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Snake returns in a fitting conclusion to the trilogy, although many of the new introductions are somewhat trivial and hardly memorable...
The release of Metal Gear Solid in 1999 marked a monumental event in gaming history; not only did the PSOne title introduce a vastly new genre and gaming experience to an unsuspecting audience, but also marked the debut of a talismanic protagonist who alongside the likes of Lara Croft would go on to become the 32-bit equivalent of Mario and Sonic.
Despite his edgy and hard persona, Solid Snake wasnâ??t infallible however as the split reception towards the release of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty proved; with the series so reliant upon the tangled storyline and twisted characters throughout, Kojima-san messed around with the formula a little too much for some and had to put up with the backlash because of it.
So all eyes turn towards the eagerly awaited release of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater to discover whether the final chapter in the trilogy can resurrect the fallen hero and revive the slightly shaken franchise or should this be one snake crawling back into the jungle. The game makes a somewhat drastic departure in the fact that it eschews the near-future setting of previous titles and takes place during the 1960â??s. Taking in well-known events such as the Cold War and John F Kennedyâ??s assassination, the storyline throws up a counter explanation to the Cuban Missile Crisis that whilst not as retentive as the Patriots storyline featured in Sons of Liberty, will have the MGS historian hanging on every plot twist and new direction.
With Snake Eater marking the last chapter in the trilogy, a series that has focussed largely on the tales between Snake and Ocelot, itâ??s hardly surprising to note the return of the Russian gun-wielding expert whilst a female character known as The Boss provides a lot of the intrigue throughout the game. Following on from the likes of the Vamp, Fat Man and Fortune, Snake Eater introduces a cast of slightly deranged characters known as The Sorrow, The Fear, The End and The Pain; much like Sons of Liberty the introduction of these â??supernaturalâ? characters does appear to have split the community down the middle, and whilst their inclusion within the over-arching storyline is debatable, the fact that they throw up some exciting boss encounters suits the game well.
Without wanting to spoil the experience the storyline does a good job of tying up the loose ends and concludes a trilogy that wouldnâ??t feel out of place in the cinemas; the Metal Gear Solid series feels like so much more then a videogame at times, although itâ??s this insistence on plot and characters that has also seen it criticised in the past.
With Snake Eater those hoping and praying that Kojima-san has eased off slightly with the lengthy dialogue sections will find themselves pulling at the hair to begin with, as there are some extremely lengthy scenes towards the beginning of the game that takes patience or a steady hammering of the X button. Thankfully as you progress throughout the game the frequency and length of these do appear to diminish somewhat; thatâ??s not to say the game isnâ??t packed full of conversation and rather strangely the nature of these do appear to be slightly inane compared to previous titles, but thankfully they seem to be far less frequent then Sons of Liberty.
Despite its somewhat slow-start, itâ??s the pull of the storyline that provides the main attraction and its one that will have Metal Gear fans hooked with every twist and turn, particularly as it does a semi reasonable job of bringing some closure to the storyline. The general quality and direction throughout the various cut-scenes is something else, you just donâ??t expect this from a videogame; Snake Eater also changes things slightly by making certain moments semi-interactive, allowing you to tap the R1 button for an alternative perspective on the events. At times it can get a little too retentive for the casual fan with its multitude of inside jokes and concealed meanings, but those that have been hanging on every drip from Kojima-san for the last few years will be happy to know that itâ??s been worth the wait.
The game is clever and insists on ramming this point home to you like the teacherâ??s pet who sits in front of the class; whilst you can only respect the multitude of smart gameplay touches (many of which are easy to miss), constantly having to listen to it via the various cut-scenes can get a little too much, but weâ??re sure theyâ??ll be plenty of gamers excited to discover little touches such as shooting the young Ocelot and receiving a â??Time Paradoxâ? Game Over message.
Strangely the game does feel as though it drops the smug intellect half-way through the game and opts to concentrate solely on the actual gameplay, which is certainly not a bad thing as the game maintains the series trademark qualities of stylish features, intriguing characters and truly epic boss encounters.
Kojima-san and his team have certainly put the work in across the last few years, and as such the game introduces many innovations and concepts to the series, mostly stemming from the fact that youâ??ll play a large portion of it in the great outdoors. To begin with itâ??s slightly strange and off-putting to play Metal Gear Solid in a jungle, the definite edges, corners and walls of an interior location provide the perfect environment for sneaking action and it seems at first that the jungle environment negates a lot of this. Particularly the lack of a radar at first does little to help this conception as you engage opponents with little more then hit-and-miss efficiency, however perseverance reveals that the action and suspense is still there, youâ??ve just got to be a little more calculated and scheming when it comes to avoiding or dealing with it. The various motion detectors and goggles play a crucial role to begin with, providing you with an essential heads-up to the location of troops; something that is sorely needed because Kojima-san and his team have worked wonders at packing the jungle with dense vegetation, to the point that itâ??s damn difficult to discover and identify threats that lurk within.
