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The 15 Best Games Since 2000, Number 2: Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

Let's take a look at the high point of the Metal Gear franchise... Mr. President.

Retrospective by Kat Bailey, .

We're nearing the end of our daily countdown of the 15 Best Games Since 2000. Want to read more? Check out the rest of the entries here.

"Someday you'll go through the rain! And someday you'll feed on a tree frog!" Cynthia Harrell croons in the opening credits of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, and it's in those moments that it becomes apparent we're in for something different from either Metal Gear Solid or its somewhat controversial sequel. And in many ways, something much better.

There have been a number of entries in the franchise since, but Hideo Kojima has yet to top Metal Gear Solid 3, in many ways his magnum opus. Bob has gone so far as to argue that he will never top it, though there's been a lot of positive buzz around Phantom Pain. It was an ode to Ian Fleming and the James Bond films, but it was undeniably a video game, featuring among other things the ability to kill an antagonist before they were even properly introduced. And it brought to the fore Big Boss, unquestionably the franchise's most interesting character this side of The Boss, who is one of gaming's best characters period.

When Metal Gear Solid 3 was in development, though, there was no indication that any of this would be the case. After the ridiculous levels of hype surrounding the release of Metal Gear Solid 2, the franchise's reputation had taken in the minds of gamers and critics. It had its fans, but it was divisive at best, and the attempts to reconsider its impact were still some years away. As a consequence, Metal Gear Solid 3 mostly flew under the radar in the midst of a busy 2004 that included Halo 2, Half-Life 2, and World of WarCraft among others.

"It was an ode to Ian Fleming and the James Bond films, but it was undeniably a video game, featuring among other things the ability to kill an antagonist before they were even properly introduced."

Still, there were reasons to be optimistic about Metal Gear Solid 3 even at that early date. Its jungle setting contrasted mightily with the claustrophobic tanker of Metal Gear Solid 2, bringing to mind the original game's Outer Heaven complex. And in refocusing on the backstory of Big Boss, it was able to put aside some of the narrative baggage of the first two games and tell a more focused, self-contained story. All of this was to Metal Gear Solid 3's benefit, as was the shift in the timeline to the Cold War, which gave rise to a lighter tone that brought with it Harrell's famous theme song.

There were two major elements that ultimately set Metal Gear Solid 3 apart from the rest of the series, and they probably deserve their own article. The first element was the boss battles. Snake's fights against the The Cobra Unit and Volgin's number among the most memorable boss battles in gaming history. They ranged from memorable, over-the-top setpieces (the battle with the Shagohod) to the bizarre (The Pain and his bees), each one testing Snake in a new and interesting way.

The End. Still one of the most interesting boss battles ever.

Outside of the final boss battle, which I'll get to in a moment, the most memorable of them was against The End - the ancient sniper who can be eliminated in the midst of a story sequence. Much has been written about why this is one of the best boss battles ever, and everyone has their own story. My own experience involved searching desperately for the The End's telltale lens flare and getting surprised and thrown into jail, which isn't my finest moment. But at least I didn't resort to changing my PS2's clock so that he would die of old age. I would be remiss if I didn't also mention the sequence with The Sorrow, which serves as an explicit dig at all the killing that takes place in games. All I'll say is that my journey up the river of death was crowded with corpses, including some rather hapless helicopter pilots who were still on fire from when I shot them down. I was never very good at being stealthy.

Great as the battles were, though, the best was reserved for last, which brings me to the other element of Metal Gear Solid 3 that truly makes it an all-timer - The Boss. If you haven't played MGS 3 yet for some reason, I won't spoil the big reveal, but suffice it to say that she's a tragic character. Nicknamed "The Mother of Special Forces," she is cast as possibly the greatest soldier ever, and she certainly lives up to her reputation. She spends most of the game operating in the background, but her influence is felt throughout in her relationship with Snake and in her role as the game's ostensible antagonist.

Snake Eater experimented with a number of survival mechanics, including capturing and eating wildlife to stave off hunger. It didn't always work, but it had the benefit of being unique.

