The Metal Gear Solid franchise is one that is outstanding in its delivery of intelligent and exciting narrative based games. Last month I took a long look at one of the series’ most intelligent entries with Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. I praised the game for how the game controls and for it’s narrative that specifically really picks up in the later half of the game. It’s a brilliant game to say the least and while that game was great I did not expect what was to come in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. I expected that the game would have an improvement in graphics and gameplay, but I did not expect it to surpass the first two games in the series in such a massive way. It’s a game filled with intrigue, movie homages, large action sequences, and a much more involved and better gameplay system. Hideo Kojima’s brilliance continues to shine into this much loved and respected entry in the series. The creative decisions and structure that his vision paved the way for in the previous games is expanded upon in this game and those decisions made were surprising, but also necessary. This game is absolutely worthy of dissection and review even 14 years after its initial release. The version of this game that I will be playing is the HD collection version that was released in 2011 that was bundled with Metal Gear Solid 2 and Peace Walker. While the main portion of this review will be a Spoiler-Free analysis there are some larger implications in the story that need to be looked at in a Spoiler section. Here is my review of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater HD.
In a similar fashion to that of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, this game breaks itself off into two separate but heavily connected sections with the latter being much more dense and important. In order to cover this game both sides of the story need to be mentioned at least to some degree. Some minor Spoilers will be mentioned here but I will do my best to avoid anything massive.
The game begins in 1964 one year after the Kennedy assassination in the midst of the Cold War between the US and Russia. You take control of Naked Snake voiced by David Hayter. This Snake is not the same one from the previous games, but in fact this one is the man who will become Big Boss. The leader of Foxhound unit. This first mission, the Virtuous Mission tasks Snake with heading to the USSR to retrieve defected scientist, Nikolai Sokolov. Snake is joined on this mission by Major Zero, Para-Medic, and his old mentor, The Boss. Snake is dropped off in the USSR and once you make your way to Sokolov who is being used to create a nuclear equipped tank called the Shagohod the real narrative begins. The mission goes according to plan until The Boss confronts you on a bridge and reveals that she has defected to the USSR and joins Colonel Volgin and her Cobra Unit giving Volgin two nuclear warheads, which he uses to destroy a Russian facility to cover his tracks putting blame of this explosion on the US.
Operation Snake Eater
One Week later Snake is sent back into Russian territory tasked with killing The Boss as well as finding proof that the US had nothing to do with the nuclear explosion as per a deal between President Johnson and Soviet Premier Khrushchev. Snake must destroy the Shagohod and defeat Colonel Volgin and the rest of the rogue Cobra Unit under The Boss’ control. In addition to Volgin being a major part of the narrative you also run into a very young Revolver Ocelot along the way. Snake is tasked with doing all of this in a timely manner or else the World could be thrown into full on Nuclear War.
This is as much as I can reveal about the narrative without spoiling major elements, but this game has arguably the best narrative so far in the Metal Gear series. The series as I’ve covered is infamous for it’s long cutscenes, unique characters, and engaging twists and turns. This game in particular has all of those elements in spades. This is a much more personal experience for most of the characters and because of this the narrative is much more focused than that of the one present in Metal Gear Solid 2.It’s a simpler narrative, but that works in its benefit as so far in the series this is the most entertaining in the series. Setting it in the midst of the Cold War surprisingly makes this entry stand apart from the first two games. It brings all of the elements that work in those games to a simpler time with much less technology. The characters are all excellent and memorable. The tone and sequencences evoke that of 60s Spy films including very obvious homages to that of James Bond. The dialogue while having that signature campiness from time to time is engaging and the voice actors carry their roles well keeping you engaged during their infamously long cutscenes. These moments are often the best parts of the game because each twist and turn makes you want to continue and see what is around the next corner. It’s a brilliant and fun story that has dark elements that hit the emotional core well, while also embracing the humor. It’s the perfect balance and an excellent example of great storytelling in games.
While the narrative is often the star of this series gameplay is never forgotten and what makes this game work so well is that it not only improves upon the controls from the first two games, but it adds an additional layer to how you can play the game that has to be experienced. In the version that I played the camera being static is gone in favor of a much more traditional free roaming camera that makes playing this feel like a much more modern experience. In the original release of the game the camera was static much like the first two games, but the HD version that I played it on added the changes that were made for Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence. This does wonders for the entire experience.
