The Metal Gear Solid franchise has always been a popular series of games attracting an almost fanatic, hard core crowd. Hideo Kojima's titles are known for their insanely twisted storylines, movie-like direction and production values. The latest episode in the series pushes the bar even higher for the PS2 and proves once again that both Snake and Kojima still have what it takes to keep up with the new kid on the block: Sam Fisher.
Set in the 1960's Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a prequel that deals with the dangerous time of the Cold War, where the US and USSR were locked in a deadly game of cat and mouse. Enter the fledgling FOX unit and Jack, the precursor to good old Snakey himself.
With the world's first HALO jump FOX and Jack make history and the story unfolds in true Kojima style.
Long cutscene masses of dialogue gameplay long cutscene dialogue and so on.
From iteration to iteration the MGS series has added new features and improved upon old ones extensively. Snake Eater even with the dodgy game name pushes the control method to its next step by giving the player more freedom of how to deal with their numerous patrolling adversaries. Snake is armed with a set of lethal new moves such as his CQB techniques and counters; all of these are of course explained in the tutorial video section and demonstrated effectively.
Kojima has upped the game considerably in this instalment by allowing the player the option of camouflage and face paint, this directly alters Snake's CAMO index and makes him harder to spot depending on the background in question. The higher the number the better of course and various factors alter the index even further, such as if you're in tall grass and lying flat.
The control method remains similar to many of the MGS games before it but now you can use the d-pad to move Snake in a stealth mode, allowing you to creep up on guards and down them without needing to fire a single shot. When they're down it's advisable to shoot out their radio so they won't wake and call for backup. Since it seems that even in the easier difficulty levels the guards will wake up now unless you drug them or knock them out again.
Snake can also use his knife to interrogate the enemy, his gun to hold them up and keep them down on the ground. If you do it right and they won't get back up again unless you leave the screen and head into another area. New to Snake Eater as well is stamina and having to indulge Snake's appetite (hence the dodgy title) to recover health and stamina as well, resting (by saving the game and switching off the console) can restore very low stamina and Kojima has always added quirky elements to his games.
If you take damage during the game you'll break bones, puncture lungs and generally get all sorts of injuries/diseases and maladies. So Hideo has kindly added the Cure screen as a new element where you can use suture kits, medicine, bandages and perform field surgery to make Snake better.
So with the camo screen, the eating of various snakes and other animals and the Cure screen Kojima has expanded the game into what could be the most detailed MGS game yet. The game plays differently and it's going to take even the most ardent fan time to get used to it, the rewards are there when you do however.
Snake Eater is mostly set in the outdoors and the rich jungle environments open up new possibilities for our hero, such as climbing the right trees and crawling through mud (or drowning as sometimes happens if you stray too far away from land) - Snake can swim in water but tends to sink like a stone in the muddy areas, if he's not eaten by Crocs first of course.
MGS fans will also notice that when you're spotted the whole evasion and hunt section of the game has been revamped, it can take quite a while to avoid searching enemies before you can escape and return back to your previous mission.
This is the most detailed MGS game yet in terms of texturing, graphics and models. Meticulous detail has been taken in ensuring that Snake looks the part in both the cut-scenes and in-game elements of Snake Eater. The modelling in the game is top notch with several nice touches for each character, giving them a little more personality compared to the previous two games - once more showing the evolution of the MGS genre.
Snake's enemies including the various bosses and allies are all brought to life with a sumptuous array of animation techniques, allowing for complex facial and body movements - you can see the detail in the close combat fight between Snake and another character in one of the cut-scenes and it is literally breath-taking to watch.
Snake himself is brutal in combat and his animations are excellent as he moves through the jungle, the level of interaction with his environment shows as he smoothly places his back to the trees or walls to slip by a patrolling enemy unnoticed and deliver a coup-de-grace with his knife or a fist.
Hideo has also seemingly spared no expense when it comes to his jungle environments in terms of texturing, model work and design. The dynamic lighting and real time shadows that bring the jungle to life do so with shafts of glimmering light and swirling moody skies, bringing to mind the gritty style of the second Rambo movie in spades. The dappled leaves swirl across Snake's costume as he travels across the various ground and textural features, blending in if you're wearing the right kind of camo.
