Comic-Con 2011: Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater 3D Hands-On Preview

You know what playing Metal Gears Solid 3: Snake Eater on the Nintendo 3DS feels like?

Playing it on the N64, that’s what.

I might be in the minority here as far as this port is concerned, but that weirds me the hell out. While I can’t deny that the adaptation of Metal Gear Solid 3′s controls from the (superior in this case) PlayStation 3 controller to the 3DS’ one-stick have-you-seriously-not-updated-this-yet control scheme is ingenious, I’m still not sure that I like it. Moving Snake around his environment is done with the analog stick, and the face buttons control the camera motions, just like in freakin’ GoldenEye 007 — in 1997. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. I was half expecting Shigeru Miyamoto to pop up from behind the 3DS demo station and hand me a stylus, thereby giving me a brain aneurysm.

In many respects, Metal Gear Solid 3 was my favorite of the series (shut up, Phil Owen, I hear you laughing), so the chance to delve into it again on the 3DS was one I couldn’t pass up at San Diego Comic-Con this year. The control scheme was a little jarring — I haven’t messed with a Nintendo DS in too many years and my 3DS experience is somewhat limited — but it does function well, with Snake yanking readying his gun with one shoulder button and many other functions finding homes on the D-pad. For example, down on the D-pad drops Snake to a crouch, and down again to the prone position. Up on the D-pad, instead of making Snake stand, switches to his first-person view mode. It takes some getting used to and in many ways it’s not intuitive, but before long it game becomes easy enough to handle.

The demo I played picked up the game from the very beginning, sending Naked Snake (later known as Big Boss) on the start of the Virtuous Mission, with the goal of liberating a defector named Sokolov from a Russian military facility. All the mainstays of the game were there — I ran into quicksand, fought a crocodile, hunted animals for sport, sneaked around by hiding in tall grass, etc. And, almost immediately as soon as there were enemies, I ran directly into them and got shot in the face.

Luckily, the demo was turned down to “idiot who has never touched this before” mode, so I was able to fumble for my tranquilizer dart gun and stick a few in the soldiers’ faces. After that, it was time to head into the next area jungle area, where more guards were patrolling. I successfully dodged two before running into three more. Once again, the low difficulty on the demo, coupled with the guards’ inability to call reinforcements this early in the game, saved my life. Eventually they were all snoozing on the jungle floor.

It wasn’t the sneakiest of sneaking missions, but then, I felt strongly that controlling Snake was unwieldy on the 3DS. Only as I was entering the final area of the mission, a jungle section surrounding a destroyed building, did I feel like I was even capable of sneaking at all.

In fact, not sure my strategy — crawling in the grass and sniping at nearby guards with my pistol, snagging easy headshots. Snake Eater’s camouflage system makes hiding out and picking off these shots a little easier, at least early in the game, and I was able to take my time from my hiding places and place each shot carefully. That approach circumvented the troubles I had with controls, but when Snake Eater ramps up in difficulty, I wonder how well I might be able to play it.

Finally, with all the guards subdued, I started to sneak around the building. Here I had a chance to put Snake through his paces, running around a bit, doing that one diving roll move he likes, trying to climb ladders and so on. For the most part, it wasn’t impossible by any means — but it was a bit awkward trying to drive Snake around the area.

The demo ended about the time I would have managed to sneak in and find Sokolov, which was just a few seconds after I entered the building in the middle of the area. The control scheme got better over time, but it’s certainly a hard thing to become accostumed to using. I suppose for Metal Gear Solid fans who never got a crack at Snake Eater on the PS2, this isn’t a bad setup — but that’s a “something’s better than nothing” argument, and I don’t support it. I’m not a fan of what amounts to a cobbled-together control scheme on the 3DS.

And then there’s the 3-D aspect of the game. Love it or loathe it, 3-D is this device’s gimmick, and it’s used somewhat effectively on Sneak Eater. Of course, there’s the recurring head motion problem and the trouble with eye strain, but for 3-D fans, the system felt effectively implemented, if a little unnecessary. Of course, Metal Gear Solid is a cinematic series, and cinematic experiences are what 3-D is best used for. In cutscenes, the 3-D video is actually kind of cool. In normal gameplay, it’s intriguing when it’s not a hindrance.

Weirdly, Snake Eater feels even more dated than it actually is with the 3DS control scheme. Over time, it becomes less jarring, but it’s definitely not as fluid as the Metal Gear Solid games we’ve been playing for years. That said, having Metal Gear Solid 3, a fairly huge, cinematic experience available on a handheld is no small feat, and while it’s not always enhanced by its 3-D capabilities, it can make for a cool way to experience the game. If you’re a fan of the 3DS, there’s no reason not to pick up Snake Eater, from what I can tell, but the somewhat awkward port of this PlayStation 2 classic isn’t going to be the killer game that suddenly pulls the 3DS out of the gutter.

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