The Transformation of a Legend in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Throughout the entire Metal Gear series, we come to know all about Solid Snake through his many missions against super weapons and the terrorists that would use them, but often very little about the enigmatic man responsible for it all. Big Boss is the embodiment of the traditional saying “man, myth and legend” throughout the Metal Gear series. From the very first game in 1987, we learn bits and pieces about the man supposedly considered to be the most perfect soldier, but it wasn’t until 2004 that we received a proper unraveling of exactly who Big Boss was. It was on this day that we stepped into the boots of Naked Snake in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, bringing together so many bits and pieces of a 20-year legacy and revealing it all in one amazing prequel.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was meant to be both starkly contrasting and perfectly encapsulating of the Solid series at the time. It was a time of many firsts for the series. For instance, series creator and director Hideo Kojima decided very early on to pursue a jungle environment for the game. For a series that had often put Snake on the flat ground of a base or installation, this meant starting Snake out in the wilderness, designing uneven terrain and factoring in motion capture how Snake would move over the shifting natural ground in contrast to flat, sleek floors and corridors.
Snake Eater takes the series back to 1964 in the dead center of the Cold War and around thirty years before the events of the first Metal Gear. A young soldier and former Green Beret codenamed Naked Snake is deployed in the jungles of Russia to find and rescue a Soviet scientist who created plans for a new nuclear-armed tank. Supported by numerous characters including his mentor, a legendary female soldier known as The Boss, everything goes well until The Boss betrays Snake and her nation by defecting to a Russian revolutionary army chasing said scientist. In the aftermath, a nuclear attack is launched, The Boss is blamed and America and the USSR nearly edge towards an all-out war. It can only be averted if the United States takes up responsibility to find and eliminate the commander of the Russian insurgency, recapture the scientist and the super tank and eliminate The Boss, thus begins Snake’s new mission.
Though Snake Eater was far and away from the clean and often futuristic environments of previous entries, stealth was still at the core of the game and the jungle environment allowed Kojima and his team to utilize new stealth mechanics masterfully. In Snake Eater, Snake must often hide where there is no cover. This involved changing of uniforms and facial paints to blend in with whatever surroundings Snake happened to be in at the time. Between dusty camo for mountainous regions, dark camo for think and rich grass and marine camo for underwater stealth just to name a few, Snake Eater reinvented the way the franchise approached stealth and allowed players to utilize numerous tactics around hiding in plain sight.
Experimenting with the freedom offered by the jungle setting, Kojima also sought to explore a free-roaming rhetoric as well. Unlike previous games where the protagonist started in or near enemy installations, Snake Eater was set up so that Snake was miles from the enemy compound and had to work his way there. This meant hunting food to sate hunger, using emergency first aid to treat wounds and fighting and evading enemies in vast zones of operation. It was this set up that made iconic new boss battles possible, such as a full-on sniper duel in which Snake must evade being spotted and track a sniper through three full-fledged battle zones in what could be an hours-long game of cat and mouse.
Up until Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, we knew little of what created the antagonistic nature that would see Big Boss as the final enemies of the first Metal Gear games. After so many bits, pieces and hints leading up to Snake Eater’s release in 2004, it felt like some level of closure given to longtime fans of the series as a rich and thoughtful gift. For everything that the game presents both in Naked Snake’s growth and his relationship with his former mentor, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is one of, if not the most compelling titles in the entire series, perfecting setting the stage for everything that came before and would come after.