Set in Cold War-era Russia, the story centers on FOX operative Naked Snake as he attempts to rescue a weapons designer and sabotage an experimental superweapon. While previous games were set in a primarily urban environment, Snake Eater adopts a 1960s Soviet jungle setting, with the high tech, near-future trappings of previous Metal Gear Solid games being replaced with the wilderness. While the setting has changed, the game's focus remains stealth and infiltration, while retaining the series' self-referential, fourth wall-breaking sense of humor. Snake Eater's story is told through numerous cut scenes and radio conversations.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was well-received publicly and critically, selling 3.6 million copies worldwide and scoring an average of 91% on the review aggregate sites Game Rankings and Metacritic.
Approximately two-thirds of the game is set outdoors in a fictional Soviet Union rain forest, and using this varied environment to its fullest potential is often the key to success. Of the new features, particular emphasis is placed on camouflage and using the jungle environment itself (for example, climbing trees or hiding in tall grass) to avoid being seen by the enemy. The advanced radar from previous games has been removed in favor of a simple motion detector and sonar system more suitable for Snake Eater's time period.
A percentage value called the "camouflage index" displays Snake's visibility, on a scale from negative values (highly visible) up to 100% (completely invisible to the enemy). In order to minimize visibility, the player must switch between different camouflage uniforms and face paints to blend in with the environment; for example, wearing a bark-patterned uniform while leaning against a tree, or wearing striped face paint while hiding in tall grass. Other devices for camouflage, such as a fake Gharial head to decrease chances of being detected in water, are also available.
The basic close combat from previous installments has been heavily refined and expanded into the CQC system. When unarmed or using a one-handed weapon, Snake can grab opponents and put them in a chokehold, at which point a variety of actions can be performed, such as choking the enemy unconscious or interrogating them at knifepoint to obtain information. The context, pressure applied to the button, and movement of the analog stick determine the action performed.
While previous games used only a simple life bar, Snake Eater also keeps track of injuries over the entire body. For example, a long fall could fracture Snake's leg, slowing him down until the injury is properly treated with a splint and bandage. Unless these injuries are treated, Snake will not be able to fully recover his health for some time.
The location brings in the need to rely upon native flora and fauna to survive. This is manifested in a stamina gauge, which constantly depletes during gameplay. Failure to restore the gauge by eating has detrimental effects on gameplay, such as decreasing Snake's ability to aim his weapon. Food can be stored in the backpack until it is needed. However, some types of food rot over time, and consuming rotten foods may result in Snake developing a stomach ache, causing the stamina gauge to deplete faster.
Snake Eater includes a minigame called Snake vs. Monkey, in which Snake has to catch Ape Escape style monkeys. In addition to containing tongue-in-cheek humor, bonus items usable in the main game can be unlocked by progressing through various stages.
The two primary antagonists of the game are Colonel Volgin (v.b. Kenji Utsumi and Neil Ross), an electricity-controlling GRU colonel and member of the extreme Brezhnev faction, who are attempting to overthrow Nikita Khrushchev to seize power for Leonid Brezhnev and Alexey Kosygin, and The Boss (v.b. Kikuko Inoue and Lori Alan), former mentor to Naked Snake. The Cobra unit, a special-forces unit lead by The Boss, comprises The End, a venerable expert sniper credited as the father of modern sniping; The Fear, who has supernatural flexibility and agility; The Fury, a disfigured former cosmonaut armed with a flamethrower and a jetpack; The Pain, who can control hornets to both defend himself and attack his enemies; and The Sorrow, the spirit of a deceased medium.
Other characters include Sokolov (v.b. Naoki Tatsuta and Brian Cummings), a rocket scientist whom Snake must rescue; EVA (v.b. Misa Watanabe and Suzetta Miñet), an American defector and KGB agent sent to assist Snake; and a young Ocelot (v.b. Takumi Yamazaki and Joshua Keaton), commander of the elite Ocelot unit within Volgin's GRU. Some joking references are also made to previous games: Major Raikov, Volgin's effeminate gay lover, parodies the criticized effeminate appearance of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty protagonist Raiden, and the grandfather of recurring incompetent soldier Johnny Sasaki makes an appearance as a cell guard.
Having detected the US aircraft which deployed Snake flying over Soviet soil, the Soviet Union declares the United States responsible for the atomic attack, tipping both nations to the edge of a nuclear war. In a secret conference between US President Lyndon Johnson and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, a deal is hatched to prove the US's innocence and restore peace. The United States agree to stop Volgin's renegade faction, destroy the stolen Shagohod and eliminate the American defector, The Boss.
