Not content to let Nintendo hog all the 3D remake fun, Konami is stepping in with a portable update of their own. This time, the game in question is Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, the beloved prequel to the entire Metal Gear saga. One of the original tech demos on display when the 3DS was initially unveiled two years past, Snake Eater has been given a full fledged release on Nintendo’s handheld.
At its core, Snake Eater 3D is a pixel-for-pixel port of the original title, featuring all the stealth and sneaking skullduggery of the game you know and love. In addition, the re-release features a number of enhancements, the most obvious being the updated 3D visuals. Of course, the port to a handheld has meant that Konami has had to make a number of concessions as well.
Do these changes make it worthwhile to reenlist with the FOX Unit? Hit the break to find out.
Let’s be frank here: Snake Eater 3D is a remake of arguably the best entry in the Metal Gear series, not to mention one of the most highly regarded games of all time. That being said, the core game still stacks up after all these years, and the elements that survived the transition to the 3DS are incredibly high quality.
Serving as a prequel to the rest of the saga, the player takes on the role of Naked Snake, Solid Snake’s genetic father and the man who would one day become Big Boss. Set during the 1960’s with a distinct Cold War era spy motif, Snake must sneak behind enemy lines in the USSR to prevent a rogue group’s aspirations of acquiring a long-range nuclear weapons platform and igniting thermonuclear war.
The game’s plot is absolutely fantastic. Befitting its spy-thriller theme, Snake Eater is full of twists, turns, and double crosses. Despite its reliance on cutscenes and extended transceiver conversations, Snake Eater remains interesting to the very last plot twist. This is accomplished through a set of interesting characters that grow on you quickly, thanks in no small part to an excellent cast of voice actors, whose work remains untarnished in the port.
Snake Eater features the same sneaking and stealth-based gameplay the series is known for, with the industrial settings of previous entries dropped in favor of an expansive jungle environment. You’ll still do a fair bit of skulking around corridors and base interiors, but the bulk of the action takes place out in the wild.
To this end, a number of survival-style elements come into play to simulate being on your own in the hostile wilderness. Snake can become afflicted with various injuries – gunshot wounds, broken bones, even diseases. Each affliction requires Snake to perform a medical procedure on himself or sacrifice a portion of his health until it heals naturally. To do this, you’ll have to procure medical supplies and use them in the right scenarios – a bandage isn’t going to be much help for removing the venom from a snakebite. It’s a fun mechanic that makes you properly manage your resources, and the ability to quickly access it through the touch screen is a godsend.
Beyond keeping Snake healthy, you can increase your survivability by being proactive about your camouflage. Suiting the jungle theme, you can swap out Snake’s duds for more appropriate colors that allow you to better blend in with the environment. The 3DS offers an additional feature on this front: using the 3DS camera, you can snap a photo and use it to make a texture for Snake to wear as camo. The game will analyze the colors in the photo and adjust Snake’s camo index accordingly. It’s fun for a few minutes, but ultimately, the feature is a giant gimmick that you’ll soon forget about. Still, if you ever wanted to see what Big Boss would look like covered in Nyan Cats, now’s your chance.
In addition to sneaking around, Snake will often be pitted up against a number of legendary boss battles, which serve as the highlight of the game. Some of these fights have a surprising amount of depth, and you can always glean tips and advice for fighting them by talking to your various contacts via transceiver, which has also been given easy touch-screen access. Your companions have a lot to say, and the quality voice work makes it a joy to listen to their conversations.
Unfortunately, Snake Eater 3D is far from a perfect port, and that becomes evident the moment you gain control of Snake. Major sacrifices had to be made adapting the controls to the 3DS, and the results are less than ideal. Movement is performed with the Circle Pad, while the face buttons control your camera. The controls for interaction, equipment swapping, and stance changing are all mapped to the D-Pad. Yes, it’s every bit as awkward as it sounds.
