Publisher: Konami | Developer: Konami | System: PS2 | Genre: Action
First impressions are a dangerous thing. I was right up for Snake Eater and indeed spent almost ?100 to get my PS2 chipped so that I could import the US version, only to end up hating it. In this case hate is really not too strong a word because I played a few hours and just refused to touch it again. The controls were cluttered, and taking away the radar system while moving away from the right-angled corridors of the previous games felt like a big mistake.
Moving a few paces before having to switch to the first-person mode to see what was coming, only to be spotted by a guard who happened to be behind a tree is not fun and soon becomes an exercise in frustration. When I?d come off the superb Splinter Cell Chaos Theory, a stealth game without a 3D camera couldn?t help but feel like it was straight out of 1998.
While Subsistence still has many of the same flaws, none of them are as crippling as the camera problems which it thankfully solves. The vestigial right stick is put to good use by allowing completely free rotation of the camera and giving back the spatial awareness that any super-spy needs to do his job. Most of the other additions are relatively throwaway as in MGS: Integral and MGS2: Substance and, with the possible exception of a multiplayer mode that now finds itself plagued with hacks and griefers, are of little importance. They’re certainly not such fundamental improvements.
I stand by my conviction that the Splinter Cell series does stealth better than Metal Gear, but where Kojima is untouchable is in his eye for the cinematic. While it suffers from a tendency to be overly verbose in the sheer volume of exposition, the quality of the cut scenes is easily up there with some of the best that Hollywood has to offer. It maintains an edge of surrealism while simultaneously preaching on the futility of war and the plight of the individual soldier. Full credit for never lapsing too much into the didactic while managing a really emotional denouement, especially knowing what we do about the future of the character.
The main new gameplay addition that MGS3 brought was the CQC – close-quarters combat – system, allowing some fairly complex manipulation of hostiles without having to resort to the familiar punch-punch-kick combo of old. That’s still here, but it’s rendered obsolete when with the use of one button allows for techniques as varied as chokeholds, slit throats, broken necks, and human shields. Even dragging enemies out of the way and interrogating them can yield useful information. Other than that, the fundamentals are the same as MGS3: still cluttered and in need of renovation, but acceptable once mastered. The token boss fights range from mildly annoying at one extreme to downright innovative at the other.
Graphically this is one of the strongest games on the PS2, with solid character models that animate realistically and a convincing jungle that pushes the hardware far more than the angular man-made environments that filled the previous games. It does remarkably well with it, rarely dropping frames to a noticeable extent, and even managing to look good on an HDTV in 4:3 without support for progressive scan. Sound design is probably even stronger, with a superb Harry Gregson-Williams score backed up with generally good voice acting (David Hayter’s Snake is the weakest link in my book) and excellent use of Pro Logic surround sound. The James Bond spoof that is the opening ‘Snake Eater’ song is a work of genius.
When I finally finished off Operation Snake Eater I found that there was rarely a moment in the game that I hadn?t thoroughly enjoyed. With my one major complaint excised for Subsistence the numerous virtues that the game possesses were able to shine through, showing the game to really be one of the strongest action games of recent years, not to mention one of the great games from the PS2’s twilight. The additions are of debateable importance to all but the most ardent of fans, but those put off by the anachronisms in Snake Eater?s gameplay may find this second attempt more palatable.