch to first person mode when firing and can use this to look around each area. While MGS pioneered the stealth action genre, it is disappointing that this element of the game hasn't evolved with the approach of other titles. Fortunately, MGS3's beautiful visuals more than compensate for the camera system's shortcomings.

There can be little doubt that Hideo Kojima's previous Metal Gear Solid set new standards of visual realism when they came out on the PS1 and PS2, but MGS3 tops them both in terms of realism and beauty. While other games have gone around the edges in creating realistic natural environments, MGS goes further, creating what feels like an entire ecosystem. The richly detailed levels feel very much alive as trees sway in the wind, leaves rustle and sun glistens through to the ground. There's a surprising amount of variety in the environments that range from dense forests, to swampland to dark claustrophobic tunnels. What's even more impressive is how these environments recreate the natural world. Bodies of water react realistically and are well stocked with a variety of fish. The many characters move realistically throughout with impressive character modeling giving them a lifelike appearance. Each environment is filled with a remarkable level of detail with even the smallest objects showing a great amount of care was taken. MGS3's weather effects are likewise impressive with rain, snow and sun each lending the worlds a unique look.

Snake Eater's nearly flawless production values are smooth and seamless, creating a cohesive world where every object feels authentic and appropriate to the era. This is extremely important, since the game's 1960's motif would shatter if you saw a cel-phone or a modern PC in a corner somewhere. The stylish character design and renderings give each character a unique visual look that lends each of the bosses their own traits, making each confrontation feel distinct from one another. Adding to the game's sense of urgency is the cinematic approach that's far more sophisticated this time around. While some of the cinemas are long, they don't drag on endlessly like they did in the first game. Instead, they're used to add drama to battles or move the plot forward. This is a much better approach than the extended lectures that marred MGS2. MGS3's epic score was written by MGS veteran and film composer Harry Gregson-Williams and punctuates the action perfectly, adding to the cold-war tension while staying within the parameters of previous music heard in the series. The game's sophisticated engine pushes the PS2 to its limits, creating one of the best-looking titles on any platform to date.

Part of the reason the graphics look so good is the fact that there's a compelling narrative to go along with them. Snake Eater features an intriguing plot that covers a lot of ground both physically and intellectually. Hideo Kojima's storyline for MGS2 was criticized for its often oblique and confusing side turns. These problems have been addressed in Snake Eater. Instead of bizarre twists, the storyline is more believable this time. The characterizations are more believable and sharply defined than the last game with each character having a unique set of motivations. The interplay and relationships between the characters is very important to the game's plot, and the backstories are quite interesting. While many of the characters aside from Snake are new, players will find a few old favorites such as Revolver Ocelot in the game as well. Seeing the beginnings of Ocelot's relationship with Snake is very interesting and their interplay throughout the game is only one of the game's many intruiging sub-plots. Unlike many other games on the market, MGS3's dialogue is clever and makes for an engaging story throughout. Using a real-world historic backdrop gives the storyline added credibility, and makes the game feel more sophisticated and adult than previous MGS titles. MGS' trademark cinematic cut-scenes are still prevalent, they don't overwhelm the gameplay and flow together much more naturally than they did in Sons of Liberty. The cold-war setting offers plenty of grist for Kojima to chew on. The complex story covers a wide variety of issues such as the lines between loyalty to one's country and friendship, the race of the superpowers to gain nuclear supremacy, and the role of soldiers in wartime. It's interesting stuff, and delves a lot deeper into these philosophical ideas than most video games even think of. The voice acting is once again superb, with smart dialogue that feels natural and realistic throughout. The game does an excellent job of bringing the characters to life. As usual, there are plenty of pop-culture references in the game, though they mostly evoke the spirit of the 60's, sometimes seriously, and sometimes with a dry sense of humor.

While many gamers worried about where the series was headed after the second half of MGS 2 unfolded, Snake Eater goes a long way in re-establishing the game as one of the premier franchises. The two gameplay enhancements, Close Quarters Combat and the Survival system add depth, but aren't cumbersome. Changing the setting from indoors to outdoors and the time period from the future to the height of the cold war makes for a more grounded experience that feels much more believable this time around. Snake Eater's plot has also been streamlined, so despite the fact that its a longer game, it seems to move by much quicker. From a visual standpoint, MGS3 sets another high water mark with seamless production values and richly detailed natural environments that make it one of the best-looking titles to date on any current generation platform. Despite being set in the past, this is forward looking installment more than lives up to the high standards set by previous games. In fact, some elements exceed them in many regards with a more sophisticated, down to Earth approach. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is an enormously satisfying yet challenging title that will keep you engaged for many hours and comes with our highest recommendation for any fan of Solid Snake and the stealth-action genre.

Grade: A

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