Classics Revisited: Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Classics Revisited is about returning to my all-time favourite games to discover whether they are as good as I remember. From 8-bit classics to modern vintage, you can expect validation, disappointment and a sizable helping of nostalgia.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was released for the PlayStation 2 in America in late 2004 and March 2005 in Europe. Initially earmarked for the PS3, focus shifted to the PS2 once it became apparent that next gen hardware was still a ways away. Series creator Hideo Kojima wanted to create something that would stand apart from the first two Solids, focussing on a different character, Big Boss, and opting for a jungle setting that was a significant departure from the sterile and static confines of Shadow Moses and Big Shell. Snake Eater was a critical darling, shifting millions of copies, spawning two direct sequels - Portable Ops and Peace Walker - and numerous re-release across multiple platforms.
I first stumbled upon Snake Eater in the spring of 2005, when shopping for something far less interesting. I had been a fan of the first two Metal Gear Solids but the follow-up caught me unawares at a time when I was preoccupied with stocking up on CDs and DVDs. I ended up buying a copy on reputation alone, storming through it in the space of a couple of days and falling back in love with the series.
I would move to Japan a few months later, leaving my consoles and games back in Albion and forgetting all about MGS3. I found myself surrounded by other gamers in my new home and with easy access to a treasure trove of games in Akihabara, it was only a matter of time before discs and cartridges once again became my past time of choice. On my first holiday back to the UK in 2006, I grabbed my PS2 and brought it back to Tokyo town, where I picked up a voltage converter three times heavier than the console it powered. I jumped back into home console gaming and re-discovered Snake Eater, which I concluded was the best non-Final Fantasy game I had ever played.
Six years on and we now have a HD update, which was released in the UK in February. I picked up the limited edition set for an agreeable sum, a package that consists of a steel book, big box, pretty art book and an ugly t-shirt. With a 3DS port and a VITA, HD duplicate also available, it might not be the last iteration of Snake Eater that I end up adding to my collection.
After a month or two of procrastination, I finally got stuck in. I found MGS3 to be reassuringly familiar; it was like revisiting an old friend, albeit one with a penchant for wearing zombie face paint and eating neon mushrooms. Despite this level of comfort, I was delighted by a handful of new discoveries in a game I thought I knew inside out. Having been drilled in the interactivity of Kojima cut scenes by Metal Gear Solid 4, I was constantly trying to move the camera during the in-game movies. My busy-fingered persistence paid off, as I glimpsed someone doing something outside a window at the end of the game (spoiler free!) and even got an eye-full of pin-up cleavage when checking out the roof of Snake’s infiltration capsule. After trapping the majority of Russia's frog population, I finally caught a mythical tsuchinoko, and I also discovered a collection of licensed tracks by messing around with radio frequencies. Seven years on and Snake Eater is still full of surprises.
The colourful cast of characters remains the most compelling reason to slap on some cammo and dine on a tree frog. This is the first chapter in the story of Big Boss and it is still the best. In the depths of the Russian Jungle - does Russia have jungles? - the seeds are sown for Outer Haven and, of course, Les Enfants Terribles project. John/Snake/Big Boss is a likeable fella and his relationship with his mentor is touching, culminating in a final showdown that I found to be no less impactful than the first time around.
His mentor, The Boss, is the tip of a super-soldier ice-berg. Featuring Russian gunslingers, depressed ghosts, one hundred year old snipers and electrical sadists, Snake Eater runs the gamut of villains. Here resides some of the best boss fights in a series that boasts many of the genre’s finest, with the aforementioned centenarian marksman, The End, being the stand-out. With more options than you could hope to explore in one playthrough and spilling over multiple areas of the map, it is a brilliantly open-ended boss encounter. In an effort to locate the elusive sniper, you may utilise any number of tracking methods such as directional mics and squinting at the horizon. If you can’t be arsed with that, you can always just skip your system clock forward and have The End fall victim to old age. If you are feeling particularly ruthless, you can snipe the old geezer hours before your scheduled get together, as he sits unaware in his explosive wheelchair, sucking on a Werther's. The sense of achievement derived from out-witting these super-powered soldiers, relying on nothing more than determination, calorie mates and some deft marksmanship, has not diminished.
The boss fights and set pieces still sparkle but there are also low key moments that stand out, such as Snake's excitement when handed his silenced pistol, enraptured by his new tool and completely ignoring Eva’s attempts to seduce him. Such moments served to keep me invested when familiarity took the shine off some of the bigger, better known scenes. The theme tune continues to define my Snake Eater; complete with Bond-esque vocals and intro movie, it provides an identity that marks MGS3 as being different to its predecessors. An in-game, acapella appearance, the ideal accompaniment to a spot of ladder climbing, was one of the moments I found myself most looking forward to. Just as I cannot help but hum the Mad Men theme each time I down a scotch at work, I can’t resist singing Snake Eater whenever I’m faced with a ladder, step or extendable.
It may rank as one of my favourite games of all time, but Snake Eater is not without its faults, some of which have been magnified by the passing of time. For one, I am far less patient with Kojima's indulgent dialogue and film references. On a number of occasions I skipped entire sections of nonsensical and un-needed radio chatter, where once I would have been hanging on every word. The Fury is a waste of prime real estate, a shitty boss encounter whose lack of involvement with the narrative outs him as little more than an afterthought, something to kill between one area and the next. In an age of auto saves and concise encounters, the extended final run-in with Volgin and then the Shagohad now feels needlessly drawn out, knowing that the iconic final showdown with the Boss is just around the corner.
My main motivation for Classics Revisited is to discover whether the games I call my favourites are still deserving of my doting. I want to see if these select few have aged gracefully and whether or not my feelings towards them have been clouded by years of reminiscing about an experience that only lasted a few hours. Aided by an exemplar HD transfer, I found Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater to be every bit the game I remembered, as it engrossed me from start to finish. With this most recent playthrough, I have added a new and worthwhile chapter to my continued experience with a game that I do not hesitate to call an all-time great.