Snakes? No, thank you. I prefer pork.
Before we get to the review itself, I have a few announcements to make. Firstly, I haven't played any game of Metal Gear series before Snake Eater. Secondly, I have played a Subsistence version of the game, however, I had no interest either in multiplayer or in retro delights the package had to offer, and thus I will concentrate my efforts solely on Snake Eater. And last, but not least, Metal Gear Solid 3, for all its drawbacks, hasn't dissuaded me from trying other games in the series. The reasons to that fact are described below.
Approaching the game was a hard endeavor for me. Even although the first and the second game of the series have been released on PC, I've never really felt like trying them out. For some reason I always had enough games on my hands not to check out some obscure, unknown spy-games, that have presumably achieved a cult status on the consoles, which in its own right wasn't a praise for me at that time either.
Now that I have overcome my prejudices I brought myself to completing the PS2 exclusive third and closing part in the Solid trilogy, hailed to include the best series has to offer and pushing the corny plot of its predecessors on the new level of drama and emotional depth. After fourteen hours of playing I would only say that I can't imagine how awfully cheesy must have been the stories of two previous games to name the storyline of Snake Eater an improvement.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of good things to say about it as well. And I would like to start with... Intro.
James Bond has always occupied a special place in my heart. I've always enjoyed the opening credits for every new movie, with some lady with a good voice singing some obscure lines and abstraction paintings flying by in some kind of mix of female figures and gun/bullets shapes. Snake Eater starts on exactly the same note, prompting you to expect some excellent spy-thriller with fantastic production values, evidently capable to rival even the budget of recent Bond's movies. And it does not disappoint, at least partly.
Although, it fails to deliver the kind of suspense and thrill Bond movies were famous for, the amazing quality of the game is very hard to deny. Everything, starting from sounds and music and ending with cut-scenes direction and stunts is top-notch. Visually the game is very impressive. It's hard to believe that this kind of graphics is achievable on the PS2 hardware. Despite low polygonal count, clever use of lighting, textures and shader effects creates an illusion of a real next-gen title. It's quite a feat to be admired.
Since the better part of the game takes place in jungles one should expect a decent rendition of flora. And rightly so. Although not at the same level as The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
or Far Cry
, the game manages to achieve the feeling of "plausible forest density" that even Vietcong
would feel rivaled by. Once again, nothing extra-ordinary, just some clever tricks, we perhaps should thank Konami programmers for, and not the artists themselves.
One wouldn't argue that the main strength of Metal Gear Solid series lies not in the gameplay department, but in the one that deals with plot and narrative. So, what's the device that Konami and Mr. Kojima
use to unfold their narrative? Nothing unusual, simple in-game cutscenes. Simple, you say? Wait, till you see the game. The cut-scenes here may be described by lots of different words, but "simple" is certainly not one of them. Unfortunately, the true genius of the game’s movie-like qualities truly uncovers itself only towards the end of it. Those among you, who played the game immediately recognized what exactly I am talking about. Of course, I mean the exciting bike chase and all the events surrounding it. Intelligent use of camera, lighting, sounds and music provide one of the most exhilarating moments in the video games history.
But not merely a bike chase, every scene shows much effort put in it. And although it doesn’t work most of the times, it has nothing to do with the input of minor minds behind the game. Each of them has done his share of work adequately in the limits of requirements Hideo Kojima
set, according to his personal vision. The vision, which, in the matter of fact…
Yes, really sucks. Metal Gear Solid 3 story/plot/presentation is among the most ridiculous ones, if not the
most. By the way, you can start counting the number of times I use the word “ridiculous” in the bad section of this review, because, I have a feeling that it’s going to be a pretty big one (number, not section).
All that is bad with MGS3 can actually be summarized in four words: characters, story, presentation and gameplay. Let’s go through these four aspects, one by one, ok?
Story. I am not sure if Mr. Kojima has opened a history book in a school, but this is the most inaccurate presentation of the Cold War ever. After this game everything Tom Clancy
outputs will seem to me as the most accurate historic truth, as it can possibly be. I could’ve really understood if there was an alternative history theme going on, but even if so, there’s absolutely no explanation for the some of the most inappropriate things. Portable bazooka-nukes, hover platforms, bi-pedal tanks, lighting-infused generals, fire-burning cosmonauts, Russian jungles (!) and lots of other things that are completely inadequate for the time epoch the game chooses as its setting. The way the game juggles with the names of the known historical figures like Khrushchev
in the combination of pseudo-documentary shots doesn’t provide any historical authenticity either. Wait, there’s more.
