Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

As a series, Metal Gear Solid is often jabbed as being bloated, over the top, and cut scene heavy. I’d argue Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is where this trend begins. A decided shift in gameplay, world, and story design, Snake Eater expands the game out in too many directions, resulting in a bizarre, uneven experience.

Perhaps the most egregious offense is how much of Snake Eater shifts away from letting the player do cool things to letting the player watch cool things happen. Naked Snake’s early encounter with a young Revolver Ocelot begins with a couple of fights that the player must watch instead of participate in. Eventually, you do get to fight Ocelot, and the resulting fight is a rather boring, dull affair involving lots of ducking behind covering and popping off the occasional shot or two.

As the game progresses, the cutscenes become frequenter and longer. Where the previous two games used codec calls to provide exposition in a much more efficient way, here we are treated to cutscenes jam packed with monologuing and information told for the benefit of the player. It’s a much more ham-fisted way to deliver story to the player.

Also thrown into the mix are a couple of mechanics that fail to add much to the experience. The player has to hunt animals and eat them for stamina regain or suffer poorer accuracy. While this sounds compelling, the frequency of animals to hunt and the slow degeneration of stamina lead to this mechanic being more of a rare hassle than a true feature.

The game introduces a camo system that prove to be more of a hassle than anything else. The player can find different suits of camo that work better in different types of terrain. While this sounds compelling, in practice, it leads to a lot of inventory swapping as terrains can often change two or three times in a map. Much more interesting is the few times it uses costumes to allow the player to openly sneak through packs of guards.

One of the features that made Metal Gear Solid so exemplary was its use of interconnected levels to create a cohesive sense of space. Here, the levels feel more artificially designed and segmented into tiny areas that make the sense of exploration and interconnectivity far less of a feature. Some areas are so densely packed with foliage and detail that they can be run through from end to end in under 20 seconds until the player hits the next load screen. And some of these areas end up blending together without any real sense of direction or flow.

Yet as much of these factors hamper the game, there’s still the occasional glimmering high point. The End bossfight pits the player against an elderly sniper is easily one of the most compelling, tense and open-ended bossfights in a videogame. The player sneaks through three different maps looking for a glimpse of him in the hopes of getting off a shot before The End spots the player first.E ven sneaking up on him can end in simply getting a flashbang to the face unless the player is cautious and patient.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a disappointing downward trend for the series. The overreliance on cutscenes and the addition of superficial mechanics make for a lot of wasted game elements. Add in the disappointing level design and the generally uninspired bossfights and Snake Eater is a game that aspires to do too many new things instead of sticking to what make the first two games great.

© 2015 James Blake Ewing