I have distinct memories of picking up Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater upon its release on PlayStation 2, with the media whipped into the same frenzy currently surrounding the fifth entry in this long-running series, and with hype levels at well over nine thousand. I didn’t like it. My younger, stupider, self just couldn’t get into it and didn’t have any appreciation for the complex stealth-action gameplay. It was only *years* later when I replayed it as part of the HD collection that I realised this is one of the very best videogames ever made, and still the best entry in the Metal Gear series. After two high-tech modern takes on tactical espionage, the third outing for Snake (this time the original not the ‘Solid’ clone) sends us right back to the 60s cold war period. Naked Snake, who would later become the Big Boss of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, is asked to prove himself as potentially the world’s best soldier by taking a solo mission into the deep jungle; with nothing bit ingenuity and a survival instinct to keep him alive. The result is one of the tightest entries in the Metal Gear series, with an amazing plot, great gameplay, some of the most memorable bosses in any videogame ever and an ending so pivotal that all other Metal Gear games revolve around it.
With a *really* lengthy opening section, in which you watch far more than you play, the stage is set for a very different feeling game than its predecessors, and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater wastes no time in introducing you to the jungle. You don’t have the luxury of advanced techy radar anymore to see enemies and must rely on pinpointing the noises they make moving about or visually identifying them, and you now have a camo index to worry about that means you need to find ways to blend in with the environment to avoid being caught. Often you will need to capture wild animals to eat, to stay alive and stave off hunger, lest a grumbling empty stomach ruin the perfect stealth approach you’ve been building up. The small sandbox environments nestled in the jungle provide many different approaches to tackle each situation and the gameplay in general saw many refinements over Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, despite running on the same engine. After a failed first mission in which Snake runs into his iconic mentor The Boss, the game starts properly with an opening cinematic that’s a homage to 60s ‘Bond movies; which still has one of the best and most memorable theme tunes for a videogame.
The narrative of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater concerns the search for Colonel Volgin, a despotic tyrant who has somehow obtained the “Philosopher’s Legacy”, a bank account with near bottomless funds. Volgin is using this money to fund the creation of the ‘Shagohod’ (terrible name in the UK!) a quadrupedal walking tank that could change the balance of the Cold War, and you’ve gotta stop him. In your way are some of the best videogame bosses ever designed, especially The End, who you have to fight in a prolonged sniper battle using all the techniques at your disposal; or there are other well documented easter-egg strategies to deal with him. The Pain, The Sorrow and eventually The Boss herself, they’re all fantastic and utterly unforgettable, easily up there with Psycho Mantis from the first Metal Gear Solid. David Hayter does an excellent job of voicing Naked Snake, giving him a familiar but distinct personality from his clone Solid Snake, and other characters such as Eva and Ocelot are similarly well voiced and acted in the cutscenes. After the lengthy intro section, the rest of the game actually has a healthy ratio of cutscenes to gameplay, and this is perhaps Metal Gear at its finest in that regard, before it became very cutscene heavy in the fourth game and gameplay heavy in the fifth.
All the praise heaped upon Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is often from the ‘Subsistence’ version of the game. You see, when it first came out the game was quite compromised by a dodgy camera and clunky controls, and the ‘Subsistence’ rerelease fixed these issues by using a true third person camera and more modern controls. I fully recommend the HD remaster of this game (available on PS3 and PSVita) as it is a remake of this updated and improved Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and also includes the original games of Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. Also available is a 3D remastered version on the Nintendo 3DS, which I owned at one point but never played, so can’t comment on its faithfulness in adapting one of the best videogames in existence.