I don't think I really need to talk about the trouble games have had with their depiction of women - I think that's self-evident even today. Metal Gear Solid itself has had its share of trouble in that regard. But The Boss still stands out today as a fully-developed character who avoids most of the stereotypical traps for women in media while serving as the story's animating force. As a consequence, she is considered one of gaming's most memorable characters.

Her most memorable moment also doubles as the best in a long line of excellent boss fights and the story's climax. Battling her former student in a field of white lilies, she does what any great final boss battle forces you to do - use all of the skills you've been taught to defeat her, most notably the rather in-depth close-quarters combat system, of which she is the inventor. Then, when she is finally defeated, it's up to you to pull the trigger and perform an emotional coup de grace. Pushing that button is one of the hardest things I've ever done in a game.

Metal Gear Solid 3 wound up rehabilitating the franchise's reputation among mainstream gamers, and was further improved by 2006's Subsistence - an updated version that introduced a controllable camera (thank god for that). Its standing sincee has only grown in the wake of the disappointing Metal Gear Solid 4 and the underrated Peace Walker, the latter which serves as a follow-up to Snake Eater. It is in many ways the platonic ideal of Metal Gear - a brilliantly designed action game that also critiques the medium is represents. Even today, there is really nothing like it.

While Metal Gear Solid 3 was under development, Hideo Kojima claimed it would be his last game in the series. As it turned out, that wasn't the case; but now that Kojima has been unceremoniously shown the door at Konami, it appears that his run with the series is indeed finished. The Phantom Pain may yet top it, but even if it does, Metal Gear Solid 3 will remain one of the highest points in the controversial but ultimately much-loved series. It deserves to be recognized as not just one of the fifteen best games since 2000, but as one of the best and most interesting games ever.

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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #1 SargeSmash 3 years ago
    Now there we go! My absolute favorite MGS game, especially if you're playing the Subsistence version. So many great moments in that game.

    Also, if you've got that version, check out the Secret Theater. My goodness, there's some hilarious stuff in there. Especially the "time paradox!" bits. :)
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #2 Kat.Bailey 3 years ago
    @SargeSmash I can't believe I forgot about the Time Paradox. So great.
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  • Avatar for Monkey-Tamer #3 Monkey-Tamer 3 years ago
    I remember my initial disappointment when I started the game. I didn't want a prequel. I wanted to hunt down the Patriots. But I played it anyway and loved it. Granted switching camo constantly could be a chore, it was nevertheless an interesting system. Not having the crutch of the soliton radar made the game rather difficult compared to the first two. Much has been said about the fate of the Boss in the ending, but another memorable moment is bringing the hammer back and pulling the trigger trying to get a shot off while Ocelot is staring at you doing the same while you're trying to escape Commie land. That was intense.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #4 brionfoulke91 3 years ago
    Excellent choice! This is easily the best Metal Gear, has some of the best gameplay in any stealth game ever conceived, some of the most creative and fun boss fights of all time, and excellent story which stands the test of time, and one of the best female video game characters (maybe THE best) in The Boss! Absolutely deserves to be so high!

    And how about that song, Snake Eater... what a fantastic way to start off the game! It's actually a better song than most James Bond songs, and that's saying a lot!
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #5 Kuni-Nino 3 years ago
    Damn. I did my first play through of this game last year and, well, I guess you had to be there. Unfortunately I didn't come away with the impression that I was playing a masterpiece. I mean, games like Chaos Theory and Deus Ex: Human Rev completely blow away Snake Eater in terms of stealth mechanics, and story (at least Deus Ex anyway).

    And the boss battles in Snake Eater are kind of overrated. About the only thing making them special are the personalities and Kojima's sense of cut-scene direction. Their designs and their dialogue really highlight how eccentric they are. However in terms of mechanics, I thought they were simple and rarely did they ever pose a challenge. For The End, I was expecting some high tension sniper battle and it was that for about five minutes. Until I realized I could just walk around the area, approach him from behind and shoot him twice in the head with a tranq. He runs away. Chase him down, repeat it again two more times and he's dead.

