Kojima Finds Meaning In Player Action
Originally posted on my blog.
<strong>SPOILER ALERT</strong>: This review may cover plot points that will spoil MGS3.
"<em>Whoever wins, the battle does not end. The loser is set free from the battlefield, while the winner must remain there. And the survivor will live out his life as the warrior until the day he dies.</em>"
-Big Boss to Solid Snake
Metal Gear's story completely revolves around the subjects of loyalty and betrayal. From the absolute first game for the MGX all the way to Metal Gear Solid 3 Snake is always manipulated and even betrayed by the very people he has put his trust in. MGS 3 explores what is probably not the first betrayal in the MG canon, but the first important one. Kojima hops into his way-back machine to take us to 1964, the height of the Cold War. Our protagonist, the man who started it all, the man who will become Big Boss, the man who is the genetic father to Solid, Liquid, and Solidus, and the man who first takes the codename (Naked) Snake. It turns out that the Cuban Missile Crisis was not really averted at all by removing missiles from Turkey. No, it was a direct result of the US returning a valuable weapon's scientist to the USSR. Well guess what, the US wants Sokolov back and so begins the Virtuous Mission.
Naked Snake is air dropped into the heart of the Soviet jungle and instructed to keep a low profile as he recovers Sokolov. On his support squad are Major Zero, the movie-loving Para-Medic, and last, we have Snake's mentor, The Boss. If you've been reading this review at all, you can probably guess what happens to Snake as he begins his escape from Russia with Sokolov. The Boss betrays Snake, her team, the Cobra Unit, abducts Sokolov, and Snake is hurled off a bridge with a broken arm by The Boss where he is eventually recovered by US forces and taken home.
On their way out, the main antagonist, Colonel Volgin, nukes the former research facility that Sokolov was working at using missiles The Boss gave him as goodwill gifts, steals the Shagohad super weapon, and flees with Sokolov, the Cobra Unit, and Ocelot. Snake is debriefed by Major Zero a week later. Both Snake and the Major are in danger of being executed for treason. Khrushchev is not happy about the nuke going off and the US government does not believe that Snake was not involved with the defection of The Boss, his former mentor. Major Zero, Snake, and Para-Medic have one last chance: Snake must infiltrate Soviet Russia yet again, rescue Sokolov, destroy the Shagohad, kill Colonel Volgin, and, to prove his loyalty, kill The Boss. Because The Boss leads the elite Cobra Unit, the mission is given the name Snake Eater and the main game begins.
In many ways, this story is truly the masterpiece of MGS to date. Big Boss was a character born out of the 8-bit days, so his personality and his motivations seem very one-dimensional to anyone who remembers Metal Gear. Naked Snake's (the future Big Boss) betrayal at the hands of The Boss is absolutely meant to parallel Solid Snakes betrayal at the hands of Big Boss and shows the unfortunate and inevitable chain of events that plagues every protagonist of Metal Gear games. Naked, Solid, even Raiden have all had to murder their mentors and masters as a final test to prove their worth. The final battle between Snake and The Boss gave me chills, I could not believe how well-acted and well-put together it was. MGS3's ending is also amazing. You honestly have no soul if the end of this game, from at least the fight with The Boss onwards does not touch you in some way.
"<em>I raised you. I loved you. I've given you weapons, taught you techniques, endowed you with knowledge. There is nothing more for me to give you. All that's left for you to take is my life, by your own hand. One must die and one must live. No victory, no defeat. The survivor will carry on the fight. It is our destiny... The one who survives will inherit the title of Boss. And the one who inherits the title of Boss will face an existence of endless battle.</em>"
-The Boss to Naked Snake
If you thought MGS2 had its gameplay down to a science, wait until you boot up Metal Gear Solid 3. The camera, I think, should be the first things we talk about. MGS and MGS2 featured fixed cameras that restricted your view to preset, dynamic camera angles (less dymanic, more static in MGS) that oftentimes concealed guards, but was assisted by the super-accurate radar, complete with vision cones. Well Metal Gear Solid 3 takes place in 1964. There are no nanomachines or soliton radars to show you where all the enemies are. You have sonar and a motion detector. One makes an audible beep, the other is only useful when enemies are moving. Both can also pick up wildlife. If you haven't yet figured this out, MGS3 takes out a large degree of the guard stupidity where you would be able to tell exactly how far a guard could see based on his vision cone. It's another added bit of realism that is quite difficult to get used to at first, but eventually really adds to the game as it starts to feel like less of a game.
