For Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Hideo Kojima, series creator and director, decided to step out of the series’ trademark urban infiltration environments in exchange for a Russian jungle that doesn’t exist. Tselinoyarsk, with its swamps, high mountains and dense jungles is quite the departure from Shadow Moses Island and the Big Shell of the two previous games.
Camouflage became the new focus of stealth. Line of sight was still important, but guards had increased detection ranges. They saw farther and heard better. Their hurried hustle became lazy walks. Stealth became a game of lying in the grass and sneaking by as slow as possible instead of trying to dart behind cones of vision displayed on the Soliton Radar of the previous games.
Kojima Productions decided to take full advantage of the game’s jungle setting and added in some extra features to really sell the locale home. Operation: Snake Eater takes place over several days and that means that Naked Snake needs to feed himself. Enter a wildlife and hunting system.
MGS3 isn’t just a stealth game. It’s a survival game, one man versus an army and the unforgiving world around him. Everything in MGS3 has an effect on Naked Snake’s resources. It’s a fight not only to survive the Russian guards but also the player’s ever dwindling resources.
Stamina always decreases in MGS3. Hunger is always in the player’s mind. Even if Snake isn’t currently hungry, crawling about in the brush reveals plenty of critters that the player is encouraged to capture for the future. Stamina decreases at a steady rate over time with ill effects. Snake won’t heal as well from wounds and when his stamina is too low, Snake’s stomach will growl and alert nearby guards.
Wildlife can impact stamina regeneration. Walk through a swamp and leeches will adhere to Snake’s body and drain stamina at a dangerous rate. Different parts of the world effect Snake’s body in different ways too. Walking uphill, especially up the mountain about halfway through the game, drains stamina at a much quicker rate than normal walking or sprinting would otherwise.
No matter what, the player’s stamina is always decreasing. The player has to go hunt food. Different edibles return different amounts of stamina. Russian rations aren’t tasty but they’re effective. Crocodiles and rabbits are more delicious than some of the other fauna, which will restore more stamina than less appetizing kinds or simple flora, like fruit or vegetables.
Food also doesn’t last forever. Food caught in the beginning of the game will spoil later in the adventure. Spoiled food may regain some stamina but it will usually make Snake sick, with all the effects one would expect from an illness. Usually vomiting. However, spoiled food can also be used to entice hungry guards and make them sick instead. Food also rots if the player spends too much real-life time away from the game, as tracked by the console’s internal clock. Returning from a break in gameplay is treacherous and forces the player right back into that survival state of mind.
While the player is hunting for food, they’re likely to use their arsenal of weapons and gear. Gadgets like the night vision and thermal goggles help reveal snakes and other wildlife in the underbrush. Unless the player wants to test getting close to the prey to kill it with their knife, they may use a gun or a tranquilizer gun. All of these have their own drawbacks too.
Every gadget has a respective battery that deplenishes with use. Batteries can be recharged, including through local flora, but the devices cannot be used indefinitely. Any gun obviously requires ammunition, but using a gun is only safe if there is a suppressor attached, as otherwise the sound will attract nearby guards. Killing an animal instantly turns it into food but tranquilizing it lets the player keep it in a cage to either kill and eat later or use for more nefarious purposes. Nothing like throwing a live snake on an unsuspecting guard.
Whatever the player decides, any shot from a suppressed gun degrades the suppressor, eventually breaking it until the player finds another to replace it. Unsilenced weapons make hunting animals more difficult, as the player must then decide whether they can deal with food that may spoil over time or if it’s worth taking out every guard in the area to hunt safely. The player’s decisions have ramifications on their gear and in turn, their play. Survival includes a battle with their own equipment.
The Survival Viewer gives players an intimate connection with Snake’s health. Injuries are a real possibility in the jungle. Fall from too great of a height and break Snake’s leg. Get in a firefight and receive bullet wounds. Animals can bite and poison and spoiled food will make Snake ill. Injuries are guaranteed by the game’s story; no amount of safe play will let the player escape from all injuries.
Injuries are treated differently depending on their nature but medical supplies are always a necessity. Disinfectant, gauze, bandages, splints, medicine and stitches are all used for various ailments. Snake starts his mission with some but more can be acquired through the various supply depots at different camps in Tselinoyarsk. Running low on medical supplies poses a real predicament to an accident prone player, where they must decide what injuries are worth treating and which aren’t. Letting some injuries heal naturally even improves Snake’s toughness over time.
MGS3’s deliberate stealth gameplay encourages the player to be careful. Rushing leads to being seen, which leads to gunfights or hurried escapes, which leads to injuries, which leads to dwindling supplies and so on. Even sneaking by unseen drains stamina and a hungry Snake must eat. Some resource is always dwindling and the thought of running out of something is always a possibility in the player’s mind.
Part of what makes MGS3 such an enthralling game is that the survival aspect is so ingrained with the core stealth gameplay cycle. Hunting, eating, healing injuries and scavenging for supplies create different experiences for every player despite how linear the game actually is. Entering an area starving is a completely different experience from entering it with full stamina. What would be a simple sneaking section is now hampered by a search for food and the need to maintain even more distance from guards than normal so they don’t hear Snake’s growling stomach. This kind of emergent gameplay keeps the game fresh, playthrough after playthrough.
The survival aspects of MGS3 are not vestigial or separated from the rest of its gameplay. It’s deeply intertwined with the rest of the experience. It forces the player to react to different scenarios, adding another layer onto the already complex camouflage and stealth gameplay. MGS3 isn’t only one of the finest stealth games of its kind. It’s a survival game, and an excellent example of how to use additional systems to enhance existing gameplay.