Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence Review

  • First Released Nov 17, 2004
  • PS2

Metal Gear Solid 3 returns with a vengeance in this special edition, which markedly improves an already great game while adding a new online mode and great extras.

One of the PlayStation 2's most memorable games becomes an even richer, more rewarding experience--and a better game--in Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence. This reissue of the original version adds one very significant new feature to the 2004 game, along with a brand-new online mode and loads of other great extras, including emulated versions of the old 2D Metal Gear games. The result provides more than enough good reason for series fans as well as new players to take the plunge. After all, one of the amazing things about Metal Gear Solid 3 is, even if you've spent a lot of time playing it since the game first debuted, it can continue to impress and surprise you the more you play.

Metal Gear Solid 3 is back and better than ever in Subsistence.
Metal Gear Solid 3 is back and better than ever in Subsistence.

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At the core of MGS3: Subsistence is the 2004 game, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. It's the same game as before, a roughly 15-hour single-player action adventure that has you, as top-secret operative Snake, stalking through jungles in search of a weapons scientist and his diabolical creation. Complex stealth mechanics, intense one-on-one showdowns against powerful boss opponents, a uniquely absorbing storyline, and a remarkably cinematic presentation are among the highlights. This is still among the most visually stunning, most thought-provoking games on the PS2. It's slow going at first, thanks to some forced, long-winded dialogue and ham-fisted voice acting, but the game just keeps getting better as it progresses, culminating in a truly spectacular last several hours.

The only new addition to the core game is the third-person camera perspective, which lets you freely rotate your viewpoint around Snake using the right analog stick, or snap to a behind-the-back view at the touch of a button. Countless other action games have used this same setup, but this is the first time it's been applied to the Metal Gear Solid series, which has always used fixed overhead camera angles in the past. In the original MGS3, the camera made it so that you could often be spotted by enemies lurking offscreen, forcing you to constantly switch to a first-person view to see what was coming up ahead. In Subsistence, the gameplay just feels less restrictive and more natural. On top of that, the new camera angle even does a better job showing off the game's outstandingly detailed characters and environments. Tellingly, the developers made this new camera angle the default. You can revert back to the old camera by clicking down on the right stick, but you'll probably find it's very hard to go back.

As strange as it sounds, even if you've played through the original MGS3, the new camera angle can be reason enough to make the game worth playing through again. Key action sequences, such as the battle against the Ocelot commandos or the tense and methodical sniper duel against The End, are reinvigorated thanks to this simple, arguably long-overdue addition. But then there's Metal Gear Online, which is like a whole separate game and could easily justify the price of admission by itself. Metal Gear Online is generally an excellent spin on the conventions of multiplayer shooters, combining the sort of action you'd expect from other online shooters with some distinctive Metal Gear twists.

Metal Gear Online is fast paced and exciting, combining multiplayer shooter standards with Metal Gear mechanics and characters.
Metal Gear Online is fast paced and exciting, combining multiplayer shooter standards with Metal Gear mechanics and characters.

There are five different modes of play: sneaking mission, capture mission, rescue mission, team deathmatch, and deathmatch. Deathmatch is probably the only one of these that isn't compelling, since it's particularly chaotic. Sneaking mission pits one player as Snake, who must retrieve a microfilm and reach an exit point before an opposing team takes him out. Capture mission is a tug-of-war-style game of "capture-the-frog," in which two teams must fight to keep a froggy doll safely in their bases for the longest period of time. Rescue mission has one team defending a rubber duckie while an assault team must grab it and haul it back to base; this is the only mode in which players stay dead until the end of the round if they're killed. The two deathmatch modes are your basic free-for-alls. Online play supports up to eight players in a match, and it's easy to quickly get into open matches in your mode of choice using the game's lobby system.

Regardless of which mode you choose, many of the underlying game mechanics of MGS3 still carry over. You run around from a third-person perspective (the new camera angle is your only option when playing online), but may aim and shoot from a first-person viewpoint. It may seem jarring that you can't run and gun from a first-person viewpoint, but it basically makes sense in the context of this fairly realistic tactical combat. Headshots are lethal and death comes swiftly in general within the game's diverse set of tightly designed multiplayer maps. To avoid getting killed, you can perform a variety of Metal Gear-esque actions, such as flattening your back against a wall, hiding in a cardboard box, crawling under things, or camouflaging yourself in foliage. Some of MGS3's other mechanics also fit well into online play. You can use a diving maneuver to get out of harm's way or smash into enemies. You can throw an opponent to the ground and shoot him in the head. You can drop claymore mines in well-traveled passageways or blind and deafen your foes with stun grenades. You can even drop naughty magazines to forcibly distract your always-lascivious foes. So even when it's online, Metal Gear Solid 3 still finds ways of injecting silly humor into its usually serious and authentic atmosphere, a jarring effect that's come to represent the unique personality of this series.

MGS3: Subsistence adds a number of other worthwhile extras. There's a demo theater on disc one, which lets you watch any of the game's cutscenes (including some of the hidden ones) in any order. You don't even need to finish the game to access them all, so first-time players should be wary of spoiling the plot for themselves here. There's also a new duel mode, letting you take on all the boss battles from the game out of the context of the main storyline. You get a score based on your performance, and you also get access to a wide variety of weapons, making these battles both fun and highly replayable. In addition to that, MGS3's goofy minigame, Snake vs. Monkey, returns with several new levels for you to run around and capture monkeys in. As with the main game, the new camera perspective makes this mode more entertaining all around. Subsistence also features a "Secret Theater" mode, containing a number of bizarre, often hilarious parody videos poking fun at different aspects of the game. These originally appeared on the official Metal Gear Web site, but it's great to have them for posterity, and they really help drive home the series' subversive, self-deprecating sense of humor.

Some great new extras round out Subsistence, adding a healthy dose of wild humor to the serious and surreal main story.
Some great new extras round out Subsistence, adding a healthy dose of wild humor to the serious and surreal main story.

Finally, Subsistence packs in English-translated versions of the original Metal Gear game and its sequel, each one originally released for MSX computer systems in Japan. These are different from and better than the Nintendo Entertainment System games you might remember if you've been playing games for a while, and since MGS3 serves as a prequel to the entire series, they actually help tie together the story to some extent. In particular, Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake shows the series starting to mature in terms of the quality of its storytelling and the range of actions available to its main character. Today, these two games are more of a curiosity than anything, but it's great to have them included as part of the package.

There are two versions of Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence. The hard-to-find Limited Edition version retails for an additional $10 but includes a bonus disc, "Existence," which is basically a three-and-a-half-hour movie splicing together all of MGS3's cutscenes with some new narration. The standard edition doesn't include the third disc, but since you still get the demo theater, you won't really miss much. You'll only be missing much if you overlook this game altogether.

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The Good

  • Adds a great, new online play mode
  • Makes an already great game play even better thanks to the new camera angle
  • Lots of other exciting extras
  • Still some of the best graphics and sound on the PS2

The Bad

  • Some of the smaller gameplay issues from the original haven't been touched
  • Skimpy manual doesn't explain online modes

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