Wednesday, February 22, 2012

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

Konami is really pushing Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater right now. As the best game in the series (that’s not even up for debate), it was the poster child of the excellent HD Collection on the PS3. And now the very same basic game has been brought to the 3DS, with 3D replacing the HD visuals.

Everything about the game is exactly the same as the other versions of MGS3 you’ve likely to have played in some form before. It’s a complicated game set during the cold war starring a CIA agent, Snake, as he works his way through forests, ruins and other exotic locations with a mind to foil a terrorist threat. It’s a bit like a Tom Clancy novel, with a classier plot. The order of the day here is to sneak around, avoiding guards by crawling through grass and cleverly utilising the environment to survive and progress, rather than most modern games, which would ask you to shoot everything that moves.

And what a glorious 3D this game is in. The depth and detail of the textures is impressive, the colours are effective and the character models are impressively detailed. This is one of the stronger 3D effects on the 3DS so far, and even people who have been comfortable with every other 3DS game might find this one a strain on the eyes in long play sessions.

Unfortunately, long play sessions are essentially mandatory. This game is not a friendly one for pick-up-and-play short sessions. To an extent, this makes the game unwelcoming as a portable game. Cut scenes can be protracted, and the pacing in-game is usually quite gentle. This is a stealth game in the truest sense, and rare is a portable game has such protracted sedate moments where you’ll be lying in the grass just waiting for things to pass you by.

There’s also a couple of weaknesses in the 3DS hardware that means the game can’t be considered the definitive one. Camera movement is by default assigned to the A,B,Y,X buttons. Understandable, as the touch screen is filled with information and menu access controls, but less comfortable than a second control stick nevertheless. This is a minor criticism since as a stealth game having fast and precise camera controls is less vital and it’s not a reason to pass on the game, but it’s worth taking note that the game indeed does not control as well as a more traditional shooter or action game, or indeed other versions of this game.

Kojima Productions has also, in its infinite wisdom, decided that it needed to use some of the technological tricks of the console. The most obvious one is the gyroscope controls which are, for instance, used early on as Snake runs over a bridge.

I hate gyroscope controls. They’re an utterly useless gimmick that fails to add anything to a game at the best of times, and MGS 3 is not one of those best times. It’s ackwardly implemented, and it’s such a silly 3DS feature, since to use the gyroscope you have to take the console out of the 3D sweet spot, ruining the visual effect of the game. It also makes the game even less appropriate for public play, since the person next to you on the train won’t appreciate being tilted on to.

Even more crucially, the way that the 3D effect has been implemented is, rarely, really uncomfortable. Opting to zoom into a first person shooting style when it comes time to take out a soldier or guard shifts the screen from 3D to 2D. Kojima no doubt thought he was being clever in emulating the flattening effect of closing one eye to aim a shot, but the transition creates a nasty effect that is downright painful to watch.

For those criticisms though, this is the finest games in one of the finest franchises in gaming. For the most part the game is gorgeous, with one of the console’s finest 3D effects. The plot is superb, meshing stealth action with wry humour and the settings are as exotic as the best Bond stories. It’s still an essential game, but the fact is that you’ll probably only need one version of the game, and if you have a PS3, the HD collection is by far the better buy.

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