Interesting item of note: when I booted up the game, it asked me which Metal Gear Solid was my favorite. Full disclosure—I am a TOTAL MGS newb, so all of my following comments should be taken accordingly. I’m guessing that the “favorite” question might be designed to let the game know my level of my familiarity with control schemes or need for tutorials, but it could also be something to do with the plot development or extent of in-game history via cut-scenes. Given the quality reputation of the Metal Gear Solid series, I’m guessing it could be any of the above.
By way of introduction, I’ve never played any Metal Gear game since the two episodes on the original NES. I’ve been ultra-excited to finally have the chance to play a MG game on the system that introduced the game to US shores. All of my following thoughts are just first impressions regarding the 3DS version, and may change once I’ve spent more time with the game (I’ve played about 2 hours so far).
In general, I found the game relatively easy to control and really entertaining to play—it’s already clear why this game is a classic of the stealth genre, and clearly an incredibly awesome game, apparent even in the first few minutes of play. There were a few moments where I got stuck due to my unfamiliarity with the control layout of MGS. For instance, your first task is to find the backpack you lost while parachuting into the jungle, and I must have spent a solid 10 minutes wandering around trying to spot my gear in the trees. Perhaps the game intends this to be the experience of the brand-new player; my confusion definitely gave me a chance to get used to controlling the camera (a feat entirely controlled via X,Y, etc buttons) and moving Snake around in the MG universe. My 3DS is equipped with a 3rd party battery pack, so the Circle Pad Pro isn’t an option (I’d rather have increased battery life than a second circle pad), but I didn’t find the camera controls or character movement to be significantly impacted by the non-CPP layout. I’m a little worried that the primary attack button (with or without CPP) is the right shoulder button, since this makes holding the 3DS a little awkward (lying down with 3DS on chest seems to be the optimal position). However, since MGS doesn’t seem to require a million attack gestures per second, it’s working alright so far.
One of the features unique to the 3DS is the use of gyroscope in scenes that require Snake to maintain his balance. So far, I’ve encountered this feature on a few tree branches and while crossing a rope bridge. It’s a neat innovation, but it honestly doesn’t add all that much to the game experience. I can see how it might strike some as a bit gimmicky (think blowing into the DS microphone) but at the same time, I’m not opposed to it’s inclusion, and in general seems like a neat concept that might play an interesting role as the game progresses.
Another interesting 3DS innovation is the ability to use the 3DS camera to create customized camouflage for Snake. I experimented with this feature for a few minutes, enjoying the idea of making different battle fatigues from photos of my art studio’s neon green walls, a plastic toy hot-dog, and my Yorkshire Terrier’s fur. After messing with the options a bit, my dog’s fur seemed to be the best option for jungle stealth, actually looking pretty suitable for the Metal Gear environment. Unfortunately, as soon as the game gave me a tutorial on proper camouflage use, survival dictated that I needed to swap out my dog-fur for one of the game’s more effective pre-rendered options. Again, a neat way to involve the 3DS technology and give modest updates to a game that’s been around for years.
The many (television/film) video clips that begin the game have not been translated to 3D, but as a gamer accustomed to the more limited technologies of the original DS and Wii, I can’t help but admit that I’m still amazed to see full, several-minute-long video clips—including clips of the Cuban Missle Crisis and President Kennedy–running so nicely on an Nintendo device.
With respect to 3D incorporation, I noted that when I enter into FPS weapon mode, the visuals kick back to a flat non-3D mode. It’s not a significant issue, but it’s a minor detraction from the overall 3D immersion. Overall, the 3D is nicely done. I spent a lot of time flipping in and out of the 3D/2D modes, and although the sense of depth isn’t nearly as great as in some other 3DS titles, there are moments when the presentation really shines. I especially liked the effect of crawling through 3D grass, experiencing the sensation of stealthy blindness, quietly pushing my way through foliage, homing in on the voices of enemy soldiers. The game’s lighting was, however, a little tough at moments, making me wish I was playing in a fully darkened room, rather than the full daylight of my workplace office. I definitely found myself squinting at the screen during a few parts, trying to decipher if that’s a tree I’m seeing, or maybe a stationary enemy soldier. I wouldn’t have been opposed to a bit brighter presentation, but it isn’t a deal-breaker at all, just a factor I noted.
