Metal Gear Solid 3 Snake Eater - Retroperspective
In the 3rd and planned chapter of the solid Snake story we take some big changes to the game, engine and story but even more to the character, which needs some explanation. The 2 games upto this point in my chronology have centred on Snake code name Solid, born from the les infant terribla project - like his brother Liquid- clones from Zanzibar villain Big Boss, a former Fox agent gone rogue and father to both via his genes.
This theme is the "gene", "meme" and now "scene" core underpinning of each chapter. 1 had its fate and fear wrapped in the genes of both determining their own fate before they even took a breath, so was believed by liquid. ( use end scene of liquid here with link to part 1 video).
2 followed this by the social aspect and a meme being a single thought or belief created by 1 or more and passed through the community as an ever growing theme or ideal. Social engineering in its purest form, the misdirection and deception is key from the games story and Hideo's sell. (Clip from 2 and link)
In the 3rd it took a huge stride, part of that was it was designed for the playstation 3 but with Sony's infamous 'next gen starts when we say" attitude, they had to adapt and deliver on the PS2 which took much work and toll on the team,engine and machine which I will cover later.
Snake eaters core is all about the "scene" or time/environment that can and does effect how everything is viewed. The entire games premise is one of viewpoint and political strings, everyone is friend or foe, patriot or defector. Snake himself is even unaware of the game he is himself playing, Just a pawn in another's and very wet behind the ears when we meet up with "Jack" here for the first time. Newcomers to the metal gear solid series looking to play The Phantom Pain could start with this game as it is Big Boss who's story we close in that but meet here for the first time during the Cold War.
With it starting off with a nuclear missile fired at a Soviet Union compound by main antagonist colonel Volgin driven powermad within the coldwar setting of 1964 trying to win the war, but this is no ordinary missile for it is American made and as such creates an international incident where by Snake is sent in under code name Naked to find and retrieve the scientist working on the shagohod weapon (an all terrain mobile tank nuclear capable) for Volgin. David Bowie references are made from the ziggy stardust alter ego and major Tom commander mirroring the moon walk race of the time with Russia and America desperate to achieve first drop. Echoed more by the Fury being an astronaught complete with suit. Space odyssey the album is referenced in the early codec chat at the start of the virtuous mission, ( show clip ground control).
While all this happens Snake's old mentor has defected to Russia and gone Rogue, known only as the Boss she is a tough as nails, no nonsense professional but now having turned her back on her country and sided with Volgin she is a traitor that Snake must now kill for his country, the scene of the time, mirrored perfectly in her speech to him at the end battle. ( show clip) and constant "hints" throughout the game of her true intentions.
Within the first few minutes of snake eater its 2 biggest film influences are front and centre, from the jungle and bare roots setting of the game and Snake first blood/Rambo vibes resonate, echoed in the game survival core and DIY field repairs (show stitch up scene) and machine gun equipped helicopter swatting.
But the James Bond theme is not only typical Hideo comedy mixed with style but is actually a great title and song within even a Maurice Binder sequence to complete its homage. But it does not stop here, like 2 using references from hard boiled with saxophone music, this also has nods to the fugitive, predator, spaghetti westerns and others thoughtout. But the clear old James Bond movie muse is unmistakable, the early teaser mission to introduce the games themes and villains, after a title sequence the real mission and game begins, classic Cold War, double jeopardy love, death, betrayal and world domination are all included. Hideo allows heavy cultural references to seep into his work, The Amazing Snatcher is an extreme case of blade runner reference but it is intrinsic to his own DNA game design, you can almost recognise the time period by these popular references in his games.
But even now stepping back to 1964 and playing the role reversal of who we know Big boss to be upto this point is yet another showing of how nothing can be confirmed or constant, only relevant to the time, stage and POV. The role reversal in the game is huge, with its entire impact changing Snake to become the devil we know he becomes, being consumed by anger and revenge he succumbs to his demons, a tale we will have the joy to see unfold within The Phantom Pain after our first introduction to him here as a fresh faced loyal soldier but still a little wet behind the ears.
