Review: Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D (Nintendo 3DS)

Reviewed by Harold Morris, posted Mar 21, 2012
The Metal Gear series of games have always held a warm place in my heart ever since I played MGS1 on the PSone years ago. Their mix of stealth, action and well-scripted cinematics set a new benchmark for what could be accomplished in a game. For me, Solid Snake has still yet to be dethroned as the ultimate archetypal video game and action movie hero, even though almost fifteen years since his first modern day outing have passed. So whenever I learn of a new outing for Snake, whether an original one or a remake, I am always excited and eager to play it.
Mar 21, 2012
  • Release Date (NA): March 9, 2012
  • Publisher: Konami
  • Genres: stealth action
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
Set in the 1960's during the Cold War in the jungles of Soviet Russia, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a prequel which sees you play out the prophetic journey exploring the origins of Solid Snake. Your mission is to single-handedly infiltrate the jungle and military bases contained within it to rescue a scientist. He is being forced against his will to develop a self-contained mobile nuclear launch platform called the "Shagohod", which could trigger a third world war. Commanded by the maniacal Colonel Volgin, you must face not only his entire renegade army, but also your former mentor, The Boss, and her elite unit of freakish super soldiers known as the Cobras.
Harold Morris
The Metal Gear Solid series of games have always been held in high regard by gamers, including myself. An amalgamation of both film and gaming, many consider them to be the epitome of interactive digital entertainment. So when it was announced that Nintendo's 3DS would get its own remake of Metal Gear Solid 3, to say that people were excited over the prospect of it would be an understatement. Why pick MGS 3 over MGS1 or 2 though? Despite being the third game in the modern series, MGS 3 is where the Metal Gear saga truly begins. It's a prequel to the series that lays the groundwork for the other games (which are set far later), and explains the origins of not just Solid Snake, but Big Boss too.

So as this is a prequel, set in the 1960's, you don't actually play as Solid Snake but rather his predecessor Naked Snake. However this does not mean it is any less a Metal Gear Solid game. It does not feel diluted or lacking in any way. Snake feels the same as he did in any of the previous games, and also you still have access to a variety of cool gadgets and weapons throughout your adventure.

Equally the story does not suffer either, and in fact the story and narrative in MGS 3 is probably my favorite in the series. All of the characters are just as colorful and "out there" as you would expect, and super powered, super natural enemies are the order of the day. As always, it is up to Snake to stop them and save the world almost single handedly. If he fails, nothing less than a third world war will be the result.

Some of the jolly fellows you will encounter on your adventures, are they friends? Are they foes? Is that a rocket in his hands or is he just pleased to see you?

MGS 3 is a stealth action game. Your priority for the most part is to remain undetected by enemies, and there are various ways to do so. The main method, which is unique to MGS 3, is the use of camouflage. Snake has access to various different types of camo which are suited to different environments. Maintaining a high camo index is a juggling act as the terrain and environments around you change constantly. You can hide in nooks and crannies, climb up trees, distract guards by knocking bee hives onto them, hide in cardboard boxes and lockers, use disguises, and even use fake death pills to fool your pursuers. The methods and tricks available at your disposal are truly vast.

Despite your best efforts, you will be detected many times and be forced to engage the enemy. Luckily you have a plethora of weapons at your disposal -- tranquilizer guns, pistols, shotguns, machine guns, sniper rifles, rocket launchers, grenades and even mines. You can be as creative as you wish when it comes to killing enemies -- even fighting them hand to hand.

The majority of the time you will be up against squads of soldiers and  guard dogs  who all look the same. The real variety exists in the boss fights, and MGS 3 is not short of those. All are unique and require a different method in order to beat. Your boss battles can vary from fighting "The Pain", who commands and is covered in hornets, to fighting "Colonel Volgin" -- who conducts electricity like an electric eel and can cause any weapon you are holding to discharge its rounds before you can even get a shot off at him.

