Welcome back to the Metal Gear retrospective! In this entry we’re going to cover the fifth canonical installment in the franchise, 2004’s Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater! After all of the controversy surrounding the release of Sons of Liberty, would Kojima manage to win the fans back with a back-to-basics prequel? Read on to find out…
(For this retrospective, I played the HD edition re-release on PS3. Unlike Sons of Liberty, there aren’t really any HD re-release issues worth noting, but I will comment on the improvements which were added in the Subsistence re-release. Also, this happens to be the Metal Gear game which I have the most familiarity with: I played the original PS2 version around 7 or 8 years ago, two different versions of the Subsistence re-release, the HD edition and even the PS Vita version as well… in fact, I think the 3DS version is the only release I haven’t played before. All told, I have beaten the game around 10 times total so I’d hope that this makes me a fairly knowledgeable source on this game.)
While Kojima has almost always made every Metal Gear game with the intention of not making another, he had actually intended for Sons of Liberty to be the last game in the franchise. With this entry, Kojima decided to go for a very different feel by setting the game in the jungle and far away from the enemy base. Perhaps due to the negative response over Raiden in the previous entry, Kojima elected to make the main character of Snake Eater be Big Boss, meaning that he could do whatever he wanted to in the game and that fans would be pacified by a character who resembles Solid Snake.
Snake Eater was originally planned to be a PlayStation 3 game, but the lifespan of the PlayStation 2 ended up being much longer than anticipated. As a result, the game was scaled down somewhat and made to function on PS2, which was quite the technical accomplishment – Metal Gear Solid and Sons of Liberty were both such claustrophobic games because of technical constraints, so the fact that they were able to portray a lively jungle setting on PS2 hardware was astounding. In order to compensate, the game’s frame rate was slashed from 60fps to 30fps (ironically, this higher framerate would actually be restored when the game did hit the PS3 in the HD edition re-release). Many fans had also requested a fully-3D camera for Snake Eater, but Kojima decided to stick with the fixed, top-down camera in the game’s initial release. His reasoning was that this was a part of a “Metal Gear Solid trilogy” and felt that some consistency was required as a result. This would be the last game in the franchise (thus far anyway) to do so.
In early development, the game’s story revolved around the space race. This theme was ultimately scrapped, but elements of the Cold War space race still persist within the game’s story, between the origin of The Fury and The Boss’s secret attempt to be the first person sent into space. The game was also going to be set on August 24, 1963, Kojima’s birthday, but was pushed forward a year in order to incorporate JFK’s assassination. Kojima had also intended in include many more Cold War-era spy gadgets into the final story, but his team’s planned visit to the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C. was cut short due to the Beltway Sniper Attacks (a shooting spree that I can actually recall hearing about frequently as a 12-year-old child).
Snake Eater also had some interesting bonus additions which would only be available on the PS2 releases of the game. First of these is the Snake vs Monkey mini-game which crossed over the franchise with Ape Escape. There was also an easter egg dream sequence mini-game known as “Guy Savage” where you have to fight vampires, which was inexplicably removed from the game in subsequent re-releases.
Two years after the game’s initial release, an expanded version of the game was released called Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence. The main difference to the main game is that the player can now choose between the fixed camera and a 3D interactive camera, which by itself was enough to warrant a purchase. In addition, the game also featured 1 or 2 bonus discs (depending on whether you bought the limited edition or not) which would not be present in later re-releases of the game. The first bonus disc (Persistence) featured the first incarnation of Metal Gear Online, plus it had an expanded version of Snake vs Monkey, a theater mode and full versions of the MSX Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake (marking the first time that this game was available in North America). The second bonus disc (Existence) had a 3 hour version of the game’s cutscenes mashed together to create a miniature film version of the game’s events. The Subsistence release of the game would go on to be the basis of all subsequent re-releases and is widely considered the “definitive version” of the game.
The year is 1964. FOX agent Naked Snake is parachuted into the Russian jungle (???) at Tselinoyarsk. Snake has been deployed by FOX commander Major Zero to undertake the “Virtuous Mission”: retrieve a Soviet weapons designer, Nikolai Stepanovich Sokolov, who tried to defect to America and is being forced to construct a weapon that could disrupt the balance of power in the Cold War. Snake is aided by a support team which includes Para-Medic, offering medical advice, and Snake’s former mentor, The Boss. Snake is surprised to discover that The Boss is advising him on the mission, especially since it had been 5 years since she had abandoned him without explanation.
After sneaking his way around KGB guards, Snake makes his way to Sokolov. Sokolov warns him that the KGB guards aren’t here to protect him from Snake – they’re here to protect Sokolov from a GRU colonel named Yevgeny Borisovitch Volgin, who was planning to kidnap him and steal his new weapon in order to remove Soviet Premier Khrushchev from power and replace him with Brezhnev and Kosygin.
When Snake attempts to exfiltrate with Sokolov, they are ambushed by KGB guards. However, the guards are ambushed in turn by GRU Major Ocelot, who shoots them all dead. Ocelot then attempts to kill Snake and capture Sokolov for himself, but his gun jams after he attempts to show off, allowing Snake to easily neutralize him using CQC. Sokolov runs off during this and Snake pursues him back to a rope bridge. In the distance, they spot Sokolov’s weapon, the Shagohod, at the top of a nearby mountain. Sokolov explains that it is a tank capable of firing nuclear missiles, but is still in the testing phase.
Before the pair can exfiltrate, The Boss suddenly confronts them on the rope bridge, where she announces that she is defecting to the Soviet Union. Sokolov is captured by The Boss’s allies, The Cobra Unit, before Colonel Volgin himself arrives and demonstrates his mysterious electrical abilities. The Boss presents him with two Davy Crockett miniature nuclear missile launchers before he orders her to kill Snake. The Boss easily beats Snake in a short fist fight and then throws him off the bridge into a river below. Snake manages to survive though and patches up his wounds as Volgin, The Boss and Ocelot fly away with Sokolov, the Shagohod and Sokolov’s “lover”, Tatyana. Volgin then unexpectedly decides to fire one of the Davy Crocketts at Sokolov’s Design Bureau, despite protests from Ocelot. Volgin claims that, as far as the international community would be concerned, it was The Boss who pulled the trigger, and fires. The ensuing blast annihilates the design bureau as a wounded Snake takes shelter from the blast wave.
The game then picks up 1 week later. Snake has been in hospital recovering from the events of the Virtuous Mission, while he and the rest of his support team have been placed under arrest and are being suspected of treason. He receives a visit from Major Zero, who informs him of the situation that has unfolded since the mission failed. Premier Khrushchev has been in contact with President Johnson, blaming him for the nuclear attack. Johnson blames the attack on The Boss and Volgin, but Khrushchev demands some sort of proof in order to keep the Red Army from rebelling and seeking revenge on America. He requests that the US prove its innocence by assassinating The Boss and Volgin in order to keep the balance of power intact. The CIA chooses Snake to carry out the mission, threatening to execute both him and Zero if they fail to do so. With the KGB’s cooperation, it is also arranged that Snake will meet up with two former NSA code breakers who had defected in 1960, ADAM and EVA, who will offer him assistance during the mission. Para-Medic is also brought back to offer Snake support, while a weapons and technology expert, Sigint, is added to the team.