A week after being rescued from the region, Snake is redeployed into the Soviet jungle as part of Operation Snake Eater, to fulfill the United States' promises. During the mission, he gains the assistance of another American defector, ex-NSA agent EVA, who defected a few years earlier. After numerous encounters with the elite Ocelot Unit (led by a young Ocelot), and defeating nearly every member of the Cobra Unit, Snake succeeds in locating Sokolov and the stolen Shagohod, only to be captured in Volgin's military fortress, Groznyj Grad. After witnessing the apparent death of Sokolov, Snake is tortured and has his eye injured when Ocelot shoots to kill EVA; Snake ultimately escapes.
When he returns to the facility to destroy the Shagohod, Snake learns of The Philosophers. Made up of the most powerful men in the United States, Soviet Union, and China, they are an Illuminati-like organization who control the world behind the scenes. However, after the end of World War II, they began to fight amongst themselves, and the organization broke down. The Philosopher's Legacy, a fund the organization had jointly amassed to finance their wars ($100 billion, about $1 trillion today when adjusted for inflation) was divided up and hidden in banks all over the world. Volgin had illegally inherited this money, and Snake learns that the US is attempting to retrieve it.
Snake continues his mission, destroying the facility and the Shagohod tank, while engaging Volgin, who is killed by a bolt of lightning during the battle. Snake and EVA travel to a lake, where a ground effect vehicle is hidden. Before they use it to escape the region, Snake confronts his old mentor, The Boss, whom he must kill to complete his mission. During this time a cut scene is shown stating that The Boss gave birth to a child (the father being The Sorrow) during a battle. Before this time however, during a radio call, EVA tells Snake that the reason Ocelot achieved the rank of major at such a young age was due to the fact that his parents were legendary soldiers. She also tells Snake that Ocelot's mother needed to cut Ocelot out during the birth, leaving a snake-like scar. This scar is seen on The Boss, which strongly suggests that she is Ocelot's mother. After an emotional battle, Snake overcomes his feelings and defeats her. He and EVA escape to Alaska, and spend the night together. During the night EVA disappears, and leaves behind a tape revealing herself to be a Chinese spy sent to steal the Philosophers Legacy for China. The tape continues, and EVA reveals that The Boss did not defect to the Soviet Union; rather, she was under orders to pretend to defect so she could infiltrate Volgin's ranks and find the location of the Legacy, which could be brought back to America. The final part of her mission was to sacrifice her honor and die at the hands of Snake, under the guise of a traitor, to prove the US's innocence in Volgin's nuclear attack from the beginning of the game.
Snake is awarded the title of "Big Boss" and given the Distinguished Service Cross for his efforts before an enthusiastic crowd; however Snake has become so distraught and demoralized after EVA's revelation that he leaves almost immediately after getting his medal, hardly acknowledging the President or Major Zero and the support staff. Later, he arrives at an anonymous grave, The Boss', just one of thousands located in Arlington Cemetery. Laying down The Boss' gun and a bouquet of lilies upon the nameless gravestone, he scans the endless rows before him, salutes, and sheds a single tear.
After the credits roll, Ocelot is heard talking (a telephone conversation), and reveals that the microfilm containing the information on the Philosopher's Legacy given to EVA was a fake, that Ocelot himself was ADAM, that half of the real legacy is in the hands of the US Government thanks to Snake, and that he was working for the CIA.
Kojima commented that the outside environment was very difficult to create. He explained that the reason previous games were primarily set indoors is because the current consoles were not powerful enough to portray a true jungle environment. In contrast with urban environments, the jungle does not have a flat surface. The protagonist in Snake Eater has to cross uneven terrain, including rocks, dirt mounds and treestumps. As a result, the collision engine used in previous installments could not be used, and a new one had to be built from scratch. Setting up the motion capture technology so players could walk over these mounds was a problem during development.
Many fans wanted Snake Eater to use a 3D camera, but this was ultimately not implemented in the game. Kojima views Metal Gear Solid, Sons of Liberty and Snake Eater as a trilogy, and wished to keep the camera the same as the previous two in order to keep the feel of the three games the same. He did, however, acknowledge that the current trend for video games is to use the 3D camera. The camera was later implemented in Snake Eater's enhanced re-release, Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, and is in the PlayStation 3 sequel, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots.
Kojima designed Snake Eater's boss battles to be totally different from those in previous Metal Gear games, or any other games. He said that the boss battle with sniper The End best represented free, open gameplay in the game. The battle takes place over a large area of dense jungle, and the player must search extensively for The End, who attacks over long range from an unknown position. This battle of attrition can last for hours, and contrasts with other boss fights in which the enemy is right in front of the player and in view the whole time. In addition, the player has the ability to both avoid this boss battle altogether by killing The End earlier in the game or to simply wait a period of time after saving and reloading your game (over a week's time) for The End to die of old age. Kojima commented that features like this do not appear in other games.
