The past month or so has really been one of the most interesting periods of my life when it comes to gaming, all down to me deciding to finally check out what this Metal Gear fuss was all about. I've talked about relatively in-depth about MGS1 which I showered with praise and respect but I also talked about MGS2 which sadly failed to resonate with me as the first game did and failed to spark any passionate love from me.
So going I was somewhat cautious and worried as I went into Snake Eater, honestly I found myself in the same place as I did with the first game, I did not think I would enjoy this game. It's set mainly in a jungle area? The little map showing the guards is gone? It's a prequel so I won't be seeing any Solid Snake or Otacon? Those points and more put me off it but I was also equally eager to like it considering how disappointed I was by not enjoying MGS2.
So I'm more than happy to say Snake Eater did more than just please me and make up for MGS2, it went up above and beyond exceeding multiple games I've played in my short time and has now earned its self a place in one of my favourite games of all time. This is a game I hated to put down for even a second and every waking hour spent way from it felt shockingly torturous. I can't hold myself back any more either, opening and introductions be damned I need to talk about why Metal Gear Solid 3 : Snake Eater is one of my favourite games of all time.
Nothing makes me happier than a video game having a powerful opening section that manages to leave an impact which pumps you up for what's ahead and assures you that you're in for a thrilling roller coaster of a ride. Snake Eater manages to do this in a rather spectacular humorous way.
After being introduced to an all new set of gameplay rules and environment we're then hit with a god damn James Bond inspired opening theme, Kojima you delightful bastard. I must confess a lot of my surprise and love to the opening song is partly thanks to Jim Sterling as he repeatedly sung specific lyrics from the song "What a Thrill" on an episode of Podtoid episode which was delightfully named "Twilight Dragonpussy.". Somehow I just assumed he was singing lyrics from some obscure classic song that I had no clue about due to my somewhat young age but him singing it in the episode amused nonetheless. When the opening theme kicked in I assumed I was just in for another lengthy series of cutscenes until I heard... "What a Thrill."
"Surely not" I thought as my brain began ringing bells of recognition. "Surely this can't be the song Jim was singing on the Podtoid episode EVEN though he was talking about Snake Eater in the episode." and then the wonderful powerfully voiced female singer sung out from my puny PS Vita speakers "YOU'RE SO SUPREME" just as Jim once bellowed out. I was left in absolute hysterics, my own cluelessness of the matter was brilliant, remembering Jim singing the various lyrics amused me and just the entire opening theme had me giggling like a school girl.
I absolutely adored the song and have been listening to it non-stop ever since I heard it, the lyrics are so supremely silly yet I still find myself getting emotionally engrossed in the song even when she's singing about eating a tree frog. This is a series that deals with serious ethical and philosophical issues regarding war and other personal human subjects and yet here we are watching Naked Snake take a bite out of a dead Snake exactly at the same moment the singer shouts out "SNAKE EATER!". That's just fucking stupid yet so insanely brilliant! I can't get enough of it, the song encapsulates everything I've loved about the MGS series so far, a series that will deal with serious issues whilst the next minute having incredibly silly campy moments with a voice actor who says "BROTHER" in the most amusing of ways. Thank god for Jim Sterling.
One of my biggest problems with MGS2 was that it felt incredibly sterile and empty to me compared to the first one which meant it failed to light any kind of flame of love within me. I'm totally fine with the serious issues in the MGS games, they're what helps keep me interested in the series this far. But I also love that in the other hand it has a jar full of silly, stupid, campy and joyful ideas ready to mix with the serious.
MGS1 has people running around in gas masks, robot suits, covered in crows, spinning around revolvers and walking around shirtless on top of a big ass robot machine giving dramatic campy speeches. These extreme designs and personality's though didn't just express themselves through the narrative but also through the gameplay. Each boss fight felt like very unique individual experiences that although share the common thread of chipping away their health the way you get around to doing that was pretty much different every time. This was something that I felt wasn't really carried over all that much to MGS2 in both regards to narrative and gameplay which is a shame since MGS is now one of the few series where I actively look forward to each Boss fight!
