Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is often pegged as the best iteration in the series by fans. It launched several new ideas and built upon what its fan base enjoyed. With Snake Eater 3D, the game is now remade for the Nintendo 3DS to use its advantages. Other than that, there isn’t much new under the sun since 2004 and it shows.
There's probably an unsavory gay joke in here somewhere.
To get people up to speed, Snake Eater tells the story of Big Boss as the younger Naked Snake, who engages in jungle missions during the Cold War. Creeping through dense forests, tall grass and mud, our spy will try to uncover the secrets of the communist Russians. On his way he’ll meet some allies, but mostly eccentric foes. If the game gets one thing right, it’s the extensive narrative woven into each segment of the game. Yet, this also leaves a dreadful first impression, as the first 3 hours of the game have less than 10 minutes of segregated gameplay snippets. The rest of those hours are filled with just setting up the game before rolling the James Bond wannabe opening credits. Snake Eater 3D is a story first and foremost.
The plot padding goes to some extreme levels, even stretching all the way to saving sequences. Apparently, there’s no hurry in stopping a potential nuclear holocaust. Luckily, it’s possible to skip these particular trivia dialogues, but most diatribes will be necessary to understand the story and operatives enjoy the sound of their own voice. Prepare to sit down and listen a lot. This also extends into a demeaning nature in several occasions, where the game dictates the progression above all else. It’s as if the developers didn’t trust players enough to meet their high standards of finesse when engaging the narrative. It’s best not to stop and think about it when playing or this thought will occur several times.
Can't have a Snake Eater review without a cutscene.
Luckily, the game eventually opens up and offers more than just a few secluded segments of actual game. It starts poorly, as the first challenge leaves players unprepared, but gradually the game starts easing players in. Consider this a reverse learning curve or hazing ritual. Once cleared for survival, Naked Snake will be able to rustle through the bushes and slowly work towards important buildings and enemy complexes. Snake Eater still has a lot of funneling and corridor hopping to more cutscenes, but when it does treat players to its full potential it shows off some excellent level designs. The open jungles offer series of ways to shimmy or crawl through enemy lines and indoor rooms often have several modes of entry and progression. The designs perfectly open up gameplay and that is Snake Eater’s strongest suit. This encourages players to think about their actions and view things from a wider perspective. This is what being a spy is all about.
Additionally, Snake also has an arsenal of gadgets and weapons. It will revert to much of the same, but players willing to experiment can discover fun new ways to fool the enemy. From small arms to dirty magazines to sticks of dynamite; Snake is his own personal store and all is fair in war. The touchscreen menu also helps keep the interface orderly, even if the submenus themselves are needlessly complex.
Pro-tip: Auto Aim makes it worse.
Snake Eater also introduces new elements, such as the camouflage system that yields a certain percentage of stealth according to the chosen outfit and stance. Players will also be able to create their own camo as a novelty. The levels are fairly monochrome, but the small hints of contrast do offer some different options when choosing the appropriate suit. Additionally, Snake will now also need to hunt and scavenge for sustenance to regain stamina. For instance, he will have to become a snake eater. That’s clever, right? Fauna and flora are scattered all over the game and have a wide array of effects. The idea here is not to kill every animal in sight, but rather to reach for survival when the need is highest. It adds another level of urgency and also doesn’t feel like it’s forced in or stretched to extremes. Snake will usually find something to regain strength, as long as he doesn’t have to overexert himself for ages.
One last addition is the medicinal system that lets Snake perform battlefield surgeries to heal wounds. As this has a different approach and effect for different types of wounds, this clever implementation adds yet more realism to the game. Cuts need to be sutured, while gunshot wounds require Snake to knife out the bullet Rambo style. Unfortunately, this is done in front of a static screen, but at least the idea is nice.
Unfortunately, all these bits and the sloppy close quarter mechanic are but gimmicks in the end, even if they add up to several layers of extra gameplay. The main game itself however will be plagued with a terrible control scheme, almost unaltered since the first Metal Gear Solid. Snake can now aim in different ways, but the man still moves in a stiff, unyielding manner that removes any finesse needed in a stealth game. Sticking to walls often ends up being a burden and only sporadically works as intended. Other times, Snake will merely hug walls for the fun of it, even when in imminent danger. The 3D vision and gyro sensor additions for the handheld are both just awful, even if depth is subtly handled when its pinpoint accuracy is found. This breaks the game down severely, as it’s hard to enjoy sneaking when the main struggle is trying to get past the rough movements of the character itself.
Additionally, enemy intelligence is completely inconsistent; reacting appropriately in close range firefights and maneuvering through cover, but not grasping simple evasion or deducing positions. More so, sneaking up on guards sometimes unlocks their supernatural senses and scrambling for dominance with the hacky controls is wishful thinking. It’s obvious that the priorities of this title were set on presentation first and game second and that’s a crying shame.
The game also falls victim to frequent frame drops, which detract from the visual glory it’s trying to present. As a redeeming factor, the game is extensive and it’s rare to see such an elaborate title on a handheld. That does however not excuse it. Lastly, boss fights are tedious and outdated; reverting to a simple pattern repetition that takes all the suspense out of the dramatics they try to convey. The quirky misfits attempt to make Snake feel cornered and trapped, but ultimately almost each boss can be simply picked off with patience. Patience is the key word, as these fights drag on endlessly. If these were supposed to be the pinnacle of spy action, then it sorely missed its point.
Pro-tip 2: You'll want to avoid doing this.
Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D is a strange, old creature. Sure, it successfully attempts to heighten realism and adds variation to the traditional sneak game, but these great gimmicks fall short through the main course. Dreadful, archaic controls and equally outdated enemies make anything related to action a bore, which defeats its own purpose. There are high points in the game though, certainly given the skillful level design. Other than that, Snake Eater is a stretched snoozefest that doesn’t need a player to tell its tale.