Itâ??s quite surprising at first just how linear the jungle is, despite claims from Kojima-san in the past stating the opposite. The jungle is broken down into different areas with a definite start and finish point and often relying on trails rather then wide-open expanses; certainly disappointment is largely evident during the first few hours of play as you learn to cope with the frustration and begin to wish that Kojima-san and his team hadnâ??t messed around with the formula so much â?“ even Raiden wasnâ??t this bad...
But then the opening scenes pan out and the game develops; itâ??s quite astounding just how much the game changes after the first few moments, as the memories come flooding back and youâ??re soon sneaking around with the same sense of style as before. Despite its fiercely linear design, the jungle location does provide a few new opportunities such as climbing up certain trees to hide away from patrolling units or hanging from them to shoot without detection. Sadly though this feature hasnâ??t been implemented fully and feels like a secondary thought, once youâ??ve done it a few times itâ??s unlikely that youâ??ll resort to this technique ever again.
Naturally one of the big introductions comes in the form of camouflage, which is indicated on the screen as a constantly changing percentage. The Survival Index screen allows players to change Snakeâ??s camouflage, broken down into Face and Body, both of which feature a huge assortment of suits and paint schemes to try out for the various circumstances youâ??ll face up to within the game. Hidden costumes and face paint schemes are scattered throughout the game, ranging from the hugely useful USSR camo-suit that reduces damage to the positively deranged Kabuki scheme that makes Snake look like a Geisha!
The whole system is a neat departure although unlikely to become an establishment of the Metal Gear series in the same manner as first-person combat, etc... What you choose to wear is satisfactorily tied into the various missions, with a definite change in visual style and hence the camouflage needed as you progress through the game, but having to keep a constant eye on the meter and make changes accordingly can be annoying and obtrusive, for the main youâ??ll stick in the leaves/woodland paint combination and leave it at that.
Another new and somewhat hit-and-miss feature is Snakeâ??s ability to heal and cure himself from injury and disease. Again the process breaks up the flow of the game and is accessed by pausing the game and bringing up the Survival screen, which presents an X-Ray picture of Snake neatly demonstrating whatâ??s wrong with him whether it be bullet-wounds or food poisoning. Patching yourself up requires different techniques dependant on the ailment, so for example a bullet-wound would firstly require removing the bullet with your combat-knife, applying disinfectant, sewing up the wound and finally applying a bandage whilst a broken bone would require applying a splint before wrapping it up.
Itâ??s a neat concept but sadly the execution is a little careless and feels largely as though itâ??s been used just to break up the action occasionally. Bizarrely you can heal yourself at any stage during the game because itâ??s all accessed via the menu screen, which leads to some unbelievable moments when youâ??re patching yourself up in the middle of a heated gun exchange or boss encounter; surely it would have been smarter to prevent healing yourself until combat has finished and have to deal with the risks associated with this.
The jungle environment is not only packed with dense vegetation but also a huge assortment of critters and creatures, which flock in the skies and scuttle along the floor. Itâ??s quite remarkable just how much is packed into the game and itâ??s only when you make a point of looking for them do the various snakes, frogs and rabbits become increasingly apparent. Catching prey like this is as simple as shooting it dead or knocking it unconscious with tranquilizer darts; naturally Snake has a preference for some animals over others which youâ??ll have to work out throughout the game, whilst some will decompose quicker then others and result in possible food poisoning. The concept is again a little hit-and-miss largely because it doesnâ??t feel entirely worked out, however the sheer variety of gameplay options thrown up by the concept continues the brilliance of the Metal Gear Solid series; for example try chucking a venomous spider or a Poison Dart Frog in a closed area with a guard and watch them run in horror, or perhaps destroy the food store of a nearby patrol, toss them some rotting food and watch the amusing consequences.
We were a little surprised at how weak the execution of the new features are within Snake Eater, initially believing based on previous comments that there was a real â??hunt or be huntedâ? dynamic running throughout the game; whilst certain snakes and spiders will snap at Snake, youâ??re never put into the position that youâ??ve got to worry about it, which compels the feature as something of a missed opportunity or a neat concept that just hasnâ??t been fleshed out enough.
Tied into the concept is the slightly different way in which health is handled from previous MGS titles, with a new Stamina bar sitting underneath the traditional Health bar. This actually serves a great purpose within the game, affecting a wide variety of Snakeâ??s abilities such as his aiming steadiness and whether his stomach is grumbling or not. Topping up your Stamina bar is crucial to success within the game and in order to keep your Health bar high and injuries healing, as unlike previous MGS games Rations donâ??t have any impact on your health and are also in short supply.
Overall the food/illness features do help to convey the sense that Snake is alone in the jungle, but the abundance of animals coupled with the slightly inane feeling of each doesnâ??t convey the sense of survival as well as it should have done; we donâ??t have any major complaints, but then again we wouldnâ??t exactly miss the features if they werenâ??t included within the game. Unlike certain features that made their debut within Sons of Liberty and became stable ingredients of the franchise, thereâ??s very little that you can say the same about in Snake Eater, many of the new features feel somewhat gimmicky and fail to make a dramatic impact on the core gameplay; sure they throw up some smart gameplay situations, but again weâ??re left bemoaning the fact that thereâ??s still nothing as clever as the first time we laid eyes upon scenes such as the unforgettable Praying Mantis moment in Metal Gear Solid.