Thankfully Snake Eater manages to remedy this and welcomes back what I was searching for so desperately in the previous game. This is a game that will one minute have a guy sending swarms and waves of hornets at you and then the next minute you'll be running away from guy in an astronaut suit with a jet pack raining down torrents of fire upon you.
However this game introduced what might be my most favourite and unique boss battles that I've played so far. The End is somewhat hyped up by the characters in the game as someone who will take Snake down without a doubt and yet we're met with the image of a comatose 104 year old man in a wheelchair. This is what we're suppose to be afraid of? The twist of expectations leaves you somewhat unsure of what to expect but what we receive is a rather special treat. I'll admit at first I did not enjoy this boss battle, screw this I thought, I don't want to be wasting 30 minutes just trying to sneak up on this old guy to snipe him down! It's a boss battle that I find one has to gain a certain appreciation and taste for, something I was able to do in the end.
Most boss battles are hectic requiring you to constantly be on the move along with blaring music blasting all around you but this one breaks all those conventions. Running around in clear open sight will only result in you getting quickly found and shot down, patience must be sought and in return you'll be sneaking upon the old bastard in no time. We're also met with a largely silent soundtrack to this section, we're merely left with the ambient noises of the forest and its wildlife inhabitants. However it also has what sounds like someone breathing very faintly at times, at first I worried this was him closing in on me but soon brushed it off as the soundtrack, then he popped up behind me and shot me. Needless to say this made me jump and goes to show that even slower paced less dramatic battles can in some cases be dramatically more tension filled than what most games try to achieve today.
In some ways this was a risky boss battle to include, it breaks away from a lot of the conventions of the previous and following boss battles within the game and requires a certain level of patience that some may not be able to immediately appreciate. Or you could just snipe him off early in the game avoiding the boss battle altogether, brilliant!
The only complaint I have of these bosses is that I didn't get to see more of them but even then I'm not upset, it's more of a complaint that these characters were so vibrant and interesting to me that I call for more screen time. However the one Boss who gets the most screen time arguably deserves it the most, Snake's former mentor, The Boss
Snake Eater does a lot of things right for me but for me what truly makes it shine is the relationship between The Boss and Snake. Right from the outset of her introduction we're given a feeling of warmth and respect off her. We can sense a deep history between her and Snake, one that's roots has led to a rather intriguing unique relationship between the two. They aren't just friends, comrades, family or even lovers, it stretches beyond that, to something that I feel I could never hope to describe with a single language on this planet and I absolutely love that.
For a relationship that's so difficult to define and one that is betrayed relatively early into the game we can still see the powerful connection the two share even though we cannot comprehend it. Because it's a once in a lifetime connection with someone, as Snake says a part of him belongs to her due to the training he was provided from her. This is something that is shared among her other disciples from the Cobra unit, such fierce loyalty is devoted towards her so that for Snake her betrayal is incomprehensibly personal. These are two people who have poured their souls and hearts to one another and know each other inside and out, so when the Boss betrays Snake and her country it leaves an impact that usually would take much longer to build up in any lesser story. Even more impressively this devastates Snake in a way that is never expressed in an irritating moping fashion *COUGH* Raiden *COUGH*.
It's a burden that he carries throughout the entire game, a burden that is really expressed but always felt weighing down on him and us as the player. He can't possibly fathom why she would abandon him and her country, it becomes so central to the emotional core of the story that it takes the entirety of the centre stage easily outshining grander schemes. In lesser hands it could have been a repetitive story of a generic man on a mission to save the world and in some ways that's what the story is when you grind down to it. But Kojima manages to make the stakes in stopping a nuclear threat appear petty and tedious in the face and potential outcome of what will happen between these two characters. That right there is exactly what makes this game resonate with me and what I think with many others so much, world ending threats are all very nice and well in the framework of the story but having a strong deep emotional core that we can easily dive into and become invested in guarantee's a spark of passion from fans and new-comers alike.
