Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Metal Gear Solid 3 presented a much purer and simpler experience than the convoluted mess of the second game, and is by far my favourite entry in the series.
Setting up many of the mechanical frameworks that the series would attempt to recreate in later titles, Metal Gear Solid 3 tells the origins of the Snake that Solid, Liquid and Solidus would eventually be cloned from; I'd explain more, but we'd be here all year. Taking place in 1964, the hysteria and paranoia of the Cold War period is a natural home for the series' storytelling. Lacking the stuffy self-indulgence of 4, when the abundant space offered by the Blu-Ray disc let Kojima's fondness of overwrought cinematics spiral insufferably out of proportion, Metal Gear Solid 3's relatively simple plot contrasts with a set of complicated rules and settings that make it the hardest of the series to actually play.
Snake Eater casts aside the indoor environments of previous Metal Gear games and takes players through a Soviet jungle, giving players a camouflage meter alongside new mechanics such as CQC, stamina and injuries. There's a slower pace here than in previous games, putting the emphasis on blending into the environment and picking your time to strike.
For the first time in the series, then, Snake actually slithers. He also fights a preposterous boss who attacks him with bees, but the game's incredible sniper duel more than makes up for that. Other moments, too, such as a long ghostly walk where you're forced to encounter everyone you've killed, are some of the most memorable experiences I've had with video games.
There's also something about the way Metal Gear Solid 3 is told that makes it so special - often conforming to the same tropes that blight MGS2 and 4, but somehow elevated above them thanks to a deft juxtaposition with some of the series' most intricate and engaging set-pieces. Easily the most poignant and affecting of the series (and, unlike MGS4, this game actually knows when to end), its signature scenes - flower petals mixed with a sweeping score from Harry Gregson-Williams - are never anything less than beautiful.
Metal Gear Solid 3 was a game of soft colours and misty, tropical haze - the extra anti-aliasing complements the game's aesthetic far more than most HD remasters. It is still a gorgeous game, right down to its immaculate details: having the place names pop up in Russian as well as English was always a sharp touch.
The version present here is the Subsistence edition, which corrects one of the original game's biggest faults - the camera - and throws in versions of Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. Other bonuses from the edition, such as the Secret Theatre, Boss Survival Mode and the Ape Escape tie-in mini-game Snake vs Monkey, are not included. There's also no Metal Gear Online, though this is no great loss.
It's no surprise, in my opinion, that Metal Gear Solid 4 and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker went to considerate efforts to emulate Big Boss's original adventure - but neither manage to capture what made Metal Gear Solid 3 so special.