With the stage set, another counter spy in EVA giving snake a brief flutter of love before heartbreak and receiving that indicative eye patch, ironically inflicted by his old mentor enforcing the scar of his trust and constant reminder to never do so again. But Eva also serves as another clue to links and hints for the Phantom Pain,(warn about possible spoiler theory) my theory here is the "controversial" outfit from Quiet is a clear reference to Eva, and with Love really blooming on the battlefield the chance that Snake has a daughter but is not aware is a theory I hold and I await another month to find out. As Hideo stated the outfit makes sense (in here it was more to mirror the Bond girl attire) but it would be another twist for him to play, is she the real Hero of V?.
(Compare shot of both). With the recent Gamescom trailer adding some weight to this with Snake referencing what seems to be a choice, but in Hideo fashion could also be a mimic of the Star Wars scene of their is another Skywalker...hmmmmm all very intriguing, but I stress it is my opinion and could be very wrong!
Gameplay is still fixed on stealth but takes a much bigger leap in implementation, so much so in that ground zeroes/TPP combat is built on this with additions rather than any great change. The big change for combat here was the CQC "close quarter combat" that allowed you if unarmed or holding a single weapon to engage enemies, choke hold and use as human shields or quickly dispatch them from your path fatality or not.
The game copied some of the style from the popular show 24 at the time in its combat and some scenes, with it being most likely how Hideo decided that its star kiefer Sutherland would later become the voice of Big Boss for ground zeroes and TPP, replacing fan favourite and solid snake star David Hayter...or maybe alongside him?!?!?
This was weaven Into the same mechanic of stealth, radar (well Sonar) but amplified more so with the new setting. A big change was not only the shift from urban environment to its jungle setting but also the entire start!. Dropping you miles out and having to work in and infiltrate your objective, another similarity with the latest and final chapter.
But this dense land needed big changes to both game design and engine. Now you had a constant stamina bar, which dictated how you healed, or health level. Letting this drop to low and snake would grow slower, health drop and even a grumbling stomach giving you away in its new stealth camo options. Having a stealth gauge let you know how visible you where to enemies, swapping gear and face paint dependant on locale was vital to stay hidden. Along with enabling you to individualise your character with clothes and paint carried over in all the realtime cutscenes, still a rarity sadly in games today another sign of how forward thinking Hideo is complete with some comical choices.
This did not stop here though, you had to hunt and source your own food or flora and fauna to survive. Killing local animals for food meant you could top up your stamina bar, but be careful, as the wrong food could poison you, leaving meat to long would result in it going bad. Each food had a level meaning you needed more then just the same food or you became malnutritioned Or you saw less benefit.Taking the Rambo influence to new heights meant Snake needed to heal himself from injury, using bandages, spray and splints all in the correct manor otherwise it would not heal, leaving scars, a limp and even lowering stamina levels. It really made you think and again for its time was so far ahead of others, being almost RPG like in its execution. Even playing for to long a sitting without saving lower your resolve which you could see from snakes weary stance in the survivor hub.
But it was as hard or more so on the engine, with the last games all being set in very clinical stages meant the collision detection engine could be much simpler. But not in this very organic setting, now ground was uneven, bushes, tree's, logs, swamps and more all meant that it has to handle a much more complicated and vertical environment map. The entire portion was re-written to accommodate this, allowing you to climb tree's, hide in logs, sneak above or below and even dress as a crocodile in a swamp, Snake always was a snappy dresser....
With it having interactive grass and foliage still now not common, your clothes got muddier or wet dependent on the area you had walked through, weather and time of day changed as you play, animals, patrols and overall AI was another step up from the previous game. You really had to have your wits about you and learn and apply the skills throughout, first person view was key. It was also the fist game to allow you to complete it without alerting or killing anyone, something I have sadly never achieved. Failure!!!!!