After just barely having enough time to recover, Snake is deployed into Tselinoyarsk once again via a supersonic drone. Snake moves to return to the abandoned factory where he found Sokolov in order to rendezvous with ADAM. However, Snake is intercepted by The Boss who greets him, disarms him with ease and then blows up the drone to alert the nearby guards. She warns Snake to abandon his mission or she will kill him the next time they meet. In spite of this, Snake continues onward anyway and awaits ADAM.
While waiting for ADAM, a woman on a motorcycle arrives and tells Snake that she is EVA, despite not knowing Snake’s passcode. However, when the GRU ambush Snake, EVA guns them all down, prompting Snake to take her at her word. She reveals that she is acting as a double agent within Volgin’s ranks, “Tatyana”. EVA provides Snake with a scientist disguise, a custom M1911 and a Mk22 tranquilizer pistol. The pair rest for the night in the factory, but in the morning they are alerted by approaching footsteps. Major Ocelot and his troops have surrounded the factory and are preparing to breach. Snake tells EVA to hide and then he proceeds to take out the Ocelot troops. In the process, Ocelot captures EVA and tries to kill Snake with his new revolver, but realizes that he has run out of bullets (he is used to 8-round clips). EVA breaks free and overpowers Ocelot, but he manages to escape. EVA tries to shoot him, but Snake stops her. EVA then takes her motorcycle and heads out to return to her role of “Tatyana” back in the research lab, Graniny Gorki.
Snake heads towards Graniny Gorki to meet up with Sokolov once more, but is intercepted by Ocelot again. The pair duel until a swarm of bees interrupts the fight. Ocelot flees and Snake is forced to dive into a cavern to avoid their stings. Snake makes his way through this cavern until he comes face to face with the source of the bees: The Pain, one of the Cobra Unit members. Snake battles The Pain and defeats him, setting off a micro-bomb which blows up his corpse.
After making his way out of the cavern, Snake comes across a warehouse where he witnesses Volgin, Sokolov and Tatyana. Volgin intimidates Sokolov by electrocuting Tatyana. Ocelot also shows up and intimidates Sokolov by juggling pistols, but The Boss arrives and stops him. She announces that The Pain is dead, which outrages Volgin. She then sets two of the other Cobras, The Fear and The End, loose into the jungle to find him. When they have all left, Snake sneaks through the warehouse and then makes his way to Graniny Gorki.
Snake sneaks into Graniny Gorki and confronts the drunken facility director, Dr. Aleksandr Leonovitch Granin. Granin reveals that he has been developing his own super weapon, “Metal Gear”, and is angry that it is being neglected in favour of Sokolov’s Shagohod, despite being a superior piece of technology. Granin reveals that he is intending to get revenge for this oversight by sending his research notes to “a friend” in the US. Granin also tells Snake about the Philosopher’s Legacy, the source of Volgin’s wealth, but fails to elaborate on it. Granin provides Snake with a route into Volgin’s fortress of Groznyj Grad in order to get rid of Sokolov and have Metal Gear be recognized as the superior weapon.
After leaving the facility and setting out towards Groznyj Grad, Snake is attacked by The Fear, who shoots him in the leg with a crossbow. Despite utilizing stealth camouflage and poisons, Snake manages to defeat The Fear and move on. Not long after though, he is ambushed by The End, an ancient sniper. The two engage in an intense and drawn-out sniper battle, but The End is overcome by Snake and killed.
With the way clear, Snake makes his way up into the mountains and then meets up with EVA in a bunker. EVA explains that she has secured a WIG for their escape and that Sokolov is being held in the west wing of Groznyj Grad. In order to get inside, Snake will have to disguise himself as GRU Major Raikov. EVA then leaves Snake at a cliff overlooking the fortress before speeding off to return to Volgin. Watching the base through his binoculars, Snake watches as Volgin punches an oil drum until blood seeps out of it, at which point it is revealed that it contains the now-dead body of Granin. With 3 Cobras dead, Volgin suspects that there is a spy in his ranks and believed that Granin might have been the source. Snake then makes his way into the tunnels below Groznyj Grad, where he is confronted by the last Cobra (besides The Boss), The Fury. Using his flamethrower, The Fury sets much of the tunnel ablaze, but Snake manages to kill him before making his way into the base.
Inside the base, Snake finds Raikov and knocks him out, stealing his uniform and wearing a mask to pass off as the Major. Making his way to Sokolov, Snake witnesses Tatyana intimidate Sokolov into handing her a microfilm containing the plans on the Shagohod before she leaves. When she is gone, Snake reveals himself and speaks to Sokolov. Sokolov reveals that the Shagohod was now in Phase II testing – it had been fitted with rocket boosters which extend its range to be able to hit any target in the US from anywhere in the Soviet Union. Volgin is now planning on mass-producing the Shagohod and distribute it to Eastern Bloc nations, effectively leading to full-scale nuclear war in the process. Sokolov tells Snake to destroy the Shagohod using C3 explosives which Tatyana has taken. He also reveals that she is not his lover, but rather she is supposed to be posing as Volgin’s lover.
Before Snake can escort Sokolov out of the base, Volgin comes into the room. He realizes that “Raikov” is an imposter and shoots Sokolov twice. The Boss arrives and tears off Snake’s disguise before Volgin begins beating him into unconsciousness. When he comes to, Snake is hanging by his wrists in a torture cell with a bag over his head. He hears Volgin beating and presumably killing Sokolov before Volgin turns his attention to Snake. He drenches him in water and then begins electrocuting him, asking whether the CIA was after the Philosopher’s Legacy. During the torture, a transmitter falls out of Snake’s pocket. Volgin demands to know who planted this on Snake, to which The Boss claims that it was her, in order to track his movements and allow The Cobras a chance to ambush him. Volgin doesn’t believe this and tells The Boss that she will have to prove her loyalty by maiming Snake. He orders her to cut out his eyes. The Boss tears the bag off of Snake’s head and then pulls out her knife. but Tatyana stops her. Ocelot then accuses Tatyana of being the spy and begins juggling his revolvers at her to “test” her luck. Realizing that the loaded gun will shoot Tatyana, Snake swings himself into Ocelot, knocking his aim off and accidentally causing him to misfire. The bullet catches Snake’s right eye and causes him to scream in agony. Satisfied, Volgin and Ocelot leave. The Boss takes one of Ocelot’s revolvers and loads it with a fake death pill and then fires it into Snake’s leg. She then leaves the revolver with Snake and then exits the room. Finally, EVA tells Snake that, if he breaks out, she knows of an escape route and will bring him all his equipment.