The levels themselves are traditionally split up into small sections and Snake does have a map to help him track his way in the expansive and dangerous, environments. If you die or hit a GAME OVER chances are you'll return if you choose to try again, right at the point you entered the last level and of course - don't forget to save regularly since this is a tough game in places.
Hideo's team's level design this time around is considerably better than in MGS2 and they have chosen a tricky kind of area to recreate, the atmosphere of a living jungle has only really been brought to life in games such as Vietcong up until now and Snake Eater goes one further than that game by introducing the trees that you can climb, those with green moss and lichen (along with vines) can be scaled and used to hide from inquisitive guards.
It will take some getting used to the open environments and I expect long time MGS players to be a bit put-off to begin with, like I was. I persevered however and was quite rewarded as the game progressed...however there was a particular fiendish piece of evil that appeared after the first part of the game which I will discuss when I hit the music section, so stay tuned for that.
With the addition of the jungle and the creation of all new gameplay elements it's no surprise that Kojima had the AI revamped. The AI in Snake Eater is far better than the previous games and will use team tactics and cover a lot more effectively, they'll run away if pressed too hard and call for backup if their companions are in the area. A single fire-fight with one guard can escalate into an all out war that has you expending ammo like water.
Their hunt patterns and search techniques have also been refined, they will actively react to changes in their surroundings, worrying if they see a downed comrade or panicking if their patrol partner has been eliminated - they might not call for backup but they will become even more alert if they suspect things have gone awry.
Snake Eater brims with the creative use of sound in all areas and takes advantage of the latest swishy sound effects technology, providing an overall aural experience that delivers excellent spot effects, ambient sounds (especially in the jungle) and the usual grunts, groans and gunfire that we've come to expect from modern video games - these areas are often overlooked by other developers but Kojima seems to care as much for his sound as he does the look of his games.
Keep talking Snake!
David Hayter once more lends his gravel-grit voice to the game and provides the dry humour and wit Snake is famous for, some people would call him a pain in the ass of course, me being one of them. David has really made the role and you couldn't imagine Snake being voiced by anyone else. He's joined by a good cast of voice actors and they all provide excellent additional voices to the game, bringing the vast script and dialogue some humorous moments mostly from their timing and delivery.
Hardly surprising since Michael Bell (Raziel from Soul Reaver) and Brian Cummings, known from the Mark of Kri as the hero Baumusu and Sully from Monsters Inc are involved with the game.
Harry Gregson Williams once more provides the rich musical score to the game and many of the arranged pieces, his work is most notably found in such films as The Enemy of the State and Broken Arrow. There is however once piece of true evil that lurks in the game that must be heard to truly be appreciated (or scorned) and that would be the title song: Snake Eater, this song is...truly terrifying and to describe it would shatter the fragile sanity of most gamers out there.
The whole intro kicks in after you have beaten the first part of the game, which could be described as an interactive movie prelude where there's much good music and lots of atmospheric cutscene jiggery-pokery. But when you are taken to the opening title song of the game you may have to gnaw your own foot off from the sheer terrible nature and campy Bond style intro, my wife commented that all it needed was a few naked Snakes dancing around and it would be complete.
I refused to comment.
I'll leave you with a lyric or two from this odd masterpiece of terrible 1960's Bond-style-intro-ness as the rather well trained young lady warbles these words with the conviction of a modern pop star.
"Some day you'll walk through the rain,
Some day you'll feed on a tree frog."
I kid you not.
It's a Hideo Kojima game and the best in the series so far, the only drawback for me was that it has cutscenes that last as long as some mini-movies and the story is nuts-o Kojima style. Some of the stealth sections are a little too tricky and the control method has altered a little too much in favour of the analogue buttons, so if you press one too hard you'll end up performing the wrong move - which is a minor but important niggle.
The last and major niggle is the camera, I hate it even more than I have ever hated the camera in MGS games. It really is time that Hideo put down the 2d influences and concentrated on a fully 3d rotate enabled camera for his next game - if he can do this then it'll be nigh on perfect.
So there you have it, get Snake Eater if you're a fan of the series and want to know many of Kojima's story origins. If you're not a fan of the series but you would like a convoluted story and stealth orientated gameplay, then look no further.
If you can get past the dodgy innuendo in the title of course.