Thankfully, the game supports the Circle Pad Pro, which alleviates a good bit of these control problems, but doesn’t fix them entirely. Camera control falls to the right Circle Pad, freeing up the face buttons to perform their intended functions. Equipment swapping falls to the shoulder buttons, with the accessory’s extra set mapped to aiming and shooting. Despite its cumbersome appearance, the Circle Pad Pro actually feels quite comfortable in practice. Unfortunately, the game seems to have been designed largely under the assumption that you’ll be playing with it, and the default control scheme just doesn’t cut it. If you’re playing without the accessory, consider this review to be an entire star lower.
Even though the Circle Pad Pro essentially gives you the same number of buttons as a PlayStation 2 controller, Konami has seen fit to rearrange the controls from the original, with somewhat mixed results. Raising your weapon and firing are handled with the shoulder buttons, which is an improvement.
However, rather than being able to quickly slip from traditional auto-aim to first-person with a button toggle, an additional over-the-shoulder third-person aiming mode has been added that feels largely out of place. Even worse, you’re forced to cycle through the three aiming modes by pressing a face button, which feels awkward and kills the quick transition to first-person for precise aiming. Going into first-person mode centers your view on where Snake is looking rather than where your camera is pointed, which further complicates the process and makes quick aiming exceedingly difficult. At least Snake can now move while in first person mode, which is a small improvement, but doesn’t make up for the awkwardness of the aiming scheme.
Control isn’t the only place where the title stumbles – the visuals in Snake Eater 3D are inconsistent at best. When the game is firing on all cylinders, the graphics are downright impressive: textures are decently detailed, the environments are immersive, and character models are expressive. However, the framerate has a tendency to dive quite frequently, especially during cutscenes and intense firefights. The former isn’t too much of a concern, but it is a bit jarring. The latter, however, makes firing any sort of automatic weapon feel awkward. It’s difficult to aim precisely – even with the circle pad – when the action starts to jitter. As if to compensate, Konami added labeled circles of various colors to indicate feedback when an attack strikes an enemy, shifting the focus of gun battles from precision aiming into “spray until you start to see red rings.”
As far as the 3D effect goes, this is another mixed bag. Most of the environments look quite good in 3D, and it does help add a layer of immersion. It’s especially fun to watch the game’s many cinematic moments unfold with the enhanced effect. Sadly, the game doesn’t seem to make any real effort to utilize the 3D in any significant way. Frustratingly, the 3D effect is disabled during first-person aiming – one of the places where an ability to better gauge depth would have been incredibly useful. One might think this was a clever way to represent the actual sight provided by Big Boss’s signature eyepatch, except that the effect is present the whole game, long before Snake dons his signature accessory. Whether this is a problem with the port or a technical limitation of the 3DS itself, it’s definitely unfortunate.
The sound design, however, has not suffered in the least. In addition to the aforementioned quality voice acting, the game is filled with wonderful ambient noises and satisfying weapon sounds. Stalking around through the jungle will fill your ears with all the immersive noises you’d expect from such an environment, and the sound quality is quite high. This is all capped off by an impressive musical score, from the famous “Snake Eater” theme to driving compositions during action sequences.
Ultimately, however, a recommendation of Snake Eater 3D comes down to value. The game contains virtually none of the additional content provided in Metal Gear Solid 3’s 2006 re-release, Subsistence. It also has the misfortune of releasing several months after the Metal Gear Solid HD collection, which contains not only Metal Gear Solid 3 and all of its Subsistence content, it’s also bundled with 4 other complete Metal Gear games… all for the same price tag as Snake Eater 3D. That’s a hard sell for non-definitive version of MGS3, portable though it may be.
Of course, if you decide that having a 3D version of Naked Snake’s mission on a handheld justifies the price and the tradeoffs the game makes in the name of a portable port, then it’s not as if there isn’t a lot to like about Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D. Though sacrifices were made, at the end of the day, this is still a version of one of the greatest games ever made that you can take with you wherever you go. And that’s definitely worth something.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater 3D was released on February 21st, 2012 for the Nintendo 3DS.