Hideo Kojima intended for Metal Gear Solid 2 to be the concluding chapter of his series. It is commonly believed that, in an attempt to sabotage his work so he could move on to other projects, he deliberately made the plot as confusing as possible with no intent on answering any of the questions it raised, insulting his audience all the while. This plan failed miserably when it became one of the best-selling, critically acclaimed games of 2001.
Whatever the case may have been, a new installment was announced at the E3 in 2004. It was originally planned for the up-and-coming PlayStation 3, but the idea was scrapped when it became apparent just how far the console was from completion. Instead, Mr. Kojima and his staff focused their efforts back on the PlayStation 2. This game marked a dramatic change in setting from any entry in the series thus far. Gone are the sterile, manmade structures and in their stead are lush rainforests. Many problems plagued the development process; older entries were primarily set indoors because consoles at the time were incapable of portraying a true jungle environment. Even the simple fact that the outdoors lack flat surfaces meant an entirely new collision engine had to be built in addition to changing how they set up the motion capture technology. Despite all these setbacks, this new game, dubbed Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, was released in 2004 in Japan and North America (the following year in Europe and Australia).
Playing the Game
Metal Gear Solid 3 is an action game with a heavy emphasis on stealth. It is played from a third-person perspective. The first version of this game had a semi-fixed camera that could be moved slightly with the right analog stick while it is fully controllable in rereleases. Although you stockpile an impressive amount of weapons and gadgets throughout the course of the game, it’s best to avoid contact with the enemy because you are a lone agent against an entire squadron of soldiers. Therefore, any unnecessary conflict only succeeds at wasting your time and resources.
Guards function in a similar manner to their counterparts in Metal Gear Solid 2. Getting spotted by one triggers the alert phase, and heavily-armed reinforcements will arrive to flush you out. Should you successfully incapacitate or hide from them, you’ll enter the evasion phase. In this state, the remaining guards will scour the area for any sign of your presence either until they find you or the timer runs out. At this point, they will enter the caution phase, which is similar to their normal patrol only with suspicious activity being more likely to draw their attention. Once this phase ends, the reinforcements will leave, and the guards will return to their default behavior. The caution phase can also be triggered by making a loud enough noise, such as firing an unsilenced weapon, without the guards being able to pinpoint your exact location.
As a majority of this game takes place outside, it plays quite differently than its predecessors. In addition to staying out of sight of patrolling soldiers, you also have to learn to survive in the harsh wilderness. While bosses in Metal Gear Solid 2 had a stamina gauge in addition to their normal life meter, which functioned as an alternate victory condition for those opted to play with minimal violence, for this game, the player character has one as well. It gradually decreases over time as he moves or even passively waits in a single location. Getting hit with a tranquilizer dart or covered with leeches causes the meter to decrease at a faster rate.
As one might expect, this problem is remedied by eating food. Because the main character was given the bare minimum of supplies for his mission, all sustenance must be hunted for on location. Luckily, the jungle is teeming with exotic flora and fauna that give him boosts of energy once consumed. With a few notable exceptions, how much of the meter is refilled depends on the tastiness of the food. Be forewarned though, like all exotic rainforests, it is teeming with many animals and fungi decidedly unfit for human consumption due to their toxicity. Fortunately, a knowledgeable medical adviser is on standby so every time you obtain a new source of food, you can ask her if it’s a good source of nourishment.
When hunting for animals, you can elect to tranquilize or slaughter them. If you kill them outright, the carcass will steadily begin to rot, so if you intend to eat it, you must do so within a reasonable timeframe. Meanwhile, using non-lethal means to hunt allows you to preserve the animal indefinitely assuming it’s small enough to fit inside one of the three capture cages that have been provided to you.
During the course of the game, you might suffer serious injuries such as broken bones, deep gashes, and getting poisoned. When this happens, a section of the life meter will become red, decreasing your maximum health. Because they will not heal on their own, you will need to perform surgery on yourself. You are allotted many first aid supplies including bandages, bottles of antiseptic, splints, and burn ointments. Each type of injury requires a different set of supplies to fully treat. Once the process is finished, the red portion of the meter will disappear, allowing you to make a full recovery.