Snake eventually manages to escape his cell and sneaks his way through Groznyj Grad to the sewers. He is pursued by the guard dogs and the Ocelot unit until he is cornered at the drainage waterfall. Ocelot confronts Snake and tries to shoot him, but Snake jumps from the waterfall and is carried away by the river. Snake then suffers a near-death experience where he is confronted by The Sorrow, who sends the souls of everyone Snake has killed during the mission to haunt him. However, he declares that Snake is not ready to die yet and disappears as Snake suddenly revives himself using the revival pill implanted in his tooth. He swims to the surface and then radios EVA, who tells him to meet up at a waterfall nearby.
He soon meets up with EVA, who returns his equipment and gives him an eye patch. She comforts Snake and gives him some of the C3 she had stolen. She tells him to plant it on the Shagohod’s fuel containers. Snake then makes his way through a tunnel system back into Groznyj Grad and enters the Shagohod’s hangar. He places the C3 and sets the timer but is confronted by Volgin and Ocelot on his way out. Ocelot has captured EVA and realized that she was the spy they were looking for. The Boss appears and disarms Snake. Volgin announces that EVA had been discovered in his underground vault stealing the microfilm containing the data on the Philosopher’s Legacy: a hundred billion dollar fund amassed by the most powerful men in the US, Russia and China, The Philosophers, during WWII. Volgin’s father had been a member and had laundered the money for his own safekeeping before it was passed on to Volgin himself. He had utilized the Philosophers’ spy network to get The Boss to defect and would use the Legacy and the Shagohod to make the world whole again. Volgin hands the Legacy to The Boss and tells her to take care of it. The Boss leaves with EVA to execute her and leaves Volgin to battle Snake.
Volgin then begins fighting Snake, but Ocelot unexpectedly begins supporting Snake during the fight. Realizing that he was losing, Volgin orders Ocelot to shoot Snake, but he acts insubordinately and refuses. Volgin and Snake then continue to fight, with Snake beating the Colonel severely. Snake then escapes the hangar just before it explodes and is surprised to see EVA waiting for him outside on her motorcycle. She tells him that The Boss is waiting for him at their extraction point. They prepare to leave, but suddenly the Shagohod, piloted by Volgin, bursts through the destroyed hangar. Ocelot and Volgin pursue Snake and EVA all across Groznyj Grad until EVA lures Volgin across a rail bridge that she had wired with her portion of the C3. They set off the explosives to cut off their pursuers, but the Shagohod continues to follow them. Making a last stand, Snake and EVA attack the Shagohod with an RPG-7 and severely damage it, forcing Volgin to step out of the cockpit and power it with his own electrical current. Snake then fires more shots at Volgin and the Shagohod to disable it once again, before a lightning bolt comes down and smites Volgin, finally putting him down for good. Snake and EVA then retreat from more pursuers to get to the WIG, but their motorcycle crashes, wounding both of them in the process. The pair sneak through the jungle until they reach the WIG. EVA leaves Snake to confront The Boss while she prepares the plane for their escape.
Snake then steps into a field of flowers, where The Boss fires the second Davy Crockett and destroys Groznyj Grad. She tells Snake that she too wanted to make the world whole again using the Legacy. Her allies, The Cobra Unit, had been torn apart after WWII, despite being close friends. She tells him about being exposed to nuclear test sites and cosmic radiation during a secret space test. From space, she saw the world and realized that there were no absolute countries, borders or enemies. She hopes that a time will come when people will realize that there is no East or West and that peace will come of this. She tells Snake about how she was sent to Cuba as part of a CIA invasion under the guise of taking back Cuban exites. However, the US government betrayed them and left them defenceless as they were annihilated by the Cuban army as The Boss watched in silence. A year later, she was forced by The Philosophers to kill The Sorrow for a mission, and he willingly allowed her to do so. She then shows Snake a snake-shaped scar on her chest and explains that she gave birth to a boy via C-section on the Beaches of Normandy in June 1944. The Sorrow was the father. However, the child had been immediately taken from her by The Philosophers.
The Boss explains that all of the original Philosophers are now dead and the remaining ones have no interest in promoting good or evil. Instead, they have become war personified, with each conflict changing “the times” and sparking more conflicts in turn. The Philosophers’ intended to keep this cycle going forever. Her father was one of the Philosophers and now she was the last living child of the Philosophers. The Boss then orders two MiGs to bomb their position in 10 minutes and forces Snake to fight her to the death. Regretfully, the two do battle as Snake manages to come out on top. Dying of her wounds, The Boss hands Snake the microfilm for the Legacy and her gun, the Patriot. She then gives Snake his final order: to end her life. Raising the Patriot, Snake points the gun at her and then fires a single shot.
After a moment of reflection, Snake regroups with EVA aboard the WIG and the pair try to escape. However, Ocelot manages to get aboard the plane and challenges Snake to one last duel. The two fight briefly before Ocelot convinces Snake that they will fight with two pistols, only one of which will have a bullet in it. Snake and Ocelot reveal their real names to each other (John and Adamska, respectively) and fire. However, the bullet turns out to be a blank as Ocelot laughs and then jumps from the plane into the water below. EVA then manages to take off with the WIG, but the two MiGs suddenly appear and prepare to shoot them down. Before they can though, they are ordered by Khrushchev to disengage. Overjoyed, Snake and EVA head to an Alaskan safehouse and boink.
Snake awakes the next morning to find EVA gone. He listens to a cassette tape she has left for him. She explains that she was actually a Chinese spy sent to use him to acquire the Legacy. The real EVA and (presumably) ADAM never showed up. EVA herself was an agent of the Philosophers, trained in charm schools for covert operations. However, The Boss had seen through her deceptions as she was an instructor at one of these schools. EVA was supposed to kill Snake when her mission was complete, but she reveals that she can’t complete this task because she made a promise to The Boss. She reveals that The Boss did not betray her country – the whole mission was a ruse by the US government to get their hands on the Legacy and The Boss had played her part perfectly. However, when Volgin fired the Davy Crockett, they suddenly found themselves in a sticky situation and were forced to have The Boss killed to bail themselves out. The Boss knowingly allowed Snake to kill her because that is the mission that she was given and she was “loyal to the end”. She knowingly sacrificed her life, understanding that she would be condemned in history, branded a traitor by the US and a war criminal who unleashed a nuclear catastrophe by the Soviet Union. The only person who would ever understand what she did would be Snake himself.