The game’s story is guilty not only of being laughable, but of more serious crimes as well. It completely bogs down any emotional connection one might have established toward the events described in it. Really, how is it possible for a person like me to care either about Snake, Eva or The Boss, if neither of what I see happening before my eyes I can imagine being possible. All the plot twists exists only because of the flexible/ignorant attitude towards history. The defections as described in the game were not possible in the period of Cold War, at least not in the multitude as suggested by Konami. That in its turn eliminates the basic premise for a story or characters to exist and subjects every message the game might have tried (and in good faith it seems) to communicate to failure.
One could suggest not to take the story-part seriously. I would love to, really. Metal Gear Solid 3 would have made an excellent comedy adventure with its cartoon villains and spy wannabes. How does Metal Gear Island 3: LeVolgin's Revenge
sound to you? Alas, the game obviously takes itself very seriously and offers no room for interpretations.
The truth is that all of those problems could have been easily overlooked, if the characters of the game were strong on their own, without necessarily being tightly connected to the setting. It saddens me that it’s not that close to the the truth either. It’s difficult to perceive Snake Eater characters as real people. They make a lot of unnecessary movements, gestures and the words they speak are those of 12-year old anime fan. How can someone be impressed with the stupidity and bland showing-off as shown by Ocelot. He’s the most annoying of the bunch, mainly because he appears for no apparent reason and all too often, without actually carrying any point to his presence in the game.
It doesn’t end there. Each member of the Cobra team is a new landmark in creating the most absurd and videogamish character ever. They do not, even in the least, fit into the game set in Russia during the Cold War, more so with the background given to them being… Wait a minute. Nonexistent. Cobra Unit is something taken from the mind of the same 12 years old anime fan. Because even the real, good anime films, nowadays, do not resort to such kind of horribleness.
Major Raikov and General Volgin shows how little do people in Japan know about Russians. No, they don’t look like a cute anime-male character with white long hair and, no, they do not look like a walking conduits of electricity with unintelligible tattoos on their face.
However they do know how an average American secret agent looks like. No-nonsense kind of approach and a grim attitude. Snake doesn’t speak much, and, actually turns out to be a very nice guy until the moment he does start to speak. And, oh boy, where should I start? First, is it me or Naked Snake doesn’t know any other grammatical construction instead that of interrogative sentence? And if he doesn’t ask questions, he still sounds like asking somebody.
“We have deployed a nuclear device.”
“Yes, it’s located in Groznyj Grad.”
“Yes. Want me to show it on you map?”
“My map?.. I mean, why should I trust you?”.
Well, you got the idea.
More so, the actor who did the voice-job for Snake is very good at only two intonations. They are very good intonations but voice-acting actually implies some acting, not just reading with the same voice regardless of their content.
And I am not even going start on the lack of motivations or reasons behind Snake's actions. His relationship (especially the way it starts) with EVA is clearly not a very good example of outstanding storytelling.
EVA. A good character, as far as you don’t look past the boobs, which Mr. Kojima, apparently considers to be the main character trait for his female characters. I agree, it worked for the first time, when she had half-naked herself for no apparent reason in the middle of the jungle. But really how much of the same boobs in the same bra can one actually take, before he starts to notice that the character itself is very flat otherwise. And again the overall irrationality, that dominates the game, shows it's nasty grin. There was simply no way for her to do all tricks she has done right under the nose of Volgin. It just doesn’t work that way in the world where villains are something more than boy-loving bastards in fancy boots.
And to finish it all – The Boss. The most applauded character at first appears to be very interesting and intriguing. But, as in case with Snake, it's just because she doesn’t get to speak much. When she actually does, she discovers herself not to be that much different from her colleagues. Her final speech is an incredible illustration of un-related banality disguised as a profound revelation. Of course, everything is relative on the war, but how does that explains your own situation, Ms. Boss?
The MGS3 characters have a nasty habit of talking too much without actual point to it. A trait not that uncommon to many Japanese games I’ve played.