Interactions with the environment aren’t limited to hunting wildlife, however. Because traversing a jungle isn’t exactly the same as sneaking around military installations, extra measures must be taken to ensure the enemy does not see you. This solution to this problem introduced a mechanic that has been a mainstay of the series ever since: camouflage. You have the ability to change clothing and face paint to help disappear from the enemy’s sight. How well you blend into your surroundings is represented by a number in the top-right corner of the screen. The higher the percentage, the closer the enemy needs to be in order to see you. Obviously, prone positions and crouching will make your character stand out less while standing or making any kinds of sudden movement will cause soldiers to notice you instantly if you’re not careful.
Should combat prove inevitable, you are given several new options to deal with enemy soldiers. To wit, hand-to-hand combat is far more advanced than it was in previous titles. You have the option to grab guards from behind, hold them at knifepoint, and interrogate them to gain valuable intel. From there, you can slit their throat or throw them into the ground for an instant knockout. You can even use this technique to disarm opponents entirely, and the combinations you can pull off using these techniques is impressive to say the least. This style of combat, known as CQC (Close Quarters Combat), is ideally performed with one-handed weapons such as handguns. Any weapon that permits you to perform these takedowns while equipped will have a CQC tag in the window.
The amount of new features introduced in this installment alone is astounding, and once again, I have to applaud Mr. Kojima and his staff for coming up with these innovative ideas even when they could take the easy way out by giving the audience more of the same. It effectively continues the trend prevalent in this series by retaining the same core gameplay, but presenting it in a way so that it provides an entirely new experience.
To start with, the level design of Metal Gear Solid 3 is superb. You’ll never get lost, where to go next is carefully laid out, each area has its own set of obstacles to circumvent, and the environments themselves have a ton a variety from dense forests to lofty mountain peaks. I also like how when exploring the wilderness, in lieu of background music, you are treated to a magnificent soundscape that only ceases when the guards have been alerted to your presence. Along with these occasional stretches in which there isn’t a single human enemy present, all of this helps with the immersion process, allowing one to soak in the scenery organically without the narrative needing to chime in. The key is that the pacing is perfectly balanced; it’s not wall-to-wall action sequences, yet the developers don’t withhold them from you for too long, making them much more memorable when they do occur.
Speaking of which, it’s worth mentioning that the series had steadily upped the ante in regards to its boss fights. In the original Metal Gear, encounters against major opponents were rarely more complicated than finding the one section of the room their attacks could not reach and spamming remote-controlled missiles at them until they died. When Mr. Kojima set out to create this installment, he wished to make the boss fights different than anything the medium had ever seen up to this point. I could tell when playing the finished product because Metal Gear Solid 3 pits you against much more creative foes, each with a gimmick that forces you to adopt far different tactics than you would for normal enemies. Especially on higher difficulties, it’s imperative that you scope out the arena the best you can to gain an advantage over your opponents in addition to studying their patterns so you can determine when it’s best to launch a counterattack.
As with most great works, the beauty of Metal Gear Solid 3 is in the intricate details. After recovering from a serious injury, the protagonist’s health bar increases in length by a small amount. If this happens often enough, by the end of the game, he can endure twice as much punishment as he could when his mission started. It’s an effective way of symbolizing his newfound ability to endure harsh circumstances. Eating unpleasing foods enough times will eventually cause your character to get used to the taste. In one pitch-black area of the game, if you simply wait a few minutes, the screen will become slightly lighter, representing your character’s eyes adjusting to the dark. One could conceivably write an entire article detailing all these little secrets, and it goes a long way in demonstrating just how much care and attention this game received from its creator.