We're also made wary of our eventual final clash with her, in every clash she has with someone we see her easily subdue them, that is to anyone who dares to step up to her. She's a leader of a team who all hold supernatural powers yet she holds none herself making it all the more impressive when she can make people like Volgin who can emit god damn electricity from himself back away. Her presence always demands attention without the single utterance of a word from her, she's someone who's always in control no matter who's in the room with her. So while it's all very well that Snake admires and respects her it's aspects like this that help foster the same feeling towards the character which again leads to further investment.
She stands together with a group that doesn't hold much of an admirable cause and certain members we're led to hate yet we never find ourselves hating her. Despite her frequently subduing Snake we never see her using the power she holds in an oppressive manner and we can tell she holds no joy in hurting her former disciple.
This makes the final battle with her all the more tragic, despite at this point we're not fully aware of the fact her betrayal was a ruse we're given enough subtle hints to know by the time they meet for the final battle we can tell they don't want to kill each other. It pains them to do such an act, whoever wins we'll lose a part of themselves and will then have to carry on the title of 'Boss'. Yet despite their hesitations they are tools and pawns of war in the end so they will come at each other with everything they have, both holding no intention of holding back.
Their undefinable yet touching relationship alone manages to carry a good portion of the game and becomes one of the most endearing aspects of the game and any other game I've ever played.
For a character to invoke so many feelings from me is already impressive enough to please me but Kojima this time round goes the extra mile to bring me a villain who's gut I absolutely despise. This is something new I felt to to the MGS series. Sure I absolutely hated Raiden but I never really hated the main villains of the games. Liquid Snake is a glorious, campy and extravagant masterpiece of a character, Solidus Snake didn't really have an evil agenda but simply went about it in a less than appreciated way and with where I am right now in the series Ocelot still hasn't really done anything to inspire hatred from me for him, he's certainly an interesting character but definitely not one that I hate.
With Volgin though he's the first character that I've been pleased to put down not because of relief of the battle finally being over but because I wanted to punish the guy as much as possible.
I can often find a character who holds a sadistic personality interesting, characters such as the Joker, in reality he's really a piece of scum but that isn't why people like him so much, to me it's because he gives off a sense of freedom and liberation. Someone who has no interest in rules or the social norms of life, he's simply out to what he wants and we find that endearing in a sick perverted way despite the fact he's driven by insanity. But maybe that's it, in many ways Joker isn't all there in the head so he doesn't always feel in full control of his own actions much like many other fictional psychopaths.
Volgin however isn't someone who's insane, he never seems a bit lost in the head despite his twisted actions and that's what makes me hate him. There's no root cause as to why he's like the way he is, there's no sympathy to be gained from his actions, he's just rotten down to the bone.
What cemented my hatred for him though was his treatment of EVA/Tatyana. She's first introduced to us as someone's wife in which she's then tortured right in front of her supposed husband by Volgin. He resorts to this with absolutely no hesitation and almost seems eager to do so. It then quickly begins to rain in which Volgin then tells her she will have to 'entertain' until the rain clears up. We never see what he does but just that small line alone is disgusting, slimy and dark enough to sicken me. Whatever he does though we see the results of it which leaves EVA with a disturbing amount of cuts upon her back, a result of which she describes as his 'hobby', a sadist.
This is made even more apparent in the torture scene of the game which I honestly had trouble watching. Snake of course shares a lot of similarities with Solid Snake who I was so familiar with and liked so much from the first two games so naturally I quickly warmed up to the original here. To me it's impressive that a game was able to get such a disgusted response out of me, not that I feel it shouldn't have been included in the game but that the game was able to make me care so much for the character that I didn't want to see him undergo such torture. He's left shirtless, tied up by the wrists and a blacked out bag over his head, he's in a humiliating position here. Volgins subsequent beatings and firings of bolts of electricity often made it very difficult for me to not turn away, it was disturbing to witness it happening. Snake is broken down to almost nothing through this yet he doesn't have the luxury option to lose himself and completely break down though, he's been trained to withstand such horrors, all he can do is take it.
