If you thought Hideo Kojima and friends took the Metal Gear Solid series as far as it could go on current-gen hardware with last year's Snake Eater, think again. The team at Kojima Productions is now putting the finishing touches on Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence, a massive update to the, uh, original MGS3 that will add an online multiplayer component, several enhancements to the core story mode, and a slew of peripheral bonuses. After spending some time with the updated campaign and checking out some of the bonus content, we can say that Subsistence is looking like a package that hardcore Snake Eater fans will be hard pressed to do without.
To be up-front, nothing significant has changed about the single-player content in the transition from Snake Eater to Subsistence. The characters, levels, weapons, and scenarios are basically all just like you'll remember if you played the original game. It's more about how you experience all that content, because the biggest and arguably most long-overdue addition to the game is the new third-person, fully controllable camera. This new feature will make the gameplay resemble games like Splinter Cell more closely than the original, overhead-only perspective did. But then, it seems like some situations will still call for the old camera system; luckily, you can switch between third-person and overhead as fast as you can click the right analog stick.
We had a chance to run through the first few areas of the single-player game with this new camera and found the experience to be more engaging than it was in Snake Eater. For one thing, the third-person camera gets you right down to ground level--it rests just behind Snake and naturally gives you a front-on look at the obstacles and covert enemies in front of you. The overhead camera was well suited to previous Metal Gears' industrial environments--all those right angles were easy to peer around. But the more organic jungle levels in Snake Eater make it harder to keep tabs on nearby enemies while concealing yourself, so the third-person camera should give you a welcome advantage by letting you see directly in front of Snake while you sneak around.
Aside from the new camera, you won't find any noticeable changes to Snake Eater's story mode--which is fine by us, since the original game featured such a compelling storyline and wild, memorable action sequences. The developers have given some attention to the levels, though; because you can see around Snake more clearly with the new camera, the levels have been tweaked a bit to appear more cohesive. But hey, we were personally waiting for an excuse to play through Snake Eater again--and based on our early experience with the latest build of Subsistence, it looks like the third-person camera will give plenty of reason to do that.
Subsistence will also ship with a raft of bonus features that aren't tied to the main game. One of these is the "secret theater" mode, which will contain 16 in-game video vignettes created by the development team and starring MGS3's cast of characters in some bizarre and hilarious situations. We saw one riotous example, in a movie set right after the early plot twist in which you learn the Boss has become Snake's nemesis. The two engage in a long-distance, high-stakes game of paper-rock-scissors while the Boss flees on the helicopter. But she finally decides to end things for good by getting up close with one beefy handheld nuclear device, with explosive results. These joke movies will actually feature new motion-captured animations and voice-overs, and if they're all as funny as the one we got to see, this will be a welcome addition to the game indeed.
In addition to the secret theater mode that we got to try out, there will be a number of other goodies included with Subsistence. The silly Snake-versus-Monkey mode will return with a number of new levels, letting you hunt down those pesky Ape Escape simians with extreme prejudice. The self-explanatory duel mode and demo theater will also be included. Then there's the inclusion of the MSX versions of Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, which have never been released in English and should provide an excellent chronicle of the series' earliest days. But the feature that may be most anticipated by diehard fans is Subsistence's third disc, a three-hour movie version of Snake Eater that will feature new scenes and remixed audio supervised by Kojima himself.
Actually, there will be one more new bonus related to the single-player game for diehard Snake Eater fans to chew on: the "European Extreme" difficulty level. This new difficulty is so named because it was only found in the European release of MGS3, and it'll make the enemies smarter and tougher than ever before in order to provide the most skilled players a new challenge. Of course, the single-player additions and bonus features being added to Subsistence will complement the game's all-new online multiplayer mode, which is a first for the Metal Gear series and one that we took an in-depth look at back at the Tokyo Game Show earlier this year. MGS3: Subsistence is slated for release in February 2006, and we'll bring you more on this value-loaded package for MGS fans as soon as we can. In the meantime, check out some new direct-feed movies of Subsistence's single-player mode in action.