One introduction that we really have a problem with is the backpack, which only allows you to access 8 weapons or items at any one point, making it a requirement to constantly pause the game and switch around objects when you require them. Whilst the method has been designed to cater to the vast amount of kit that youâ??ll get your hands upon throughout the game, it does feel obtrusive and continues to break up the flow of the game disappointingly. Perhaps the biggest surprise is just how easy it is to blast your way out of trouble; Snake gets his hands on some serious weapons throughout the game, and whereas previous titles heavily punished overt operations and being detected, it seems that Snake Eater is a lot less demanding and makes it far too easy to blast your way out of the situation â?“ it could be welcomed in some quarters, but given what weâ??ve come to expect from the series itâ??s surprising to say the least.
The vast majority of Snake Eater plays like previous games in the series, however Kojima-san and his team have made slight changes to the combat system in the shape of Close-Quarter-Combat (CQC). Much like the other new features this isnâ??t a huge introduction that changes the dynamic of the game in any considerable form; rather it introduces a few techniques to extend those previously on offer. Youâ??re free to wrestle with opponents and grab hold of them like before, however now you can utilise techniques such as interrogating them at knife-point or throwing them to the ground in an unconscious pile. This system makes ingenious use of the pressure sensitive buttons and can take a while to get used to, accidentally slitting opponents throats instead of merely teasing them, but it is worthwhile as thereâ??s a wealth of information and trivia to be gained from interrogating opponents; weâ??ve discovered everything from the locations of hidden secrets to codes for the forthcoming PSP title Metal Gear Acid, itâ??s a neat touch that will really only appeal to the MGS fanatic, but the same can be said for a lot of the gameâ??s more subtle touches of brilliance.
Much like previous Metal Gear Solid titles itâ??s the boss encounters where Snake Eater truly shines, presenting a variety of situations that tax the player with discovering the weakness and identifying the most efficient solution. One particular showdown with a character named The End can take between 30 minutes to an hour to complete, which seems like an extraordinarily large duration but quickly passes because youâ??ll find yourself so encompassed in the experience. Certainly the first half of the game feels as though thereâ??s a lot of filler in between these situations, but thankfully the game just gets better and better the more you get into it.
Thereâ??s a considerable amount of actual game within Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, taking away from the dialogue and cut-scenes, and as youâ??d expect thereâ??s plenty of reasons to play through again. The usual selection of unlockables such as the Tuxedo are back with a vengeance, but this time around thereâ??s a variety of other things to keep an eye out for such as the highly entertaining Kerotan frogs, which you have to discover in each area of the game for a special bonus. Sadly the game doesnâ??t have anyway of tracking what youâ??ve found, unlike the Dog-Tag viewer in Sons of Liberty, which is a little frustrating for those that like to complete everything within the game and could put off all but the most hardened of MGS veterans.
In addition the game features the somewhat confused â??Snake vs Monkeyâ? mode, which pits Snake with the task of collecting Sonyâ??s loveable simians from the Ape Escape series. Itâ??s an enjoyable distraction but thatâ??s exactly what it is, and unlikely to sustain your interest once youâ??ve beaten the best times on a couple of occasions.
Following on from a European exclusive Directorâ??s Cut of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Snake Eater features a variety of bonuses exclusive to the territory in an attempt to make up for the wait and to mark the popularity of Solid Snake across the region. Thereâ??s a wide variety of features such as the all-new â??Duel Modeâ? and â??Demo Theatreâ? alklowing you to take on the bosses or watch the cinematics, in addition to a new Extreme difficulty mode, extra Snake vs Monkey stages and a variety of extra face paint schemes.
The game is certainly a landmark achievement for the Playstation2 and represents the finest looking title on the system, although the overall effect isnâ??t quite as remarkable as it was back in 2002. The jungle environment has been brought to life and is packed full of vegetation to the point that itâ??s actually hard to see within the game, whilst thereâ??s also the attention to small details which has become synonymous with the series. However itâ??s the stunning cut-scenes that truly capture the imagination, featuring a level of direction and quality that surpasses what the great action-packed motion-pictures have to offer. We particularly enjoyed the slight attempt to bring some from of interaction to these in the shape of alternative views with the R1 button, and hope to see more of this in the future as the lines between videogames and movies continue to be broken down.
Harry Gregson-Williams returns to provide the musical score having worked to great effect on Sons of Liberty. The dynamic music once again serves the purpose wonderfully creating a sense of tension, whilst building up to the climatic action sequences. Naturally the voice-acting is of a suitably high standard, with David Hayter reprising his role as the gruff anit-hero to great success. Making something of a surprising addition is the inclusion of several Bond styled songs, most notably in the shape of the theme music that runs alongside the introduction sequence.
You can’t help but be impressed by how “clever” the game is but at the same time this may be too much for most people, with many of its little nuances likely to remain hidden for the vast majority of gamers.
As a concluding chapter in a trilogy that has well and truly caught the imagination of gamers it can’t be faulted, and it needs to be played just to discover how events throughout the game set up the storyline for previous games in the series, although we suspect that a number of MGS fanatics will be put off by the changes in style.