A ceremony was then arranged to celebrate Snake’s achievement. He meets with President Johnson and is awarded the title of “Big Boss”. Snake reluctantly shakes the President’s hand and refuses to shake the hand of the CIA director before he leaves the ceremony. Instead, he heads to Arlington National Cemetery and lays flowers and the Patriot on The Boss’s grave stone. The stone reads “In Memory of a Patriot, Who Saved the World”. Big Boss salutes his former mentor and mother figure as tears stream down his face…
In the game’s post-credit sequence, Ocelot phones the KGB director to inform him that Groznyj Grad and Granin’s lab were destroyed. He also reveals that Khrushchev’s regime will soon be at an end and that the Virtuous Mission and Operation Snake Eater can be used to blackmail the US in future negotiations since its events are meant to be covered up. He tells the director that he will keep him informed of further developments. However, he then immediately calls the CIA director and tells him that EVA’s copy of the Legacy was a fake – the real Legacy has been handed over to the Americans. However, only half of it was recovered and Ocelot suspects that the KGB might have the other half. He also reveals that he obtained Granin’s designs for Metal Gear. It turns out that Ocelot was ADAM all along and that he is at the CIA’s disposal.
GAMEPLAY & DESIGN
While the basic gameplay mechanics of Snake Eater are almost identical to Sons of Liberty, enough new systems and an entirely new design philosophy are enough to make the two games feel wildly divergent. Whereas Sons of Liberty feels claustrophobic, Snake Eater has been designed to be far more methodical and freeform. The biggest additions to the game are the stamina bar, camouflage meter, hunting and wound treatment. All of these new systems feed into the game’s greater emphasis on stealth and survival.
In order for Snake to complete actions (such as shooting, running or recovering life) with top efficiency, he now has to manage his stamina bar in addition to his life bar. This is not very difficult manage, as all you have to do generally is eat something or hide to regenerate the bar quickly. Hunting and surviving were inspired additions to the game and are a ton of fun to undertake. Each new area is filled with edible flora and fauna which can be gathered to use for food, medicine or, in some cases, create makeshift traps! All of the animals populating the game also help to make the world just a little more authentic as they complete their own routines, or even potentially attack Snake if he wanders too close.
While hunting and stamina make Snake Eater more engaging, the new camo meter and first aid system quickly become a chore. In order to maximize your camo meter (and consequently, reduce your odds of being spotted), you have to pause the game and equip new face paint and/or uniforms. When sneaking around in an area, you will frequently find yourself coming across different sorts of terrain, necessitating constant uniform changes if you want to maximize your odds of remaining undetected. However, I do quite like the camo meter in concept, but the same can’t be said of the game’s first aid menu. When you take damage, you can begin to bleed, break bones, become poisoned, etc. This necessitates a trip to the “cure” menu to treat the wound, which often involves remembering the exact combo of treatment options to cure the ailment (considering that you always have limited supplies, wasting any can be potentially fatal if you aren’t very good at the game). In theory, this could have added a lot more depth to the game, but it just ends up becoming a pain in the ass – constantly pausing the action in the middle of a fight to cure yourself disrupts the gameplay and often becomes pointless when you get seriously wounded again a second later and have to treat yourself once again. This is especially problematic in a couple of the boss battles (cough, The Fear, cough, The Fury, cough). The camo meter and first aid add up to frequent menu-hopping which becomes a massive pain and is easily the clumsiest design element of the game.
Snake Eater is also notable for being the first game in the franchise since the original Metal Gear to completely lack a radar. Well, that’s not completely accurate: there are two radar-like items available during the game (the AP sensor and active sonar), but both have very limited battery power and only really show you enemies that you can already see anyway, making them effectively useless. I think it’s rather telling that, in all of the times I have beaten this game, I have never used either of these items once. However, whereas most of the previous Metal Gear games were at their absolute worst when the radar was taken away, Snake Eater is entirely designed around this concept. With the move to more open spaces, lots of hiding places within plain sight and an emphasis on surveying your surroundings, enemies will very rarely sneak up on you unnoticed. In addition, the game’s default, fixed camera is significantly better than it was in Metal Gear Solid and Sons of Liberty – the right analog stick has now been mapped to allow for some control over the camera, offering a wider view of the area when needed. It is, unfortunately, still inadequate during certain boss fights (particularly The Fury), but the Subsistence re-release’s interactive 3D camera makes up for these shortcomings and then some. Being able to fully control the camera makes sneaking even more intuitive and is definitely the best way to play the game.
Likely due to the first aid and hunting mechanics, healing has been changed quite significantly. In all previous Metal Gear games, Snake (or Raiden) restored life by eating a ration. In Snake Eater, Snake can only instantly heal himself by using life medicine, a fairly rare item which mainly appears during/before boss fights or by searching enemy bodies. However, Snake Eater also introduces a regenerating health system, the speed of which is based on your stamina bar and whether you have any untreated wounds. Unlike modern games like Call of Duty or Halo, where you can go from 1% health to 100% in only a few seconds, it can take a couple minutes for Snake Eater‘s health bar to regenerate, meaning that it is a useful addition but not one which rewards recklessness or which makes combat easier – in fact, if you do get wounded, it incentivizes hiding and waiting out an Alert until you can get some health back. It’s also just a little more forgiving for those who have lived to regret tackling 22 Metal Gear RAYs without any backup rations…
The other big new feature is that CQC attacks have been totally overhauled. In Metal Gear Solid and Sons of Liberty, throws and grabs had been mapped to the square button, while punches were mapped to O. In Snake Eater, all CQC techniques are now handled using the O button, with various button presses, analog inputs and pressure sensitive functions (or touch screen actions on PS Vita) used to determine your actions in melee. The new options are really cool (such as cutting throats or interrogating enemies), but none of the changes are documented outside of the tutorials on the main menu, meaning that it’s easy to forget all of the options available at your disposal… and even if you do remember them, you probably won’t remember the controls to actually pull them off.
Besides these larger additions, Snake Eater features a few little refinements which make the game play just a little better than Sons of Liberty. For one thing, enemy item drops aren’t randomly determined anymore, so when an enemy has an item on them, it will drop immediately when you search them. When the enemy stops dropping items, this means that they have been exhausted, so you don’t end up searching an enemy 4 or 5 times in the vain hope of getting that one extra ration you needed. Key cards and backtracking have also been effectively eliminated, or at least reduced to such a point that they are entirely unobtrusive. You do have to collect a couple keys and you do have to do some minor backtracking, but these are usually very short and easy affairs which feel completely natural, unlike the forced backtracking and obtrusive key cards in previous Metal Gear games which were used to transparently pad out the game’s length.
Similarly to previous games in the franchise, Snake Eater breaks up its regular gameplay with some set piece moments and interesting twists. Probably foremost amongst these is the motorcycle chase during the game’s climax. This chase is technically similar to the jeep chase from the ending of Metal Gear Solid, but dialled up to 11. The chase goes on for 5-10 minutes as the entire base is getting blown up around you, and you’re getting pursued by a half dozen enemies (not to mention the Shagohod)… it’s just amazing and I have no idea how Kojima productions got this to run on PS2. On the more dialled-back end of the scale, there is also a segment where you have to navigate a pitch-black cavern, but Snake’s eyes will actually adjust to the lack of light after about 5 minutes, which is pretty ingenious (a idea that DayZ could do with pilfering). There is also an escort mission near the end of the game, similar to Sons of Liberty. Annoyingly, you’re being pursued by enemies during this segment, but luckily it isn’t constantly broken up by cutscenes or swimming sections and so passes quickly. The game is also capped off with a reasonably tense game of Russian roulette against Ocelot, which actually left me fairly concerned with how it was going to conclude the first time I played it.