Now, I will be the first to admit that as good as this game is, some of the new ideas are a bit strange when putting them into practice. Although I like having to maintain the stamina meter by hunting, it’s a little annoying having to call the medical expert every time to discover whether or not the fresh kill is that of an edible animal. It’s especially bad if she is unable to discern whether or not the food you obtained is poisonous or not. It’s also slightly irritating sustaining major injuries because it often means having to interrupt boss fights or any other important part of the game to treat them. I also initially found it a bit disappointing that suppressors have limited durability and certain gadgets require batteries, meaning you can’t use them indefinitely. This isn’t even mentioning how illogical it is that the main character can apparently switch clothes and face paint in less than a millisecond in real time.
However, at the end of the day, none of these aspects came close to dampening the experience. The conversations the main character has with the medical expert and the other members of mission control are usually engaging enough that, even on a second playthrough, I found myself wanting to hear them again. Although it’s a little less convenient than a single button press, I wasn’t too annoyed by having to perform surgery manually, and during lengthy boss fights, it’s nice to have a short break so you can weigh your options. On a similar note, the removable silencers represent an interesting internal debate about whether it’s better to save them or use them all the time and hope you’re a good shot. Thankfully, along with batteries for your electronic equipment, the game supplies you with plenty of suppressors if you’re observant, so as long as you don’t play around with them too much, this isn’t much an issue. Along with the surgery mechanic, it’s an effective way of teaching players to manage their resources effectively – a skill essential not only for this game, but real life as well.
Analyzing the Story
The Cobra Unit was assembled in 1942 during the Second World War by the West to help combat the Axis Powers. It was a team of six super soldiers named after the emotions they brought into battle. Led by a young soldier referred to as The Boss, the team conducted covert operations that were never to be disclosed to the public. To enforce their secrecy, each member of this battalion carried a microbomb on their person which would automatically detonate in the event that any of them were killed in battle. Their greatest accomplishment was during the D-Day landings at Normandy in 1944 when they successfully sabotaged many V2 rocket installations.
After World War II concluded, an iron curtain descended upon Europe, dividing the continent in two. The Western half aligned themselves with democratic governments while the Eastern half found themselves under the hegemony of the Soviet Union. Though tensions between these two factions were still high, the conflict that engulfed the globe in a massive conflagration left both sides unwilling and unable to fight. Thus began the Cold War: a period in history marked by great political strife, but without either side engaging the other in combat directly.
It is now the year 1964, and the possibility of the Cold War igniting into a full-scale conflict has arisen. Two years ago, a Soviet scientist by the name of Nikolai Stepanovich Sokolov wished to defect to the United States. However, during this time, President John F. Kennedy received word that the Soviets intended to deploy IRBMs (intermediate-range ballistic missiles) from Cuba. He demanded that they dismantle and remove the warheads, setting up a naval blockade to prevent shipments from reaching their intended destination. After several frantic negotiations, a nuclear holocaust was averted in an event the history books would call the Cuban Missile Crisis.
In exchange for pulling their weapons out of Cuba, the Soviets requested that Sokolov be returned to their soil so he may complete the project he had abandoned when he defected. According to what intel could be gathered, Sokolov was working on a superweapon called the Shagohod. The CIA sent an agent codenamed Naked Snake to extract the scientist in an effort to stop its development and learn more details about its capabilities. He was selected due to his experience fighting in the Korean War and having been a protégé to the legendary soldier who founded the Cobra Unit nearly twenty years before: The Boss.
This operation quickly took a turn for a worse when Snake was confronted by his mentor who had supplied a GRU colonel, Yevgeny Borisovitch Volgin, with two portable Davy Crocketts. Once it was in his possession, Volgin used the launcher to fire upon a Soviet research facility, killing his own countrymen. As it was an American-made warhead that showed up on the Soviets’ radar, this act quickly sparked an international incident. The Soviet Premier, Nikita Khrushchev, made a telephone call to U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, accusing him of declaring war on his country. In an effort to avert another potential disaster, Johnson assured Khrushchev that the attack was not orchestrated by the U.S. Government, but The Boss and Colonel Volgin acting independently. However, Khrushchev demanded that the United States prove their innocence by killing their former agent themselves.
