Initially developed for the PlayStation 3, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was released in November 2004 on the PlayStation 2 (a reminder that plans tend to change a lot in the video game industry).
MGS3 is the first episode of the Metal Gear Solid series that is not taking place in the future — at the time the game was released, as Metal Gear Solid 5 Ground Zeroes and Phantom Pain take place in the 70s’ and 80s’. With this game, Hideo Kojima and his teams give us their sci-fi version of the Cold War and how it was instrumental in building the Metal Gear saga.
So, how does it feel to play Metal Gear Solid 3 all these later? Is it still worth your time and money? What if you’re not familiar with the series? I tried to answer these in this comprehensive review.
An epic opening
If Metal Gear Solid 2 was complex to apprehend without playing the previous episodes, you can play Metal Gear Solid 3 as a standalone. You will miss out on many references, but you’ll understand the main parts of the plot.
Expectations for MGS3 were high back in 2004.
And boy oh boy, we were not disappointed. Metal Gear Solid 3 is not an average action/infiltration game.
Watch the first minutes of MGS3 in HD, without commentary.
I’m not going to share much about the story, which is, in my opinion, the best of the entire saga. What I can tell you, however, is that it is so well-written that it feels like a good espionage movie at times.
Welcome to the Jungle, Snake
Metal Gear Solid 3 takes us back to 1964, in the middle of the Cold War, a year after Cuba’s infamous missile crisis. The story focuses on the adventures of a CIA agent codenamed Naked Snake.
During MGS3, you don’t play as Solid Snake, who’s not born yet in 1964. You play as Jack, the man who will become Big Boss and, later on, Solid, Liquid, and Solidus’ biological father.
His mission? Rescue a Russian rocket scientist named Sokolov, suspected to be working on a secret weapon powerful enough for the USSR to lead the nuclear race against the West.
In this episode, not only Kojima takes us to an entirely new type of environment (the Jungle), but he also drops us there without any of the fancy high-tech equipment the series got us used to.
Even more so than its predecessors, MGS3 is all about stealth and infiltration. It also adds a vital survival component to the gameplay—something I’ll describe a bit further down the review.
“If anything goes wrong, you’ll be eating dinner, breakfast, and all the rest of your meals in the jungle.”
Guess what? Things will go wrong.
A mature game for mature gamers
Games’ age ratings are sometimes arguable. Well, not MGS3’s.
It’s not a game you want young kids to sit in front of.
For starters, they will not really appreciate the intricate plot.
But what stroke me the most playing MGS3 again is how much Snake goes through. He’ll be beaten, broken, and humiliated — thus leaving you with tons of emotions I wouldn’t want a kid to experience.
A stunning soundtrack
Harry Gregson-Williams and his teammates managed to create a diverse yet remarkably coherent sound environment. I had forgotten how good it is.
Inspired by westerns and espionage movies, the soundtrack of Metal Gear Solid 3 is everything you’d expect it to be, and much more.
You can listen to the full soundtrack here:
Besides having an outstanding OST, MGS3 also enjoys an excellent voice cast.
A pitch-perfect voice cast
Video games and cinema are Kojima’s most vibrant passions in life. In MGS3, the Japanese creator clearly worked twice as hard to make these two worlds collide. If Metal Gear Solid 2 had an excellent voice cast and overall sound quality, Metal Gear Solid 3 is taking it so far that it will make you forget that you’re playing a video game.
If you haven’t yet, watch MGS3’s First Hour to see it for yourself.
Lost in the jungle
I didn’t realize how great the background sounds were until I played the game with headphones.
Everything feels right and authentic.
If you are to play MGS3, I highly recommend that you take the time to stop and listen to what’s happening around you. You will be amazed by the work done on a game that was initially released on PlayStation 2.
I think that what stands out the most is the coherence of it all.
Espionage, Tactical, Survival
Just like in all other Metal Gear games, you’re equipped with a radio that you can use to chat with your support team.
You can count on them to give you advice when you’re out of ideas to get you out of a tricky situation.
One of them is Para-Medic, here to save your game progression and share advice on medicinal plants and your physical condition—something that’s key to your mission’s success.
Indeed, as mentioned earlier, Metal Gear Solid 3 is also about surviving in a hostile environment jungle.
Everything and anything can kill you.
