Just in time for the holidays (at least in Japan), Konami and Kojima Productions have busted out Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence, an updated version of one of 2004's most memorable games. We've previously reported on what you can expect from both the single-player and brand-new online multiplayer portions of the game, but now that we've got the finished package right here, we're back with some first-hand impressions. Don't worry too much if you can't wait to play the game, either. The North American and European versions are due out in March, so we won't have to wait too long.
It bears reiterating that the core single-player game in Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence is more or less identical to the original release of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, with the one key difference being the new camera perspective. Ever since the Metal Gear series' origins in the 1980s, the action has been presented primarily from a top-down perspective. 1998's Metal Gear Solid featured a dynamic camera that let you seamlessly switch to a first-person viewpoint, and subsequent entries in the series have gone further to let you aim and shoot from this perspective. But players still moved around as Snake (and Raiden) from an overhead view. That's finally changing with the advent of a fairly conventional but more than welcome third-person behind-the-back perspective, which puts the action in closer to Snake and lets you freely rotate your view using the right analog stick. The result gives you better control and situational awareness, though perhaps some of the distinct look of Metal Gear Solid is sacrificed in the process. No matter, since the original camera is still available, though the new perspective is now the default. Besides, not only is the familiar third-person camera easier to use than the original, but it also gives you a closer look at Snake and his incredibly well-animated moves.
Fans of the original or those who had trouble adjusting to Metal Gear Solid 3's gameplay may well want to give Subsistence a try if only for this one significant adjustment. But of course there's a lot more to this package now. The single-player game is all on disc one, while disc two (titled "Persistence") includes the new Metal Gear Online mode as well as various other bonus extras, such as the Snake vs. Monkey minigame from the original as well as a boss battle mode that lets you easily access any of the big battles from the game. You can also check out the goofy "gag reel" videos released over the Internet. These really are a must-see for Metal Gear fans, since their self-deprecating humor is the perfect spoil to MGS3's generally serious story. For good measure, this disc even packs in emulated versions of the original Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake games. These old classics don't necessarily hold up that well to today's standards, but assuming you don't have an MSX system lying around, they're fantastic additions to a Metal Gear fan's collection.
As you'd expect, though, Metal Gear Online is definitely the main attraction of the second disc, and it consists of four different modes: sneaking mission, capture mission, deathmatch, and team deathmatch. The first two modes are really quite different. In the sneaking mission, one player is Snake while the others are the enemies trying to hunt him down. Snake must find a key object and reach an extraction point, while the other team must simply try to take him down. Sounds easy enough, but Snake's stronger than the other guys and he can become nearly invisible to the naked eye under the right conditions. If you're playing as one of the grunts and you happen to be the one to kill Snake yourself, you then get to try your hand at playing as Snake in the next round. Meanwhile, the capture mode is a combination of capture-the-flag and a territories game type, meaning you first need to get your hands on a little frog critter and then deliver it to a key location, and then protect that location from the opposing force for a while. Deathmatch and team deathmatch are what you'd expect, only you're using the underlying mechanics of Metal Gear Solid instead of those of a typical first-person shooter.
Regardless of which mode you choose, complex multilevel maps provide plenty of alternate routes and hiding places, and the game's fantastic graphics look just as good as ever while you're playing online. We experienced smooth online gameplay even when playing against Japanese allies and opponents thousands of miles away, and we didn't have a difficult time getting into the action and learning it on the fly. Granted, that's because we're already fluent with the quirks of MGS3's gameplay, which carries over pretty much intact to the online mode. That means you can perform diving tackles, use powerful melee attacks to knock down nearby opponents, aim and shoot either from a third-person or first-person perspective, and more. Plus, you get tons of authentic weapons to work with, ranging from various handguns to full-on rocket-propelled grenade launchers. There's even a nice flamethrower we got to try out, which was plenty cool looking and seemed useful for crowd control though not for most combat situations. Overall, while we haven't played Metal Gear Online enough to pass judgment on it just yet, our first impression of the finished product is that it seems well designed and well implemented--in short, like a surprisingly worthwhile extension of Metal Gear, which has always been a single-player game until now.
Then there's disc three (titled "Existence"), which primarily consists of a feature-length Metal Gear Solid 3 movie, composed of all the game's incredibly well-produced cinematic cutscenes. You can either view it by chapter or as one seamless piece, and you get basic controls for fast-forwarding and rewinding. Obviously Metal Gear Solid 3 consists of gameplay as well as cutscenes, so to fill the gaps for the movie version, gameplay events like boss fights are presented using well-edited gameplay footage as well as some narrated sequences. These new bits help make the end result quite coherent as a stand-alone movie and unique enough to where even those who have played through MGS3 multiple times might well be interested in seeing this cinematic adaptation. Besides, considering all the talk from MGS fans about how designer Hideo Kojima ought to make a movie, this here's the closest thing yet. And since it weighs in at about three hours long, it feels about as epic as the game it's based on. An added bonus on disc three is the Metal Gear Solid 4 trailer, which debuted at the 2004 Tokyo Game Show.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence seems like quite possibly the best product yet for fans of the beloved tactical espionage action series. Not only is it first-rate fan service--with the three-hour MGS3 movie you can just sit back and watch as well as the bevy of new bonus modes--but it also seems like a great way for new players to see what all the fuss is about. They'll need to be careful, though, since the bonus content is all available from the get-go and threatens to spoil many of the plot-critical elements that make MGS3's story so moving. Nevertheless, it's just really exciting to see Metal Gear Solid 3 reintroduced with so many more features designed to accentuate all its best points. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was a one-of-a-kind experience, but now it might just be an even better game, and a pretty great movie too. Stay tuned for more coverage, including plenty of screens and a video showing off MGS3: Subsistence in action.