As I make continued progress in playing through the Metal Gear Solid series, I must admit that the third entry was the game I was looking forward to the most. Like MGS2, I bought Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater as a freshman in college for the Playstation 2. Unlike MGS2, my 18-year self was unable to finish the game after getting frustrated with the difficulty. Seeing this series playthrough as a way to right my wrong, I went into Snake Eater with a lot of anticipation.
I actually finished Sons of Liberty back in January, it just took a little while to articulate my thoughts on the game. To be perfectly honest, I also finished Snake Eater in January, but the “It’s Never Too Late” series isn’t so much about when you play a game, it’s about the enjoyment you get from the experience. Let me tell you: Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was a fantastic experience.
Traveling Back in Time
Snake Eater bottles up the essence of the Metal Gear Solid series and hops in a DeLorean back to 1964. Solid Snake doesn’t exist back then, but the legendary soldier he was cloned from, Big Boss, does. But in 1964 Big Boss doesn’t have that title yet, he’s just called Naked Snake and is on the hunt for his defected mentor The Boss. That’s right, Big Boss and The Boss are different, but the game actually does a great job explaining the title and how it gets passed on.
The story is much more straightforward than Sons of Liberty. America’s top agent/soldier The Boss has defected to Russia and is aiding a renegade group wanting to overthrow Nikita Khrushchev using a nuclear-capable tank named Shagohod. Getting to The Boss isn’t easy, as Snake needs to fight his way through the elite soldiers of the Cobra Unit while behind enemy lines. The parallels between Shagohod and Metal Gear are easy to spot, but setting the game during the Cold War adds a new level of desperation to Snake’s mission.
Back in the 1960’s, the Soliton radar didn’t exist, meaning Snake has to make do with a basic Motion Detector and Anti-Personnel Sensor. To add to the technological gaps, these devices use a battery, meaning they can’t be equipped 100% of the time without draining their charge. At first, I missed the radar showing me enemy positions and their field of view. But once I realized how reliant I had been on it for sneaking around, I let go and used the most basic form of tech out there: my eyes. It made sneaking around so much more tense, and fulfilling when I was able to pull it off.
Blending in and Eating Snakes
So what’s the best way to sneak around without your trusty radar? Well your first step is to blend in, and Snake Eater has you covered. This installment added wearable camouflage and face paint that could be changed by pausing the game, allowing you to become one with your environment. Whether you are trudging through a swamp, climbing up a mountain, crawling through the jungle, and sneaking through a building, there’s a camo set for your situation. Put on the correct clothes for your environment and your camoflauge % goes up, which makes it harder for enemy guards to spot you.
I don’t think I personally saw a difference between 75% and 95% camo index in terms of gameplay, but I also played the game on Normal difficulty. However, the camo makes a lot of sense thematically, and certainly ratchets up the intensity when a guard is mere steps away but can’t see you. Sure, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that Snake would be carrying so many sets of clothes, but you’ll have to suspend your disbelief in the same way that Snake can carry somewhere around two dozen weapons at the same time.
Along with camouflage, Snake Eater adds a new mechanic and gauge to keep track of: stamina. Naked Snake is dropped into the jungle with minimal supplies, meaning he not only has to acquire weapons on site, but sustenance as well. This is where the game earns its name: Snake Eater has you eating snakes and other animals, plants, and food left behind by enemy soldiers to restore your stamina gauge. You’ll want to keep the stamina gauge up because it helps restore your life gauge over time, and a growling stomach could even alert that pesky guard you want to sneak past. This felt like a much better health system than the previous two games where you just needed to pull out a ration mid-battle to recover your life.
Killing snakes and harvesting mushrooms from the jungle floor is easy enough, but Naked Snake doesn’t like the taste of everything you feed him. Give him enough food that he finds nasty and he’ll throw up or even get food poisoning, which leads to another new mechanic in Metal Gear Solid 3, managing illnesses and injuries. Just like camouflage and food, you can access the ability to cure Snake through the pause menu. I really enjoyed patching up bullet wounds and burns from fights, but the game did give me a few too many medical supplies, so I never felt the sting of an untreated wound.