The basic controls still feel similar, but the newest control that ends up being extremely useful is the Close Quarters Combat which allows you to grab enemies and use your hands to fight them. It comes into play in the boss battles,which are some of the best the series has to offer. The CQC system also allows you to interrogate enemies for useful information. The biggest changes in terms of gameplay from the previous games comes in the mechanics of this being a low tech mission. There is no radar telling you what enemies can see and your items such as suppressors and batteries can now drain and deplete from usage. You have to use your wits to stay as stealthy as possible. The low tech nature also plays into the idea of taking care of yourself in the jungle. You must hunt the flora and fauna to recover your stamina which in turn allows you to heal over time. Not only do you have to take stock of food, but you also have to heal yourself if you get injured and if you don’t do so your health will slowly decrease over time. There is also a new Camouflage system that requires you to find and wear appropriate uniforms and face paint so that you can blend into the environment. All of these new features and elements are phenomenal. While you find yourself going through the menus a lot I found that to be engaging. It was always fun finding which camo fits the area best and taking care of Snake by hunting. All of these changes add way more depth to the gameplay and make it even more challenging, which was a welcome change.
The 2011 HD version of this game is based upon the Subsistence release which allowed you to not only have the camera control like I mentioned, but also added the first two original 8 Bit Metal Gear games for you to play. This HD version is the definitive version to play even if you haven’t touched this game before. It’s aged extremely well and playing it in HD just highlights all of the excellent elements present. It’s a brilliant game with some of the best balance between gameplay and story that the series has ever had. The changes are challenging, but welcomed and it all comes together in a phenomenal package.
Deeper Themes (SPOILERS)
It’s challenging to mention the games narrative without diving into the details. So this section will be for those that have played not only this game, but the first two games as well. The following section will have Spoilers.
The themes of the franchise are always ever present in every entry. They often present one thing while secretly having twists that fit the narrative and make it more engaging. This game is absolutely no exception. I mentioned that you play as Naked Snake, but he later comes into the title of Big Boss. Snake in this game is much more human than Solid Snake. He has a lot more heart and character to him, which makes sense considering Solid Snake is just a clone of this man. You see the greatness that he has, but if you have been paying attention to the story, Big Boss eventually becomes a major villain. It’s utterly fascinating watching such a good man in this game knowing he will turn later in life. He will not stay the same and the foreshadowing is heavy in this especially when it comes to The Boss.
The Boss is not only one of the most important characters, but also my favorite villain of the series so far. She is Snake’s mentor and the love is present even when they are on opposite sides. I mentioned how Snake becomes Big Boss, but The Boss is a cautionary tale for him in ways. Her ultimate devotion to her country in the good and the bad is shown specifically at the end. It is revealed that in everything she was doing it was all for the US and the lover of her country. Even defecting and allowing herself to be killed in battle was all in the cards for the US government. Instead of a good versus evil storyline this game brilliantly becomes a series of riding grey moral boundaries as she is used for the US’s selfish motives. It perfectly mirrors where Big Boss will go after these events and it reflects the original Metal Gear solid in many ways.
Having the game set so early in the narrative also allows for more broader connections to important series story threads to occur. It is discovered that the Philosophers were a coalition set up by the US, China, and Russia to initially do good. This group turns into something else and the Philosophers is revealed to be the previous name of the Patriots whom we learned a lot about in Metal Gear Solid 2. Their hands are ever present in this game and the implications for what will happen is laid out thick here. It’s a brilliant way to tie this entire in game universe together. This story thread ties perfectly into Ocelot being a major part as well as we see where he came from and the implications of where he is going and how brilliant he is at manipulating.
This game does not have the same sort of philosophical or analytical story as the previous game, but what it does have is a much more focused narrative that has more broad implications for the characters. It’s not a commentary specifically on how the world works, but on how these characters act and how the battle of sides and ideologies can ruin people. How being at war for other politicians benefits is pointless. The brilliance of this message is laid on well by The Boss and in the end she becomes the most important character in not only a narrative sense, but also in the themes that are carried across the whole series. There has been very few games willing to take the risks that this series does and in this particular game it blends the level of bigger than life action and fun with an emotionally resonant narrative that makes you think. That is a hard thing to balance, but this game does so with ease.
If I had to sum up my feelings on this game in one word it would have to be, “Masterpiece”. It’s a game the defies it’s video game boundaries to make one of the most entertaining experiences ever. It’s brilliance in its storytelling and incorporated gameplay mechanics make it the most balanced Metal Gear game I’ve played so far. While the game has moments that frustrated me in it’s difficulty it never lost me. I was there for it the whole ride and I will absolutely come back to play this game again at some point. If you have not had the pleasure of playing this game I highly recommend it. It’s aged extremely well and is absolutely worth your time.