Despite the flaws of its translation into a portable format, Snake Eater still stands as one of the best implementations of stealth gameplay
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 fans will flock once such discussions ensue. 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 capture the spirit 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 game’s gameplay quality will be the core alluring factor to those who are familiar with Snake, those who have never gotten into the series will find, in the story’s simplicity, reason to finally step into this universe.
On 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 scenes can extend for over forty minutes.
Long cinematics have always been one of the franchise’s core strengths, and 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 3D effects. Still, this integral part of the series’ nature comes into conflict with the main feature of the system housing it: its portability. Those who like to take their handheld experiences in small morsels of time would better stay away from a title such as this, but anyone who is willing to use the 3DS as a home console for the duration of the game will have no problems whatsoever with that issue.
When not watching cutscenes, gamers will most likely be guiding Snake through some stealth scenario, and those are certainly the game’s defining moments. Snake 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, 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, and so on.
What really makes those segments an absolute thrill, though, is how well-designed they are. 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 sneaking behind enemies to take them down quietly. Those sections are very tense, and getting to the next scenario without being noticed is incredibly rewarding.
The stealth nature of Snake’s 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’ view due to how average the shooting gameplay on Snake Eater is. 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.
Sadly, not only is enemy AI not very well-programmed to handle such situations, but 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. 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 or running towards the exit mindlessly.
As it is set mostly in a jungle, 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 code name nor a lighthearted joke that falls right along the game’s usually humorous exchanges between Snake and his team, but an accurate depiction of the struggles the character has to face in the jungle and the unusual energy sources he is forced to consume. Snake can acquire a huge amount of injuries, either coming into contact with wild animals or insects, or being beat down by soviet forces. Those injuries, given Metal Gear thrives in trying to be as realistic as possible, need to be treated quickly, otherwise Snake’s stamina bar, which when reduced causes the character to perform simple combat actions very poorly, will decrease to dangerous levels.
Due to how important stamina is, finding food 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, ends 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.
Aside from clashing with the 3DS’ portable nature on its tendency for long cutscenes, Snake Eater has one extra struggle with Nintendo’s machine: the controls. 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.
However, it is worth noting that the lack of a second analog stick forced Konami to map the camera controls to the A, B, X, and Y buttons, and while that is more of a hardware limitation problem than a shortcoming that is on the developers’ backs, it is an issue nonetheless. Controlling the camera with those buttons is far from natural, and it takes some good time to get used to it. Fortunately, even if not totally comfortable, it is far from being a gameplay disaster.
In spite of all those 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. Its gameplay time may not be too long, 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. Furthermore, the brutal nature of higher difficulty levels 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.
And while the story loses its magic on a replay, 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. Snake Eater 3D has an absolutely marvelous cast of villains, and their mannerisms and quirks have entered the halls of gaming history gloriously 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 grey reality for its own good. 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.
Snake Eater 3D, shackled by a hardware that is not entirely suitable for its complexity and ambition, does not, naturally, surpass the original. 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 a survival ordeal that, while not as grueling as it could have been, gives the quest a lot of realism and character. Despite the flaws of its translation into a portable format, Snake Eater, in its grandeur in gameplay and production values, still stands as one of the best implementations of stealth.