MGS 3 is also unique amongst the series because it has both survival and surgery elements. Snake must constantly feed in order to maintain his stamina, and he does this by living off the land. Pretty much any creature you see he can eat, and if your stamina levels fall too low Snake is affected. His stomach can rumble, which actually alerts enemies to his presence, and his aim becomes less steady. Any injuries you pick up you must treat, otherwise your health will deteriorate. The process is pretty straight forward and intuitive; it involves things like digging out bullets from gunshot wounds, treating burns, stitching cuts and setting broken bones into splints.

The locations you encounter in the game are also fairly varied and aren't limited to just the jungle as some may think. You have to infiltrate military bases, make your way out of caves and travel up mountain passes. This in a nutshell is what you would expect from MGS 3, no matter what system you play it on. Does the 3DS version have anything unique to offer? Are there parts of it that are better or worse than other versions? To begin on a positive note, lets explore the good.

The Good

The first thing that will strike you shortly after loading up MGS 3D is the quality of the actual 3D effect. The sense of depth throughout is often impressive, even with the 3D slider only half way up. Ghosting is minimal but does occur on occasion. Compared to some other games I have played though, it is negligible. The next thing that you will notice is the excellent quality of the audio. The sound effects are rich and the use of the stereo speakers is faultless. You can hear the jungle all around you and everything is clear and defined. Speech, music and sound effects are all as good as can be.

The next noteworthy addition is the use of the 3DS bottom screen. It acts as a menu, map and status indicator. I was especially pleased to see a map permanently on the bottom left of the screen. One of my main gripes about MGS 3, for both the PS2 and in the HD collection, was that you had to stop play to access the map having it always present helps the gameplay flow a lot better. Having your status displayed on the bottom screen leaves the top almost completely clear of clutter, with the exception of your aiming reticule. Your health, injury and stamina statuses are tucked at the top of the screen along with your camouflage index, so they are easy to check at a glance.

The touch interface is constantly displayed on the bottom screen. This saves you from having to stop the game and navigating lengthy menus like in the other versions. Everything you need to manage Snake is just a touch away. You can change camouflage, perform battlefield surgery, eat food, switch weapons from your backpack, and access a more detailed map efficiently. The lack of R2 and L2 buttons is compensated by the use of the left and right d-pad for quick weapon switching. The d-pad also controls crouch, reloading and performing context sensitive actions.

Another nice addition, which is exclusive to the 3DS is a photo camouflage capability. You can take pictures using the 3DS camera and crop them so that they can be used as camouflage for Snake to wear. I didn't extensively test this feature due to a lack of time, but it is straightforward enough to use. I couldn't find any camouflage that was better than what was available by default, but I am sure with trial and error you could.

Other than that, the core MGS 3 game mechanics remain intact and work just as well as they always did. Sneaking, using camo and hunting for food are all relatively unchanged apart from the much appreciated inclusion of a crouch walking ability. Also, and mercifully, the length of the alert phases have been substantially reduced from those found in the console versions of the game. I always found them excruciatingly long -- a full 90 seconds where you had to hide in a locker, cardboard box or some undergrowth and wait for it to end. This has been cut down to around 30 seconds in this version, and I am relieved it was.

The Bad And The Ugly

So all seems well and good in the world of MGS 3D, right? Sadly no. For all the nice additions to the game that can be found in this version I found its faults did not just negate that good work, they almost obliterated it. I will start with the least annoying first, and that is the inclusion of a balance meter that you get in some parts of the game. When crossing a rope bridge, a narrow beam or branch, a 3DS with a balance meter appears (as can be seen in the top left thumbnail), the 3D effect is turned off, and you have to tilt the 3DS in order for Snake to keep his balance. This wouldn't be so bad if Snake could walk more than three paces without toppling over like an 80 year old woman. Take my word for it, this gets very irritating very quickly.

