“The only thing we can believe in, with absolute certainty, is the mission.”
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (MGS2) is comparable to a durian; it left a strange taste in the mouths of fans. It introduced revolutionary gameplay mechanics, such as the first-person camera to help with aiming, and a wider range of stealth mechanics that the player could use to his/her advantage, such as using enemy guards as human shields, blinding them with steam, and the ability to fire from cover.
Of course, while the player had more options, so did the AI. After all, the essence of Metal Gear was that if the player was to go in all guns blazing, they would be just as expendable as the guards they faced. The enemy soldiers worked in squads, and communicated with each other to track down the player.
While the game was praised for its introduction of breakthroughs in the stealth genre, however, it received much controversy over its story.
Word has it that Kojima, unwilling to work on the Metal Gear series for much longer, decided to make the ending to the story so mind-numbingly complex and confusing that no one would want a Metal Gear Solid 3. There was also the fact that, while much of the game’s pre-release advertising focused on Solid Snake’s mission in the Tanker Chapter, much of the game focused on Raiden, an effeminate protagonist who was completely different from the Solid Snake that the players came to know and love.
A year later, in E3 2002, a demo for a new game, titled Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (MGS3), was shown to audiences. This time, however, the Tactical Espionage Action series not only had to deal with the controversial fallout of MGS2, but it also had to deal with the rise of another stealth action franchise by the name of Splinter Cell, dubbed by some as the MGS-killer.
The audience was nevertheless wowed, with MGS3 shifting to a vastly different environment. The players would be playing as Naked Snake, the man who would become Big Boss – the antagonist of Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake – taking on the Soviet Union in the 1960s. While some of the game would take place indoors, there was much emphasis on the outdoors.
The player would have to lean against trees, not walls. They would have to lie prone and adjust their camouflage to blend in with the environment. In order to survive, the player would also have to hunt animals for food to maintain stamina. Instead of relying on the handy soliton radar system, the player had to guide Naked Snake through enemy lines by carefully inspecting the surrounding environs. There was a radar, but it had limited battery power. The fact that the player had to be less reliant on technology was driven home by Naked Snake’s handler, Major Zero.
When Snake fell into a dark cave, Zero chastised him for consulting him for advice, complaining (as many Brits do, especially in this day and age) about how American agents are often coddled with technology and spoon-fed advice, unable to solve a problem on their own.
The beauty of MGS3 was that the player was forced, even more so than ever, to become more resourceful than ever to succeed.
The infamous fight with The End, one that could possibly take hours, could be won by simply turning off the console mid-fight and simply waiting a week, where he would die of old age. In order to gain access to a locked room, the player might have to lean against the door and knock on it to gain the attention of the guards inside. While infiltrating Groznyj Grad, Naked Snake would have to knock out Raikov (the game’s parodic nod to Raiden) and don his uniform as a disguise.
By the end of the game, Naked Snake will have experienced severe injuries, including the famous blinded eye. Still, the player would have finished the game with a great sense of accomplishment, literally braving the elements, outsmarting intelligent soldiers and elite operatives, destroying the Shagohod (a Metal Gear prototype decades ahead of the 60s), and bring down Snake’s legendary mentor, The Boss.
Which brings this writer to another major improvement over MGS2: the story. The prequel not only managed to make some sense of the cliffhanger ending of its predecessor, but also did it in an intense, riveting fashion. It turned out that the mentor and father-figure of Solid Snake had a mentor and mother-figure of his own.
The Boss, a defector to the USSR from the US, was a complex and well-written antagonist who, while she spends most of the game beating 31 flavours of snot out of Naked Snake while waxing philosophical about the pointlessness of the Cold War, still manages to be sympathetic.
This writer recalls spending at least five minutes, staring at the scene of Snake holding the Boss’ gun to her head after defeating her in a heated CQC battle, unable to pull the trigger for quite a while. It was serene; a field of flowers, with soft, emotional music playing. Yes, The Boss was the bad guy, but putting her down was still something very hard for Snake to do, and the game went out of its way to convey that feeling, one that would persist through Naked Snake’s subsequent adventures, chronicling his fall from grace into the villain of the original Metal Gear games.
What made the death of The Boss even sadder was the fact that the epilogue simply confirmed The Boss’ notions about soldiers being disposal chess pieces in a game of politics. The Boss did not defect to the USSR of her volition, but did so as part of a deniable operation, to die at the hands of her student to protect the innocence of the United States in the nuclear bombing of Tselinoyarsk and ensure the warming of relations between the two Cold War rivals.
What drives it even further is the fact that EVA goes on in the epilogue to tell Snake that history will not treat The Boss well as a result of her sacrifice. She will thenceforth be known as a mass-murdering monster instead of a selfless hero who fought for her country, a fact that only Naked Snake and EVA know.
Snake Eater not only fixed the chaotic storyline that its predecessor left behind, it also created a smooth transition, not only into Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, but also into a sub-series of its own, focusing on Big Boss’ subsequent journeys, probably culminating into his role as Big Boss.
This writer has yet to play any of the other Metal Gear Solid games after Snake Eater, but he can guess that much of the Big Boss-centered sequels focused on his growing disillusion with the powers that be, manipulating soldiers for their own ends and his inability to heal his pain from killing his former mentor.
Whatever the case, Snake Eater has been hailed as one of the best games of the series – if not the best – and has spawned multiple ports, not only to the Xbox but also to the Nintendo 3DS. It is with hope that Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, which will finish what Snake Eater started, will live up to its promise.