    The same went for the other bosses too. The battle against the Boss, at least in my experience, I never used CQC on her. It was far more effective for me to sit on the other edge of the flower field and snipe her from a distance. I killed her in about two minutes flat and every time she would come in to attack, I would absorb the attack, run away, heal up and shoot her in the head again. Nothing about it left a distinct impression on me.

    Having said all that, the game is good. I enjoyed my time with it but I would be lying if I said I hadn't played better games or even better stealth games. Maybe if I played it back when it came out, I would have been more impressed.

    As it stands now, I don't think Snake Eater deserves to be on this list. I know Human Revolution isn't going to be on this list and I think it's a way better game in all areas.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #6 brionfoulke91 3 years ago
    @Kuni-Nino I dunno man, if anything I think that Deus Ex is overrated. I certainly didn't find it's mechanics or story to be anything special.

    I think you're missing the point about boss battles in MGS3. What makes them so great is that there are so many ways to approach them. There are at least a dozen ways to get the jump on The End, that battle can go so many different directions. That's the mark of a good boss battle. And that depth extends not only to the boss battles but to the whole game in general. You just don't see that kind of depth and complexity in games like Dues Ex.

    And that's not even mentioning the incredible sense of style or wonderful soundtrack of MGS3. It's a phenomenal game in every area.
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  • Avatar for Voncaster #7 Voncaster 3 years ago
    I'm replaying this right now. I cam late to series. So my order went MGS4, MGS3, MGS Peace walker and then MGS2. I've replayed MGS4 once and I'm currently replaying MGS3.

    I will wait for my play though, to form final thoughts. But my initial impression, is that MGS4 doesn't deserve nearly the hate it receives. Its quite similar to MGS3.
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  • Avatar for grappler51 #8 grappler51 3 years ago
    So glad this is on here. Played it for the first time last Summer in the HD collection and it still holds up super well. Sadly there's only one spot left and I'm guessing it's not gonna be Metroid Prime :(
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  • Avatar for FTLMantis #9 FTLMantis 3 years ago
    So, that means dark souls is number 1, judging by how many people on staff are huge fans of it?
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #10 Kat.Bailey 3 years ago
    @FTLMantis I assume you mean Bob and myself? To my knowledge, Mike, Jaz, and Jeremy aren't big Dark Souls players.Edited August 2015 by Kat.Bailey
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #11 Kuni-Nino 3 years ago
    @brionfoulke91 I guess. I didn't really explore MGS3. The game never pushed me to change up my style. I felt I could get through any area with some tranq darts and some decent camo.

    Deus Ex, that game had me switching styles constantly and not just in avoiding detection but also in combat as well. I felt great when I hacked a turret and carried it with me around a level to maul down bad guys. The A.I. actually went clever to disable me. They holed me up in a room, where I set the turret in front of the doorway. It shot down a bunch of dudes and I was just laughing thinking they can't beat this until I heard the turret stop shooting. For about a minute it was quiet and I wondered where the bad guys went. They don't just leave right? All of a sudden I saw two grenades fly into the room, I sought my cover but the damage was already done. They had landed on near the turret and the thing was reduced to cinders mere seconds later. So I got my weapons ready and I stormed out looking for the bad guys only to see nothing. Somebody starts shooting me and I'm like "what the hell is this?"

    Turns out the guys were cloaked the whole time and that's how they tricked me. I was honestly surprised the A.I. could come up with such a scheme. I've been playing games for a long time and I could count on my hands the times that I've been outsmarted by an A.I. That was awesome.

    Deus Ex Human Rev is filled with little touches like that. Love that game. One of the best stealth games I've ever played.
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #12 Kuni-Nino 3 years ago
    @FTLMantis Yeah, we haven't seen Dark Souls yet, so it probably will be number one. We've seen the usual suspects like WoW, League, Mario Galaxy, RE4, etc. There's no way Dark Souls gets left out of this list.
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  • Avatar for PlatypusPlatoon #13 PlatypusPlatoon 3 years ago
    I didn't like stealth games before playing this, and hadn't touched a Metal Gear Solid game until Snake Eater... and the game didn't make me enjoy stealth any more. Between the fixed camera, the awkward controls, the tedious scenarios, and the enemies picking away at you from off screen, I found it easier to equip a shotgun and go to town. I'm not sure if I missed out on any cool sequences by not playing the way I was "supposed" to go, but I couldn't be arsed to sit underneath a box for the umpteenth time.