Next up on the list of gripes is the inconsistency in the textures and graphics. Sometimes the game can look far superior to its PS2 counterpart -- and I mean exceedingly pretty. On other occasions it seems like the textures were taken straight out of a PSone game. Coupled with a severe lack of anti-aliasing, especially in the jungle areas, and you have a jaggy, low rez mess before you at times. Along with this are frame rate issues, mainly in the cut scenes, so at times you feel like you are watching a veritable slideshow instead instead of a cut scene. I am not joking here, at times the framerate seems to get pushed down to single digits, but then at other times it's fine. I find it hard to believe that Konami would release MGS 3 in this state, especially considering the claim that it was "built from the ground up" for the 3DS.

The 3DS display itself is a problem as well. After spending so much time playing the game it struck me as really evident that MGS 3 was just never intended to be on such a small and relatively low resolution screen. Enemies even a fair distance away are almost microscopic in size. Think you can get a head shot? Good luck distinguishing one brown pixel from the brown pixelated background.  I also found that the small size of the 3DS screen takes away a lot of the impact from the cinematics. Sure they are still entertaining, but something is definitely missing from them.

Now for one of my most major gripes, the controls. Using the face buttons to aim is horrible. Any enemy who is further than ten feet away is approximately two pixels wide, so getting head shots or even hitting the broad side of a barn is almost impossible. Even when an enemy is up close to you shooting is a chore. The initial rotation speed is so slow you will more than likely soak up a shot or two before you hit them, and quick reflexive head shots when you are surprised are out of the question. I found it far less tedious and easier to just run up to groups of soldiers and slit their throats instead of floundering around trying to shoot them. A touch of auto aim would have helped considerably. Unfortunately the only auto aim option you have completely removes your ability to target, and what's worse is that the auto aim only focuses on body shots -- so it's pretty much completely redundant.

Near the end of the game, the screen, framerate and control issues all meld together to play a concerto of failure. One of the most iconic and exciting set pieces in video game history becomes completely ruined. I am talking about the bike chase sections of MGS 3. The frame rate is pitiful for the majority of it that hitting anything is a miracle. The soldiers on bikes chasing you are tiny and bouncing all over the place. A lot of the time it's also distinctly blurry, so much so that you can barely distinguish anything around you. Now I found this to be the worst example of MGS 3's problems. As I said, for the majority of the game these issues are far more tolerable. However, this is the BEST part of the game, it is completely butchered, and I really cant forgive Konami for it.

"BUT THE CIRCLE PAD PRO", the fanboys cry, "THE GAME IS FINE WITH THAT!" I am actually getting a CPP soon, and I will amend this review with my experience with it. Here's the thing though, my final gripe about MGS 3DS, and that's value for money. If MGS 3D came with the CPP included for its current retail price of £30, I would have been far more kind with my final scores for it. For £28 I can get the HD collection which includes two extra games on the PS3 and 360 and has none of the problems that this version does. How is this premium price justified? Sure you have a few nice additions that you can only see on the 3DS, but as I said, the fundamental failings of the game negate them. Make no mistake, the CPP is essential to fully enjoy this game. Why should anyone pay a premium for that? No extra content is included, no VR type missions that would have been more suited to a portable game, not even the MSX versions. I feel that anyone who buys MGS 3 on the 3DS is getting screwed.


The Conclusion

MGS 3D is tough to score, because at its core its still Metal Gear 3, and therefore is still a classic. If you can look past the extortionate price, its glaring technical faults and the fact that it was never really intended for a portable platform, you still have a great game. It has some of the best storytelling, the best boss battles, the best characters and the best set pieces ever seen in a game. It is also a fairly lengthy adventure by todays standards -- you should easily get 15+ hours out of it if you don't skip any cut scenes. If you are a completist and want to explore everything then it could last you twice as long. If you have never played MGS 3 and don't have a PS3, PS2 or 360 I will grudgingly recommend this to you, so long as you can find it for at least a 30% discount on the RRP. If you have the option, I'd recommend getting the HD collection instead

Circle Pad Pro Update

One of my major gripes about this version of MGS 3 was the poor aiming and camera controls. I recently acquired and have tested out the game with the Circle Pad Pro, and I am pleased to say it does improve things vastly. General camera controls and aiming are far less fiddly with it for the most part, if you get surprised by an enemy you have a far better chance of pulling off that crucial headshot which saves you from going into an alert phase. Also once you connect the CPP the face buttons become freed up for things like context sensitive actions and crouching, usually these are mapped to the D-Pad, and with the CPP you have the option of using either. Also the CPP's extra R button is used for weapons switching, which before would have been on the D-Pad also, so with the CPP you have those extra control options at your disposal.

However all is not rosy for MGS 3D even with the Circle Pad Pro. At times the aiming can feel rather floaty, and far less sharp and responsive than the controls of Resident Evil Revelations. So I still often found myself adjusting my aim before taking a shot far more than I would expect. As I also said in the review above another problem with the game is the size of the enemies when they are at any sort of distance. An enemy even fifteen or so feet away is tiny, with their head being only a few pixels in size, so the fact that the CPP's controls are slightly loose means you will still often miss a shot. But things get worse in the more taxing parts of the game when the frame rate drops. Along with being loose, there is also minor, but yet noticeable input lag, which makes things even more tricky and preserves the frustration factor I experienced while playing.

So yes, the CPP does improve things a lot for the most part and you will definitely enjoy the game far more and be less frustrated with it. But several issues still persist, which although minor and infrequent for the most part, will still niggle away and annoy you at times. Its sad that I still have something negative to say about the controls of this game even with the CPP. I was hoping it would be a magic bullet to the issues it suffers, but unfortunately it still remains flawed, which is a shame.

+ Good sense of depth from the 3D with limited ghosting
+ Intuitive touch screen menu interface
+ Good sound effects
+ Entertaining plot and cut scenes
+ Brief load times between different areas
+ Photo camouflage feature is a nice addition
+ It's Snake dammit!
+ It's not MGS 4
- Frequent frame rate issues in the cut scenes
- Noticeable low resolution textures in places
- Lack of anti-alialising
- Aiming with the face buttons can be a pain
- Lack of extra content (VR missions etc)
- Unsuited for a portable platform
- Poor value for money compared to the HD versions
7 Presentation
MGS 3D is a mixed bag in terms of presentation. One section or cut scene can look great, while another can be a choppy low resolution mess. The quality of the audio really impressed me throughout, and the touch screen menu interface is faultless. Of course, the actual cinematography within the game is just as compelling as it was ten years ago. However the glaring technical problems which persist through the game are bad enough for me to dock a couple of points.
7 Gameplay
The gameplay mechanics are as solid as they ever were, however using the face buttons to aim and for the camera at times caused me real problems and is one of my biggest gripes with this version of MGS 3. At times a quick precise headshot with a tranquilliser can save you minutes of running and floundering around. Such reflexive accuracy is just not possible with the face buttons. A touch of auto aim would have helped things considerably in this regard, however the only auto aim option you have completely removes your ability to manually aim, and the auto aim seems to only focus on an enemies body. Unless you are being swarmed by enemies and are going for killshots this will hinder you more than it will help you.
7 Lasting Appeal
If you have never played MGS 3 before and don't skip any cut scenes or radio conversations you are facing a solid 15+ hours of gameplay at least. Which by modern standards is considerable. However a lack of extra content more tailored to a portable platform, things like short VR missions and so on makes me question how much longevity MGS 3D will hold for the average person.
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
MGS 3D is a really tough game to score. Fundamentally and at its core its a classic game, however various technical faults present in this version really dragged it down for me. The notorious frame rate issues, control issues, the fact that its just downright poor value for money compared to what you get for the same price with the HD collections all makes it a tough game to recommend as a must buy. Is MGS 3 great? Yes it is. Is this the greatest version of MGS 3 you can get for the premium price you are expected to pay? No it's not. It's the worst version, but still a solid 7.5.


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