Metal Gear Solid 3 is a thrill ride from the moment it starts, until the very end.
Time and time again, Hideo Kojima has proven that the Metal Gear Solid series is much more than a franchise that focuses on stealth action. Although there certainly is some “tactical espionage action” to be had in each and every single Metal Gear Solid, these titles are also known for their convoluted plots, deep characterization, technical prowess and bizarre sense of humor. To a certain extent, Metal Gear Solid 3 is faithful to the series, since it incorporates all the features that you’d expect from a Metal Gear Solid. Nevertheless, Hideo Kojima directed, produced, wrote and designed this third iteration, so you can also expect the unexpected.
In the game, you take on the role of a CIA agent codenamed Naked Snake (known in subsequent games as Big Boss.) The story is set during the Cold War in 1964 and centers around soldier Naked Snake. His mission consists of rescuing Soviet nuclear weapon’s specialist Sokolov who’s believed to be working on a nuclear-equipped tank known as the “Shagohod.” As usual, Snake isn’t alone in his mission, since he is assisted by a support team composed of Major Tom, who provides the mission briefing and battle tactics, Para-medic, who explains the cure system (more on this later) and Sigint, an expert on cutting edge technology.
On the enemy side, Snake has to face a Special Forces group known as the Cobra Unit. In a way, this legendary unit resembles FOXHOUND from the first Metal Gear Solid, not only because it’s composed of members that you have to defeat, but also because the multiple boss encounters are extremely unconventional. Additionally, you’ll meet Eva, a KGB agent and Snake’s love interest, Colonel Volgin a GRU colonel who has the ability to control electricity and the commander of the Ocelot unit, Ocelot.
From a gameplay perspective, there are many new additions. The core action is still based on stealth, so the main focus is sneaking in enemy territory without being seen by the enemy in order to carry out the top-secret mission. As usual, if an enemy sees you, he’ll send reinforcements to your location. But while the stealth portion of the game remains pretty much the unchanged, there are some innovations.
The first of those innovations come in the form of a hunting system. Since most of game takes place in the wilderness, Snake needs to use his weapons to hunt for food. Killing animals and collecting plants is necessary to keep your stamina gauge filled, and should this meter go down, Snake’s aiming ability will decrease and his loud stomach grumble will be heard by the enemy. There’s a slew of edible plants and animals in the woods, but a lot of them aren’t, so every time Snake tries a new type of food, he’ll react accordingly. Consuming rotten food, for instance, causes a stomach ache and Snake’s stamina gauge will deplete faster as a consequence.
The second innovation is the CQC system. This is a fighting technique created by both The Boss and Snake. Using CQC (which stands for Closed-Quarters Combat) will allow you to surprise, interrogate, throw, grab or kill the enemy. To do so, you need to put the enemy into a choke hold and select one of various options. It’s worth pointing out that the controls are pressure sensitive, so both the pressure you apply to the buttons and the direction of the analog stick will determine the action Snake will perform. Sadly, the pressure sensitive controls constantly get in the way and if you don’t press the buttons hard enough (and I mean really hard,) the game won’t recognize your input.
Then there’s the camouflage system. At all times, there’s a camouflage index represented by a percentage value that indicates how well you blend in with your surroundings. If the number is close to 100% Snake will be virtually invisible, but if the number is low, you have a high probability of being spotted. Snake’s position is also very important (crouching is much more effective than running around recklessly, for instance.) Additional camouflage can be found hidden on different environments or by performing special challenges, such as defeating bosses in certain ways.
Finally, there’s the cure system. Snake can be wounded or suffer from various conditions which will affect his performance. These injuries can be treated by going to the cure menu, but each wound is treated differently, so it’s important that you to pay attention to your equipment. If Snake is poisoned, for example, you need to take an antidote. If he suffers a gunshot wound, on the other hand, you need to remove the bullet with a knife, disinfect the wound, use an an antiseptic and then use a bandage.
Overall, these new systems work really well, not only making the game much more realistic, but also making the player feel much more involved in the action. The main problem though, is that every single time you leave a region, you need to pause the game, go to the camouflage screen, change the camouflage, go back and see how the changes have affected the percentage on top of the screen. The same happens with the other systems, hindering your progress and breaking up the pace of the game.
For the first time in the series, there’s no radar showing the position and field of vision of enemies. Prior to this, not only was it really easy to rely on the modern gadget to make progress, but this also prevented players from actually watching something other than the radar. The radar has been replaced for a rudimentary motion detector and sonar system, so most of the time, you’ll need to rely on your senses instead of making use of these gadgets.
Metal Gear Solid titles have always had a high level of interactivity and this third entry is no exception. You may now press buttons in the middle of in-game sequences and not only is this useful from a storytelling perspective (it makes the player feel much more attached to the protagonist,) but this has also allowed developers to include hints and additional details. During one particular scene, you can press R1 to get into first-person view and you’ll see a Zone of the Enders model o someone’s desk, for example.
Which leads me to the next point: this wouldn’t be a Metal Gear Solid game if it didn’t have its characteristic fourth wall-breaking sense of humor. When you start a new game, you’ll need to select one of three choices: “I’m playing the MGS series for the first time,” I like MGS 1,” I Like MGS 2” or “I Like MGS 3.” Each of these options affect your playthrough according to the main characteristics of each title in the series.
Another clear example of the clever sense of humor can be seen when you save your progress. After saving the game, the para-medic will tell you about some of her favorite films, which include classic movies such as Godzilla, James Bond and War of the Worlds, among many others. This gives the female character the chance to talk about things that hadn’t happened yet, such as remakes, the technicolor Technology, the ubiquity of certain franchises and so on and so forth.
But the list of bizarre moments goes on and on: at one point during the game you climb a ladder for several minutes and as you do that, the main theme starts playing in the background. In one particular mission, Snake infiltrates as an effeminate soldier who looks exactly like Raiden. If one of your favorite elements of the series is the self-aware and self-referential style of humor, fear not because Metal Gear Solid 3 still has plenty of that.
Apart from featuring Snake Eater, the Subsistence version includes a couple of inviting enhancements and bonuses. From a gameplay perspective, the most important addition is the 3D camera which you can rotate and move freely. In terms of extras, this version features downloadable camouflage, extra face paint designs, a demo theater and additional difficulty levels.
Metal Gear Solid 3 is a worth addition to the series, delivering extreme thrills like few titles before it. The interactive in-game sequences add a new layer of authenticity, the resonant story is permeated by though-provoking themes and the stupendous action never fails to deliver. It’s great to see that Metal Gear Solid 3 is faithful to its legacy at the same time it features a slew of new systems and enhancements. And all these features make this game an engrossing experience that is difficult to forget.
Editor’s note: The reviewed version was part of the Metal Gear Solid: Essential Collection and didn’t include the second disc which is why some features (such as the Snake vs Monkey minigame, the emulated versions of Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake and Metal Gear Online) weren’t mentioned in the article.