With respect to sound, the intro sequences include a ton of voice acting—something else I’m not used to encountering on Nintendo platforms. Since I hear that Snake’s character was modeled after the ridiculously overacted protagonist in Escape From New York, I’m not going to fault the game for cheesy lines or over-masculine action-film delivery (I’m remembering the way we’ve learned to accommodate the voice acting in Resident Evil). I can say that, much like my amazement at the extensive video clips, I’m pleasantly surprised at how well the 3DS is capable of handling long (even supplementary, subscreen) audio conversations with no disruptive loading or quality issues. Given the extensive dialog at the beginning of the game—as well as the non-vital, entertaining conversations you can have with NPC’s via Snake’s radio–I’d definitely recommend using headphones or earbuds to get the most out of the experience and avoid missing anything. The jungle atmosphere of the first level is excellent, including far-off sounds of wind, insect life, and warning enemy footsteps. Indeed, my Sennheiser earphones definitely gave me an advantage, allowing me to know which direction enemy voices (and their inevitable gunfire) were coming from.
I also need to state that Snake Eater’s intelligent, adult-friendly plot AND tutorial is the sort of thing that Nintendo needs to incorporate into their 1st party releases. I recall that, around the time of Skyward Sword’s release, some IGNers were bothered by my own eye-rolling/wish-I-could-skip-cutscenes reaction to Nintendo’s most recent attempts at narrative development. But when I see a game like Snake Eater touching on complex, real-world pathos (in only the first 10 minutes), and the control-scheme tutorials are seamlessly interwoven with a measured pace of story/game/teaching points, I quickly realize why I’m bored by two hours of cut-screens regarding Link and Zelda’s never-to-be-satisfied faux-romance and two hours of “how to play a game you’ve already played”. By way of contrast, Snake Eater is handing me a crazy, complex story that I’ll actually care to see resolved, rather than just acting as a mere launching-pad for the underlying gameplay. Plus, I’m not getting too much handholding on the in-game controls. The game gives me enough to get by for now, but doesn’t force me to wait hours before I get to try it for myself.
Additional comments added 8:30 EST 21Feb12
I’ve played about another 2 hours of the game, and beyond stating that I apparently REALLY suck at stealth gaming–I’m constantly alerting the guards, and seem completely incapable of executing a total stealth attack without making all kinds of noise and setting off alarms, panic, etc–my latest MGS3D update would be a desire to convey my total and utter excitement at a game of this quality existing on a Nintendo platform. Maybe I’ve just played too much casual Wii, or maybe I’ve just been missing out on some critical experiences, but playing MGS3D makes me step back in amazement, realizing–“Hey, I’m sitting on a commuter train, playing an awesome-looking, incredible sounding, full-console, adult-oriented 3D video game . . . on my NINTENDO handheld”. I don’t think I’d be overstating the case to say that this game represents an epic moment for Nintendo–sure, it’s an updated release of a semi-dated title, but that doesn’t change the fact that Metal Gear Solid 3D looks AWESOME, and truly feels like Nintendo is finally arriving in the modern era while still retaining the individuality and high quality of their past. It’s a game for grownups on a system that truly has something for everybody. Gawd, I’m so psyched for this kind of thing to continue. 3 cheers for Nintendo and Snake . . . I’m loving being a Nintendo guy right now.
The only other note I’d offer is that I seemed to detect a significant volume output difference between earbuds and full stereo headphones. When I switched over to earbuds for my train ride home, I felt like I was having a tougher time hearing the nuances of dialog and background effects. That said, it wasn’t a big problem, but I definitely caught myself trying to jam the volume slider higher and higher (past the max point) after leaving my headset behind. It’s probably just a matter of perception, but if possible, play with the best earphones available–seems like the game benefits from the added volume and stereo boost.
That’s it for now–I’ll add more commentary as time allows and my playthrough continues.
I welcome your thoughts and questions, and especially appreciate your reader comments.