As the title implies, This is the fourth part in an ongoing, ever complex series of blogs as I replay all the Metal Gear games to date. You can check out part one here, part two here and part three here.
Obviously these blogs are full of spoilers for the game in question, but this one also includes spoilers for Metal Gear Solid 4…so…pre warned yeah?
METAL GEAR SOLID 3: SNake Eater
Atop a wind-swept Russian mountain range crouches a figure, one the finest soldiers of his generation, camouflaged into the rocks. He waits. A guard walks into the sights of his pistol and with a ‘thwap’, he lets fly a tranquilizer dart. The dart misses and hits a nearby eagle, the squawk it emits alerts the guard who spots him with ease since he’s now spinning on the spot, repeatedly crouching and standing up forgetting which button makes him go prone.
“Control!! I’ve spotted the enemy…send reinforcements!”
*Cue 10 minutes of hiding until the alert phase is over*
That’s me playing Snake Eater in a nutshell. I’m not great at stealth, my patience tends to wear thin fast, but that doesn’t stop me enjoying this absolute masterpiece of a game.
Stripped clean of the twists, heavy social commentary and (most) pretentions of the previous game, this is pure Metal Gear, streamlined, heated up and injected right into your gaping eyeball. Sneaking and how you go about it is the main focus, with the camouflage system at the heart of it. As tedious as menu hopping can be, there’s something oddly satisfying in watching the little camouflage percentage increasing as you change fatigues. Adding in the big change (and the one that freaked me out when I first played), the lack of radar, and the pace of the gameplay has massively changed too. Relying on brief uses of Sonar and short-distance motion detectors, you really have to take your time, scan the area and use the environment to your advantage if you don’t want to get spotted. And this is the main reason I love it so much, instead of simply waiting behind a wall for a guard to pass, you’ve now got to think about the environment, where can you hide next? Can you get to that last patch of grass before the guard sees you? Given the ‘open world-lite’ nature of the game, it makes the go between sections just as intense as sneaking around a heavily guarded weapons lab.
But other than this and the addition of the ‘cure’ mechanic (sorely missed from following games for me), it’s business as usual for ya boy Snake (of the Naked variety in this one). So what makes this game stand gargantuan above the rest?
Cate Blanchett is PISSED.
Though you play as him, it’s really not Snake’s story this time round. This is the story of The Boss and her personal sacrifice and it is just brilliant, eye-wateringly so in those final few moments. You’re probably bored of the numerous articles shouting at you about how The Boss is The Best Female Character Ever™ and she is, but I’d argue that she’s one of the best characters period. Her story is one of loss in order to do what is right, sacrifice for the greater good, loyalty and honour; one that resonates with the later games in the series, particularly strong with the story outline for The Phantom Pain too. It also echoes the Father/Son metaphors that run heavy in the series. Cementing this is a really believable relationship between her and Snake. You really feel the care and love she has for him in the few conversations they share. Even the way Snake seizes up when he’s asked about he betrayal speaks volumes for what she means to him. Creating a character that can stand up to the future Big Boss couldn’t have been easy, but in The Boss, Kojima created a character that not only appears as resolutely strong as Snake, but also more human than him, vulnerable and full of regret. Listen to the voice acting as she tells her story in those final cutscenes, the strength in her voice is standing on a very thin layer of humanity that occasionally cracks through her tough surface.
‘There is nothing left inside me now, nothing at all’
Give that a skip to the 7:20 mark and enjoy/cry
It’s her story that starts and ends the Metal Gear series, her ideals that Big Boss carries with him as he goes from hero to villain, her gravestone being the location of Snake & Big Boss’ final meeting. A mother to not only Ocelot, but to Big Boss, to Outer Haven, to Snake, to Liquid, Raiden, Vamp, ‘Les Enfants Terribles’ Rex and Rey…it all started with The Boss’ seeming double cross of her country and the fallout of her choice.
“I raised you, I loved you, I’ve given you weapons, taught you techniques, endowed you with knowledge, there is nothing more for me to give you. All that’s left for you to take…is my life”
And on the flip side of that, we come to the big weak point for me: David Hayter.
