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The conventional wisdom is that only games designed from the ground up for new hardware make the best use of it. But Kojima Productions’ handheld record is not conventional, and Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater is a surprise: apart from Nintendo’s own Super Mario 3D Land, no other game does as much with the console’s headline feature.
Among the Metal Gear series, Snake Eater was the perfect choice: the environments could have been built for stereoscopic visuals. Its jungle is composed of large blades of grass, and dotted with trees, rocks and hills. Interiors are either claustrophobia-inducing corridors or cavernous hangars zigzagged with walkways, and are always filled with crates, furniture and guards, which serve to break up the game’s even surfaces.
You’ll spend a lot of time in the grass in MGS3D, peering out at patrolling guards and inching Snake forward on his belly. There will always be multiple blades in your field of vision, and the depth of each small grouping is distinct, creating a convincing effect with real texture to it. Many 3DS games have visuals that feel gimmicky and pop out, but here they reinvigorate a familiar world. Playing in 2D, even to give your eyes a quick rest, feels like a waste.
The list goes on – judging enemy distance, or the terrific effects during a late chase sequence – but suffice it to say MGS3D is a must-have if you want to show off the 3DS hardware. The game itself is no slouch either, although after Subsistence, a director’s cut released on PS2 with bags of extras, this feels a little light when viewed as a package.
MGS3 is Kojima’s finest hour. It’s a focused but constantly inventive adventure, and the boss battles in particular showcase an imagination you just don’t get in other games. Not one plays out like any of the others, and they’re all magnificent here – barring perhaps The Fury, which retains its drop in framerate.
The game also offers a brilliant change in stealth. The natural camouflage of the jungle is a big departure from earlier games’ boxier labs, enabling Snake to hide within touching distance of foes before striking. It’s kept fresh with layouts that never repeat, always asking something new from sneaky minded players. Plus, it gives raging bulls the Close Quarters Combat system, and everything from AK47s to silenced sniper rifles.
Packed with detail, both in terms of its environments and mechanics, this is a game that pays back investment in spades. MGS3 is a modern classic – the tightest, smartest and most emotional journey in the series – and even its HD update doesn’t look as good as this portable treatment.