    I feel like the game is really slow going, until the third act, when things kick into high gear out of nowhere, the bombastic Harry Gregson-Williams score suddenly pipes in, and then you're riding in a motorcycle sidecar with giant walking mechs bearing down on you. "What is this new game, and where has it been this whole time?!" I seem to remember the last third of the game being more heavily scripted and consisting of action set-pieces, but I was thankful for the change in pace. It played out like a thrill-a-minute action movie after that, with big story beat after story beat, and that final boss fight and ending was something else. It was enough to make me forget about the middling first half of the game, and elevate it in my memory to one of the all time great storylines in gaming.

    I actually haven't touched a Metal Gear game since, but maybe I should download one of those PSP follow ups on my Vita, because the story of the Boss and Big Boss is fascinating.
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  • Avatar for FTLMantis #14 FTLMantis 3 years ago
    @Kat.Bailey I thought Mike was too, for whatever reason. Sorry if I was wrong! It would also probably be my choice for number 1, so it's possible I project my own bias.
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  • Avatar for manny_c44 #15 manny_c44 3 years ago
    Maybe I didn't give it enough time, but MGS3 is only behind MGS4 as my least favorite metal gear game. (Man...I even liked AC!D 2 more...)
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  • Avatar for BaltimoreJones #16 BaltimoreJones 3 years ago
    Cool, so Portal is #1. Pretty good choice.

    Can't say I agree with MGS3 though. Played it in the last year or two and just never got into it. On Normal difficulty it was often better to just sprint through screens and tank through damage until the next cut scene rather than playing "for real". Never got into a groove playing "for real".
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  • Avatar for ajhopwood #17 ajhopwood 3 years ago
    Judging by the comments so far, people are split over whether MGS3 is a fantastic masterpiece or an overhyped stealth game with subpar game mechanics. As I reflect on my time with this game (and the MGS series in general), I also teeter between the two camps. On the one hand, the storytelling, the characters, the music and boss battles are fantastically crafted, as Kat eloquently describes above. However, it must be stated that the stealth gameplay really does seem clunky and flawed at times. Much like Kat, my slow trudge up the river in the boss battle with The Sorrow is littered with the corpses of my failed attempts to sneak through enemy territory.

    At the end of the day, it's one of the few games that I consider among my own personal favorites where I'm able to overlook the gameplay flaws in favor of the experience I so thoroughly enjoy of playing through the story. Looking forward to seeing if Phantom Pain can recreate the magic.
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  • Avatar for Y7748837 #18 Y7748837 3 years ago
    @FTLMantis No, #1 is going to be the August 2000 PS1 release Valkyrie Profile
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #19 SatelliteOfLove 3 years ago
    I think the corny lounge lizard Japanese Snake Eater better.

    Oddly, for me this game has went down in reputation while 2 has only went up.

    The "jungles" of Siberia, Volgin's descent into a cardboard cutout who mumbles on and on about The Legacy (given its use as a tie-in to later games), Boss disappearing for long stretches till you had to end her because...you had to end her. It felt a bit stitched together (which 4 is a virtual Frankenstein because of). 2 was waaaaaaaaaaay more thought out holistically and act-for-act.

    Still, it may have the best compilation of bosses soup to nuts of any video game in history, and for that alone warrants praise.Edited August 2015 by SatelliteOfLove
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  • Avatar for theresacatalano27 #20 theresacatalano27 3 years ago
    Anyone saying that this game is overrated is just crazy. This is the most fun stealth game I've played by far. Everything about this game is unmatched by any game before or since, especially the boss fights! And the story is still one of the best in gaming, too.

