I’ve been looking forward to talking about this game; Metal Gear Solid 3 is without a doubt my favorite game of all time. Top of the list…. Cream of the crop…. Best game ever! And that’s no exaggeration.
Released for the PS2 in 2005, MGS3 serves as a prequel to the Metal Gear games, following the character Naked Snake who would later become known as Big Boss, the father to the Snake triplets. See what I mean about these games running parallel to Castlevania? Castlevania 3 was a prequel, which focuses on Trevor Belmont, ancestor to Simon from the first two games!
The story of Snake Eater follows Snake as he tries to stop the development of a new super weapon called Metal Ge…I mean, the Shagohod, and to assassinate his mentor who had defected over to the other side, the Boss. So once again we have the standard Metal Gear affair; MGS had you take down Liquid Snake and Metal Gear Rex, MGS2 on Solidus Snake and Arsenal Gear and now the Boss and the Shagohod. Each game contains one of these representatives up until the end of MGS4; take out something representing Metal Gear and fight someone representing Big Boss. Even in this game where you play as Big Boss and Metal Gear isn’t even created yet (though the man who originally came up with the concept, Granin, makes an appearance) these principles still make an appearance.
Thematically the game uses the Cold War as a backdrop to the concept of soldiers serving as tools of Governments, which don’t care about them, and helping to establish Big Boss’ ideology. This time around the cutscenes don’t waffle on like in previous games, but rather every scene helps to effectively flesh out the universe. The setting of the Cold War is one that appealed to me personally, being an actual period of History that I actually find fascinating way back in High School, so if you’re a history fan like me (or history nerd, take your pick) then this will appeal to you. It even takes influence from James Bond, another Cold War set story, right down to the opening sequence (with that awesome theme song!).
Gameplay is all about survival this time around; it builds on the established gameplay of 2 with some new features. First is camouflage, using uniforms to blend in with the background. Switching between uniforms allows you to blend in with different environments, like tall grass or dirt. Others have different abilities, like allowing you to control hornets, making you immune to burns, or turning you near invisible at the cost of your stamina, or even an outfit which makes opponents flee from your smell. Most of these special camos are acquired by defeating bosses non-lethally, making the fight more difficult but giving you an added incentive to take the risk. This adds an entire new dimension to stealth gameplay, whereas before you always had to use cover and distractions to get by. This is an interesting change to the system, possibly inspired by the Splinter Cell series use of shadows to hide even while in the view of the enemy, but moving can give you away (though that is purely a theory on my part).
The next big change is the inclusion of stamina and replenishing it by eating. This is part of the reason why the game got the subtitle Snake Eater; you can kill or capture wild animals for food, and eat them to replenish stamina. Low stamina can make aiming and healing much more difficult, or you can even pass out from it. Food even spoils over time, in real time too; when you shut off the game, it uses the built in clock to calculate how long time has passed and has the food go off the next time you clock back in if it’s been a few days.
There’s also food which doesn’t spoil, like rations or calorie mates, which you can steal off soldiers or even rob the enemy pantries for supplies. Not only that, but it’s also possible to blow up the storage building itself and as a result all soldiers in the area will get hungry and become less able to fight. You can do the same to enemy helicopters and armories to rob them of their firepower. Like with the bosses non-lethal takedowns, taking risks will pay off big time later. This is a running theme in this game and one which may have led to the change of attitude in the franchise of giving players a choice on how to play the game, rather than using the controls to restrict the player and force them to use stealth to progress effectively. Here stealth is still very much important to the overall gameplay, but it’s something to bare in mind going into the next game, and especially in MGS5.
The third inclusion is the ability to conduct first aid on yourself, by stitching wounds or digging out bullets. You begin with limited supplies, but eventually you have to find your own, either in enemy store houses or in wild, using herbs and plants as disinfectant or splints. This adds an entirely new risk to combat, and is a feature that sadly hasn’t turned up again in following games. Some of these injuries like poison can kill over time, though most will simply prevent you from healing.
