In a series consisting primarily of odd choices, perhaps the oddest choice by Hideo Kojima was to take the Metal Gear Solid storyline back to the past, to the beginning of Big Boss’s journey. It’s always odd when a prequel has a number assigned to it that indicates it is actually a sequel, but Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater actually is worthy of the moniker. The story of Metal Gear Solid is invigorated and broadened in exciting new ways thanks to this bold decision. I had heard so much about MGS 3 being the best in the series and I was seriously surprised when it turned out to be one of the best games I have ever played.
It’s an interesting decision to have the player play as Big Boss, here known as Naked Snake. We’ve heard so much about Big Boss in the previous games and it is no secret that Solid Snake is a clone of Big Boss, so playing as the clone, who at this point in time is indistinguishable from Solid Snake himself, is a very weird feeling. There were times when I almost forgot that I was playing as Big Boss because it felt so similar to Snake. Which isn’t a criticism, just an observation about how strange it is.
The game takes place in the sixties and it benefits from the time-shift. The opening sequence, called Virtuous Mission, finds Snake trying to rescue a defecting Soviet scientist, but he is betrayed by his mentor, The Boss, who throws in with Colonel Volgin and the Cobra Unit, yet another bevy of eccentric baddies. After being brutally beaten by The Boss, Snake is rescued and a wonderful James Bond-like theme song plays over the opening credits. It’s well-documented that Kojima has a love for feature films that probably outweighs our own, but instead of getting in the way of the game like it did in the previous entries, it actually seems to help set the tone for MGS 3. Except for the constant chatter on the Codec about movies from Para-Medic. Anytime you go to save your progress, you are met with a “Snake, have you ever seen…” and then a summary of whatever movie she mentions plotline. It gets old fast, but it’s easy to see the connections Kojima is trying to make with the themes of the movies mentioned and the theme of this game. Which only goes to show how belabored the effort behind it is.
I was wary of the game moving towards an outdoor, open-area environment as opposed to the interior, narrow corridors of the past. My fears were quickly assuaged as, just like before, each area, outdoor or indoor, is broken up into easy to digest sections, which allow for easy stopping points if desired. The only issue is when you want to play for 20 minutes or so, enter a new area and then spend 15 minutes on a cut-scene. That isn’t anything new to the series, but it is something that I wish were addressed.
However, the cut-scenes in this game are the best I have seen in the series. Not just in terms of the graphics, but direction, voice-acting and even content. Less of the game is explained in Snake’s ear from Major Zero and more is told in the cinematics. The scenes with a young Ocelot and Snake were actually mesmerizing and the climactic scene between the two of them had me on the edge of my seat with interest. Ocelot is the scene-stealer of this game, as Snake subtly mentors him, while also kicking his ass. It’s a strange arc to witness, but it makes sense for both characters, given what we know about their future together.
The Cobra Unit, the newest platoon of psychos that are unleashed on Snake, are a varied group, with more pathos and emotional resonance than you are used to seeing from the average henchmen. They don’t have as much screen time as the bosses in MGS 2, but they make up for it by being far more memorable. Fatman and Vamp were cool enough, but The Fear and The Sorrow take things to another level with their unique battles and creepy personalities. In MGS 2, I felt the spotlight shone too brightly on the bosses. In MGS 3, I got a taste of these crazies and I wanted more.
Which brings me to The End.
The End is a sniper, an ancient one from the looks of it. Possibly the first sniper in recorded history. He knows all the tricks and puts Snake through hell in a boss battle that could potentially last hours. I think it took me roughly a full hour to finally defeat the wiley veteran. It requires what I would consider the ultimate test in your stealth abilities. You never are quite sure if The End is even in the same area you are, creating a level of tension that is far more unnerving than that of many horror games. You have to make use of many of the devices that you might otherwise ignore for large swaths of the game, which can be daunting since you are learning their uses on the fly, ever wary of an incoming sniper round aimed for your mulleted-head. The battle with The End left me exhausted, exhilarated and expecting something even more exciting later in the game. After The End, what could they possibly do to top this?
The answer, lie in the battle with The Boss. Set in a gorgeous field of flowers, the final encounter with the Boss is a hand to to hand battle (although use of a gun is needed, at least for me) that brims with emotional resonance. Snake is forced to defeat his mentor and the toll it takes on him is actually pretty heartfelt. I didn’t think anything could wow me like the fight with The End, but this final battle did so, although it wasn’t as fun to play as The End. But it was still damned impressive.
Metal Gear Solid 3 is now easily my favorite in the series. By taking things back to the beginning, Kojima added a layer of mythology to the series that had only previously existed in long-winded scenes of exposition. My problem with many game stories is that they are often overly reliant on back-story. MGS is no exception, but by letting the player experience some of the back-story themselves, it makes for a much richer narrative.
My Metal Gear Solid journey is almost complete. I now set my sights on the current-gen entry, Metal Gear Solid 4. I am not looking forward to what I am told are interminable cut-scenes in the game’s second half, but I haven’t been disappointed by the series yet. I am curious to see where the story goes after the insanity of MGS 2 and the richness brought by MGS 3. There are a lot of loose ends to tie up, but I am anxious to see if Kojima is up to the task.