Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
"After the end of World War II, the world was split into two: East and West. This marked the beginning of an era called the Cold War."
Such is the setting for one of the greatest games I've ever had the honor of playing. The third installment of the Metal Gear Solid series: Metal Gear Solid III: Snake Eater.
Set in Cold War era 1960s, MGS III drops Snake into Tselinoyarsk, a fictional location in the heart of the former Soviet Union where he is tasked with eliminating a dangerous American defector, her entourage of an elite special forces team and the leader of a rogue faction of the Soviet army, rescue a kidnapped scientist, and destroy a Metal Gear ancestor known as the "Shagohod." Like your typical Metal Gear plot, the story is filled with more twists and turns than Top Gun at Great America.
However, what separates this Metal Gear's plot from its predecessors is not only the unprecedented depth the game goes into in subject matters such as religion, politics, Cold War tensions, war philosophy, and the abuse of science, but also the great insight the game provides on such matters (the end sequence, though lengthy, is a benchmark of videogame storytelling; so poignant and touching that it left a tear in my eye). Never before have I been so immersed in a game to the point where I'm still thinking about the game's messages almost a year after I first beat it. Even better is the fact that Konami has put so much information into a medium that kids will relate to. And who said you can't learn anything from video games?
The graphics are gorgeous, Doing away with the houses of steel and stone that dominated the landscape of the previous two MGSs, Snake is now in the jungles of Mother Russia and hence is surrounded by some of the most beautiful, lush, organic environiments I've ever seen in a video game. Fully rendered trees, bushes, rivers, streams, animals and present and the character models themselves are nothing short of breathtaking. Everything, from Snake's whiskers to the scars on Col. Volgin's face are present in all their glory. Far and away, MGS III is the best looking game I've ever seen on the PS2
Snake's usual assortment of weapons and gadgets are back, though there are some new additions. Probably the most useful of these new items is the combat knife, which Snake can use to slice, dice, interrogate enemies, kill food, and I think make a salad. There are several new weapons in the game in addition to the combat knife, but most of them are either watered down or goosed up versions of already available weapons.
Probably the biggest change in the game is the abolishment of the Soliton Radar system in accordance with the time period the game takes place in. Now, Snake will have to rely on the traditional method of camoflauge to blend it with his surroundings in order to survive. Provided that he lies still on the ground, Snake can make himself virtually invisibile to the passing enemy should he pick the appropriate camoflauge to his surroundings. Several camoflagues and face paints are hidden throughout the game; some are practical, others are just there to satisfy the gamemakers' sense of humor,
My favorite tagline in the game was "Use your senses." Indeed, in the absence of the Soliton Radar system that many gamers relied to heavily on to survive in the previous installments of MGS, the player will have to look, listen, and feel in order to survive. There are seveal gadgets, such as the motion detector, the anti-personel sensor, and the SONAR, but none of these are very useful. Rather than relying on pre-fabricated layouts of new areas, the game forces the player to immerse himself in the environment, observe his surroundings, and decide for himself which course of action is the best to take.
New to the game is the stamina bar located just below Snake's health bar. No longer can Snake just ingest a thousand-calorie ration and expect that to hold him over for the next week. Snake has to eat; if his stamina bar gets too low, his wounds won't heal, his vision will be blurry, and he'll have trouble holding a gun straight in first-person view mode. Fortunatley, he's in the middle of the jungle and local wildlife is abudant. The amount of stamina boost Snake receives depends on the kind of food he eats; if he eats something he likes, he'll receive a huge stamina boost and proudly proclaim how tasty his meal was. If he eats something he hates, he'll receive only a small stamina boost and whine like a little kid eating broccoli. The stamina systems is a very well implemented new aspect in the MGS series and provides a new dimension of gameplay.
Also new to the game is the medical kit located in Snake's backpack. No longer will a ration magically heal Snake's battle damage; he must stop and fix himself whenever he takes a hit. His medical kit is complete with bandages, splits, ointments, surture kits, etc. So that way you can fix his bullet wounds, dislocated limbs, thrid-degree burns, and gashes and be on your way. The only problem with this system is that none of Snake's wounds will really affect his handling and wounds heal on their own provided that your stamina bar is high. The entire system seems more novel than practical.
The boss fights haven't changed much from previous installments as many of them remain sexed-up games of hide-and-seek, though MGS III contains two of the most creative and fun boss battles I've ever had the privledge of participating in. I'll take GR's stance and not tell you which two boss battles those are, but all I can say is that once you actually play them, you'll know what I'm talking about.
Though Konami has always hired top-notch voice acting for the MGS series, and Snake Eater is no acception, there are more cheesy voices in this installment than there have been in previous chapters. David Hayter reprises his breakthrough role of Snake and once again delivers a masterful performance, but he seems to be the only standout as many of the voices seem awkward and miscast. Lori Allen, who provides the voice of The Boss, is supposed to play a master soldier; the mother of all special forces, a veteran of countless wars, the co-creator of CQC, and a partner in an armed resurrection, yet in the game she kinda sounds like an overly-concerned parent. Neil Ross (who provided the voice of Col. Volgin) sounds like he should be doing car commercials rather than videogames and I wouldn't be surprised if I found Josh Keaton (Ocelot) surfing the beach in Malibu this summer. Considering the game had such high production values, the voice acting is kind of a letdown.
Also, another new addition has been implemented into the game: Close Quarters Combat (CQC). Using a combination of button taps in conjunction with analog stick movements, Snake can perform all sorts of cool moves like throwing an enemy to the ground, knocking him unconscious, interrogating an enemy with a knife, using an enemy as a human shield, etc. Though these moves sound really cool on paper, pulling them off is a nightmare. Many of the moves are very touch sensitive and difficult to execute. For example, if you want to interrogate an enemy, you must creep up behind him, lightly tap and hold the circle button, then tap L3. If you hold the circle button too firmly, you'll slit the poor lad's throat and lose an interrogation opportunity. The system is very counter-intuitive and I hope it is somewhat refined for the next installment of MGS.
Though it is not without its flaws, MGS III is an excellent game that I enjoyed immensely. Hopefully some of the game's minor problems can be fixed in the next installment and Snake can continue doing what he does best: kicking ass.
+ Best looking game on the PS2 to date + Camoflague is well implemented and fun! + Deep and insightful story + Those two boss fights + Mmmmmm...recticulated pythons! *drool* + Some excellent voice acting... - ...along with some bad voice acting - CQC is counter-intuitive - Medical kit is more novel than practical.