The biggest inclusion to the series is CQC, a combat style created by the Boss and allows the player much more freedom in close quarters; you can slam your enemy to knock them out, get them in a choke hold, interrogate, slit the throat, use them as a shield, it really opens up a ton of possibilities in combat. It also encourages the use of the pistol, since you can use it both to shoot and at the same time as CQC, which you can’t do with rifles. I say this is the biggest, since it has the biggest impact on the series as a whole; before now your hand to hand skills were limited, but now you’re a force to be reckoned with. Of course you can’t just charge the enemy empty handed, but it does do a great job making it so that being seen isn’t necessarily a death sentence, and gives you a chance to escape and take out enemies non-lethaly.
Probably the biggest change in the series is the setting; before this the gameplay was all about infiltrating a facility and the game was restricted to that setting (with the exception of the jungle in the NES version of Metal Gear and the tanker in MGS2, though these have only been prologues to the main mission in both games), but in Snake Eater the setting changes as the game goes on; you move from a jungle, to a swamp, a forest, a desert and finally the enemy base itself. This is interesting to note, since the game still sticks to the principles of the series while changing things around it.
This is what makes Metal Gear work as a series; it knows what to change and what to keep, rather than keeping everything the same. You want it to feel like Metal Gear, but you can’t be afraid to innovate. Compare this to Megaman, in which the game is always the same between sequels for over 10 installments; defeat the robot masters and then take on Dr Willie. Granted the abilities you gain and other factors make it different each time, but these are small improvements rather than big ones. This is why Kojima takes his time between games, allowing significant improvements each time, as opposed to the Call of Duty method of releasing games quickly with limited changes. You can keep something the same because it works and is perfect as it is, or you can redefine perfection.
And then of course there are the boss battles, and this game has debatably the best in the series.
The first is a less of a boss though is treated as such; that being a battle against GRU special forces. This is a staple of the series; the first, or at least one of the first, boss encounters is against a group of soldiers; in the first game the enemies simply enter the room one by one, waiting to be taken out by you, though this was limited by the limited controls. In 2 you fight a team of marines, using the new 1st person view combat and allowing the new gameplay to be used effectively. However you were still limited by the controls, tuned for stealth gameplay. In this game however you are able take out all enemies without being seen, or even killing anybody. This is what I was talking about back when I talked about the first game; if you’re going to have these limited controls, you need to make sure that encounters are designed around these controls, rather than forcing a combat encounter that goes against these controls. Instead MGS3 designs the encounter around the existing stealth gameplay, and keeps the game purely stealth based, as far as battles against ground troops goes anyway.
The second battle is against Ocelot; the same character from MGS, though much younger. The entire fight takes place across a gorge, using cover and 1st person to try and get a one up on your opponent. There are other things you can do as well, like shooting hornets nests onto his head or even standing in the middle of the battlefield and challenging him to a quick draw duel. It’s similar to the boss battle from MGS, where you have to try and get behind your opponent and shoot him while he’s reloading, but with more freedom to move around and adopt different tactics.
The third is the first of series of characters known as the Cobras, bringing us the other meaning behind the subtitle snake eater, and the apprentices of the Boss.
This first encounter is against the Pain, a character who controls hornets. These little buggers can fly around him to form a shield, which you can blow away with a grenade or shotgun, or simply wait them out. They can also carry grenades or be used to shoot at you. The worst can even dig into your skin, requiring you to dig them out with your knife.
The fourth is the Fear, a man who can turn invisible and takes pot-shots at you with a crossbow, with either standard, explosive or poison tipped bolts. On top of that there’s traps around the arena, which can take you down if you’re not careful, giving the whole encounter a sort of Predator feel to (though allegedly Hideo Kojima based a scene with Volgin around a scene from Predator specifically, so that might not be too far off) His fight is one of the most interesting, since his invisibility lowers his stamina, which he replenishes by eating food he either shoots or finds. So if someone were to have some spoiled food on hand or a poison frog, and happened to scatter them around the battlefield where he might find them… See, this is why this game is so awesome; it’s not just follow the set path how you take out your opponent, so you can adopt strategies and find your own tactics. Most boss fights there’s usually a specific way to do it; like in MGS where you fight Grey Fox, simply avoid his attacks and punch, so there’s no option to try a different strategy. But in MGS3 it’s all about your own methods.
