15 years later, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is still a triumph of game design

15 years ago on this very day, Konami put out the third entry in the Metal Gear Solid series. It went in a direction that few expected after Metal Gear Solid 2 revealed that all 12 members of the Patriots’ highest council had been dead for 100 years. Rather than dealing with those ramifications in the future, creator Hideo Kojima took the series to the past. And instead of going with modern-day action, we got a jungle-based Cold War thriller starring Naked Snake, the soldier that would eventually be given the title Big Boss. Metal Gear Solid 3 was a necessary step backward in order to wrap up the series in the right way, and the third-person stealth title added a ton of new systems that are still intriguing to look at.

Snake’s use of camouflage system in order to hide from soldiers in the robust outdoor environments was one of its coolest features. Laying in similarly-colored long grass was a great way to sneak up on enemies, and this system (like a lot of MGS3) would later get fleshed out more in Metal Gear Solid 5. Beyond that, players could eat wildlife in order to regain health and cook a variety of different meals. Snake could also get injured, and players would have to gather up the correct materials in order to heal him. It was the first time the series had such a robust survival system, and it’s what made Metal Gear Survive feel like a reasonable branching point from a gameplay perspective rather than the insidious cash-in it probably was.

ALSO: Metal Gear Games Ranked – The Best and Worst of Snake

Metal Gear Solid 3‘s best moments have stood the test of time

Metal Gear Solid 3

Nearly every aspect of Metal Gear Solid 3 was ahead of its time, but its greatest boss fight against The End still hasn’t been topped by any other games. He’s an old sniper and the battle against him can end in a number of different ways. Metal Gear has always been about giving players the freedom to attack a foe any way they wanted, but this takes it to a new degree. The duel is in a huge jungle area, and can even be completely avoided if the player is crafty enough. Earlier in the game, players are given a brief opportunity to snipe The End while he’s being transported in a wheelchair. The coolest way to win the battle is to actually just save the game during the fight and quit out of the game. If the player waits for over a week, The End dies from old age. It’s a ridiculous victory and not every fight is as open, but The End’s boss battle shows just how much freedom this game afford the player.

It’s not just the huge moments that MGS3 nails as it also manages to turn mundane gameplay into iconic scenes. One such sequence finds Naked Snake climbing a ladder for over two minutes. The player simply presses up on the control stick and nothing else goes on from a gameplay perspective. However, a killer James Bond-esque song called “Snake Eater,” sung by Cynthia Harrell, plays during the climb. It turns something that could be a frustrating bore into a beautiful moment that allows the player to reflect on what they’ve already accomplished and what hardship is to come. The ladder climb is still fondly remembered as one of the most memorable parts of the game, despite how odd it sounds in theory.

And while that ladder is mandatory, killing, like every other Metal Gear game, is purely optional. But none of the prior games have ever thrown the player’s body count back at them like the fight with The Sorrow. He is literally a ghost and has the player traveling along a river with all of the dead bodies that they had killed up to that point. It’s a sobering moment, and it shows just how information the game was tracking on the player. Many other games have examined how much harm the player is causing since then, such as the excellent Undertale and Nier: Automata, but few have thrown it in the player’s face so directly. Kojima isn’t known for his subtlety, and that often works to his advantage as players are forced to confront their behavior.

The ending of Metal Gear Solid 3 is still amazing

Metal Gear Solid 3

The most emotional moments comes when Naked Snake faces off against his teacher, and the seemingly traitorous, The Boss. Set in a gorgeous field of white flowers, it’s a battle of the protégé coming to grips with what he has to do in order to fulfill his mission. The revelation that The Boss had never actually betrayed her country makes the scene even more of a heartbreak. After the battle is won and players are treated to an eye-watering cutscene, they are given control once again and have to pull the trigger one final time to put The Boss out of her misery and do their job as a soldier. It’s a moment that forever changes the life of Naked Snake and one that defines him and one of the best scenes in any Kojima game. Few moments are as powerful and as expertly done even 15 years later.

However, my favorite scene comes near the very end of the game. After escaping with Eva on a plane headed toward Alaska, Revolver Ocelot barges in for one last encounter with Naked Snake. With only a single bullet left between them, they have an emotional exchange prior to a game of Russian roulette. “You’re not a snake, and I’m not an ocelot,” he opines after Snake doesn’t tell him his real name. “We’re men, with names … My name is Adamska. What’s yours?”

That’s when we finally learn that Big Boss was named John. What follows is a scene of gun tossing as only one of the two pistols has a bullet. The player is then given a chance to pick up one of the guns and then a choice whether or not to fire. This results in one of four possible scenes, and all of them are a beautiful moment between these two rivals that are forever locked in a life of espionage and conflict.

“Perfection” isn’t a word to just throw around, but that is exactly what Metal Gear Solid 3 is. It’s filled with emotional writing, iconic scenes, a story that is altered by how the player goes about their mission, and sneaking mechanics that are still varied and satisfying to this day. Kojima has made some incredible games since 2004 but MGS3 remains one of his most impressive achievements in all of gaming and is one of the best experiences in the entire medium even 15 years later.