'Solid' Ground: Konami's hit espionage series continues excellence

BY ADAM ROTTENBERG
Daily Arts Editor
Published December 3, 2004

Is “Metal Gear Solid 3” a videogame or an interactive movie? The videogame industry has been increasingly bridging the gap between films and games, but the “Metal Gear Solid” series has always taken that relationship to the limits, with a heavy emphasis on story and style. “Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater” keeps the espionage action of the first two games while moving increasingly toward that cinematic aesthetic.

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Snake. Solid Snake. (Courtesy of Konami)

Fans miffed at the bait and switch of “Metal Gear Solid 2” can rest assured that Solid Snake is indeed the hero of this game (good riddance Raiden). Luckily, “Metal Gear Solid 3” transplants gamers back into Snake’s origins as a young operative at the height of the Cold War ’60s. Snake’s mission takes him deep into the jungle — a vast departure from the hi-tech compounds of the previous games — and he encounters an unusual array of souped-up enemies and helpful allies.

Though the setting has changed, the basic gameplay mechanics remain. “Metal Gear Solid 3” still rewards stealth over open fire, but unlike competitors like “Splinter Cell,” it is still possible to be successful by just running and gunning. The controls are a bit cumbersome when compared to other stealth action games, but ‘Metal Gear Solid” veterans will feel right at home. Noticeably absent this time around is a radar for visualizing enemy motion — although a sonar of sorts is available in a limited capacity — making stealth movement even harder.

Solid Snake’s gadgetry might make James Bond jealous, though judging from the title sequence, “Metal Gear Solid 3” seems to be paying homage to 007. Yet the ’60s setting inhibits a lot of the futuristic technology found in the other games, especially in the titular assault weapon.

The game takes place years before its predecessors, focusing on Snake’s beginnings and the origins of Metal Gear. The plot plays out like a big-budget Hollywood action flick complete with the requisite insane stunts and gratuitous explosions. Gamers eager to just play won’t enjoy the video-heavy “Metal Gear Solid 3.” Players may watch as many as 20 straight minutes of movie at any given point in the game. While this may be a turnoff in most titles, it works in this series.

Besides the setting, the big change in “Snake Eater” is the introductions of camouflage, food (hunting) and curing ailments. Gamers can alter Snake’s camouflage, increasing his stealth. Additional uniforms and masks can be found throughout the game, some altering appearances beyond just camouflage. Snake’s stamina relies upon constant eating. Food can be found either in rations or by killing animals. Each animal tastes different and the taste reflects its ability to replenish stamina. And as Snake is attacked, the gamer must manually remove bullets, disinfect and bandage the wound. The new burden placed on the player requires added awareness and strategy in combat.

Few games can match “Metal Gear Solid 3” in graphics, sound or story. Solid Snake’s epic fight against communism may not be as revolutionary as his first few missions were, but it still maintains the scope and quality expected in the series. As games strive to be considered on par with feature films, “Metal Gear Solid 3” shows the next logical step to fulfilling that destiny.

 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars