"When Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D was announced for the 3DS, many people wondered how it was going to work on a platform the original Metal Gear Solid 3 clearly wasn’t designed for. Once the Metal Gear Solid HD collection was announced for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, the question changed from “how?” to “why bother?” There may be a place for both versions, but the value that you’ll find in the portable version mostly comes down to the type of Metal Gear Solid fan you are."
When Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D was announced for the 3DS, many people wondered how it was going to work on a platform the original Metal Gear Solid 3 clearly wasn’t designed for. Once the Metal Gear Solid HD collection was announced for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, the question changed from “how?” to “why bother?” There may be a place for both versions, but the value that you’ll find in the portable version mostly comes down to the type of Metal Gear Solid fan you are.
Released for the PlayStation 2 in 2004, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater follows Naked Snake, the man who will one day become Big Boss and the father of Solid Snake, as he sneaks through the jungles of Tselinoyarsk to accomplish his mission. He must destroy the Shagohod, a dangerous new type of tank that threatens to make the Cold War significantly less cold, and assassinate his mentor, The Boss, after she defects to the Soviet Union. As a distant prequel to the original Metal Gear Solid and its sequel, Metal Gear Solid 3 was notable for being a bit more grounded in reality (though not too much) and for having one of the most legitimately emotional stories of any video game to date.
That classic game makes its handheld debut on the 3DS with most of its best features intact. It doesn’t include most of the Subsistence bonuses, so you sadly won’t be able to use this release to play Metal Gear and its sequel on the go. However, the port does include the camera that was made for the Subsistence rerelease, following complaints about the overhead camera in the original release not allowing for a smooth transition from the indoor gameplay featured in the first two games to the outdoor environments of MGS3.
Unfortunately, the 3DS alone isn’t able to take very good advantage of the improved camera system. With no second analog stick available by default, camera control and weapon aiming are mapped to the face buttons, meaning actions are left to the d-pad and shoulder buttons. It’s like MGS3’s PSP sequel, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, in more ways than one. In fact, here Snake has a few of his Peace Walker skills, such as the ability to move around while crouching and third-person shooting. The close quarters combat system has been reworked, as well. By holding the attack button without aiming, Snake can grab a foe. From there, he can then interrogate his foe, knock him out, throw him, or slit his throat. These controls were less clear in previous versions of the game, leading to a good many accidentally slit throats (how embarrassing!). In Snake Eater 3D, grabbing an enemy causes several button prompts to appear on-screen. They tell you what to press to perform which action. The visual references are very useful and I’m sure all of those guards I interrogated in my playthrough were happy about the addition.
If you have one of those spiffy new Circle Pad Pro add-ons for your 3DS, you can also opt for a more classic control scheme. The second analog stick controls the camera and aiming, as it should, and some actions are mapped to the face buttons. The new additions (crouch walking, CQC tweaks) are still available with the Circle Pad Pro, meaning you can use the more comfortable classic style layout with the new improvements, which should make for a set of controls and abilities superior to that offered by even the PlayStation 2 and HD versions. Unfortunately, the addition of a small amount of lag when weapons are fired prevents Snake Eater 3D from ever feeling as tight as it should (though the lag is present whether or not you choose to use the optional peripheral).
The 3DS system has a few features that past MGS3 editions didn’t, and they’re mostly improvements. The bottom screen displays a map, which is very useful at certain points. HUD information like life meters and ammo are also displayed on the bottom screen. Menu options such as camouflage and food management are accessed with touch screen icons, meaning you can skip right past the pause menu into whatever submenu you need to use. Inventory management is also faster and easier with the touch screen. Even if you just stick to using the buttons, selecting a weapon from a grid is faster than selecting one from a list, as was the case in past incarnations of the game.
One of the more standout new features is the ability to make camouflage patterns out of pictures stored on your SD card. How well the patterns match your surroundings impacts the effectiveness of your camouflage. When you eventually unlock the in-game camera, you can use it to take screenshots in first person view, and those images can then be turned into camouflage. Whether you’re interested in creating effective camouflage or just covering Snake in pictures of your cat, photo camo is a fun new feature.
Not every change is so welcome, though. While it doesn’t drop too low most of the time, the framerate never reaches the 60 FPS offered in the HD version of Snake Eater. There are special cases where it does get pretty bad, though, particularly during certain boss battles when there’s a lot going on on-screen. Cutscene framerates are usually low, but that’s less important when you’re not actively in control. The 3DS screen is also a mixed blessing. On the one hand, even though the models are of a poorer quality than those used in the HD version, they look nice on the small screen. The 3D effect works well in outdoor areas, though the camera often gets caught between Snake and a wall as he explores indoor areas (it’s a good idea to turn the 3D effect off for indoor sections.) The biggest problem introduced by the low resolution screen is that distant enemies are small and tend to be much more difficult to shoot than they should be. This is especially painful during certain boss battles, as there isn’t always a way to get close and improve your aim. It feels like an extra challenge that you were never meant to have to deal with. Snake Eater 3D is likely to prove more difficult for most players to finish on the higher difficulty settings than it was in its previous iterations.
The hours of recorded voices all made it onto the tiny 3DS game card, though sound levels are so low you might not be able to hear them without headphones. There are some newly recorded lines explaining the new controls, which are either seamless or incredibly obvious, depending on who is delivering them. Para-Medic’s voice actress doesn’t seem to remember this game’s tone at all. You’ll laugh during one conversation early on when Snake is badly wounded and Para-Medic, sounding noticeably worried, offers him moral support before explaining how to heal himself with the menu. The switch in tone is jarring. She goes from a worried friend to a bored teenager being forced to read aloud from her textbook in her high school health class. It’s hard to say whether the scene-breaking shift in tone is a bad thing or a good thing, given how damn funny it is.
The 3DS version of Metal Gear Solid 3 is not as suited to “high-level play” as the HD versions available on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. If you have one of those systems (or a Vita and are willing to wait through the summer), it’s impossible to recommend this version over the HD collection, both because the HD version of Snake Eater is more polished and better suited to such a cinematic game, and because it includes two more games for only ten dollars more (or one more game for the same price, in the case of the Vita version). If you only have a 3DS and just want to experience the story and casually play the game on a low or standard difficulty setting, or if you’re a super hardcore fan of the game and are cool with a watered down version of Snake Eater on the go, Snake Eater 3D will do just fine. At its core, it’s the same game you fell in love with on the PS2, just rendered somewhat irrelevant by other versions currently on the market.
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (March 19, 2012)
Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.
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