After having recovered from the injuries he sustained during his first mission, Naked Snake is accused by his superiors of being involved with The Boss’s defection. With only one way to acquit himself, he accepts a new mission: Operation Snake Eater. He has been tasked with rescuing Sokolov before this new weapon is fully developed and terminating the former members of the Cobra Unit, who had gone rouge alongside their leader.
Every installment in the series up until this one was set a few years in the future from the original release date. Therefore, it could be assumed that up until 1995, the year the original Metal Gear was set, the franchise had a history which mirrored the real world’s. Before Mr. Kojima retconned them entirely, it could be used to explain certain discrepancies such as the StB (the Czechoslovakian secret police) existing in 1999 or the main character being handed an obsolete cell phone in 2009.
Because Metal Gear Solid 3 was the first game set in a year long before its original release date, it led to Mr. Kojima and his staff developing an alternate history for the series. In light of a certain plot twist from Metal Gear Solid 2, this was inevitable. Still, the Cold War is certainly an intriguing period in world history rife with many stories, many of which will be lost to the sands of time, so I liked seeing what kind of spin the Metal Gear franchise would put on it.
Ever since the series made the leap to 3D, every chapter of this saga has revolved around a central theme. In the case of Metal Gear Solid 3, it’s “Scene,” referring to the setting in which the events of this game come to pass. The narrative makes a strong point of how personal and transitive the right/wrong and ally/enemy dichotomies are and how such absolutes are ultimately an illusion. Snake is forced against his will to assassinate his mentor due to circumstances far beyond his (or any one person’s) control. In doing so, this premise provides a clever deconstruction of spy thrillers that were popular during the sixties.
The relationship between Snake and The Boss is one of my favorite aspects of this game’s plot. What makes it particularly intriguing is how it can’t really be described with familiar terms. It’s much more than a causal friendship, yet it’s not the least bit romantic. He looks up to her as a mentor figure, but calling her a surrogate mother figure would be an inaccurate assessment. It’s a very complex, three-dimensional relationship that I don’t think I’ve ever seen attempted in any other video game, for it doesn’t easily fit the mold of most interpersonal interactions – fictional or otherwise.
There is a somewhat vocal minority within the Metal Gear fandom that expressed disappointment with this installment. This animosity stems from the possible perception that, despite its elaborate setup, the plot of Metal Gear Solid 3 could be construed as significant step down from its direct predecessor. I don’t agree with these fans in the slightest. I did immensely enjoy Metal Gear Solid 2 for the crazy ideas Mr. Kojima threw out there, but I think it also demonstrates what happens when a writer’s unbridled ambition goes unopposed; it results in a work with numerous creative concepts weighed down by some of the more unfortunate ones that would have been caught and removed had the editors been allowed to do their job. Metal Gear Solid 3 takes a step back, and follows the trends set by the first 3D installment by featuring an elaborate, twisting plot that doesn’t collapse under its own weight.
What really ties the entire plot into a nice package is the ending. In a series where the acting is admittedly hit-or-miss, the final sequences of this game will leave an indelible impression on whoever plays it. In its proper context, it’s one of the most powerful moments in gaming history, and I will not spoil it for those unfamiliar with the series. If you wish to know what I’m talking about, go into this game as blind as possible and avoid discussing it with others online until you’re finished.
Drawing a Conclusion
Metal Gear Solid 3 has it all: polished gameplay that elevates the series to new level, a memorable cast of characters who have compelling arcs, an amazing presentation, and an excellent soundtrack to give it an action movie feel. Although this chapter didn’t move as many units as its two direct predecessors, a majority of the fans have since placed it upon a pedestal, declaring it a sacred cow. I don’t feel any work is truly above criticism, but there’s no denying that it stands not only as a highlight of the 2000s, but also as one of the finest games ever made. Owing to the fact that Metal Gear Solid 3 is set chronologically earlier than any other game in the series, it could serve as a viable introduction for newcomers. Furthermore, recent versions of this game include the original two MSX installments as a bonus feature, allowing you to follow the series from its humble beginnings if you so desire. Do whatever you can to try this game out if you haven’t already; I can say without a shadow of a doubt you’re in for a real treat.
Final Score: 10/10