On the topic of realism...Snake now has a stamina bar that determines how well he can aim, how long he can hang, and will, I believe, begin to drain his life bar if fully depleted. Stamina is recovered by eating the food scattered throughout the jungle, from snakes to frogs to mushrooms to flying squirrels and more. These animals can be shot dead (or knifed dead, exploded dead, punched dead, etc.) and stored in that way or tranquilized and stored in cages to keep fresh or even use as weapons (ie: throwing a poisonous snake at a guard to freak him out and/or poison him) Food can spoil and actually give Snake indigestion, which brings us to our next point. Snake's health bar can be artificially depleted through injury. Bullet wounds, cuts and gashes, broken bones, poisonous animals, leeches, and indigestion can all afflict Snake and he must either repair his maladies in the CURE menu or you can also just save and quit and let time do the healing for you.
Even more controversial than the stamina meter is the camouflage system. At any given moment in time, Snake has a percentage bar in the top right corner telling the player how well Snake is blending in with his surroundings. High camo ratings means the enemy cannot see you, even if you are on the floor right in front of him. Of course, if he runs right up next to you and you're not 100% camo-ed (which is impossible with included camo) you will be spotted. It doesn't sound all that bad at first pass, but since camo options are handled in the pause menu, it amounts to a whole lot of pausing and unpausing just to swap face paints or camo suits. The new system does help add to the realism and make for smarter guards, but your willingness to suspend disbelief can be tested when, like I said, a guard is standing right next to you, but your forest colored pants are preventing him from seeing you.
The same basic weapons and accessories/items are included, but with a 1960s twist. There are no laser sights and there is no C4, but you get dynamite instead. Included is a new "Backpack" system, where Snake can only hold eight items and eight weapons accessible from the in-game menu, each with individual weights. The more weight he's carrying at a given moment, the faster his stamina depletes. Items and weapons are swapped using an option in the pause menu.
Snake also still has the option to go through the entire game without specifically killing one human being through his own actions (mostly). As you all know, this is one of my favorite features of the Metal Gear series and it actually made me start GTA IV this week wondering if I could get by without killing anyone (you can't).
One last word on the setting. MGS has typically had Snake infiltrating modern facilities and bases, not traipsing through the jungle, which I feel is a bit weaker of a locale. Hiding in the grass is cool and all, but I just love sneaking through futuristic settings instead of through the jungle, where I get bit by leeches and have to burn them off with a cigar. MGS4 should include a nice mix of both the more open jungle environments and the typical closed MGS locations, which should be a nice change of pace.
"<em>Liquid and Solid hunted down Big Boss, trying to sever the tie that bound them to him. Unless you kill me and face your past, Jack, you will never escape. You'll stay in the endless loop -- your own double helix.</em>"
-Solidus Snake to Raiden
As mentioned before, MGS3 instead deals with a jungle setting, which means that we get a nice green, damp, jungle-y look. The color is a bit washed out on my PS3, but I'm wiling to forget that. The character models all look superb and only showed their last-gen limitations sparingly. This is one of the best looking games on the PS2 though, it's not to be missed.
"<em>You're a soldier! Finish your mission! Prove your loyalty!</em>"
-The Boss to Naked Snake
Jungle sounds! Birds, frogs, snakes, etc. They all sound about right. The strength of MGS3 lies in its superb soundtrack. If you ever go to <a href="http://www.last.fm/user/el33tcapitan/">my last.fm page</a>, you may have noticed that I very recently received about six CDs worth of Metal Gear Solid soundtracks, which I am loving to death. The music in this game continually wows me as I listen to it.
The voice acting in this game continues to hold up to the high levels of quality one would expect. Snake, still voiced by David Hayter, is still the man and his team is still funny, if not just a wee bit less interesting this time around. There are still funny moments though:
"Sigint: Uh, Snake... What are you doing?
Snake: I'm in a box.
Sigint: A cardboard box? Why are you...?
Snake: I dunno. I was just looking at it and I suddenly got this urge to get inside. No, not just an urge - more than that. It was my destiny to be here; in the box.
Snake: Yeah. And then when I put it on, I suddenly got this feeling of inner peace. I can't put it into words. I feel... safe. Like this is where I was meant to be. Like I'd found the key to true happiness.
Snake: Does any of that make sense?
Sigint: Not even a little.
Snake: You should come inside the box... Then you'll know what I mean.
Sigint: Man, I don't wanna know what you mean! Between you and Para-Medic, is everyone but me that is hooked up with the Major strange!?
Sigint: Yeah, well, anyway, I suppose even that dumbass box might make a decent disguise if you wear it inside a building."
I'm still absolutely in love with the Metal Gear Solid series, even after three games. The characteristic humor is still there (when you die you get a message that fades into "Time Paradox." this message can also be prompted by killing Ocelot, a character in the later (chronologically) MGS games), the gameplay is still 100% superb, and the stories all get better with each game. I'm starting to approach a bit of a bittersweet point with MGS4, since I've heard it's the pinnacle of the series, but I don't want it all to end. Should you play Metal Gear Solid 3? Absolutely.
"<em>There's only room for one Boss... and one Snake...</em>"
-The Boss to Naked Snake