In a break from tradition, one of the ending themes of the game is not an in-house production, but Starsailor's "Way To Fall". Hideo Kojima later revealed in his blog that he originally wanted to use "Space Oddity" and "Ashes to Ashes" (by David Bowie) for the ending themes because of the space development theme of the game, but during the game's development that theme lost its significance. One of his colleagues then advised him to listen to Stellastarr*, but Kojima heard Starsailor. He liked the song "Way To Fall" and chose it as an ending theme.
Reviewers had mixed opinions about the game's camouflage system. Edge commented that "laying, camouflaged, in short grass inches away from a patrolling enemy is a gripping twist on stealth," while GameSpy criticized it as "just a number to monitor and not a terribly interesting one." Out of the variety of new features, GameSpot called it "the most important and best implemented." The game has also been criticized for its low frame rate, which has been reduced to 30 fps (compared with Metal Gear Solid 2's 60 fps).
Metal Gear Solid 3's cut scenes have been called "visually exciting and evocative, beautifully shot" by Edge. However, they commented that the script "ranges from awkward to awful" and criticized David Hayter's performance as Snake, concluding that "Snake Eater's speech is not up to the standard of other games, let alone cinema." GameSpot said that some of the humor "falls flat, as if lost in translation from Japanese" and "should appeal to ... hardcore fans but ... takes you out of the moment."
For the European release, Konami added several new features, including the "European Extreme" difficulty setting, a Demo Theater of the game's cut scenes, and a Duel Mode, where players can replay boss battles from the main game, in addition to extra facepaints based on European flags and two new Snake vs. Monkey levels.
Subsistence was released in Japan on December 22, 2005, later in North America on March 14, 2006, in Europe on October 6, 2006 and in Australia on October 13, 2006. Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence continues the Metal Gear Solid series tradition of follow-up enhanced, international version releases. While previous releases, such as Metal Gear Solid: Integral and Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance included skill challenge missions and/or side story missions, Subsistence eschews the extra single-player missions to include updated versions of the series' first two games, Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake (based on their MSX2 releases), a brand-new competitive online mode, and a fully 3D, user-controlled camera in the main portion of the game.
Subsistence's online multiplayer component, titled Metal Gear Online, consists of five tournament-style game modes, each with a capacity of up to eight players. This mode pits players, each playing as a generic soldier against each other in deathmatch battles and variations of capture the flag, using stages, items, maneuvers, and units (such as the KGB, GRU or Ocelot Unit) from the main game. Depending on server settings, each round the highest-scoring player in each unit automatically assumes the role of one of the main characters (or Reiko Hinomoto from Rumble Roses), along with unique abilities and/or items. For example, the highest scoring player on the GRU team would assume the role of Major Raikov, leader of the GRU, next round. Konami's Metal Gear Online service for the PlayStation 2 closed in Japan on December 26, 2006, followed by in North America on April 2, 2007 and in Europe on October 30, 2007.
In addition to the older games and the online mode, Subsistence includes many minor features common to international version releases. It includes the downloadable extra camouflage and face paint designs and "Snake vs. Monkey" stages previously exclusive to the European release, the European Extreme difficulty level, parody cut scenes and trailers from the official website, and connectivity with Metal Gear Acid 2. The Japanese version also includes a URL for a hidden website that allows the download of OtaClock, a PC and Mac clock program that features Metal Gear Solid series recurring character Otacon. This website is now publicly available.
"Limited Edition" copies of Subsistence also include Existence, the game's cut scenes edited into a three-and-a-half-hour feature film with additional scenes and remastered sound. The North American "Limited Edition" package was only available to consumers who pre-ordered it before the game's release. The three disc edition is the standard release of Subsistence in Europe to make up for the title's lengthy delay.
A bonus documentary DVD video titled Metal Gear Saga Vol. 1 was bundled with pre-orders for Subsistence in North America and with the European Platinum reissue of Snake Eater released in Germany on March 23, 2006. The disc includes a five-part, 30-minute featurette about the entire Metal Gear series interspersed with an interview of Hideo Kojima, as well as trailers for various current Metal Gear games.
Subsistence received marginally higher review scores than the original Snake Eater, averaging 94% on Metacritic. Reviewers commented that the introduction of the 3D camera removed the "only grade-A problem" and makes the gameplay feel "less restrictive and more natural." The online mode is considered "impressive for a PS2 game", though "MGS3's distinctive gameplay conventions do not entirely lend themselves to the online action-gaming experience." Subsistence received IGN's award for "best online game" for the PlayStation 2 in December 2006. Ultimately, this edition sold over 1 million copies worldwide.