Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence Review
*This review focuses on the differences between MGS3 and MGS3: Subsistence. For more details on the core gameplay, check out our review of MGS3.
For years the Metal Gear series has been one of the most innovative and influential franchises in all of gaming. 1987's Metal Gear was the first ever stealth action game, and 1998's Metal Gear Solid not only created a huge demand for such titles, it also spurred changes in gaming presentation and production, the effects of which are still visible today. Despite the proliferation of stealth action titles over the past generation, Metal Gear has managed to remain rather unique in the genre it created, and 2004's Snake Eater was no exception. Despite the critical acclaim and commercial success of Snake Eater, franchise creator and director Hideo Kojima was not content to leave the game 'uncompleted,' and the result is this year's updated version of the title, Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence.
This isn't the first time Kojima has re-released a Metal Gear Solid title with extra content, as both the original Metal Gear Solid and its sequel, Sons of Liberty, received the same treatment with new features such as virtual reality missions, demo theaters, etc. Subsistence, however, is a far more ambitious update, as it not only offers much of the same content that Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance did, but also a totally revamped single player campaign in addition to a very in-depth online mode.
The original Snake Eater told the story of a CIA operative from the '60's known as Naked Snake and his infiltration into the Soviet Union to rescue a scientist named Sokolov, rumored to be developing a new weapon capable of ending the Cold War. Shortly after meeting up with Sokolov, events take a dramatic turn for the worse and Snake soon finds himself in an escalating conflict between the two world powers that only he can stop. At the start, Snake Eater's plot may seem very similar in nature to previous titles, though as the game continues the narrative shifts in surprising ways.
The original Snake Eater used the same top-down, fixed angle camera as the previous two titles, and while the game was still widely praised, many fans felt the camera angle to be obsolete and counterproductive. Apparently Kojima agreed, as Subsistence now features a completely user-controlled 3D camera in addition to the default angle. The result is a single player experience that feels remarkably different as it not only changes the way players tackle the game, but the level to which they can appreciate it. One of the major flaws in Snake Eater's camera was that players would often be spotted by enemies who, while off camera, were still very close by, forcing players to either slow their progress through the game to a crawl (by constantly stopping to scope out upcoming areas through the first person camera), or put up with an inordinate amount of alarms and dangerous situations that often weren't their fault. Subsistence's new camera angle completely fixes this problem by giving you any view of the terrain you desire at any time, simply by rotating the right analog stick (though it should be noted that certain boss fights do not allow players to use the new camera angle). This provides a single player campaign that is not only far more flexible in terms of stealth, but also the myriad survival aspects of the game, and while the new camera was the only real update to the single player mode, it's arguably a big enough change to justify playing through the entire game again, even for those who've beaten Snake Eater more than once.
As impressive as the new camera angle in Subsistence is, the real value in the game comes from the second disc in the package, titled Persistence. On this disc players can find loads of new and varied content, including all new versions of both Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, initially released on the MSX in 1987 and 1990 respectively. Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake never saw a release outside Japan, so for fans of the series its inclusion in Subsistence is indeed exciting. Both games feature all new translations and difficulty levels, and should appeal to fans of the series and retro gamers alike. Persistence also brings back Snake Eater's Snake vs. Monkey mini-game, which is essentially an Ape Escape knockoff with an MGS twist. New this time around, at least for US audiences, are two new levels- Return of the Living Apes and The Apes of Wrath. Players can use the new 3D camera in this mode, as well, where it has an even greater impact on the gameplay. Additionally, Subsistence features a Duel Mode much like Substance's Boss Survival Mode, which allows you to replay any boss fight in the game in any order you choose. Last but not least among the 'bonus features' on Subsistence is the Secret Theater, a project undertaken by Kojima Productions's Real-Time Demo Unit. Secret Theater is essentially a collection of spoofs on Snake Eater's story and characters, using scenes from the game in ways they were never intended. Some of these movies have been available on Konami's Snake Eater website for months, but Persistence's Secret Theater includes almost twice as many movies; good news for those who thought they saw them all already.
