On October 26, 2000, the Sony PlayStation 2 was launched, delivering not only one of the single best software libraries to the world, but also cementing a slew of features as commonplace items in every system hence: backwards compatibility, online gaming, multimedia functionality. That none of these was originated by Sony itself is a testament to the console’s legacy.
To commemorate the occasion, TotalPlayStation has gathered some of the best and most influential journalists, from either in-house or outside publications, to discuss one of their most cherished games from the PS2’s long lifecycle.
Ten authors and ten years in ten days. Let the celebration begin.
Author: Jeff Haynes [Gaming Guru]
Game: Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Release date: November 17, 2004
It’s no secret that I’m a huge Metal Gear Solid fan. I played the original on the PSX over and over again for about three days straight, but I’ll admit that I was on the fence when it came to MGS2. It wasn’t because I didn’t like the stealth action, which was improved by the squad-based AI that forced additional care when infiltrating the tanker and plant within the game. It also wasn’t because of the expansion of the MGS mythology, which veered into complex conspiracy theory, abstract philosophical memes, and other complicated storytelling scenes. No, it was because of Raiden – the whiny, annoying character that effectively hijacked the game and, compared to Snake, was a mere shadow of a super soldier.
So I was apprehensive when I found out that 2004’s Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater wouldn’t scrub the unpleasant memories of Raiden from my mind or address most of the questions raised by 2001’s MGS2. Kojima and his team intentionally chose to leave these issues to linger as they returned to the roots of the franchise. Snake Eater would explore the origin of Naked Snake, better known as Big Boss. It didn’t matter if you were an old-school NES player or had only discovered the series on Sony’s consoles; the fact that you would be given the opportunity to play as this influential character, discovering who he was and what shaped his tale, was incredible.
What was also stunning was the inclusion of game mechanics that evolved the stealth action genre in ways no one had ever seen before. The concept of melee combat had been completely redesigned into the close-quarters combat battle system, or CQC. In many ways, you felt more like a warrior trained in hand-to-hand combat, as you could choke or threaten enemies. The first time that you leapt onto an unsuspecting soldier and took him out felt much more powerful than previous games in the series.
Thanks to the jungle environments that dominate a large portion of the game, sneaking and stealth took on a completely new dynamic through the camouflage index. As you acquired different face paints and camo patterns, Snake became much more invisible to the naked eye. If you planned your disguise just right, guards would blindly walk past your position, allowing you to get the drop on them without a sound or a shot fired, which was awesome. Besides, how many games would allow you to use a crocodile head as an effective means of hiding? The addition of camo boosted the realism of the game.
Snake Eater also changed the way we look at game heroes, thanks to the injury and stamina systems. Typically, when we play games, we think of our characters as indestructible dynamos that can’t be harmed regardless of the heights they fall from or the wounds they receive; as long as they eat food or grab a bandage, they’re fine. Snake Eater changed all of that. Snake could receive significant damage from a fall, breaking a rib or a leg. If he waded into water, he could emerge with leeches on his skin that drained his blood. Getting into gunfights with guards could result in a series of nasty wounds that poured blood with each step. Each ailment had to be fixed, or Snake would suffer from different effects, such as not being able to fully heal himself with rations. You were alone in the field with limited equipment and healing supplies, and you had to save yourself or risk endangering your mission with your weakened skills. The first time that I had to operate on Snake to remove a bullet, followed by wrapping the wound, I was blown away. Outside of a Trauma Center game (which, while fun, is unrealistic at best), this wasn’t something that I expected to see. I have to admit that since Snake Eater delved into the philosophy of warfare, fighting, and the cost to the soldier, I don’t expect to see it repeated in other games in the future, either.
Stamina was also handled in a unique way thanks to the food system. Since Snake was essentially out in the field for days, he had to find a way to feed himself to keep his energy up. Killing and eating snakes, frogs, and other animals provided a burst of energy, allowing him to focus when he needed to aim at enemies or run through the jungle. Different kinds of animals provided different amounts of energy, so figuring out how to hunt became a skill you acquired. It was a matter of pride to say that you could stab a snake as soon as you saw it, take down a croc without damage, or nail a rabbit with one shot. But you also had to watch your stores, because they would quickly turn bad if you weren’t careful. I hated going into a boss battle, thinking that I had plenty of rations and food, only to discover that half of the items had gone bad.
Apart from the mechanics of Snake Eater, the characters of the game were extremely vivid. The Metal Gear Solid games have always had striking characters, many of whom have boasted about launching nukes from Metal Gears. Volgin uses a nuclear warhead to cover his getaway at the very start of the game. Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore. This shocking development draws you into the game like few other titles will, and from the supernatural battles with the Sorrow to the surreal fights with the End (complete with the multiple ways that he could be killed), each character seemed more fleshed out and unique than the others. By the time you eventually face off with your mentor, the Boss, you’re witnessing a showdown between two titans. And while you already know what the outcome has to be, the battle is no less incredible or striking. Snake Eater also introduces characters that play significant roles in other MGS games, like recurring villain Ocelot.
Another thing that’s impressive about Snake Eater is the story itself – as a prequel, MGS3 answers a large number of questions that have surrounded the series since its days on the NES. What is Outer Heaven? How did Big Boss become Big Boss? Questions like these and others are answered over the course of the game in an intelligent way that makes sense. I finished the game feeling like I understood more about the earlier beginnings of the franchise than ever before, which is quite a feat.
The original game was incredible, but when you also consider that Snake Eater was “remade” two years later as Subsistence, the importance of the game for the series was undeniable. Given the story implications of Snake Eater, the addition of the first two Metal Gear games allowed players to experience the roots of the franchise in chronological order for the first time. The inclusion of Metal Gear Online was merely a precursor for what was included in MGS4, and the extras, videos, and an enhanced camera rounded out the overall package. The lucky few that managed to get the limited edition even got an expanded movie created from all of the game’s cutscenes, which ran almost four hours in length. Needless to say, the package by itself was phenomenal, but the remake only served to highlight just how vital the original game was.
Looking back, all of my concerns about Snake Eater as an origin story of an established and respected franchise were completely unfounded. The addition of the camouflage, stamina, and healing systems placed an indelible stamp on the stealth action genre, which hasn’t been touched since. Besides, I eventually got all the MGS2 answers that I was hoping for out of MGS4 (and Raiden eventually made up for sucking). Kojima’s decision to return to the roots of the series was ambitious, but completely awesome.