In the main review, Matt makes the statement that Hideo Kojima is one of the best game designers working today. Without question, I agree completely. In my mind, Kojima is a visionary; possibly even a genius when it comes to making games. Nearly everything he's created has turned out to be a masterpiece with very few exceptions, and I freely admit to being an unabashed fan of his work. But with Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, the magic wasn't there for me. Despite it being an excellent game dripping with interesting ideas, a strong main character, and countless subtle touches that most games lack, I found it be strangely hollow and unable to draw me in the way his other pieces usually do.
I think the primary reason for my dissatisfaction is one that I felt Matt had glossed over in the main review—the game's camera system. He called it "esoteric," but I call it archaic, outdated, and ineffectual. In fact, there were very few times when I was ever able to take in my surroundings in a satisfactory way, and immersion was impossible. I never stopped wanting to get a better look around, and to do so with less difficulty. My first time through Snake Eater, I was constantly surprised or caught off guard by enemies that would have been plain to see in other games.
In the past, the Metal Gear series compensated for the limited overhead viewpoint by including a radar screen that indicated locations of enemies offscreen. The radar is now gone, replaced by a variety of other detection gadgets that can be used to suss out the surroundings. Kojima has stated in interviews that he felt people were relying too much on the radar and wanted to create a situation that made gamers use their senses instead of this game-world shortcut. The goal of a more "realistic" interface is an admirable one, but it's hamstrung from the start by the fact that in the real world, it's usually possible to see more than five feet in front of you. Given the current state of the game's mechanics, I have to say that this particular tradeoff was not a very successful one, especially since the replacement gadgets are tedious and cumbersome to use, and slow gameplay down to a crawl.
Besides the camera, I also felt that the characters—usually one of Kojima's strengths—were a bit lacking. The central themes between Naked Snake and his mentor, The Boss, were excellently illustrated, possessing both significance and emotional weight. However, the rest of the plot lacked impact and came off like filler since I felt no connection to the supporting cast or the events. For example, the boss battles were flashy enough, but didn't feel very relevant or connected to the plot, and many of the cutscenes missed the mark between good taste and excess.
Despite those issues, I don't want to say that Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a bad game, because even when Kojima is off, his work is still leagues beyond most of the competition. His sense of humor is spot-on, his attention to detail can't be denied, and his love of the medium is quite obvious. I also respect his move to take the traditionally indoor franchise outside, even though I don't think it was entirely successful.
Snake Eater feels different than the other games in the series, and clearly has its own identity. It doesn't come together as effortlessly or as gracefully as the previous iterations did, but despite it all there remain many aspects to enjoy and savor, as Matt has eloquently pointed out. It definitely isn't my favorite Metal Gear game, but my hat remains off to Kojima and his team for attempting the things that they did, and for bringing Snake back into my living room.