The fifth is an all time favorite! The End! A massive cat and mouse game between you and an ancient sniper, taking place across several small areas. So how do you do it? Try and out snipe him, looking for the light form his scope, using your camo to avoid detection? Or perhaps you look for his trail, track him down and shoot him right in the back? Or have him die of old age? All viable tactics here (and I’m not kidding, you can actually have the End die of old age), making this a really tense and unique boss battle. Every other boss battle in a game tends to be an up-close fight between you and him, but this is an actually a boss battle based around stealth, where neither side knows where the other is, and it’s a race to see who messes up first (it’s like a video game version of the sniper scene from the Hurt Locker, which might give you an idea of the situation I’m talking about here).
The sixth is another stealth boss fight, but this time against a maniac with a flamethrower and a jet pack, known as the Fury. This one can get really intense; you can hear this guy stomping around in the dark, but you can’t see him. Your enemy could be around every corner, and if he sees you first you’re in for a world of hurt. But that’s not all; as time goes on he gets angrier and starts charging after you, spreading flames around the halls.
The seventh is the most unique, the Sorrow. Here it’s a simple walk down a river, where you’re ambushed by the ghosts of bosses you’re killed, which drain your health. But it’s not just them! There’s a ghost for every single enemy you killed along the way. They even represent the way that they died, with enemies that have their necks slashed open to guys who are on fire! No other game has tried to be this meta; have you ever thought about the people you killed in any other shooter, outside of a score? Here you actually have to face the ghosts of the people you defeated, facing up to your actions literally? It’s an unbelievably awesome experience, and possibly the most unique experience in any game (saying that, someone will probably turn around and show me a whole list of game which handled this concept first and better, but for now you’ll forgive me for revealing in my ignorance).
The eighth encounter is against the big bad Colonel Volgin, blocking your bullets with lighting, and even firing his own bullets from his hand. It’s a straight up duel with a prick who you really come to despise throughout the game for his sadistic tendencies, and it’s a truly euphoric feeling to knock him on his ass!
Ninth is a motorcycle chase through the base, evading the Shagohod as it rampages after you, ending with a fight against the machine itself. It’s a pretty cinematic scene if nothing else, and while it does little to innovate it is still a memorable encounter.
And finally, the Boss herself. This is one of my favorite antagonists from any game, if not the favorite. She starts out as your mentor, giving you advise and helping you learn the basics. Then in the main game itself she’s a constant presence; kicking Snakes ass at every turn. Everyone backs down from her abilities without her even having to threaten anyone; it’s this sense of charisma that just emanate from the character herself. You look forward to this final encounter, and it doesn’t disappoint; a one on one duel in a field of flowers, surrounded in billowing petals, with the games theme song playing over the final battle. You can use stealth, CQC or your remaining ammo to take on this badass mama, until you finally come out on top. It’s a real feeling of triumph when you finally defeat her, but also a tragic one. You come to like the character and empathize with her motives, and then you have to pull the trigger yourself (literally too).
On the whole, MGS3 is a fantastic, immersive experience. One which not only innovates on what came before in major new ways, but also sets the bench mark for what’s to come in future games. It’s story is complex and engaging, and I honestly watch every cutscene every time I play, which tends to happen at least once a year. It’s a true benchmark for fantastic storytelling, and well designed gameplay, that even years later still proves to be enjoyably engaging. I can’t encourage you to buy this game enough, and it’s even welcoming to new comers to the series, focusing on an entirely new story and characters. If you’re going to start anywhere in this series, it should be either with Metal Gear, Metal Gear Solid, or this, especially going into Metal Gear Solid V.
And it only gets better from here my friends, when next time we remember Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots…..