    There is no doubt that this is one of the best games in the last 15 years! No doubt!
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  • Avatar for bertford36 #21 bertford36 3 years ago
    Great choice, great game! MGS3 is a masterpiece! Your list was making me nervous, but the last bunch of choices have been very good!
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  • Avatar for jjmahoney3 #22 jjmahoney3 3 years ago
    Now I'm kind of embarrassed that it's the only console Metal Gear game I've never played.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #23 VotesForCows 3 years ago
    @BaltimoreJones@Kuni-Nino

    I think you don't really get the full experience until you play on the hardest difficulty level (European Extreme, where being seen ends the game). That said, I can accept that the ability of players to just run through areas on Normal difficulty is a bit of a design flaw!
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #24 SargeSmash 3 years ago
    So, number one game... perhaps Skyrim?
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  • Avatar for unoclay #25 unoclay 3 years ago
    Given that I primarily play Nintendo systems, I might never have gotten around to this one if they hadnt released it for the 3DS. It was so amazing and invigorating that I was inspired to spend $35 on the gamecube remake of MSG1, and i grabbed a (lol) $5 copy of MGS2 at a flea market. Playing through 1 now, and I owe it to the oddly timed--yet much appreciated--3DS port.
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  • Avatar for BaltimoreJones #26 BaltimoreJones 3 years ago
    @VotesForCows Yea I really dislike that type of design. Playtest better - "Normal" should be "normal" and a decent experience.

    I found something similar with BioShock 2 - on Normal the game eventually becomes trivial, just a matter of deploying a few turrets and robots and then hiding if you need to. You also wind up with everything maxed out. How hard is it to playtest and figure out that you should be giving out less ammo and making the robots/turrets less powerful or slower to attain?
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #27 VotesForCows 3 years ago
    @BaltimoreJones yes, I was a bit disappointed the first time I realised I could sprint through Snake Eater on normal!
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  • Avatar for inkybutt #28 inkybutt 3 years ago
    I've got the HD version for 360 and I've tried getting into it multiple times, but the mechanics just don't "click" for me. I got further with the old MSX game packaged with MGS3. I've always enjoyed Metal Gear more for the story than gameplay so maybe I'll just watch a Youtube walkthrough.

    Immaculately crafted game world and story, but I have to agree with those who've played Deus Ex or Splinter Cell-- the gameplay for those is much more fluid and natural.
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  • Avatar for Frosty840 #29 Frosty840 3 years ago
    @NiceGuyNeon Starting with MGS2 was a mistake I also made. On its own, it's a decent stealth game but overall a relatively lacklustre experience.
    It turns out, though, that MGS2 is actually an amazingly detailed deconstruction of MGS1 specifically and of hero-based games in general.
    This article breaks down the MGS1/2 experience and really helps to give readers an appreciation for the level of attention to detail that's present in Hideo Kojima's games, which can easily be missed, mistaken or unappreciated by "casual" players of the series (and by "casual" I mean pretty much anyone normal, because normal people just aren't playing games on that kind of level...).

    Does knowing that there's more going on in MGS2 than I realised make MGS2 a better game? For me it does. Knowing that those details are there for me to find in MGS2 encourages me to observe and appreciate game environments more, and to assume that the game-world I'm playing in might actually be as detailed as games usually just pretend they are. I like that. I enjoy playing games that do actually have a layer of richness and life that we're oh so used to games faking, often badly.
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  • Avatar for RorschachCCCLX #30 RorschachCCCLX 3 years ago
    Snake Eater might not be my favorite Metal Gear Solid, but it might well be the best.
    Kojima perfected the classic MGS play style (and in Subsistence fixed the nagging camera issues). I vividly remember the intense boss fights, white knuckle stealth and a fun story that concluded with the epic battle with "The Boss" herself.
    For a story that carried enough continuity baggage to crush an elephant, it was surprisingly effective and memorable. Something MGS IV struggled mightily with.

    I likely shouldn't admit this, but since we are all friends here why not? On a alcohol fueled night at the local Karaoke bar, my friends and I sang a rousing and off-key rendition of "snake eater".Edited August 2015 by RorschachCCCLX
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