But back to The Boss. The tragic story of this character is the centerpiece of the game. If it doesn’t get to your heart, Snake Eater is pretty much wasted upon you. This is my case exactly. Yet again the absurd and illogical storyline with the plot twists, being probable only if we assume the villains of the game to be complete retards, entirely eliminates any meaning, The Boss’s sacrifice was supposed to have. The Boss, regardless of her dim-witted name, could have been an excellent character. Not in this game, though.
Anyway, who actually cares about stories and characters in games these days? It’s a grit-teething gameplay that people want with breathtaking action and suspenseful stealth. Or not
that breathtaking and not
so suspenseful, as Snake Eater conveniently proves . While providing some interesting elements like healing system (similar to Call Of Cthulhu: Dark Corners Of Earth
) and eating/hunting twist, the game fails to offer anything that could have threatened established leaders of either stealth (Splinter Cell
) or action (pretty much every other major game) genres.
Not to say, that gameplay is boring. Some sequences were, actually, quite enjoyable (the battle with an old sniper being the most interesting one) but the limitations the game self-imposes on itself can’t provide any twists, worthy of notice, to the already stale formula of either genre. Duck, stand up, shoot, duck. You won't find anything else to boil the blood or tickle the nerves here. Yawn!
And the last but not least, I don't like the games telling me that I am stupid. I like them to tell me that I am smart, agile, strong and very women-friendly. However, developers of Snake Eater have made a most inaccurate assumption that I am the same 12-years old boy, who barely knows what Russia is. All the common historic facts are explained over and over again, and the way EVA describes everything in the end for those "who hasn't figured it out yet" is simply distasteful and lacks subtlety, which is very important in these cases.
The Bottom LineTalent: 3/5The team behind the game shows unprecedented skill and talent. Special mention goes to visual and programming folks, who achieved an impossible with the aged PS2 hardware. However, the game’s writing and story do not step anywhere outside the boundaries of everyone’s favorite 12-years old kid's imagination.Ambition: 3/5The game’s pretentious style and narrative, although failing to reach its point more often than not, is something I can respect. As they say, it’s a try that counts. However, the developers haven’t even ventured to do something interesting with the gameplay. So all the ambition was wasted on the cut-scenes, which is, as I have stated above, not such a bad thing either.Pteity (Pushing The Envelope - ity): 1/5A lot of games nowadays present great cutscenes. Some of them are better, some worse. But it takes much more than style and professionalism to make others follow you. It takes content and meaning to those stories you try to tell via your cut-scenes. And I don’t want to see any other game following in MGS3 footsteps in terms of its content and meaning. Gameplay distinctively lacks originality as well. So only 1 point for a little technical wonder this game represents.Effort: 4/5Once again, it’s evident that no one was trying to play a lazy dog. Everyone at Konami did their share of work responsibly and with heart. Even Hideo Kojima, however far-fetched his ideas might be, obviously has put a part of his soul in the game and it shows. 4 points for effort, regardless of how misplaced it is. Adequacy: 0/5Nothing, I repeat, nothing feels right in this game. Characters -- speaking in nonsense and making over-exaggerated theatrical gestures without any point to them. Storyline -- bringing the word ludicrous a whole new meaning. Setting treatment that really makes me question the sanity of those responsible for the story in this game. Everything is out of place and out of simple common sense. Oh... And did I mention that they actually expected me to collect green frog figurines (!) while on the mission? For God's sake! Total: 2.2/5
Some people might respond to this review with the accusations of lack of sensitivity on my part towards the culture not similar to my own, namely Japanese. I have two things to answer to that. The first being that the game doesn’t deal with Japanese culture at all and the mere fact that the game was developed in Japan doesn’t give the developers an exclusive right to ridicule history and make characters behave like very bad Shakespearean actors.
And the second thing is that, in reality, many Japanese games actually do
have a sense of reason, appropriateness and common sense. Shadow Of Colossus
is a very recent example of that. And even Final Fantasy
series , which also can be very inadequate at times, doesn’t fall to the point of being just plain stupid.
So how about that word I asked you to count in the beginning of the bad section of this review? Do you remember, the one beginning with “r”? Only one, you say. Well, it’s still enough to characterize Snake Eater most fully and comprehensively.
Ridiculous, indeed. Make it two.