Metal Gear Solid 3: Kojima's Redemption

Metal Gear Solid 2 was a fine game spoiled by creator Hideo Kojima's creative hubris and lack of editing. In the third MGS game, Snake Eater, Kojima reigns in his post-modern showboating and gets back to what we like; making thrilling games that tell fun stories.

Snake Eater's 1960s jungle setting teems with vegetation and wildlife, making the most convincing virtual jungle I've seen. A number of gameplay tweaks create a survivalist feel: Snake must hunt wild animals for food, perform medical care on himself, and use camoflague to sneak through the brush successfully. These additions do much to establish the setting.

Unfortunately, the core gameplay mechanics have not aged well. Controlling Snake is needlessly complex and fussy for tasks like climbing on top of boxes or crawling in the intended direction. Moving stealthfully is now a daunting task due to the zoomed in camera and a "realistic" lack of radar. Stealthy play often requires more effort than many are willing to exert; players must constantly switch to first person mode and cycle through various devices like thermal goggles and directional microphones to determine the location of the enemy.

Thankfully, being discovered is rarely a big deal. Snake can be surrounded by enemy agents with assault rifles and lose only half his health. The game rarely requires the player to remain hidden.

While the core gameplay is not in top form, the boss battles in MGS3 are the best of the series. The highlight of the game is an unforgettable sniper fight covering a few square kilometers of dense jungle terrain. This isn't a 5 minute long Sniper Wolf-style hallway shootout; two hours of cat-and-mouse, crawling through the brush hunting your enemy down while he's trying to do the same. It is the ultimate realization of a Metal Gear Solid encounter that combines taut boss encounters with robust stealth mechanics.

Storywise, Snake Eater is as stupid and over-the-top as you'd assume, but less pretentious than MGS2 would have you expect. The Metal Gear world remains a bewildering concoction of a hyper-realistic "Soldier of Fortune" adherence to period weaponry, eyebrow-raising revisionings of historical events like the Cuban Missle Crisis, and super-villian style enemies that use photosynthesis to heal themselves.

Even though the story is silly, overly complex, and head-scratchingly confusing, the characters and action scenes make it remarkably enjoyable. The characters are amusing to watch, such as the young Revolver Ocelot and love interest Eve. The "Boss" character, Snake's mentor, deserves special recognition. This virtual actress, through uncanny animation and superb voice direction, steals every scene with her powerful presence.

The action scenes are sublime and collectively surpass any action movie I can recall. The scenes are kinetic and brilliantly choreographed, and can be used as convincing arguments that cutscenes do have a place in gaming.

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