Tuesday, December 22, 2009

25 Days of Christmas - #4: Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

Metal Gear Solid has always been the pinnacle of great storytelling. The first two titles in the series, as well as the original Metal Gear games, had focused around a near-future setting where control of Metal Gear mechs meant strategic dominance. It seemed rather odd when Kojima showed the first footage of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, as Snake was completely removed from the dystopian world realized in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Instead, Snake was running around the jungles of Russia. But this was in fact not the same Snake, nor was the game occurring in the same era. This Metal Gear Solid title actually took place in 1964, long before the events of the original Metal Gear.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater put players in control of Naked Snake, a veteran soldier on a mission to retrieve scientist Sokolov from the Soviets. Sokolov has been used to help the Russians build the Shagohod, a tank capable of traversing any terrain. Equipped with rocket engines on either side of the vehicle, the Shagohod can propel itself fast enough to launch a missile off its catapult and into the U.S. But as Snake quickly finds out, the forces he’s up against are much tougher than anticipated. The rescue mission is botched as Snake discovers that his former mentor – The Boss – has defected to the Russians. It is also revealed that the Russian forces are divided between Nikita Khrushchev’s current regime and Colonel Volgin’s intent to overthrow him.

After witnessing Volgin nuke his own countrymen, Snake is retrieved and sent to a U.S. hospital to recover from his wounds at the hands of The Boss. Major Zero then instructs Snake that – in order for both of them to correct their mistake – Snake must be deployed on a second mission in Russia to stop the completion of the Shagohod, placing Sokolov’s rescue as secondary importance. Thus begins Naked Snake’s grueling journey that is Operation: Snake Eater.

The rescue mission at the start of the game serves mainly as an introduction to the controls and story. Players are given a refresher course on the same basic control system from Sons of Liberty, as well as given a glimpse at their later foes. But this portion of the game also gives players hands-on training with the camouflage and medical menus. The different camo combinations hide players from enemy soldiers more or less depending on their surroundings, and include Snake’s uniform and face paint. As the Metal Gear Solid titles tend to encourage players to choose stealth over direct combat, the camo system becomes an invaluable asset over the course of the game. The medical menu allows players to heal Snake as he is injured throughout the game. But just as in real life, a few bandages simply won’t do the trick. Players will have to apply ointment to cuts before bandaging them up, use Snake’s cigar to burn leeches off his skin, and remove bullets from his body. Healing his wounds will cause Snake to heal faster, as well as calm his hunger.

The characters in the game are so deep and believable, from Snake’s sultry sidekick EVA, to sadistic military leader Volgin, to young and reckless Ocelot. While the relationship between Snake and The Boss breaks Metal Gear Solid tradition a bit, there is much more thought put into Snake’s actions as he constantly dwells on the fact that he will inevitably have to fight his former mentor. Before doing so, however, Snake must engage in battle with each member of The Boss’ Cobra Unit. The Pain will send hordes of bees at Snake, both to distract and attack him. The Fear will use poison dart arrows and the height of the trees to his advantage. The End will spend time moving around one of the largest boss battle maps ever seen in a video game, sniping Snake as he goes. The Fury uses his skills as a former cosmonaut to fly around and attack Snake with his flamethrower. Though not a member of the Cobra Unit, Volgin will battle Snake twice, once man-to-man, and a second time inside the Shagohod. Every one of these battles plays out differently, and tosses an interesting and well thought-out challenge at the player. It all leads up to the most challenging boss battle in the game, as Snake must fight The Boss to the death.

In the same style as Sons of Liberty, Snake Eater was later released with an expanded version known as Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence. This included a Snake vs. Monkey minigame, which brought back Solid Snake as he tracks down monkeys from Ape Escape with direction from Colonel Campbell. A comedy theater was added to the original cutscene theater, showing blooper scenes, and two parody films where Raiden and Sigint both attempt to steal the spotlight from Snake. Players can also access new camouflage, including a tuxedo and Santa suit, as well as face paint of the flags of various countries.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater captures the essence of the time period brilliantly. The architecture looks exactly as it should for Soviet-era Russia. The political tension can be felt throughout the game, looming ominously over the story. Each time Snake saves the game, Para-Medic will talk about movies or events from the period, making the experience all that much more involved. The story is brilliantly executed, and despite the fact that many of the cutscenes clock in around a half hour, the game flows in a perfectly fluid motion. The pacing is fantastic, slowing down and speeding up where appropriate. Kojima is a genius storyteller, and some of his best material shines through in Snake Eater. You actually care a great deal for Snake and EVA, and the dark ending that Snake has to face put me at the verge of tears. This game conveys emotion on a level that most other developers could never dream to achieve. The game sets up perfectly for the transition to the other games in the series, and players can finally see for themselves the man that would eventually become Big Boss.

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