Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater HD Review

Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
Release Date: November 8, 2011

Any gamer worth his or her salt has that good nostalgic feeling when thinking about certain games they grew up liking. This nostalgia, however, can blind certain gamers of the actual issues that pop up long after a game’s release because of the memories they are all too fond of. High definition re-releases have been all the rage this generation, but not only do they show a whole new slew of gamers an old game, they are almost inviting their old game design or mechanics to to be criticized by all who touch them. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater HD is one of the newer HD touch-ups and does its best to make its original 2005 release seem irrelevant by comparison. Not only is this the definitive way to play Snake Eater, but it remains one of gaming’s greatest triumphs that has aged surprisingly well.

Metal Gear Solid stories have always had somewhat polarizing results with the people who play them. While I have always enjoyed them, thick and possibly convoluted threads can make them hard to follow at times. Monologues containing nanomachines, the Patriots, robot tanks, and an immortal bisexual vampire can turn people off and, while it doesn’t do that to me, I can understand why.

Snake Eater doesn’t have that problem. Before Solid Snake, nanomachines, Raiden, Metal Gears, and everything else, there was just Naked Snake. This takes place in the 1960s so the people who disliked how the series can get up its own ass can settle down because this predates all of that. Snake Eater‘s story is a singular one, not really referencing other games which it stops if from becoming potentially confusing.

Naked Snake is a CIA operative who is tasked by the government to retrieve a scientist somewhere in Russian territory. About an hour in, that goal is completed… until Snake gets humiliated and something a lot worse happens. Because this unnamed incident happened while the US wasn’t supposed to be there, the United States must explain their presence in USSR territory at the time of this disaster and prove they weren’t responsible. Drastic measures must be completed to prove this and Snake is given the unthinkable job that he can barely bring himself to do. Snake also has a personal stake with the events at hand, meaning he isn’t just in it for the overlords in the government.

As always, I tried to keep the plot brief and spoiler-free as possible. Mostly, it’s because this is one of the most engrossing, emotional stories I’ve ever experienced, regardless of medium. Snake’s journey is packed with memorable characters who all give stellar performances that really sell what they are trying to portray, despite the lack of proper lip synching. Cutscenes (and yes there are a lot) may be long, but they are always kept interesting because of the strong roles these actors and actresses play and always have a purpose from serving the story to humanizing someone. You root for the protagonists and have hatred and respect for villains, which is how it is supposed to go.

Superb performances always do a story good, but seeing what happens next is another strong driving force to play on. Many twists and problems arise when Snake goes to accomplish both of his important goals and all kept me on the edge of my seat. Snake’s internal struggle paired with his external problems (believe me when I say he goes through Hell multiple times) make the story have a meaning and the impeccable pacing doles information out at such satisfying intervals, leaving the journey all the way up the end to be as engaging as ever.

You’ll definitely want to stay tuned until the end because of how spectacular it is. After all the intensity of the perfectly-executed final playable moments, the action settles down and becomes one of the most emotionally striking endings that is almost flawless in every way. The music collides so well with the events on screen, further selling you what happened. I actually just got goosebumps and a lump in my throat just typing those last few sentences and I have no problem saying I stood up and applauded when the credits were rolling. It’s a truly memorable journey in every way.

The whole “more movie than game” thing for this series has always confused me because of how deep this franchise actually is. Snake Eater is arguably the deepest in the series with so many mechanics in play giving the player an almost superfluous amount of choices.

Obviously the core here is sneaking and infiltrating through jungle and urban environments and all of it is tense and satisfying. It is definitely more methodically paced, meaning patience is actually needed, but it makes every action have a meaning and require thought. Enemies are much smarter in this game, as they investigate every sound, notice when stray animals move suddenly, and will notice when something looks different. Since they aren’t idiots, outsmarting them and having the fall for traps (claymore plus Playboy magazine equals…) causes you to feel like such a badass.

They might outsmart you too, as they are pretty good at blending in as much as you are. Thermal vision ends up being a godsend because, like you, their fatigues can match their surrounding environment, discouraging you from running around like a loud, belligerent rhinoceros. They are quick to punish Rambo-like players (especially on higher difficulties) and will use multiple tactics to flush you out of hiding, which makes it the most stealth-required Metal Gear Solid game to date.

Dealing with these guys is completely left up to the player in how it happens and if it happens. There is a depth here that can lead to many different play styles and most, if not all, are completely viable. I chose to go for an all-stealth approach, using as few items as possible and going for CQC (which has been upgraded) in almost every instance which I found to be the most fun for me. However, it is just as fun to go around and silently murder every guard with careful wit and planning. Running and gunning may not work all of the time due to older controls, but if you are quick enough, it may work for you and how you play. Many other tools, like capturing animals and blowing up ammunition sheds, are thrown in your disposal, it is just up to you to strategize and you them to your advantage. All of these come together to form one of the most gratifying stealth experiences available.

