Even if control issues keep it from equalling the source material, Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D is a worthy translation of one of gaming’s greatest missions to a handheld screen
In a franchise as successful as Metal Gear, it is hard to see any kind of consensus among fans regarding which of its installments is the best one. One thing is for sure, though, Snake Eater is certainly among the ones to which most aficionado will flock once such discussions ensue; and it makes sense. As the third tridimensional entry in the industry’s pioneering and most influential espionage saga, the game – originally released for the PlayStation 2 in 2004 – took advantage of the lessons learned by its already excellent predecessors to build an even stronger stealth framework. To boot, it threw players into a thoroughly engaging setting that mixed sneaking with survival. For those reasons and many other qualities, the mission’s arrival on a Nintendo handheld is certainly a good cause for celebration.
Even though its original title may point newcomers to believe that it is the third game of the series, Snake Eater, actually, chronologically serves as the introductory chapter to all international conspiracies that Hideo Kojima came up with to power the espionage featured in the games that follow it. As a consequence, porting Snake Eater to the 3DS ends up being a very sensible choice, for even players who dedicate themselves more strongly to Nintendo’s platforms are able to jump aboard without any previous knowledge of the saga. In hitting the 3DS, Snake Eater 3D reveals that while the portable is more than capable of housing such a grand adventure, some shortcomings stand on its way to successfully replicate the quality of the original in its purest and truest essence.
In relation to the other Metal Gear games, which are overly demanding of the attention of rookies, Snake Eater is ridiculously easy to pick up. After all, it is set many years before Kojima expanded the storyline of his videogame masterpiece into a bold convoluted web of characters, governments, and political factions. Snake Eater’s plot is as easy to follow as it gets, hence while the title’s gameplay quality will be the core alluring factor to those who are familiar with Snake, people who have never gotten into the series will find, in the story’s simplicity, a reason to finally step into this universe.
In Snake Eater, during the Cold War, a CIA agent is tasked with the mission of exploring the jungles of the USSR and tracking down a kidnapped scientist who, threatened by a rebellious soviet group, is developing a dangerous nuclear weapon that could ruin the cooperation between the American and soviet governments, therefore kicking off the feared worldwide atomic conflict that would spell the world’s doom.
Even if down the line the story does get constituted of many different threads of political interests, the game keeps events and developments relatively simple all the way through. Still, there is no denying that Snake Eater – like the whole franchise – is very heavy on storytelling. In the game, watching cutscenes and actual playing share a nearly equal part of the title’s running time, and some of the very well-produced cinematics can extend for over forty minutes.
Long cutscenes have always been one of the franchise’s core strengths as well as the central diverging point among those who love Metal Gear and those who do not, and here they are looking quite good due to the solid use of the 3DS’ hardware and its tridimensional effects. In a way, it could be said this integral part of the series’ nature comes into conflict with the main feature of the system housing it: its portability. After all, lengthy cinematics do not get along very well with a handheld setup, as some prefer to play systems of the kind in small morsels of time. Nevertheless, thanks to the 3DS’ suspend feature, which can pause the action at any time and immediately let players jump right back in whenever they want, the game’s cinematic inclination is not at all harmful.
When not watching cutscenes, players will most likely be guiding Snake through some stealth scenarios, and those are certainly the game’s defining moments. The hero has a vast arsenal of moves and tactics at his disposal in order to go through enemy lines without being sighted: he can use a tranquilizer gun, drag stunned bodies to hide them from plain view, crawl, select the most suiting camouflage according to the terrain he finds himself in, knock on hollow surfaces to attract enemy attention, use special kinds of goggles, activate a motion detector to make enemies punctually appear on the map, employ different types of explosives, and, of course, try to shoot foes carefully in order not to attract too much attention. To put it plainly, Snake Eater gives players enough stealth options to turn the activity of sneaking around into an art form that allows for several different types of expression.
What really makes those segments an absolute thrill, though, is how well-designed they are. This is a quality that was already prevalent in the title’s two PlayStation prequels, but here it feels like the team behind the scenarios had a stronger grasp on how to make absolutely masterful stealth situations. As impossible as some of them might seem at first, with a little observation and a lot of calculation the enemies’ move patterns start revealing small gaps in coverage that can be taken advantage of. Players are then required to act in a few split seconds to either move to another more advanced location without being seen or sneak behind enemies to take them down quietly. Those sections are very tense, and getting to the next area without being noticed is incredibly rewarding.
For anyone going through the 3DS version of Snake Eater, the stealth nature of the mission is not the only reason why players will try hard not to be seen, though: they will also want to stay hidden from enemies due to how clunky the shooting gameplay on this remake can be. Saying Snake Eater does not control well would be extremely unfair, because most of the game’s commands can be performed with ease, and the touch screen keeps the game’s many menus and maps in handy for players to use in a split second, which might even be an improvement over how matters worked on the PlayStation release. A problem, though, arises when shooting is necessary.
Due to the system’s lack of a second analog stick, Konami was forced to map the camera controls to A, B, X, and Y, leaving other commands to the shoulder buttons and to the directions on the D-pad. Controlling the camera with those buttons is far from natural, and it takes some good time to get used to it, but truth be told, when it comes to more methodical sneaking situations, they end up working just fine after players adjust to them. When the pace picks up and shooting is necessary, however, aiming with those buttons, be it in first or third person, is just not a good experience, as besides not allowing players to redirect the weapon quickly enough, they also do not provide the same level of precision that would have been brought by a second control stick. Sadly, that problem is more of a hardware limitation than a shortcoming that is on the developers’ backs; yet, it is an issue that exists and is the remake’s biggest flaw.