Then it happens, the moment I had been wondering throughout the entire game of when it would happen, Snake loses his right eye thanks to a gunshot from Ocelot. Despite the fact I knew it would happen sometime in the game it still devastated me to watch it happen. One of the most vital tools of warrior is lost and Snake barely escapes the place with his life. The depths Volgin falls to in this scene is something else that also raises the stakes, he's someone who's beaten Snake onto the brink of death and left him utterly humiliated and shamed. Yet this only inspired greater hatred anger from me upon Volgin, he's someone who holds little regard for anyone and merely seems them as toys to play with and do as he pleases.
Unlike the Boss he uses his power to oppress just about everyone around him, inflicting pain not simply for the sake of it but for his own sheer joy and sick tendencies. We're left unsure of how we would beat such a foe but a certain moment I mentioned before assures us he isn't all powerful. The moment he steps away from the Boss in fear is an unforgettable moment, a character who's oppressed and stood up tall against every person around him is left rendered into a small little child in the face of the Boss. This moment alone gives us a flicker of hope and again helps foster respect for the Boss.
Volgin may be my most hated villain in a game I've met to date and for once not due to being an irritating character but more down to who the character genuinely is and their actions. Watching some of the things he did to various characters throughout the game made me feel a little sick to behold yet I'm over-joyed Kojima put him in the game, that Kojima was able to provoke such a strong reaction out of me deserves only the highest praise.
There's oh so much more I have to say about this game but to do so would result in me having to Kickstart a novel for my full thoughts on the game along with a free CD in which I sob myself to sleep over how much I love Snake Eater.
This game brought back a feeling and sensation that I sometimes forget about, yet it's a feeling that ultimately dictates and lets you know you're playing something special. The feeling of when you glance across your room to see the time is 2am and even though you have to get up early the next day the very idea of not playing any further is too horrendous to comprehend. The feeling of despair as you save your game and select 'Quit', the feeling of descending doom of depression as you turn the console off and climb into bed still itching to play more, and finally the depraved feeling of twisting and turning in the night as you struggle to find sleep as your thoughts always wonder back to the game that has ever so wonderfully seduced you.
Very few games work their way into my mind and heart as powerfully as Snake Eater has done. I've played plenty of new games this year that I've enjoyed but the true evidence of a game that has become special to you is where it pains you to leave it. As if you've entered some sort of dark, taboo affair with the game and every sweet second spent together is like sugar upon your lips yet every second spent away from it is like needles to the groin.
The only downside to how much I loved this game is that I'm now terrified of playing any more Metal Gear games. Next on my list is MGS4 yet I'm frightened of not enjoying it, I don't want to be back at the place I was with MGS2 where I felt no connection, passion or love. Not that I think MGS4 will be a bad game but because I struggle to see my experience with this game could be topped any further in the franchise, despite the advancements of technology and the fact Snake Eater is an 8 year old game I feel like my mind has been forever tainted and any other Metal Gear game will pail heavily in the eyes of Snake Eater.
This doesn't mean I'm stopping here though, I shall do my best to detach myself from my expectations and appreciate MGS4 for what it is, perhaps it will offer something as equally new and wonderful to me just as Snake Eater did. Above all I'm happy that I was able to enjoy a Metal Gear game once more but even more happy that I took a chance on the franchise because as a result I was met with what is definitely one of my favourite games of all time.
This is a game that will one moment hit you with the pains of betrayal and then the next moment have your British General on the radio turning into a fan girl over James Bond and spending 10 minutes explaining to you why he's so brilliant. The game has the ability to appeal to almost every sense of emotion all without somehow feeling messy, muddled or schizophrenic. It perfectly camouflages to the situation at hand to fully immerse when most necessary, a truly brilliant timeless game.
What a Thrill...[youtube]