Food, plants, water, scorpions, snakes, or leeches can be a danger. You won’t feel like camping in this jungle.
MGS3 introduces the Stamina indicator in the series. You now have the main life bar (you die if it empties), as well as a Stamina bar, indicating Snake’s overall shape, and that will go down as you play. Once your stamina bar reaches zero, Snake will pass out – which can be a problem if you’re not alone.
Eat or die trying
The only ways to increase stamina are eating food or saving the game to let Snake rest for a couple of hours.
There are no less than 48 types of animals and plants to hunt, collect, and/or eat in the game. Every type of food restores a different amount of stamina based on what it is. A bat, for example, will only restore a tiny amount of stamina, while a fresh fish will restore a large amount of stamina.
Now, Snake will not only get tired. He can get badly hurt (get shot, suffer severe burns, break bones, etc.), get sick, or poisoned. You can get poisoned from food, animal bites, or special ammo (arrows, for instance).
You need to take care of Snake. The lower his stamina bar, the lower his performance. For one, a low stamina bar will alter Snake’s ability to stay still while aiming a gun, making it much harder to sneak around.
Important note: You can call Para-medic to get information on food before you eat it. Some foods have unique effects on Snake. Take the Russian glow cap, a fluorescent mushroom, for instance. It will refill your equipment’s batteries when you eat it. Eat them wisely!
Also, keeping food for too long won’t play in your favor as it will rotten with time. Eating rotten food will lower your stamina and most likely result in food poisoning. One way to prevent this from happening is to capture animals by putting them to sleep instead of killing them.
What’s more, some plants and fruits can provide both food and medicine.
I highly encourage you to call Para-Medic when you collect a new type of food or enter a new area. She will try to give you as much information on how-to-survive in the area, and Snake will mostly ask questions on how things taste and whether or not he can eat them. Silly, but it gave me a couple of good laughs.
Manage your inventory carefully.
Metal Gear Solid is not meant to be realistic. Like in MGS and MGS2 before it, Snake can carry enough weapons to start a war — which doesn’t really go in pairs with survival. To counterbalance this, Hideo Kojima and his teams introduced … the bag pack.
The idea is that you can add items and weapons in your bag pack and access them fast and easily using L2 and R2 (LT and RT on Xbox 360, or the front tactile screen on the PS Vita). On the other hand, to use the weapons and items out of your bag pack, you need to press START, go to the Bag Pack MENU, add them to your bag pack, go back to the START menu … and play.
At the end of the day, the bag pack doesn’t mean that you’re not carrying all the items and weapons at all times. But it gives the impression that you don’t carry so much all the time.
The amount you carry in your bag pack matters because it will directly affect how fast you burn your Stamina bar.
The bottom line is: only carry what you need.
Who turned the lights off?
As briefly mentioned earlier, Metal Gear Solid 3 is also introducing … (drumrolls) … batteries! To use his top-notch equipment (Thermal Goggles, Sonar, etc.), Snake needs batteries. Batteries are rare in the game, but they will recharge when you stop using them and/or when you eat Glowing Mushrooms. Use your battery-powered equipment wisely, and you shouldn’t fall short of power. Overuse them, and you’ll be in trouble.
What’s more, you’ll have to be very careful when using weapons with silencers. In MGS3, silencers are only temporary. They get damaged as you shoot and break pretty fast. If you can’t manage your usage, you’ll find yourself in situations where you have no other choice but to alert the guards when shooting – and that can be a big problem.
MGS2. Only much better
MGS3 is a real improvement of MGS2’s gameplay.
Note that in the original PlayStation 2 version of the game, there was no free 360 degrees camera, thus making it more complicated – and frustrating – to go through some areas of the game. The later released Subsistence and HD versions added a free camera movement.
MGS3 also introduces CQC (Close Quarter Combat) movements. CQC allows you to attack guards silently, interrogate them, knock them out or … slaughter them using your knife.
Another thing to point out in MGS3 is the absence of radar. Instead, Snake can rely on his AP Sensor, a device that beeps and sends vibrations to your controller to let you know when enemies are nearby.
As your enemies get closer, the beeps and vibrations intensify.
It takes me to tell you more about the importance of blending in with your surroundings to avoid being noticed by the enemy.
Blend in your environment
MGS3 introduces many camouflages — face and body — that you can wear and change at any time of the adventure by pressing Start.
