The " Metal Gear" Saga is one of the most engrossing, character- driven video game franchises to date. Some would call Hideo Kojima's work sheer masterpieces - and they'd be right. When it comes down to perfect, one doesn't have to look further then the third entry in the series, "Metal Gear Solid 3D Snake Eater."
The game, originally released on the Sony PS2 (and a revamped version a year later), is arguably the best of the series. It beats out even the latest entries on the PS3. Repackaged as "Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D" for the Nintendo 3DS, the game maintains everything that makes the source material great, and even ups the ante. Although it does have its flaws, (including a frustrating control scheme) "Snake Eater" is a successful new version of a great game.
Although the third title in the series (fourth, if you include the original "Metal Gear" for NES), the game is a prequel, taking place during the Cold War. The main character is an experienced CIA operative known as Naked Snake. Fans of the series will know that Snake eventually becomes Big Boss, the main protagonist in future MGS games, as well as the genetic father of future Hero Solid Snake. Origin stories can either succeed if done right, or flounder under the weight of their own narcissism (ahem, "Wolverine: X-Men Origins"). Luckily, the "Snake Eater" story grabs hold of the player immediately and doesn't let go. It's beautifully told, put together like a magnificent symphony, with every note perfectly in tune.
A game is only as good as the characters that populate it. If there is no emotional tie to the characters, there is no point in playing the game. "Snake Eater" really shines in its character development. Seeing Naked Snake in his glory days is bittersweet, but getting the back story of this doomed character is sensational.
Throughout the game, players are introduced to new iterations of Cold War super villains. Among these great archetypes are the ever aging 'The END," who can snipe a coin out of your hand from several hundred yards away, and 'The Boss," Snake's former mentor. The boss fights in the game are epic at times, and rival anything produced today. Defeating 'The End" ten years ago was tough and now, ten years later, it hasn't gotten any easier.
When playing "Snake Eater," players will notice right away that the iconic radar system from earlier versions of the game doesn't exist. Players must rely on their own senses to keep Snake safe from enemy hands. Listening to the guards' positions and memorizing their patrol patterns is the only way Snake will make it out alive. Using tall grass, buildings, the environment and custom outfits are all tools that keep Snake from being detected.
It's a great feeling to sneak up on an enemy guard from behind and silently drag him away unnoticed. Be warned though, that if Snake is spotted, get out fast. Guards seem to come out of the woodwork when alarms go off and Snake will quickly be out-manned, out-gunned, and out of luck.
A word about the graphics: It's critical to remember that this is a port of a ten-year-old game when you look at them. They look great on the 3DS, but they obviously don't hold a candle to current-gen "Metal Gears," and they shouldn't have to. Visually, the game is one of the top-tier on the 3DS, though occasionally the frame rate does noticeably drop.
Adding 3-D to an established game is like adding the effect to a previously-released movie; sometimes it works and sometimes you want your money and time back. Fortunately for Konami, the 3-D effects add a new level of depth, while breathing new life into the title.
If the game has a flaw, it's in the controls. Aiming and shooting is done with the right and left triggers, and players can use the touch screen to access food, health and weapons. Although this is all pretty intuitive, it can get somewhat frustrating without the added Circle Pad Pro controller. There's a camera system, but it's a bit neurotic, and without the added controller, you need to use the four face buttons to control it. The game is playable without the add-on, but I wouldn't recommend that most players go without it.
"Snake Eater" was clearly made to be a console game, and its transition to a smaller system brings out some nuisances. Long cut scenes, sporadic save points and miniaturized graphical elements make it a tad frustrating to play on a smaller portable system. Players getting in some quality time on a lunch break might find they need to extend their time to get to the next save point. Attempting to figure out what an object is in the distance can also get strenuous, and have dire consequences if a guard isn't spotted before it's too late.
"Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D" is a port of a ten-year-old game and it shows. Some of the play mechanics don't hold up to today's standards, and the design is not on par with today's offerings. But it's still a great game, and one of the better offerings on the 3DS. The Circle Pad Pro is recommended to anyone purchasing this title, but those without it will still enjoy the experience. Hideo Kojima's masterpiece is a welcome addition to the 3-D gaming world, and the nostalgia factor only makes it better.