If there’s one negative thing about the more open maps layouts, it would be that enemies aren’t nearly as dangerous as they were in Sons of Liberty. The open maps mean that sneaking up on enemies and neutralizing them is very easy, and the SWAT-style breach and clear tactics have been significantly nerfed. Between the camo meter and the extended sight lines, alerts should be far less common than in any other Metal Gear game – in fact, Snake Eater is the first game in the whole franchise where it is possible to complete the whole thing without triggering a single Alert. To balance it out though, Snake Eater does introduce a couple new enemy types which shake the action up a little bit. First amongst these are the guard dogs, which can sniff you out and alert enemies to your presence (not to mention outrun you and knock you to the ground). There are also soldiers riding on hover platforms at a couple points in the game. Some players have called these out for being excessively anachronistic, but they are actually based on real Soviet vehicle concepts. Considering that they first appear at the Granin research bureau, it can be extrapolated that they are experimental prototypes.
Snake Eater is just a fantastically-designed game. The game has all sorts little systems and determinant elements which make experimentation and multiple playthroughs a joy. For example, many players (myself included) have remarked that they didn’t even realize that you can blow up enemy supply and weapon sheds during their first playthrough. However, when you do discover this, infiltration becomes safer and it opens up some rather sadistic ways to mess with enemy soldiers. You can also completely avoid 2 fights depending on how you play: you can blow up a helicopter when it is grounded which will stop it from patrolling the mountains later, and you can also snipe The End before his boss fight to bypass him entirely. The numerous wildlife can also be used as a tool on their own, with various poisonous creatures and even rotten food being especially useful for setting up traps for hapless guards.
The game’s maps are also just really well-designed. In contrast to Sons of Liberty, most areas in Snake Eater are very open and offer a number of different approaches for the player to reach their goal. There is also a very nice variety of environments, which is a welcome respite from the blandness of the Big Shell. Even in the jungle, you will go from typical jungle terrain, to a swamp, to a rope bridge, to an overgrown ruin, to a river, to a cavern, to an enemy base, etc. Every area is very distinct and is often packed with little secrets and items which encourage exploration, such as the extremely-useful “Croc Cap” or the very-fun-to-locate Kerotan Frogs. The game also shakes up the environment fairly often, with Snake also having to traverse a mountain, a few small enemy bases, a tunnel system and the fortress of Groznyj Grad. Despite being a very urban area, Groznyj Grad is actually quite open in its own right and never feels anywhere near as claustrophobic as the environments did in Sons of Liberty.
The result of all of these design decisions is a game which is tuned in such a way to encourage patience, experimentation and pure fun. In fact, the game is as fun (if not more) on additional playthroughs, as I can attest. I actually had a total blast during the playthrough for this review because I played on a save file where I had unlocked all of the gear available in the game already… but had never actually gotten a chance to try out the stealth camo, infinity face paint or the Patriot machine gun. Suffice to say, it kept the game fresh, despite this being possibly my tenth playthrough now. Also, I happened to get the game’s Platinum trophy during this playthrough, making this one of the very few games that I have actually had the patience, commitment and ability to actually complete 100% (the only other games which I have achieved Platinum in were Telltale games, which basically give them out for free…).
Also factoring into the game’s design is the cutscene-to-gameplay ratio, which has been scaled back quite a bit compared to Sons of Liberty. While some of the cutscenes can get quite lengthy (I’d estimate that at least 5 of them go on for more than 20-30 minutes), they break up the gameplay significantly less often. In fact, Snake Eater often has very extended gameplay segments which are only broken up by radio calls and cutscenes infrequently… and even then, these interruptions tend to be quite short more often than not. The longer cutscenes are basically relegated to the start and ending of each “operation”, plus a torture sequence and Volgin’s monologuing. I basically speed ran a lot of the core gameplay for this review, but even then the game took me 9 hours to complete with cutscenes, of which I’d say that about 55-60% was pure gameplay. A more “normal” playthrough will net you anywhere from 14-20 hours (of which, about 4 hours will be made up of cutscenes), which is substantially more gameplay than any previous Metal Gear game can boast.
As for the cutscenes themselves, they are well-done as always. However, the lip syncing is noticeably bad for some reason (this isn’t a re-release issue either, it was the same in the game’s original release). This is the only game in the franchise with this particular issue and, while it isn’t crippling by any means, it can be distracting and makes me wonder what caused this localization error. If the lip syncing is bad though, it is partially made up for by the game’s fantastic eye animations. I only really noticed this aspect of the game in this playthrough, but it really struck me that the characters’ eyes have been animated extremely well. They avoid the dead-eyed issue which plagues a lot of games striving for authenticity even today by having the characters’ eyes not fixate on things – they dance around and scan the subject in a very authentic, life-like way. The CQC choreography is also very well done and goes a long way to portraying The Boss and Naked Snake as the ultimate badasses that they are meant to be.
As for the boss battles in the game, they are a significant step up from the rather dull encounters in Sons of Liberty. In fact, a couple of them rank amongst the absolute best boss battles in the entire franchise, if not all of gaming. The boss battles are also distributed far better within the plot than they were in Sons of Liberty, actually managing to enhance the narrative with their inclusions while keeping the gameplay interesting. Most of the battles don’t occur until the game’s midpoint, at which point you get hammered with 5 in reasonably quick succession. There’s then a lull until the game’s climax, at which point you take on the game’s “big bads” in a series of escalating boss battles which manage to help drive home the epic stakes of the plot, similar to the Snake vs Gray Fox fight at the end of Solid Snake.
The first boss battle is a duel against Ocelot, which is similar to the Olga fight from the previous game, but with less twists to it unfortunately. Basically, you just have to utilize the lean functions, avoid Ocelot’s ricochets, soldiers and poisonous snakes, and wait for openings to attack. It’s a pretty standard as far as Metal Gear stand-up gunfights go. Shortly thereafter, you have to fight The Pain, who is one of the more ridiculous enemies in the series’ history. While he isn’t as bad as Fatman, the entire concept of a man who psychically controls bees and is a living hive is just insane. Luckily he dies early in the game. His boss fight is quite easy, but he takes too much work to kill. You basically just swim from one side of the arena and back over and over again while waiting for him to give you an opening… which is easier said than done, because his bee armour is on for about 90% of the time. Even then, he’s somewhat of a bullet sponge, making his fight drag on excessively.
