The next chapter in the Metal Gear series takes a step back to recollect, taking the story in the direction of a 60’s spy thriller. The old story is told on a new stage with new characters, and a lot of changes are to be found. Once again a rookie agent is dropped into enemy territory to sneak his way into a heavily defended stronghold, defeat a gaggle of eccentric super-soldiers, and destroy the enemy’s ultimate weapon before they can take over the world.
A New Beginning
Prequel to the sequel – While this is technically a prequel, it sidesteps the usual problems of a known ending stifling story and character development by looking at not so much how the events of the original Metal Gear happened but why. I’m not gonna say what all exactly transpires here but I will say the protagonist goes through some serious trials and by the end I support the general idea of what he goes on to do.
Hide in plain sight – The new camo and health systems that are later fully realized in MGS4 do a pretty good job of improving the game here. In addition to keeping out of line of sight you can now render yourself nearly invisible with wise camo application. It’s a bit odd to consider that you’re somehow changing out of and into over a dozen outfits but it’s also a lot of fun to slink around like a snake in the grass as soldiers obliviously walk right by you. The change in focus to camo rather than just on positioning also means most areas are best passed by hiding and waiting for the right time to move rather than swiftly running about to dodge vision cones. The health system is now split into health and stamina, the latter of which concerns the regeneration of the former. It’s also a nice touch that your health and stamina regenerate a bit when you shut the game off for awhile, so there’s much less danger of getting stuck in an unwinnable save log.
New tricks – The soliton radar isn’t around this time, but instead you get a neat variety of 60’s spy gadgets. Many of said gadgets wear down with use or have some sort of risk, requiring you to think on whether to use a gadget or try to rough it. The new CQC system, while a bit of a workout on the fingers, greatly expands combat options and makes it possible to fight and run at the same time so getting spotted doesn’t end it all.
New faces – The boss battles are top notch yet again. The eclectic bunch are interesting to fight, especially the one you have to track across three sectors of jungle terrain. For the most part they’re couched in that generally-plausible-but-spiced-with-awesome method of 60’s super spies. Yes, there is a boss who is covered in bees, and his special attack is to cover you in bees. But mind also that he once covered nazis in bees for freedom. The support crew is a little less interesting this time around, but at least they’re never annoying and there’s some fun messages to be found if you call the right people at the right time.
Patching things up – In addition to laying out the backstory to the original Metal Gear, MGS3 makes a noble attempt to sort out some of the bizarre developments in the rest of the series, especially MGS2. It’s everything a prequel should be really, enhancing the existing series rather than devaluing it.
What’s with that stance?
As you know, Bob… – The cutscene abuse in this one is fairly benign, far better than in 2 but not as concise as in 1. It gets better as the game goes on, but they dump an awful lot of exposition on you right at the start of the game to set up the backstory between the protagonist and his mentor among other things. The first time I played it I found it more enthralling because I wanted to soak up all the story the game had to offer, but this gets a bit dull on later playthroughs. MGS1 had the right idea with the briefing tapes. A lot of the opening rambles should have either been woven into the narrative over time or kept off to the side for optional consumption.
Hurry up and wait – The cure system is a neat idea in theory but in execution it’s rather flow-breaking. When you get really roughed up you may get some extra injury like a broken arm or something, which puts a red cap on your health bar that won’t regenerate until you go fix it with the cure menu. This requires individually applying various treatments, so in the case of a particularly nasty knife wound for example you’d need to go apply styptic, then disinfectant, then sutures, then a bandage. In rough boss fights this can happen quite a lot, pulling you out of the excitement of the rather stellar battles.
Metal Gear Offline – There used to be a multiplayer component that wasn’t stellar by any stretch but it was a good bit of fun. There was the usual deathmatch and capture the flag tomfoolery, but also some interesting stuff like a mode where eight people hunt one. I also liked that camo matters in multiplayer and you become various degrees of transparent if your clothing blends in with the area properly. This is all moot however because the online servers for Metal Gear Online are no more. This is to be expected for a game getting on in years, but it would’ve been nice if they’d left a LAN option. Mostly this sticks in my craw because I was the only one I knew who had the game for years and then I convinced a friend of mine to get it and we thought the online mode was the bees’ knees and we were all gonna get it and the next day the servers get shut down. The very next day. Oy.
Point and shoot – Metal Gear still lacks a decent shooting mechanic. This is largely by design: a) it encourages you to sneak about rather than shooting everybody, and b) Kojima designed the games this way because 3d makes him dizzy. There’s still echoes of the old top-down-thinking gameplay design, meaning that the ability to see long distances and shoot people in the face from outside their field of vision is a very powerful strategy. Likewise the bosses are far easier to take down with carefully placed headshots, especially if you’re trying to tag them with the tranq gun for the unlockables.
Watch your step – This last point only applies to the first release rather than the upgraded Subsistance, in which the only camera option is the overhead one. You can slide the camera around a bit with the right stick, but many of the sectors have some very wide open areas with very long sight lines. With the re-release’s fancy modern 3d camera you can see where you’re going much better, but if all you can track down is the original this will be a bit of a pain. If at all possible, go Subsistence.
The Final Word
This entry tries a lot of new ideas and succeeds at almost all of them. I dig the story (which now has more to say than just ‘nukes are bad’) and the gameplay is good solid stealthy fun. One might fault that it’s not quite as breezy as MGS1 or 2; I feel like I have to make more of a time investment when I want to replay this title. By the same token however, I can’t think of a part of the game that I dread replaying (I can think of at least three in MGS2). I’ll also note that if this is your first time through the series you may want to play these by release order rather than by their chronological order in the timeline, else the plethora of tactical options will jar with the jump back to what we had to work with back in the PS1 days. Overall, good story, good gameplay, good secret stuff to find and try out on repeat playthroughs, and a member of the small collection of what I consider the greatest games ever made. I can’t wait to play it again on the 3DS.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence was played on and is exclusive to the Playstation 2 (for now). Initial retail price was $49.99; average retail price at time of review is around $20.00 for the stand-alone game. MGS3:S is included in the Metal Gear Solid: Essentials collection for an average of $30.00, but this version does not include the second disc with the really neat bonus features. The ESRB has rated this game M for Mature for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language, and Sexual Themes. Metal Gear Solid 3 is developed and published by Konami Computer Entertainment Japan and Kojima Productions. All copyrights are property of their respective owners.
Bonus: the posters heading the Final Word for the reviews of MGS1 and MGS3 are done by one Noriyoshi Ohrai, who appears to specialize in face-meltingly awesome epic movie-lookin posters. Definitely go google that guy.