Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Top 50 Games - 18. Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence

Just to get this out of the way quickly: I was wondering whether to pick Snake Eater or Subsistence, since I originally played the former, but I ultimately opted for Subsistence since its much-improved camera greatly enhances the original game, not to mention its bevy of extra content. Now, about Metal Gear Solid 3. What we have here is considered by quite a few folks to be Kojima's greatest creation; the perfect synthesis of newfangled cinematic ambition and good-old-fashioned game design, the one Metal Gear entry that truly fulfills the promise of the original concept. A few fans were also slightly disappointed upon the game's 2004 release, myself somehow among them. While MGS3 is certainly not my favorite Metal Gear, I love it much more now than I did back when I first played it. It is one of those rare games that seems to get better the more I play it and think about it. Chronologically a prequel to every other game in the series, MGS3 takes place during the hottest era of the Cold War, in 1964. It also abandons the cold grays and blues of past Metal Gear bases with the wild and verdant Russian jungle. The setting is refreshing and Kojima takes advantage of it: codac conversations with your support team's medic reference movies like Godzilla, and the forest environment is rife with immersive detail, much of it able to be interacted with by Snake (who in this installment is actually a young Big Boss). Snake can climb trees and hang from branches while shooting a sidearm, trip enemy booby traps that are hidden in the vegetation, and hunt wild animals to replenish his stamina. The camouflage and stamina systems add a nice survival element to the gameplay, and the environs (coupled with the lack of a radar) make stealth tactics even more nuanced and necessary. The vintage 60's gadgetry is great, too, from sonar to the fake death pill. With its complex control scheme, improved AI, unpredictable environment, and amusing technologies, MGS3 is the most enjoyable tactical espionage action sandbox in the series. Nearly every location in the game can play host to ridiculously cool scenarios due to the game's stunning sophistication. Press and hold square near a guard to get him in a chokehold. From here you can knock him unconscious by tapping square repeatedly, throw him to the ground violently by pressing square and moving the left analogue stick, or cut his throat by pressing down hard on the same button. You can throw grenades into the mouths of alligators, shoot a beehive down onto the head of an unsuspecting sentry, and poison enemies with rotten meat. Snake likes some food more than others and lets you know, there's a built-in system for manually curing his wounds (in here you can burn leeches off with your cigar), if you let the game over screen run too long, the words SNAKE IS DEAD will become TIME PARADOX. The level of authored and emergent detail on display here is lightyears beyond what other developers even attempt to offer. It truly boggles the mind, and it is present at every point in the game. Nowhere, though, is the craftsmanship and creativity of Kojima and his team more apparent than in Metal Gear Solid 3's now-legendary boss fights. You know how I mentioned poisoning enemies with rotten food? Every boss has a stamina bar like yours, and one them, The Fear, needs to scour around for sustenance mid-battle to restore it. That's right: throw some decomposing rabbit on the ground, and he'll scarf it up, only to realize that his voracity doomed him to a humiliating death. Many people make a big deal about the game's final boss (aptly named The Boss), and for good reason. The fight is beautiful, taking place in a field of white lilies, and it calls on every skill you've learned to take down the woman who taught them to you. As good as that climactic duel is, the best boss fight in the game, and my favorite of all time, is Snake's encounter with a very old sniper called The End. The battle plays out in three large jungle areas full of interesting terrain and tactical points of interest. The End is well-camouflaged and often perched high on some grassy cliff, making it difficult to see him. He sees you, though, and although he is only using tranquilizer rounds (which lower your stamina and drain light from the screen), you feel hunted in a way you've likely never felt before. To best him you need to make use of every gadget and tactic available to you. You can use the directional microphone to zero in on his heavy breathing and the map to determine his last known position. You can sneak up on him, he can sneak up on you, you can kill his beloved parrot (his painfully enraged reaction is terrifying), he can regain life energy from beams of sunlight, and you can let him die of old age by turning your system's clock forward seven days. It is the perfect video game battle, sprawling and epic, deeply immersive, and suffused with memorable details, be they humorous or horrifying. As for the story, I'll call it the least stupid in the series (don't get me wrong, I love these tales) and not go into more detail than that. A humorous and surreal covert affair that's packed full of creative details, ingenious flourishes, and memorable moments, Metal Gear Solid 3 is easily one of the most treasured games in my collection.

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