The game also made a huge shift in its visual display from the last chapter. Animation improved on faces, clothes. Face geometry increased but the biggest leap was texture work, comparing the much simpler shaded polygons from 2 against the new, younger looking snake was stark, many did not believe this was a PS2 game when shown at E3, it was another leap on. Employing tricks still in use now, some seen in the last game also, clothes flap in the wind, DoF was improved over the last games Gaussian filter. Sound was also treated to an upgrade, supporting full Dolby II surround it was a real cinematic experience. Harry Gregson-Williams returned for the theme and games soundtrack, and like the epic one delivered in 2 it was another masterpiece. Able to stand on its own and combined with all the work in the game just cemented the entire cinematic game style it started back with the first game.
With the jungle setting, new collision engine, higher polygon models and qty, additional sound processing, improved AI, greater texture work with much, much more overdraw and overall leap from such an epic technical achievement as 2 had to come at a cost. And it did with the old frame rate of 60 being halved to 30 for the entire game in play or the same Pal 50 to 25 sacrifice. But the performance throughout was sadly not as stable as its forefather, a big reason was the games original target being on a much more powerful machine in the PS3, this meant that the design aim was not sacrificed to allow for this. The setting uses one of the PS2 strongest assists, overdraw or as it is called now "alpha to coverage blending". The dense tress, shrubs, light and shadows all worked the machine very hard. Pushing this much geometry and draw caused the frame rate to tank at points along with its strong post effects work. With my bespoke tool you can see lows of 9 but these only really come in the effect heavy cut scenes, but the flamethrower and other big effects can see it dip into the low teens during game play. The engine used standard double buffer techniques and used the same methods from 2 with a full 50fps still happening on very rare occasions in cut scenes, but like game play mostly running at 25 with the next stage causing half that dipping to 12/13 (15 on NTSC ). This line would be flat where it not for the held frame for this Pal version, but it certainly was not such a solid performer as it's earlier incarnation. The battle with the fury is a standout of how bad it gets with the entire game showing off the old "slowdown" which used to signify when shit got real, but here it does hamper the gameplay and demonstrates the bulges and split seams of the PS2 as it tries its level best to push those pixels as best it can.
But even though it was by Hideo's own high standards his worse performer, it never irritates or distracts throughout the entire game (as is say the huge wealth of cut scenes are the worst/constant offender) but can at points as above, in the mountains as some examples, but it was an easy improvement to make when the ironic remasters hit on the X360 and intended PS3 to a native 720p boost from the PS2 upscale resolution of 640x480 (Native 512x448) as per the last game and most of the machines library. But the return of 60fps does help the game and performance well, and if you have the choice to play again before the new game it is the better place to experience it.
But the same intelligent and logical puzzle, progression and boss battles ran through its veins, some like the pain are simple to beat others like The End sniper battle could be beaten by saving and quitting the game and returning in 7 days ( or moving your PS2's date on) where he will have died from old age. Even avoided all together if you are a quick and accurate shot earlier in the game. Trying to save mid battle would get you booted back to travel and restart. It was a gruelling boss fight you had to endure in one sitting, running around and hoping would quickly result in being picked off, instead you had to think like a sniper, be slow, tactful use the equipment you had and soon you sneak up on him and put him to rest, a tough but satisfying battle indeed.Saving and playing another day recovered health and even healed wounds, his comedy rang with the start allowing you to have a Raiden Mask on which also was a look a like later in the game. The group of enemies all followed the enduring stages Snake faced in the game The pain, The End, The Fury,The Sorrow. Physco mantis feels come from the sorrow battle, adding in the standard Hideo mix of horror/paranormal. Volgin and his base all feel more familiar but still supremely satisfying, working through the base disguised is still such a common method in stealth games now.
But the epic finale and battle with the boss across the fields is not only superbly atmospheric but poetic in its delivery, capped of with iconic Big Boss salute as the mantle is passed and Big Boss is born it truly is a masterpiece of a game that still stands now as I feel the pinnacle of the greatness of Hideo Kojima and the series,but this may yet be exceeded with his final MGS game, that brings the saga full circle with its originating father and true Boss.