We HALO-jump straight into a final build of Metal Gear Solid 3, and bring you firsthand impressions of how the game finally shaped up.
It was three years ago that Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty blew the minds of thousands of fans eagerly awaiting the next installment in Konami and designer Hideo Kojima's tactical espionage action series. Tons of prerelease information alluding to the game's storyline created some very high and very specific expectations, but the game itself turned out to have a different agenda, and ended up being one of the biggest surprises--for better or worse--that fans had ever received from a video game. Cut to the present. The release of the next Metal Gear Solid is just days away, and we've finally had a chance to play it nonstop, from the very beginning, for hours on end. We're here to give you our early impressions of how the game finally turned out (the early portions of it, anyway), in light of its illustrious predecessors.
On page three, we'll be getting into specifics about the story and characters in the first several hours of the game. You may have already picked up on many of the presumed details from our previous coverage or from the numerous trailers highlighting the game's frequent noninteractive story sequences, but we'll actually help set the record straight here, without ruining any of the late-game surprises. However, if you want to experience all of Metal Gear Solid 3's shake-ups firsthand, then don't venture past the next page. For now, let's talk more generally about the gameplay.
To put it broadly, Metal Gear Solid 3 certainly feels like a sequel to MGS2 in virtually every sense. Granted, it's actually set up as a prequel, not a sequel. The game is set in the 1960s, during the Cold War. You should know that the tone and pacing of the game are consistent with those of MGS2, meaning that much of the game is purely noninteractive--you'll get to see plenty of beautifully choreographed action-movie-style cutscenes featuring the game's characters, and you'll also have to sit through plenty of expository dialogue in the form of MGS3's equivalent of the previous Metal Gear games' codec communications. These are mostly static affairs in which Snake, the game's main character, checks in with off-site contacts via radio. As for the gameplay itself, it's highly reminiscent of MGS2 for the most part, but it also features several new systems: camouflage, eating and stamina, survival medicine, and close-quarters combat.
These may sound like significant changes, but in practice none of them have impacted our playing experience a great deal. The camouflage system allows you to mix and match different uniforms and face-paint schemes to best fit the environment you're in. A percentage indicator clearly tells you which combinations of uniform and paint are optimal, and such things as keeping a low profile and moving slowly also help keep you concealed from enemy guards.
The new eating system helps give the impression that Snake is out there trying to survive alone in the woods, but it really isn't that big of a deal. Basically, you'll see lots of animals in the environment, and you can shoot or stab them and then save them for a snack (just be careful--dead animals will spoil, and spoiled meat will make you sick). For the most part, you won't automatically recover your health in MGS3. You will heal gradually, though, as long as you keep your stamina high, which you do by eating every now and then. You eat by simply selecting a hunted animal from a menu. It's all pretty abstract, and actually a little weird, since you can carry around a virtual zoo in your backpack. There are tons of different animals skulking about in MGS3, and for all you vegans out there, there's plenty of edible plant life as well. It's easy to keep Snake's stamina maxed out, but there are several consequences if you let it wear down, including slow healing, fading vision, and unsteady hands.
Snake can suffer some pretty heinous injuries this time around, too. Bone fractures, gunshot wounds, burns, even leeches--we'll talk about how he'll patch himself up from all this stuff next, and we'll also go into the enemy artificial intelligence and some other finer points of the game's technical features and presentation.