Not too long later, you have to take on The Fear. His fight is not very difficult, especially if you get ahold of the thermal goggles prior to the fight (aside from him constantly poisoning you if you get hit). There are some cool tricks to taking him out though which make this fight far more fun than it is if you just shoot at him over and over again. The Fear’s stamina bar is constantly decreasing during the fight, causing him to have to restore it during the battle. As a result, you can trap him by throwing rotten food and the poison dart frogs located in the arena to drain his stamina even more (and get to hear the super satisfying cry of “Poison!!!”). It’s also worth noting that there are traps set up all around this fight’s arena, meaning that you have to keep an eye on the ground and not just the treetops or you might get walloped by a spiked log unexpectedly. All-in-all, The Fear puts up a decent fight, but it’s definitely worth going for the stamina kill if you want to really challenge yourself and have some fun.
Almost immediately after is one of the greatest boss battles in the entire franchise, the sniper duel with The End. Famously, this fight can take a long time to complete (30 minutes to 3 hours are not unheard of) and is so challenging that Kojima has built in 2 ways to bypass it, and can even make it harder for you if you give up midway. In addition to the ability to snipe The End which I have mentioned previously, saving your game and then setting your console’s date a week forward will cause The End to die of old age. If you set it less than a week ahead (or save and quit mid-battle) then The End will sneak up on Snake while he’s resting and tranquilize him, sending you off to a jail cell and forcing you to break out to start the fight again. I’ll admit that the first time I attempted this fight, I wussied out and used the clock trick to bypass the fight. However, the second time I played, I determined to beat it legitimately and non-lethally. The resulting battle was one of the most epic 40-60 minute tests of skill I have had in a Metal Gear game. Basically, you have to learn to use your ingenuity to track down The End across 4 large maps, keeping an eye out for footprints, scope glint, snoring, etc. Also, you’re inevitably going to lose track of him once or twice, making the resulting search extremely tense as he will almost certainly hit you the second you walk into his line of sight. It’s a surprisingly fun test of skill and one that I would recommend everyone try out at least once. Plus, as soon as you have beaten him, you get to experience “The Ladder“, which has gone on to become a surprisingly enduring moment within the Metal Gear fanbase.
The last boss fight of the mid-section of the game is The Fury, which honestly feels like it was forced in there for pacing reasons. Unlike the other Cobras, The Fury is given almost no foreshadowing prior to his reveal (I didn’t even notice until this playthrough that he appears for a second on board the helicopter at the start of the game). That said, he can be easily one of the more difficult bosses in the franchise, especially if you are playing with the original fixed camera. He can set the whole arena on fire and trap you, forcing you to use up a lot of the life medicine you have been stocking up on and leaving you with nasty burns unless you have the flame camo… which, conveniently, you can only get by beating him non-lethally. I had it for this playthrough which made The Fury a trivial affair even on Hard mode unfortunately, but normally this will be a very challenging battle as you try to hit him and then hide before he can set Snake on fire.
After that, you don’t have any fights for quite a while until The Sorrow shows up out of nowhere. It’s hard to call this a real “boss fight”, but it is a very innovative encounter and one of the better “consequences of war” moments in gaming. Basically, The Sorrow will send you through a gauntlet of life-draining ghosts with no way of fighting back. However, as you progress, you slowly come to realize that you kill each and every one of these people – from that one soldier whose throat you slashed open because it was “cool”, to the Cobras, to all of those guys you casually gunned down. If you’re anything like me on my first playthrough, you’re going to have quite the bodycount built up by this point and they’re going to make this quite a challenging and sobering encounter. The way to end the “fight” is also a bit of a puzzle which I actually figured out myself the first time I played after a second attempt at the battle…
The Sorrow is a bit of a prelude to the game’s final boss battle gauntlet though. A fist fight with Colonel Volgin kicks off the game’s epic climax and is definitely one of the harder encounters in the game. Between Volgin’s strong attacks, invulnerability for much of the fight and the harsh time limit with with to complete the fight, it can be very difficult to win if you don’t realize the “tricks” to victory. Basically, you have to avoid using guns and utilize CQC throws. When he’s on the ground, hit him with your gun. You can also use Russian Glow Caps to absorb his electric attacks by throwing them on the ground during the battle. Even with these tricks the battle can still be fairly challenging to complete, but within a few tries you should be able to pull it off.
The second fight against Volgin in the Shagohod is extremely easy though, making it by far the easiest mech battle in the series thus far. Basically, just shoot the Shagohod’s augers and then shoot the weak point/Volgin over and over again. It’s a decent fight, but extremely easy – I was playing on hard mode and didn’t even get hit once until the 2nd half of the fight, and even then it was still ridiculously easy.
Finally, the game ends with one of the most beautiful and important boss battles in the entire franchise, as Snake goes head-to-head with The Boss. Unfortunately, it is not particularly difficult at all (aside from the Shagohod, it might be the easiest battle in the whole game as long as you don’t attempt to win it using CQC), but just exudes a tragic and sombre tone, especially when the “Snake Eater” theme song kicks in. To make matters even more heartbreaking, when you defeat The Boss, the game forces you to kill her yourself – the camera pans in a circle around the scene as Snake holds the Patriot over his mentor’s heart until you press the square button and plant that final bullet yourself. It’s an incredibly sad moment and, even if the battle itself is not challenging, it’s enough to vault the fight into one of the greatest boss battles in the series.
STORY & CHARACTER ANALYSIS
Officially, the theme of Snake Eater is “SCENE”. Whereas “GENE” described Metal Gear Solid well, as did “MEME” for Sons of Liberty, SCENE is unfortunately rather inadequate and requires far more elaboration to make clear. At the start of the Virtuous Mission, The Boss lectures Snake about the philosophy of being a soldier. According to her own moral code, a soldier should be “loyal to the end” to the mission, as “enemies” and “allies” are a concept which shifts according to the times. This is the theme that “SCENE” refers to: the times. The Boss lays this concept out at the beginning of the game and then allows the player to see the effects of it play out for much of the rest of the narrative before picking it back up at the end. As a result, Snake Eater feels like more of a straightforward and shallow narrative at times, especially when compared to Sons of Liberty‘s complex and interwoven themes. However, that isn’t to say that Snake Eater‘s narrative is poor by any means, or that it actually is shallow – in fact, I would argue that the game melds characters, narrative and themes together with far more refinement than Sons of Liberty did, despite being not nearly as relevant or complex in comparison.
The Boss is the focal point for many of the themes relating to the times within the game. In the game’s backstory, The Boss and The Cobra unit fought with the Allies at Normandy and helped to win the war. However, when the Cold War broke out as a result of tensions between factions within The Philosophers, The Cobra unit was split apart and ended up on opposing sides. Despite being close friends and comrades-at-arms, The Cobras were suddenly “enemies” and were expected to kill one another if need be. This came to a head when The Philosophers ordered The Boss and The Sorrow to kill each other, despite being comrades and lovers (The Sorrow having fathered The Boss’s son, who is heavily implied to be Ocelot). As The Boss puts it, “One must live, and one must die. That was the mission.” The Sorrow sacrificed himself so that The Boss could complete her mission, but she was left disheartened by the act.
