Despite some flaws, it's the best in the series.
NOTE: This review was written by me years ago, but it's never been posted on GB, so enjoy!
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is quite possibly the best game in the entire series. It may not have the same impact the original MGS did back in 1998, but Snake Eater definitely excels in the areas that matter to most gamers.
For starters, the infamous “Codec moments” have been reduced considerably. Even though there’s plenty of dialogue to endure in the first few hours, most of the radio chatter is optional. In other words, there’s more emphasis on the gameplay, which is good—because the whole jungle/survival theme works well. Konami has finally found a good balance of watching long, drawn-out cutscenes vs. actually playing the game. Don’t misinterpret what I’ve said as meaning that the story was compromised for more gameplay hours—that is not the case. Konami merely figured out how to cut down on the philosophizing while still offering up first-rate stealth action.
MGS3 tries hard to sell you the idea that you’re all alone in a vast jungle, and that you must use your wits and whatever tools you can find to survive. For the most part, the game succeeds; there is no Soliton radar system, the number of items you can hold is limited, you must eat wildlife to stay healthy, and you must blend in with the environment to become invisible. You also need to treat wounds, which was introduced in MGS2, but is now expanded so much that you can’t cure a serious wound with a mere bandage. What hurts the survival theme a bit is the fact that Snake is built like a tank. For whatever reason, anything that comes Snake’s way isn’t going to hurt much. Additionally, he can regain his health over a short period of time; Snake is some sort of superhuman (it could be his genes…). Serious wounds affect your maximum health, but that’s all they do—they don’t hinder Snake’s actions in any way. For example, you can still use both arms for CQC when one is broken. These things don’t give the player a real sense of danger, which means that the player can actually be a bit careless and not be penalized much. Fortunately, there are higher difficulty settings, but it’s a bit ridiculous that Snake can shrug off most damage. Ironically, he takes quite a beating throughout several of the game’s cutscenes, where he goes down with almost zero effort. Speaking of the cutscenes, they are extremely well done. Except for one glaring flaw (the poor lip synching), the cutscenes are expertly directed. No matter how many times it’s said, a Metal Gear movie would be the best movie based on a game.
The camouflage system is pretty much the answer to the lack of good radar, and it works well. Snake needs to be able to blend in with the environment, because you never know when a guard is close by. Throughout the game, you will find lots of different camouflage patterns and face paint, but you’ll soon discover that you won’t have much use for most of them. The ones you start with are all you really need, but you can find special patterns with some useful abilities. It’s good that Snake can render himself virtually invisible to the enemy, because the camera does not do such a good job keeping you aware of enemies. Every Metal Gear game beyond the first had you rely on the radar, because you couldn’t see the entire map. But now that the radar provided isn’t so reliable, you’re forced to use the camera to look ahead before advancing toward your objective. But because the camera doesn’t pan so much, the first-person view is preferable for a better view of your surroundings. It’s a shame you still can’t move around in first-person view, and it’s still limited to just looking around and aiming your weapons. Expect to switch views a lot, because the camera just doesn’t get the job done like it should.
The introduction of the backpack was a good idea, but eventually you realize how unnecessary it is. The backpack limits how many items you can carry on hand, but the backpack itself can carry an infinite number of items. In that case, why have the bag in the first place? It’s obvious that the backpack was included because anyone who’s out in a jungle will have one, right? You will access the backpack frequently, so it’s a bit annoying having to pause the game just to switch out one item for another.
Eating food is not a complicated process, and it’s something you don’t have to do very often as long as you do all the right things that won’t result in Snake consuming more stamina. But hearing Snake’s reactions to what he eats makes it worth spending some time just eating the various animals you can find. For the players who want Snake to be on a strictly vegetarian diet, there isn’t a wide selection of food, and you have to look harder for such food (check the trees!), but it’s a good challenge for the players who don’t want their Snake eating meat.
MGS3 includes a training mode in the form of an oddball minigame called Snake vs. Monkey. In this game, Snake is given an order by Roy Campbell to catch as many monkeys as he can. As expected, our boy Snake reluctantly accepts the mission. Snake vs. Monkey is pretty fun, and new players should give it a try before playing the main game.
Boss battles are one of the highlights of MGS3. Not since MGS1 have the boss battles been fun. Unfortunately, the bosses are still easy, but they’re dynamic (i.e. there are several ways to finish off bosses), and that has to count for something. The most talked-about battle—the showdown against The End—can either be the best boss battle in recent memory, or it can be the most tedious and frustrating. I thought it was cool—it reminded me of the Rambo movies. The final battle deserves mention as well, simply for its beautiful setting.
Although it’s arguably the best game in the series, there’s still plenty of room for improvement in MGS3. Questionable gameplay issues aside, Snake Eater should not disappoint. 2004 was a great year for games, and MGS3 ensures that the year goes out on a high note.