Face and wear camouflage aren’t to be taken lightly. Use them right, and you’ll be invisible to the enemy in some situations. Keep your khaki clothes while hiding in the snow, and you’ll be a sitting duck.
Depending on your surroundings, you’ll have to wear the most appropriate outfit and paint your face accordingly.
For example, if you are standing against a red brick wall, wear red-ish clothes, and paint your face red!
On the other hand, if you are crouching in tall grass, wear a khaki outfit and green face paint.
Note that there’s a percentage indicator on the top right part of the screen that shows you how noticeable you are when walking around.
The higher, the better.
A fair difficulty
The Metal Gear Solid series is not known to be easy to begin with. Given the added survival parameters, I find MGS3 harder than the average Metal Gear Solid game.
Now, in Normal Mode, newbies will undoubtedly encounter a great challenge but shouldn’t find themselves in front of an impossible challenge.
An okay A.I.
MGS3’s A.I. is very similar to the one of MGS2. It does the job. If you observe long enough, you’ll notice that guards are patrolling on a rail and will only deviate from it if you interact with them somehow.
Now, Kojima’s teams added some exciting ways to interact with the enemy.
One of these ways is to starve the enemy.
Throughout the game, you’ll find food storage rooms that you can destroy with grenades or C4.
Once you do that, all the guards in the area will complain about how hungry they are. Put food on their path, and they’ll devour it without thinking twice. That way, you can feed them, poison them, or put them to sleep if you feed them a specific kind of mushroom.
If you happen to carry poisonous or rotten food, don’t toss it, it may come in pretty handy. It’s interesting to see how these subtle gameplay additions can help you get out of tricky situations.
Extra charismatic boss fights
No boss fights, no Metal Gear game.
Just as in all other MG games, you’ll have to face a series of bosses in MGS3:
- A much younger Ocelot.
- Five redoubtable fighters known as the Cobra Unit.
- The terrible Volgin that I’ll simply qualify as the leader of the bad guys.
MGS3 kind of re-invents Metal Gear’s boss fights. Unlike most bosses you’ve fought with before in the previous games, the boss-fight areas can be much more extensive, giving sneaking much more importance during the battles.
One of the most impressive PS2 games ever made, but…
If not the most.
Metal Gear Solid 3 is fully exploiting the capabilities of the PlayStation 2.
But beauty comes with a cost.
…it comes with severe frame-rate drops, even on PS3 and Xbox 360.
The frame-rate sometimes drops in the low 40s … even on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Bluepoint’s teams made the game look better – just like they did with Metal Gear Solid 2 HD, but that’s it. They didn’t upgrade it to the point that it would run better on more powerful devices.
Unless you have an Xbox One at home.
The game runs at a stable 60 fps on Xbox One consoles. This means that if you want the smoothest experience to play MGS3 on a console, you should play on an Xbox One X.
Extra game modes
Past your first play-through, MGS3 offers interesting plusses to keep you busy for another 10 to 20 hours if you’re up for the challenge.
> Find and shoot all 64 Kerotans spread throughout the game. If you’re hunting trophies or achievements, you need to find them all. Here’s a tutorial.
> Fight all bosses (again) in the Duel Mode.
> Challenge your skills on Higher difficulty modes.
> Play Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2. MGS3: Subsistence and MGS3 HD also include the 2 first Metal Gear games. It is an interesting challenge for those who want to learn more about Solid Snake’s first encounters with Big Boss.
–“Watch” MGS3 via the Demo Theater mode
In MGS2, the Theatre Mode lets you replay some of the most epic cutscenes of the game. In MGS3, you can replay all the game’s cutscenes and enjoy MGS3 as a movie from the opening to the ending scene, putting Snake in a Tux, if you feel like it.
Verdict: good buy, or goodbye?
The lack of a radar (don’t forget we’re in the 60s) will strike you if you’ve played MGS and MGS2 before. But after a couple of minutes of adapting to the jungle, MGS3 will only give you a great time. Sure, it’s annoying to have to go through a menu to change outfits, check the map, or feed yourself, but that’s also the “beauty” of a 2004 game.
What’s more, MGS3 is a crucial episode to understand the origins of the series. The team did a great job mixing real and fictional stories, and the result is stunning from the beginning to the end.
Long story short, if you haven’t played MGS3 before, I need you to find a way to do it (please).