All of the aforementioned bonuses, however, are not the meat of Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence. Its biggest feature is an all new multiplayer mode that allows you to take the stealth action online. Supporting up to 8 players at once across 12 different maps, Subsistence's online mode is definitely different than other online shooters in that it combines the Metal Gear Solid's unique brand of stealth action and self deprecating humor in five different modes of play. Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch pit you against others, either by yourself or on a team of 4, in a stealth action battle to the death. Sneaking Mission is a Snake vs. All mode that pits one player against 7 in an attempt to secure and extract microfilm. While this may seem amazingly unbalanced, the use of Stealth Camouflage by the player controlling Snake creates a nice balance, as does the ability to extract the microfilm to multiple locations on the map. Capture involves two teams battling over control of a Kerotan (a frog idol); the team who holds the Kerotan in their base the longest wins. The final mode, called Rescue, involves one team trying to 'rescue' a GA-KO (that would be a rubber ducky) from the other team and returning it to their base.
The various online modes are different enough to provide a lot of variety in the online gameplay, though most servers host Team Deathmatches almost exclusively, easily the most predominant gametype in Subsistence. That's not necessarily a bad thing, however, as the game's deathmatch modes in themselves provide a lot of variety. Whenever a player spawns he is given the ability to choose from a primary weapon (ranging from sub/machine guns to shotguns and sniper rifles), a secondary weapon (either a .45 or a Mk22 pistol with survival knife) and a support item (including claymores, grenades and the infamous 'book' from the single player mode). You can even pick up weapons and items you did not equip, as well as more powerful weapons, throughout the map, including the uber-powerful M63 light machine gun, the RPG-7 rocket launcher and a flamethrower. This flexibility allows players to customize their weapon set to their style of play, whether it's up close CQC action with a pistol and knife or long range sniping from behind a car with the SVD. There is also ample opportunity to use the environment, and objects in it, as a central part of your strategy. Each player is given a cardboard box in which to hide, and depending on where you choose to use this item, you may become perfectly invisible to the enemy or a big, stationary target. Hiding under cars, in alleys and under stairs is also an option, and while this tends to lend itself fairly heavily to camping in matches, most of the maps are balanced enough that you can avoid these killzones and flank the enemy if you're careful.
If you don't like the rules that others are playing by, though, you can always set up your own room and create your own rules, altering everything from weapon sets to kill counts, timers, weapon sets, special rules, ranking restrictions, etc. Even in matches you're not hosting you can further customize your experience by changing your control and display options and even what music, if any, you wish to listen to, as you can choose between tracks from any game in the series. Simply put, few games offer as much online customization as Subsistence. There is also an impressive amount of stat tracking in the online gameplay. Players can view their stats to find out how many kills they've made, how many times they've died, been headshot, CQC'd, etc. It's also possible to view stats for any specific gametype; overall the game tracks more than 30 different stats, allowing more competitive players to analyze the strengths and weaknesses in their play.
It should be noted that the online play in Subsistence has a rather steep learning curve, as well. The controls are somewhat different than the single player mode, and players trying to perform a tactical reload, for example, may be surprised when they try and realize they're not even carrying the same weapon they were trying to reload. In Subsistence's online play the R2 button, if pressed, still opens your weapon inventory, but quickly double tapping it no longer reloads your weapon; that function is now performed by pressing in on the R3 button. Instead, tapping the R2 button either scrolls through your primary weapon list (though you cannot access weapons acquired on the map unless you access the actual inventory), or simply equips/unequips your current weapon, depending on how you customize your profile. The problem is that these changes are never actually explained, either in the manual or via tutorials on either disc. In fact, much of the online gameplay is simply unexplained and left to the player to figure out, such as what certain icons on the map mean, as well as how to accomplish certain objectives. Players can download an online manual in PDF format from Konami's Subsistence website, which explain the basic changes in online controls and functionality, yet even the online manual is vague about certain game rules. This means that even veteran Metal Gear Solid players may take quite a while to get used to the online play, which really could have benefited from the same sort of online tutorials found in Splinter Cell's multiplayer.
In the end, it's hard not to recommend a game that packs so much content on to only two discs, and for a budget price to boot. Even for those who have played and beaten the original Snake Eater, there is enough completely original content in Subsistence to provide several dozen hours of offline entertainment, not to mention an online multiplayer feature with massive replay value. Anyone looking for a great online action game for their PS2, or just a great stealth action game in general, would most certainly be remiss in not picking up a copy of Subsistence.
3/24/2006 Ryan Hartmann