Player choice also extends to the boss fights, all of which feel completely unique from each other (and other games) and are a complete blast to take down. There is the obvious “kill or stamina kill” way to deal with them, but a couple of them have even more ways to win. The sniper battle might be one of the best, slow paced battles of all time, rewarding careful planning, intelligent use of tools, and sharp eyes. That is, if you even fight him. I won’t spoil how, but there are four different ways to that boss down, which splinter into even more ways once you consider different sub-strategies. The other more direct battles, all are intense and unique in their own ways, usually masking the limited controls but making the fights fun in the process. Don’t feel inferior if you need some codec advice because there aren’t any “shoot the big glowy spot” or anything that doesn’t require any thought. Speculating a weakness and exploiting it comes into play in every fight, causing a rejoice for said battles instead of a sigh of uninterest that other less-capable games can generate.

Snake Eater is not only a catchy, unique title, but it also fits into the survival gameplay pretty well. Jungles make up a fair chunk of environments and Snake gets his Bear Grylls by using survival techniques and habits to tend to his immediate needs. Animals inhabit these lively jungles and Snake must take to the local wildlife for food to keep his stamina up, which is regulated beneath your health bar. Broken bones, being poisoned, and getting shot also must be tended to with the appropriate medicine in the pause menu. This may sound tedious (at least you don’t manage his bathroom needs) but it really reinforces your isolation in the jungle. Besides, if you aren’t getting shot or poisoned every other minute, these items don’t really become rare enough to devolve into scrounging just to get by.

Pick a Metal Gear game. Chances are that it is one of the best looking on its respective system. Snake Eater was a technical marvel back on the PS2 and the trip into high definition has done wonders in every department. Text and menus look so smooth and, given the timeless art design, character models and environments have aged quite well. Vistas are still a pleasure to look at and every place still oozes atmosphere and better assists the feeling that you are actually situated in a Russian jungle. The framerate is remarkably smooth most times, but can take a slight dive during an alert phase. It is a little distracting, but it never really detracted from my experience. Even though it is technically still a PS2 game, but it is quite the looker and still runs pretty well.

Playing Snake Eater once isn’t enough. This was my fourth playthrough of the game and I still have an urge to go back and discover new Easter eggs, find new strategies, and try new paths. Secrets and little hidden Easter eggs are hidden everywhere and the inclusion of trophies and achievements not only boost your gamerscore or trophy level, but do a good job of guiding you to them. Only one Easter egg was left out from its original release but all others have been kept in tact and have been given incentive to seek them out.

Bumping up the difficulty changes the game up dramatically, further giving replay value. Instead of just lazily boosting health bars, enemy AI has been stepped up meaning your skill has to rise accordingly. They’ll hear and see your from farther away meaning you have to be on top of your game to come out ahead. I played on Extreme this time which really tested my sneaking chops and made this fourth playthrough almost a completely new experience to me. Very few games benefit from being harder, leading only to frustration as they tend to break the game’s mechanics.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was a classic when it was released and it still holds that honor as evidenced by this HD re-release. With deep, rewarding stealth gameplay in a fantastic setting coupled with a landmark story, there isn’t a logical reason to pass this title by. Looking better than ever, being put on a couple different platforms, and sharing a disc with two other great games leaves no excuses to miss out this time. This snake has never tasted so good. Goodness, there’s a sentence I thought I’d never write.

+Phenomenal cast of villains that turn into great boss fights
+Methodical, yet engaging stealth with smart enemies (especially on higher difficulties)
+Vast variety of mechanics and methods of sneaking
+Secrets, Easter eggs, and extra ways to play give it high replayability
+Extremely strong, emotional story with memorable, well-realized characters and an amazing ending
+Looks extremely sharp
-Controls can show their age at times
-As with the PS2 version, the framerate can get a little shaky in some hectic moments

Final Score: 10/10

Platform Differences:
As for the Collection as a whole, there are actually a lot of differences between the Xbox 360 and PS3. The Xbox 360 ships on two discs, with MGS2 and MGS3 sharing a disc, leaving Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker HD on its own disc. The PS3 version has all three games on a single Blu Ray. Not only that, the Xbox 360 version has a significantly smaller number of achievements, while the PS3 version gets three full trophy lists and three platinum trophies. Normally this isn’t a big deal, but this Collection has some of the greatest trophies I’ve ever gotten, with creative names and requirements that definitely add to the experience.
Also, some of the controls have been switched around on Xbox 360. Since that gamepad doesn’t have pressure-sensitive buttons, some controls had to be moved to compensate.
The differences continue as the PS3 version supports “Transfarring” which lets Peace Walker saves move between PS3 and PSP. Trophies are locked on the PSP version though so don’t expect a flood of the trophies when you Transfar.

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