Hideo Kojima loves movies. After all, he's already made one on the PlayStation, overseen a Director's Cut on the GameCube (digitally remastered), and now has favoured the PS2 with his second magnum opus on that system.
It's a familiar war cry from his detractors; the man doesn't make games, he makes movies masquerading as games. Lengthy codec screens dictate convoluted plot, chirping in every five steps, while the seething player hammers their 'X' button in search of another slice of actual gameplay. Elaborate cutscenes revel in thematic excesses; swooping angles, slow motion and wannabe cool sound bytes demand to be admired. We are battered by a thousand trite speeches all aching to be quoted, discussed and immortally remembered.
While it might be premature to say that Kojima has tempered his enthusiasm, it can be said that much has been improved here; unfortunately, you'll need to endure the first two hours or so to see it. Rather than peppering the game with constant Codec conversations like MGS2, Kojima throws as much exposition as he possibly can at you in the first act; ten minute conversations can and do happen, lengthy cutscenes leave you paralyzed with a 'I want to skip, but this might be important' mindset, indignation rises and enthusiasm falls away.
'This first act, the so called 'Virtuous Mission', is a test of patience and resolve'
This first act, the so called 'Virtuous Mission', is a test of patience and resolve in gameplay terms as well. Even though you may understand that this game requires a different approach to others in the series, it can be difficult to shrug off old habits and work with the new tools you are given. Both MGS1 and 2 relied on using the radar to gauge movements of guards then setting up your ambushes or stealthy bypasses accordingly, but no such luxury is present here. Replacement devices such as the sonar or motion detector fulfil a similar use, of course, but are limited by battery life and can potentially alert enemies with their audible workings.
Okay then, so you're limited technologically, which means you have to get back to what MGS was all about in the first place, right? Well, yes, in the best case scenario stealth in Snake Eater relies on shrewd observation, nerve, and use of the environment; in the worst case it means trying to move the camera just one more bloody inch up the screen so you have the opportunity to plan, let alone execute.
Snake Eater employs a fixed camera nearly identical to those used in its predecessors, except the crucial difference here is that both MGS 1 & 2 had very few large, open areas, plus the radar was able to gloss over any remaining problems by giving the player a constant advantage. It would be no exaggeration to say that, at times, Snake Eater is near crippled by adopting the same viewpoint; you can find yourself resorting to violence simply because stealth is so damn difficult in certain places.
Some have argued that this is a deliberate move, intended to represent limited visibility in a jungle environment. The only flaw with this logic is that sometimes Snake Eater does pull off this trick, preventing you from seeing an enemy until he's emerged from behind a tree or mound of foliage, yet it's only possible to see such neat tricks in the first-person view, which is limited to aiming. Confused? You're not the only one - it's akin to someone downing pints to get drunk while at the same time dosing themselves up on black coffee.