Ending the Cobra Unit
After some disappointing boss battles in Sons of Liberty, Kojima crafted some excellent duels in Snake Eater. Taking on all of the members of the Cobra Unit was a lot of fun, and there was a ton of variety to the encounters as well. While easier than their Metal Gear Solid counterparts, I feel like this entry’s bosses echoed the creativity found in the first game.
Going back to the stamina bar being introduced in this game, the oldest member of the Cobra Unit actually fights Snake in a battle of stamina rather than health. The End is a legendary sniper, but uses tranquilizer darts to whittle down Snake and plays a game of hide-and-sneak by camouflaging himself throughout three different sections of the map. This fight was intense in a much different way, taking away the high energy fight and replacing it with the fear of not quite knowing where you are being hunted from. This fight was hands down my favorite moment of the Metal Gear Solid series so far.
The End also brought up a different way of tackling boss fights to me: neutralizing them in a non-lethal manner instead of killing them. Once I realized he was only trying to knock out my stamina, I swapped over to only hitting him with my own tranquilizer gun. Unfortunately, I missed out on grabbing the reward for the non-lethal takedown, but I love the fact that you can choose that option. It’s something that stuck with me for Metal Gear Solid 4.
There were times when I thought Normal difficulty was a bit too easy. I took down Revolver Ocelot, The Pain, The End, and The Fear on the first attempt. I had to replay The Sorrow once because I didn’t realize I needed to use my self-revive pill, and The Boss took two attempts as well. However, The Fury was aptly named, as the pyromaniac caused a lot of frustration as I fought him. Similar to Metal Gear Solid, I enjoyed experimenting with my limited technology and weapons to see what worked best to tackle each foe.
Kojima Gets Obsessed
I didn’t like how obsessed the game was with CQC (Close Quarters Combat), which basically meant you can use your knife while you have certain weapons equipped. To me, they mention it at too many different points of the game, and it showed me that Kojima gets fixated at times on small aspects that he finds really cool. You can see this early on when EVA gives Snake his first two guns in the Snake Eater mission and he instantly (and feverishly) whittles the handle down on his gun so he can use it in CQC. It just seemed like such a weird reaction after gushing over the custom nature of the gun he’s handed.
Although Big Boss and Snake had developed CQC together, it’s a good thing you aren’t forced to take her down using it. With his numerous failed attempts to disarm or fight Big Boss in cinematics, it would have felt weird to suddenly best her in close quarters combat. It didn’t stop him from trying, and the obsession stuck out throughout. This fixation over a concept is something I noticed in MGS4 as well, so I’ll cover more on it next time.
Speaking of EVA, her outfit was of course, ridiculous. Others have written about Hideo Kojima’s disappointing history regarding female characters, and EVA really turns the corner in a problematic way. Beyond her, I’m not sure what caused the cesarean section scar The Boss has to reach all the way to her collar bone, and while I understand the need to show the snake-like shape of the scar, it seemed so odd for her to reveal so much of her chest right before she fights Snake to death.
This cutscene prior to fighting The Boss felt a little out of place. Her monologue just stuck out when you remembered that a military strike was on its way to obliterating the both of you. However, Snake Eater’s cutscenes were very toned and trimmed down compared to Sons of Liberty, and I very much appreciated it.
For some reason the younger version of Revolver Ocelot just never clicked for me. He mostly felt like a tool throughout, and I’m glad Snake was able to outwit him so easily. At least seeing his backstory helped establish some of his motivations for earlier entries, which happen to be set in the future.
I also felt like the game started to morph into more of an action movie with the last hour or two once the escape sequence began on EVA’s motorcycle. This genre shift is even more present in Metal Gear Solid 4, and while I welcomed the change near the end of this game, I didn’t love the shift during Guns of the Patriots.
Despite a few missteps, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is my favorite game of the series so far. Even though I didn’t get around to finishing the game until it passed its 15 year anniversary, I truly believe that it’s never too late to fall in love with the experience.