Another much smaller point of complaint emerges when Snake’s cover is blown. When sighted, players can choose to try to find a new place to hide until soldiers give up on their search for the elusive spy; the alternative to that course of action is, naturally, engaging in fire weapons combat with the local guards and the extra grunts that will be summoned to the scene. Sadly, even with extra bodies thrown at him, Snake is, at times, too resistant in relation to enemy fire, making it possible for players to get away with murder way too easily once they are seen, running towards the next piece of land without dealing with foes.
It is true that the state of alertness of enemy soldiers is transported between areas, even those separated by loading screens. Therefore, if the foes in one location know Snake is there, the guards from the next one will also be aware of his presence and even keep sending reinforcements. Moreover, the game features multiple levels of difficulty that can certainly enhance the risk of being seen. Still, this setup allows players to recklessly advance to the next scenario and only look for a place to hide there, which partially undermines the stealth aspect of the experience. Fortunately, as the game reaches its midway point, that shortcoming is mostly eliminated, for soviet soldiers start carrying more powerful guns that indeed give players the right level of punishment for blowing their cover, forcing them to clear the area while keeping their presence unknown instead of firing away madly and running towards the exit mindlessly.
As it is set in military bases and in the jungles that surround them, Snake Eater features a number of survival elements that are very important to its gameplay and that ultimately define the game within the franchise to such a great extent that they are responsible for the installment’s title. Snake Eater is neither a clever codename nor a lighthearted joke that falls right along the game’s usually humorous exchanges via radio between Snake and his team: it is an accurate depiction of the struggles the character has to face in the jungle and a reference to the unusual energy sources he is forced to consume.
For starters, Snake can acquire a huge amount of injuries, be it from coming into contact with wild animals or from being beat down by soviet forces. Those wounds need to be treated quickly through a series of medical procedures, performed from a quick menu, that usually have the character employing medical supplies obtained in the field to fix up his body. If players fail to do so, not only will the protagonist’s health be capped at a lower threshold, but Snake will also be unable to recover that bar over time. And since that is the only possible way in which to restore the hero’s health, it goes without saying it is quite a big blow.
Furthermore, Snake will also have to worry about another stat as he traverses the jungles of the Soviet Union: stamina. When reduced, it will cause the character to perform simple combat actions very poorly: his aim will not be steady, he might fail to hold onto an enemy when sneaking up from behind, and he is more likely to lose in a physical confrontation. Besides being drained due to specific types of wounds, such as a having a few leeches stuck to his body after a trip through muddy terrain, stamina also decreases naturally as the character does pretty much everything, meaning players will constantly have to keep an eye on that bar.
Due to how important stamina is, recovering it is of the utmost importance, and this is where the title of Snake Eater comes in, because since the protagonist is dropped by the government into the jungle without any resources in order to keep the operation as low-key as possible, he has to make do with what surrounds him. And sure, if players are thorough, they ought to come across shacks and rooms where the local forces store rations and generally more appetizing sources of nourishment. However, most of what Snake consumes will undoubtedly come from nature, as he will have to use his knife to cut mushrooms, carve fruit, and kill frogs, goats, crabs, rats, and – of course – snakes.
For those reasons, finding food to eat and medical supplies with which wounds can be treated either in soviet storage locations or in the wild is key to surviving. However, while locating food can be a good challenge at times, the items for medical care are too plentiful. Healing, consequently, might end up being more of a formality that requires gamers to navigate the surgery menu and less of an actual quest for survival, as it should have been the case.
In spite of a few minor issues that keep the game from reaching its full potential, Snake Eater is definitely worth a purchase, especially for those who have never had any contact with the franchise or with this third entry in particular. Its gameplay time may not be too long, with the quest being over after about fourteen hours, but the different range of difficulties are enough to send players into at least a second playthrough, especially since finding ways to sneak past enemies and silently disabling them requires a great deal of planning and some creativity, as if Snake were an artist and stealth was the canvas onto which he painted his masterpieces.
Additionally, the brutal nature of its higher difficulty levels erases some of the counterproductive leniances of the lower ones. Firstly, it makes not being seen at all extremely critical since the mission’s early stages, thereby completely eliminating the possibility of using an escape under heavy fire as a strategy for proceeding. Secondly, it might even make the collection of medical resources more critical, since it is more likely that Snake will be wounded.
And while the game’s excellent and dramatic story certainly loses some of its magic on these replays on tougher difficulties, the stealth segments and bosses are all worth revisiting; the first for how they can be taken on in different manners, and the second for how creative and outlandish they are. Like other games in the franchise, Snake Eater 3D has an absolutely marvelous cast of villains, and their mannerisms and quirks have gloriously entered the halls of gaming history for very good and fair reasons. Despite their maniacal and threatening behavior, they add colors and surrealism to a universe that would, otherwise, be way too attached to gray reality for its own good. And although there is plenty of lightness to be found in much of what Snake does in his sneaking around, as well as his tongue-in-cheek interactions with his friends and foes, the big bad guys of Snake Eater take the cake when it comes to infusing the quest with personality.
All in all, due to control issues emerging from hardware that is not entirely suitable for the game’s complexity, Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D is a remake that does not, naturally, surpass the source material. Still, to anyone who has no alternative to get in touch with the Metal Gear franchise, it is certainly a must-buy. It carries an utterly flawless stealth component and level design that are both a maturation of the two stellar installments that preceded it. It has an ambitious cinematic storyline that is beautifully translated to a small screen with no visible losses and even some graphical improvements. And it covers it all with a survival ordeal that, while not as grueling as it could have been, gives the quest a lot of realism as well as character. As such, despite punctual problems, Snake Eater, in its grandeur, in its gameplay, and in its production values, still stands as one of the best implementations of stealth.