We're back, baby! Nothing stops the Metal Gear May Madness train from rolling on to its next destination! If you're unsure what that destination is, you can find an outline of the journey here. If you think you may have missed your stop, please check the route planner below:
|The Episode Roster|
|Episode .01 - Metal Gear||Episode .02 - Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake|
|Episode .03 - Metal Gear Solid||Episode .04 - Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty|
Right now we're pulling into the fifth station on this eight-stop line - Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Please mind the gap when boarding and alighting the blog.
Episode .05 - Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
It's no secret that Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is my favourite game in the Metal Gear franchise. Actually, it probably wouldn't be unreasonable to call it one of my favourite games of all time. Most of the praise I've heaped on the preceding games also holds true here - Snake Eater boasts a gripping, labyrinthine story punctuated by dramatic twists and cinematic showdowns, solid and surprisingly flexible stealth gameplay, and some of the greatest boss fights ever to grace the medium. Oh, and it's got the obligatory nuclear-capable tank as well (even if it isn't technically a Metal Gear). This is all well and good, but there are two problems with this succinct description. For a start, it doesn't differentiate Snake Eater from anything that came before it (or should that be after it?), and second, it doesn't justify why I love it considerably more than any other game in the series. I'll therefore try to spend the next few paragraphs doing exactly these things.
I'll start by waxing lyrical about the gameplay changes, because they're easily one of my favourite aspects of Snake Eater. There's an increased emphasis on survival in Metal Gear Solid 3, a fact best illustrated by the new camouflage, hunting and healing systems, all of which are well integrated into the established sneaking experience. Changing uniforms to blend in with Naked Snake's surroundings, capturing and eating animals to maintain stamina levels, and using supplies to treat serious wounds all add extra layers of depth to the otherwise fairly simple stealth mechanics of the Metal Gear franchise, giving the player more things to micro-manage and maintain without ever overwhelming them.
Combat is augmented by the CQC system, a much-needed overhaul to the series' melee encounters that allows Snake to grapple, throw and choke without having to un-equip his firearm. It's a simple change that's hugely appreciated in tight spots, although the controls can be a bit fiddly and awkward, sometimes resulting in a feeble choke instead of the knock-out throw you originally intended. Finally, there's the fully-3D camera. Debuted in the Subsistence release of the game and now included as standard in the HD re-release, it makes surveying Snake's surroundings much slicker than the previous top-down perspective. Individually, all of these additions serve to improve the experience of playing Snake Eater. Together, they transform it into something that's leagues above its predecessors.
All these adjustments to the series' core gameplay are supported by Snake Eater's setting - the forests, rivers, mountains and research facilities of Cold War-era Russia. Snake Eater's environments are completely unlike anything else in the Metal Gear series. They're wildly varied, beautifully detailed, and surprisingly interactive. They complement the new gameplay mechanics perfectly, the natural outdoor environments providing a perfect backdrop for Snake's reliance on camouflage and survival techniques. Snake Eater's maps are also much more open than those of previous Metal Gear games, giving the player more choice in how they navigate them. Put simply, if Metal Gear Solid 2 gave the player a bigger arsenal of moves at their disposal, then Metal Gear Solid 3 gives them the space in which to use those moves to their fullest. This added freedom and the way it encourages the player to experiment is another reason why I've long favoured Snake Eater over its brethren.
Ultimately though, it's the little touches that have resulted in Snake Eater holding a special place in my heart. The Metal Gear series as a whole is famed for its attention to detail - a fact I've largely glossed over in previous entries in this blog series, but which it's pretty much impossible to ignore in Snake Eater's case. The game is full of these small design choices that go a long way towards making the game an unforgettable experience. Things like the way food you've caught will rot in real time according to the PS2's internal clock, or how sabotaging enemy camps will have subtle effects on guards in the vicinity (destroy a food store and they'll become hungrier, for example). Perhaps the most impacting of these touches for me personally was the revelation that you can defeat The End simply by saving the game during the battle and waiting for eight real days, after which he'd die of old age. Metal Gear Solid 3 is a ten-hour experience at its core, but could easily be stretched to several times that by a player diligent and curious enough to seek out its subtleties.
It's difficult for me to pick fault with Snake Eater, largely because the game itself sits so well with me. If I had to offer up one piece of criticism, it would probably be directed at the game's lacklustre frame-rate, which is a pretty bitter pill to swallow immediately after the crisp, clean aesthetics of Metal Gear Solid 2. It's been a while since my last foray into the Russian jungle, so I can't say for certain whether the exceedingly choppy frame-rate is down to the game itself or simply a by-product of (or worsened by) the PS3's emulation. Either way, it's definitely detrimental to the experience in places. It's a real shame, especially because the game is so gorgeous otherwise. Thankfully, it's my understanding that the HD version (which I'd imagine is now the most readily available version) runs at a flawlessly crisp sixty frames per second, effectively eliminating the game's biggest fault for a modern audience. Seriously though, when a janky frame-rate is my biggest criticism of a game, I really have to be clutching at straws.
As with all the other games, here are my final rankings for Snake Eater. I'm pretty happy with all of them - it's arguable I took too long playing through the game, given the constraints of the challenge, but I found myself really wanting to savour the experience of returning to my favourite instalment in the series.
Now, I realise I said above that nothing stops the Metal Gear May Madness train. However, one pretty big obstacle is sitting on the tracks in the form of the end of this month. Right now there are only two full days left in May - two days in which I've given myself the mammoth task of finishing three more Metal Gear games. I think that's a challenge that even Solid Snake himself would struggle with. For that reason, I'm declaring here and now that the Metal Gear May Madness challenge is all but a failure. Or, to keep rolling with the train metaphor, I think it's pretty safe to say at this point that Metal Gear May Madness is on course for a spectacular derailment.
But that won't be the end of this absurd challenge, which was always just as much about re-experiencing this incredible franchise of games as it was about ridiculously unfair time constraints. I still have Portable Ops, Guns of the Patriots and Peace Walker left to play, and I have no intention of simply dropping tools and not experiencing those segments of the series' story. Metal Gear May Madness will be going off-road and continuing into June - a challenge failed, but not forgotten. I'm planning to pick up Portable Ops tonight, and start sneaking my way through its campaign, May be damned. You can still expect blog updates on the remaining games, probably under a slightly revised title, as and when I beat them. In the meantime, thanks very much for reading guys, and I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops (PSP)