The Boss also tells of other events which show the fickleness of politics and how soldiers are used as expendable pawns. She explains that she witnessed the Bay of Pigs Invasion*, in which hundreds of Cuban exiles were slaughtered due to inaction by the American government. The politics of The Philosophers also caused The Boss to lose her child shortly after he was born – he was kidnapped and used as a bargaining chip to ensure that The Boss would remain a loyal follower. Despite all of this though, The Boss maintained her moral rigidity and refused to compromise her philosophy of “loyalty to the end”, no matter how poorly she was treated by the government or The Philosophers:
The Boss: “Look at this scar. This is proof that I was once a mother. I gave up my body and my child for my country. There is nothing left inside me now. Nothing at all. No hatred, not even regret. And yet sometimes at night I can still feel the pain creeping up inside me. Slithering through my body, like a snake.”
The Boss: “I could see the planet as it appeared from space. That’s when it finally hit me. Space exploration is nothing but another game in the power struggle between the US and USSR. Politics, economics, the arms race – they’re all just arenas for meaningless competition. I’m sure you can see that. But the Earth itself has no boundaries. No East, no West, no Cold War. And the irony of it is, the United States and the Soviet Union are spending billions on their space programs and the missile race only to arrive at the same conclusion. In the 21st century everyone will be able to see that we are all just inhabitants of a little celestial body called Earth. A world without communism or capitalism… that is the world I wanted to see.”
This is the seed of “The Boss’s will”, a concept which would resonate throughout the rest of the franchise. America and Russia are currently mortal enemies and are willing to destroy the entire world if they are provoked, but within 30 years, the politics of the Cold War will all be meaningless. In all of this, The Boss states that “we soldiers are forced to play along. […] A soldier’s skills aren’t meant to be used to hurt friends. […] Is there such thing as a timeless enemy?” The Boss realizes the futility of the actions that soldiers are forced to endure, but she endures them anyway because that is what her morals dictate. However, she longs to reunite The Philosophers in order to heal the rift in the world and end the meaningless conflicts that soldiers are embroiled in. This concept is the purest expression of “The Boss’s will”, an ideal which would become increasingly perverted as it was reinterpreted.
Snake’s response to The Boss’s philosophies is one of the biggest driving forces in the game. Snake idolizes The Boss and their relationship is akin to that of a mother and son. As a result, her lectures about the mission and the shifting times are what drive Snake to live up to his mentor’s example and complete his assignment – the execution of the one person that he loves more than anyone else. However, throughout the game he wrestles with the questions that The Boss has left him with: where does his loyalty lie? Is it to the mission, or to those that he loves? Snake Eater feels very much like a story of the fall from innocence to experience (reinforced by the references to ADAM and EVA) as Snake literally kills his “mother” in order to grow into a man. Some of The Boss’s final words echo this concept:
The Boss: “I raised you, and loved you, I’ve given you weapons, taught you techniques, endowed you with knowledge. There’s nothing more for me to give you. All that’s left for you to take is my life.”
Ultimately, Snake chooses to follow his mentor’s example and completes the mission, but this decision tears him apart when he discovers the truth about The Boss’s loyalty. Under the impression that The Boss defected of her own free will and needed to be eliminated, Snake is able to end her life regretfully. However, when he discovers that the government used The Boss to cover their own asses in a meaningless power ploy, and that The Boss willingly sacrificed herself, Snake becomes disillusioned. He comes to understand the meaninglessness of politics and how they exploit the loyalty of soldiers, which ultimately causes him to reject The Boss’s teachings – is loyalty is to those he loves, not the mission.
In retrospect, “the times” is a theme which has grown to have additional resonance within the Metal Gear canon. Considering how slapped-together the Metal Gear canon can be, I wonder if Kojima was intentionally foreshadowing some future plots developments here. “Today’s friend can become tomorrow’s enemy” is an idea which describes the coming conflict between Major Zero and Big Boss perfectly, which makes me wonder if this was always supposed to be the case, or whether it fit so well that Kojima made it the case. Similarly, in subsequent games we will come to learn that the progression and downfall of The Philosophers in this game’s backstory mirrors the history of The Patriots almost perfectly. The Boss’s words have also been written in such a way as to retroactively make Big Boss’s speech in Solid Snake all the more impactful:
“One must die and one must live. No victory, no defeat. The survivor will carry on the fight. It is our destiny… The one who survives will inherit the title of Boss. And the one who inherits the title of Boss will face an existence of endless battle.”
This is extremely similar to Big Boss’s final speech to Solid Snake, retroactively making their battle into a stronger mentor vs student, father vs son final battle than it already was by invoking the one person who Big Boss loved more than anyone else.
More than any other Metal Gear game, Snake Eater weaves historical events into its narratives fantastically. The manner in which they are included is important as well. By choosing very important historical events, from WWII, to the Cuban Missile Crisis, to Yuri Gagarin’s trip into space, the game’s incorporation of these formulative events actually makes the events of the game feel more important and interesting. Similarly, Snake Eater takes on a 60’s-era, cheesy, pulpy, spy movie tone which is best exemplified by the game’s theme song. The game really straddles the line between the serious and the cartoonish with deft mastery, feeling almost like a Sean Connery James Bond film at times.
One of the most interesting new plot elements thrown into the franchise in this game is The Philosopher’s Legacy. It comes out of nowhere when Granin suddenly mentions it, but is handled quite well throughout the narrative and is a lingering mystery until Volgin explains what it is much later on. It makes for a very cool twist and an understandable driving motivation for the actions of the characters and governments. For returning fans of Sons of Liberty, we also finally get an actual explanation of what the “Wisemen’s Committee” was: the leadership programme of The Philosophers. At this point in the narrative, it is unclear what the link between The Philosophers and The Patriots are, but this reveal gave players a little more of an idea of the historical background that led up to the Solid Snake-era in the franchise.
Probably one of the biggest reasons why Snake Eater has such a strong narrative is because of the game’s characters – much of the action is driven by character motivations and interactions. One such example early on is the scene where Snake and The Boss reach out to one another just after The Boss has defected. While no words are exchanged and they can’t even see each other while doing it, it is a fairly powerful moment which demonstrates their strong bond and calls into question the reasons for The Boss’s defection in the first place. Another example would be this game’s torture sequence (if you’re counting, this is the third torture sequence in a row in a Metal Gear game). Volgin personally beats the ever-living shit out of both Snake and Sokolov during the sequence, demonstrating his physical strength and sadistic personality. However, he is also motivated by revenge, as Snake had previously killed The Cobras and had harmed (and potentially killed) Volgin’s lover, Raikov. Meanwhile, the player tries to guess the motivations of The Boss, Ocelot and EVA as they witness the torture, with The Boss visibly hesitating when Volgin orders her to cut out Snake’s eyes. In addition, Snake ends up losing his eye because he attempts to save EVA from being shot by Ocelot. It ranks amongst the nastiest sequences in the whole franchise, but it is absolutely packed with character interaction.