I know it’s kinda in vogue to say he’s no good since the recasting affair for Ground Zeroes, but here is where I start to agree with those naysayers. Snake in this is better written than his Son ever was; done away with the Gruff Veteran stereotype that hampered the character previous and given an actual arc to follow, we finally get to see something resembling a real person, wracked heavy with the burden of his mission: Kill his mentor or risk all out war. The voice acting never really conveys this, each line is delivered with the same flat tone, whether he’s being tortured or going into exquisite detail about a gun…he just sounds the same. Even when the mo cap actor portrays little nuanced movements to show him being uneasy, or afraid, the voice never changes. I get that maybe this Snake is a little emotionally stunted, having his entire life focused on The Boss, but he’s on a mission to kill her, surely a little emotion would be required? It’s no more than a little gripe though, it by no means ruins the game; just a shame when the rest of the cast is strong.
A big problem I had with MGS2 was the bosses and it’s one that’s fixed here with the brilliantly over-the-top Cobra Unit. Each one as weird as the last, from the bee controlling The Pain, to the frog-spider-man-thing, The Fear; they all bring their own variety to the fights that stop them from being the ‘run around some boxes and hope to get a shot in’ of the previous games. It does occasionally feel (especially with The Fear) that they’re trying desperately hard to out-Vamp Vamp in the supernatural villain stakes, but you can look a little deeper into the symbolism (in a Metal Gear game?!) and view these bosses as Snake’s feelings and emotions as he progresses with his mission…The Fear, The Pain, The Sorrow…it’s easy to see where that theory comes from. There’s also a school of thought that says the events of this game are a ‘dreamlike’ retelling of the events of the mission as an explanation of these strange characters (this article by Christopher Willings goes into a lot of great detail about the fantasy v reality of the series).
Cobra Unit in full inky-effect
All the reasons and theories aside, this game features two of the best boss fights of not only the series, but of all goddamn time with the best sniper battle ever (The End, which I always skip by killing him earlier on…) and the non-fight-trip-out-weirdness that comes from meeting The Sorrow after Snake does his best ‘Harrison Ford in The Fugitive’ impression off a waterfall. Both of these could only come from the mind of Kojima, a man who is always looking to out-do himself, but also out-do your expectations.
Unless your expectations were ‘shoots bees at you’
But like the series overall, the game keeps circling back to The Boss and the final fight with her. Narratively, it’s brilliant done as we’ve seen her repeatedly beat Snake at numerous points, but with each one he starts holding his own and gets a little closer to winning so by the time we get to this final meeting, you know Snake is ready; The Boss has given him all her tools and in calling in a bombing run on the area, forces Snake to use them to defeat her. The camouflage gimmick back onto you here too with The Boss’ white sneaking suit blending perfectly into a field of white flowers surrounded by dying trees, she seemingly comes out of nowhere with a quick CQC flurry that you have to dodge and retaliate in kind with your own attack. The battle feels incredibly raw, with bullets and tranq darts of almost no use, just two soldiers at their most bare, master verses pupil, the foundations of Metal Gear laid out in front of us. Another little slice of symbolism comes in the form of The Boss passing over not only her title, but her gun, a Patriot to Snake, she’s literally giving away her patriotism as her legend goes into history as a traitor. Honestly, if you didn’t pause for a while and struggle to pull the trigger at the end, you’re a monster.
For me, it’s from here on that the series starts to get a little lost and the capabilities of the hardware begin to be able to create almost anything Kojima’s massive imagination can conjure which starts to overtake the need to create a solid experience, but in this game we were given a perfect slice of Metal Gear, the story, the characters, the setting (that jungle environment…) the music (best of the series, especially the alert music, which I heard a lot… ) all forming a fantastic game from the opening to that final, tear filled (and inducing) salute.
I’m not crying…there’s just…tears…in my eye…
NEXXXXXXT!!! …I’m not sure. I’ve been playing the Ac!d series, so I might do a little side post on those. Mainly ’cause Destiny is coming out and I doubt I’ll have time to replay MGS4 for a while. Look, I’m lazy, Ok?