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SummaryMetal Gear Solid almost grows up
The GoodAfter the release of Metal Gear Solid 2, many fans complained about its story being too convoluted, and its cutscenes and dialogues too long. In Snake Eater Hideo Kojima proved, above all, that he paid attention to those complaints.
Snake Eater still has long cutscenes and many radio conversations. But you don't have a feeling you are watching a movie with some gameplay in between any more. Radio dialogues were drastically minimized. People don't call you on every occasion and don't pour on you their personal problems. However, you can always call them, meaning that most of those conversation became optional. Your partners tell you plenty of interesting things, including the necessary information required to understand the game's most interesting plot twist. So instead of bothering you, radio conversations become an interesting addition to gameplay and story.
The cutscenes aren't over-the-top like in Twin Snakes, but there are still heaps of impressive action awaiting you. As always, the cutscenes are impeccably directed and have the cinematic edge typical for Metal Gear Solid.
The narrative of Snake Eater is where the improvement shows most. Gone is the all-embracing melodramatic plot filled with Kojima's random thoughts and assorted soap opera moments. It also has a better, noticeably less frenetic pace; there are less plot twists, but the ones that are there are much more impressive than what we've seen in the series before. Also, the ending is surprisingly good and emotionally engaging, with plot twists that actually make sense and explain things instead of over-complicating them; this is Kojima at his best.
Visually, the game if what you would expect from a Metal Gear Solid title. When I first landed in the jungle and looked around from first-person view, I said to myself: "This can't be a Playstation 2 game". It is astounding how they could create such a visual marvel using the graphical capabilities of a console that was already showing its age at the time. The jungle is alive. If you walk through grass, it will move. Birds are flying around. Frogs are jumping in pools. Snakes are crawling. Looking at the sky, half-concealed by tree branches, is like a beautiful quiet meditation in the middle of action. Indoor areas (don't worry, there are plenty of those, too) also look excellent. Try using first-person view whenever possible and look around - you'll notice so many details that you'll be delighted just by that.
The gameplay also underwent important changes, having a much better flow and being significantly less "arcadish" than its predecessors. There are less mini-games, but more attention paid to the actual stealth mechanics. Instead of being stuck in bases and bunkers, you now have outdoor areas to explore. The locations in the game are much less linear than in other Metal Gear Solid games. They aren't very vast, but often there are several exits to an area and optional locations you might or might not want to visit. Sneaking around in the jungle is a whole new experience, quite different from the same activity indoors.
Adding depth to the gameplay is the necessity to eat and cure wounds. You have a special stamina bar that slowly depletes; in order to restore it, you have to find food. Since food isn't just scattered around in the jungle, you have to hunt. Hunting is really fun, much more so than I imagined. You can either kill animals, and then their meat will become bad after a while, or tranquilize them to preserve them for a longer time. The main "dish", of course, are different kinds of snakes, which are everywhere. Basically, you can try hunting everything you see, from birds to fish and little crabs you can barely notice. Curing wounds is pretty simple. You carry medicines and instruments and have to treat your wounds (for example, use knife to cut out bullets from your body, or take an antidote when you are poisoned by spiders or snakes). In addition to that, you can use camouflage: wear different outfits and paint your face to make yourself less noticeable.
As for the core gameplay mechanics, it is pretty much the same as in the previous games: try not to alert the guards. Tranquilize them, when possible. If things go bad, pull out your weapon and try to eliminate them. And of course, the boss battles. Most of them take place outdoors, and while some battles are pretty typical for Metal Gear Solid (like the ones against Volgin or Shagohod), others are quite unique. The battle against The End is one of the most interesting boss battles I have ever experienced. Imagine running around three (!) large locations, trying to spot the nearly invisible enemy. The jungle is full of quiet beauty that is disrupted only by an occasional sniper shot that comes from nowhere. The battle takes a very long time no matter the difficulty level and how well you handle it - a test for the patience, and a very rewarding one.
The BadMuch of the "corniness" that dominated the series before is gone in this installment. What is left is nevertheless worthy of notice - maybe even more so than in other MGS games. Unlike those, which were set in the "near future", the events of Snake Eater take place in the sixties, a concrete historical period. It was easier to accept over-the-top action scenes and all kinds of supernatural and even "magical" things in the other two games. "Near future" is a free setting; in a sci-fi environment "everything is allowed", as Ivan Karamazov says. But soldiers didn't fly in some sort of futuristic pods (thankfully, only in one scene here) in the 1960-ies. Also, there is no jungle in Russia. In fact, the setting has nothing specifically "Russian" here; it is painfully obvious that the writer doesn't know much about this country, which makes the experience rather embarrassing, driving away players who care for accuracy in historical setting.
Even worse than such anachronisms and geographical mistakes are some of the characters in the game. The nearly supernatural Cobra unit makes a good material for boss battles, but they are absolutely out of place in this setting. They were supposed to be battle-hardened soldiers who fought in the Second World War, but instead they are the same aerodynamic technology-powered bosses with super-abilities we have seen in the two other games. Colonel Volgin with his electricity-powered body (and especially his lightning attack) is absolutely ridiculous. I would enjoy much more fighting a real Soviet colonel without any of those silly enhancements than some sort of a high voltage freak with tattoos on his face.
In the previous games, the player often fought against boss enemies who talked like soap opera heroes. Instead of trying to write less cheesy lines for the bosses in this game, the designers decided to eliminate them (the lines, not the bosses) altogether. The major antagonists in this game have (with a few notable exceptions) the appeal of boss enemies of a side-scrolling shooter from the 80-ies. Most Cobra unit members lack any background story. Although the battles against them are interesting, from the point of view of narrative they go back to the old days of video games, when you defeated "bad guys" just because you were supposed to.