It also has to be said that the ending of Snake Eater is easily one of the most powerful moments in the entire franchise. In fact, it’s probably my favourite ending in any piece of art, period. It’s also notable for being a fantastic twist which caps off The Boss’s life and recolours all of the events in the game in a sensible way. Again, the relationships between the characters and Snake’s reaction to the revelation is where much of its impact comes from – that salute and those tears are extremely powerful. There are only a couple video games with endings even close to being on par with this for me (The Last of Us and The Walking Dead).
As I have iterated many times now, The Boss is a fantastic character, full-stop. Her strong moral code and badass capabilities make her an incredibly strong female character. Now, because I am a self-described feminist, she resonates with me even stronger, but you don’t have to be one to appreciate just how awesome The Boss is – long before I ever considered myself a feminist, I loved The Boss. Similarly to Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road, she is someone who just is a powerful woman without it feeling propagandistic. It’s also nothing less than a minor miracle that Kojima causes The Boss to tear open her sneaking suit in the final battle, baring a ton of cleavage and midriff, without it feeling gratuitous or sexualized. It’s actually an extremely mature and sad moment which actually ends up making The Boss feel even more powerful. Considering the typically immature approach to sexuality in Metal Gear games (this one included), this is incredibly unexpected. Amongst the annals of great female characters in video games, The Boss is definitely up there with the greatest of them, and is a height that Kojima would never again hit… or even attempt, for that matter.
Also, because there’s nowhere else for me to put this, I have always been bothered by the fact that The Boss’s Patriot machine gun fires rounds which “tumble” out of the barrel. Was this just Kojima trying to do something “cool” without realizing how guns actually fire? I was always under the impression that rounds always exited a barrel straight-forward (with a spiral in rifled barrels). If you’re like me and have been baffled for years by the scene where The Boss fires the Patriot in slow motion, it turns out that there is actually an explanation for this that makes sense.
Despite being Solid Snake’s genetic progenitor, Naked Snake is a noticeably different sort of character. First of all, Naked Snake is portrayed as more of an unlearned soldier than Solid Snake, being perhaps on par with Solid Snake’s skill level in Metal Gear 2. This leads to a certain level of naiveté regarding his feelings towards EVA in particular. He also seems to be more of a social person: the very beginning of the game shows us that he has two very well-defined relationships with Major Zero and The Boss. In contrast, Solid Snake is very much a lone-wolf until the end of Metal Gear Solid, where he finally earned himself a real friend in the form of Otacon (in part due to his development as a weapon rather than a human being).
I know some people absolutely hated Colonel Volgin, but in my opinion he was a great villain. Sure, he isn’t actually in control for much of the game, but he is such an irredeemable, imposing, Dick Dastardly-style charismatic evil that I can’t help but grin every time he’s on screen. He makes for a very satisfying primary antagonist and is miles ahead of such similar meatheaded contemporaries as Zoran Lazarević from Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. If nothing else, he provides great motivation to complete your objectives in the game as it is not hard to be driven to defeat such a clearly-evil person.
The young Major Ocelot is another fun character. He is rather flamboyant in this game, but he works really well when he is being pitted against another character, be it Naked Snake, Colonel Volgin or The Boss. The rivalry amongst Naked Snake and Ocelot are some of the best aspects of the game, as Ocelot constantly pushes himself to finally best Snake in combat and grudgingly grows to respect his “foe”. The reveal that he was actually helping Snake all along recolours all of their interactions too in retrospect. Volgin’s brutishness clashes with Ocelot’s showiness and sense of honour, eventually causing Ocelot to become insubordinate as he openly challenges his superior office. The relationship between The Boss and Ocelot is very much a mother-son one, heavily hinting at their relationship (which neither is actually aware of) as The Boss disciplines Ocelot on a few occasions.
As for the last main character, EVA is an interesting character with quite a few dimensions to her. She is a rather capable spy, utilizing her feminine charms to gather intel, get close to her enemies and play people off of each other to get to her objectives. She is also a great motorcycle driver and a good shot with her Type-17 pistol. The only problem with this is the constant fan service whenever she is on-screen… some people have retroactively claimed that no one cared that EVA was baring skin in Snake Eater, but this is simply not true. It has always bothered me, even before I became a feminist. Every time she shows up, she zips her shirt down to her navel and then walks around with her cleavage bared. Luckily, there is some reasonable justification for this, as she is trying to seduce Snake, although this is a rather unsubtle way to go about this. This explanation also doesn’t explain why she never zips up her shirt when she probably should, such as during the motorcycle chase at the end of the game (it’s gonna be drafty, EVA!). It really just feels like fan service more than a real explanation, and it’s just embarrassingly transparent that this is the real point of her character design. However, considering the 60s spy movie aesthetic, it’s not entirely out of place, and the fact that there is some sort of justification at all makes EVA one of the more forgivable “titillating” female characters in the franchise.
All-in-all, I find the narrative of Snake Eater to be arguably the most engaging in the entire franchise. By travelling to the past and essentially getting a clean slate to work with, Kojima crafts a story which is enjoyable to even people unfamiliar to the series. While the game’s themes aren’t as deep as those in Sons of Liberty, the game more than makes up for this by having a much more enjoyable and coherent narrative and extremely fun gameplay that isn’t constantly broken up by cutscenes… which, when it comes down to it, is important in its own right. Snake Eater is a rock-solid game all in pretty much every department, so the fact that it isn’t quite as deep thematically as Sons of Liberty is practically a non-issue, as its own themes are tied into a very engaging and well-crafted narrative.
I have always gotten the distinct sense that Snake Eater was overlooked at the time of its initial release. Sons of Liberty was such a controversial release that it dampened a lot of enthusiasm for the Metal Gear franchise: while Sons of Liberty sold over 7 million copies, Snake Eater only managed around 4 million on its initial release. I can remember back around 2008 that “best of Metal Gear” lists usually cited Metal Gear Solid and Sons of Liberty as being the two best games in the franchise. Ever since the HD edition re-release though, I have noticed an increasing trend as more and more people seem to have begun to acknowledge that Snake Eater is the best game in the franchise. Honestly, it’s an assessment that I have been harping ever since I first played – Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is the best game in the whole franchise, and it is my personal favourite game of all time. Even after this, possibly my 10th completion of the game, I was still having an absolute blast and the narrative’s emotional beats were still resonating with me, more than ever. If you haven’t played it before, then I would implore you to do so!
*This would later be retconned in Peace Walker to be a cover story for chronological reasons. If she went into space and then partook in the Bay of Pigs Invasion, then she would have had less than 5 days to recover from her violent re-entry. I’m not sure if this was just an oversight on Kojima’s part or if he had originally intended for The Boss’s space flight to be prior to 1961.