Wednesday 10 April 2013

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

Apparently I was the only human being oblivious of Metal Gear Solid 3's existence when it was released. "It's the bestest PlayStation 2 game ever", said the press, "look at those green and brown textures, aren't they hip and rad?!".

Sure looks "hip and rad" to me... if you've never seen video game graphics before. Anyway here we go with part two of whatever - 2004's Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, the modern "HD" version for modern "HD" people.

Metal Gear Solid 3 is a fine explanation as to why this series divides opinion. Here were are, clinging onto the past (or future??) with "Naked Snake", a man who invests a great deal of time and effort crawling around in the mud to stop "The Boss" in mid-1960s Soviet Russia. A woman turns up, the RB button lets you stare at her breasts, and Snake goes into a monologues about guns. Then follows a strange trip through the jungle to rescue people and METAL GE-uh SHAGO...HOD.

On the plus side, Snake Eater bothers to address some of the problems of its forerunners - lack of Raiden aside, by opening its levels out and equipping us with decent camera controls, I don't have to seek sanctuary in the D-Pad in fear of otherwise falling off something. Snake is less likely to try and start a family with solid objects and walls, but it's still only what I would call a partial solution to the Metal Gear Solid problem - now we're controlling a two dimensional man in a now three dimensional world, and it's not a match made in heaven.

Despite trying to reaffirm the series' vision on stealth with (dodgy) camouflage mechanics, it's best to class MGS3 a slow-paced action game instead. This is because in Snake Eater you will almost certainly be caught by all enemies you encounter, with the new measurement of success being how many bullets you have in your gun. And of course, it would be too sensible to address all of MGS2's control issues - though you can now fire on the go, combat is still a clunky and dangerous affair, and ducking is even less responsive than before. We even have a whacked-out difficulty curve too this time - who needs quality assurance?!

Rather than streamline the cumbersome menus and tedium, MGS3 adds to the bloat, with Snake being forced to feed himself, treat his wounds and even manage his backpack (because it's fun to repeatedly disrupt the the pace of play). The map is an extra screen away (despite being one of the most important tools) and while swimming no longer frustrates as it once did, bosses still range from the pointless to flat-out terrible.

Metal Gear Solid 3 boasted allegedly cutting-edge graphics back in the day, but even with the added benefits of HD resolutions and higher frame rates, I can't say I'm seeing the magic. Though statistically yes, the visuals are superior to those in Metal Gear Solid 2, the art direction is greatly hindered by the hardware and Cold War setting - "realism" in PS2 terms doesn't work, resulting in dated, murky nonsense far behind what rival systems were churning out at the time.

But I'd go further and say it's not even a pretty game by PlayStation 2 standards - the visuals serve their purpose as best as they can, but the lack of clarity amongst the scenery means you'll almost certainly get lost. Worse still, later sections of the game seem to lack some of the HD treatment - excessive motion blur, frame rate troubles and even more mud - the Sons of Liberty conversion was far more thorough.

It's also clear that despite being a selling point for Metal Gear Solid as a series, the writing (and acting) takes a hit in this adventure. As to be expected, the game likes to ramble, but this time it lacks personality - MGS2 keeps throwing plot twists in your direction, but here, no such thing occurs - it's just Naked Snake in the woods, paired with the ridiculous EVA character who refuses to get dressed and eventually needs to be micro-managed. Thankfully she gets crushed into an operating system to assist in the first tiberium war, but even then she was unable to comply when building was in progress!

Truth be told this isn't much of a Metal Gear Solid game anymore - while many of the core features remain, the setting, characters and reduced pacing create a substantially different experience, with only the mountains of dialogue and David Hayter keeping it on level footing. From a distance it's easy to think Snake Eater surpasses Sons of Liberty from a gameplay front, but stick Naked Snake in a crowded spot and you'll realise nothing's changed - it's still a clunky mess, and despite some key refinements, everything gained is counter-balanced by dodgy design. I found myself having to exploit a bug to defeat one boss - don't reload, just switch weapons twice!

But I suppose that's not to say Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a "bad" game - with seemingly hundreds of PlayStation 2 releases having similar ideas it would be unfair to single this one out for following silly trends. In many ways it's still an experience to recommend - production values are fairly high, and if you can train yourself to deal with Metal Gear Solid's gameplay drawbacks, it shouldn't cause much harm. Nevertheless it's understandable why despite their best efforts, this one can't command the fanbase of its predecessors - the foundations are still solid, but the structure is noticeably brittle.

1 comment:

  1. I have never been much fond of games but metal gear solid was easily one of my favourite games to play. I had a terrific childhood thanks to this game. And Thank you for posting about it. It brought back memories.