THE CHE GUEVARIAN CANDIDATE
The story's worth it, too, following the journey that sets Naked Snake on the path to becoming Big Boss (hey, we didn't invent these names), the baddy in the very first Metal Gear game. His impossible mission sees him get closer and closer to a dastardly secret weapon while taking down more and more of the Cobra unit - but that's only half the story. Snake's own motivations are bound up in the elusive figure of The Boss, his former mentor, and what her betrayal means to him. Sound a bit heavy? Other games just don't compare with stories like this: it's a dense and smart action extravaganza that Kojima hasn't topped since.
Part of this atmosphere is a brilliant supporting cast on the codec radio, which you can access at any time for bespoke information. This is a big part of MGS3D's world, and one that few games emulate - call up one of your buddies when doing almost anything and they'll have something new to say. Everything's fair game: enemies, fauna, flora, politics, movies, food, in-game habits and health. It's a near-inexhaustible well of information and tips, as well as being seriously funny, and gives a sometimes bleak solo op a touch of camaraderie.
This rich setting gets the game it deserves. The key characteristic of Metal Gear Solid is stealth - avoiding enemies unless confrontation is truly necessary. Its common soldiers are capable of seeing movement at a distance, hearing noise and calling for backup almost instantaneously. It's easy enough to sneak up on an isolated guard, but they're very rarely in this position: they cover each other's blind spots, patrol in patterns, and investigate anything suspicious. If they see Snake they'll open fire and call for reinforcements to help them out.
SOFTLY, SOFTLY CATCHEE CHUMPHY
There are huge numbers of weapons to acquire throughout MGS3D, but Snake's best tools from start to finish are silence and the element of surprise. Every location is filled with hiding places - patches of long grass, logs, ditches, water, crates, walls, drains... anything with a physical form. Moving from one to another without being spotted is the key, allowing Snake to acquire positions where you can jump out, snatch a bewildered guard, and do as you will.
It's a thrilling mechanic, and choosing to take on large groups via stealth leads to heart-in-mouth moments every time. A guard you lost track of sees Snake running from cover, or one looks just at the moment you shuffle through the grass - and comes over for a closer look. Stepping in a puddle creates an audible splash, and the mistake could lead to a wave of soldiers that sweep Snake away.
The flipside to MGS3D's finely tuned stealthing is its dangerous and hectic combat. When Snake's spotted, the enemy in question enters the Alert phase, and you have a millisecond to take them down before they call for back-up. If this happens you either fight or run - which depends on the situation. Choose to run and it's crucial to find a non-obvious hiding place. The guards will then enter the Caution phase, where they're more wary and check likely hiding places. But if you stay hidden long enough they'll give up.
This is almost a game in itself, because unless you're quicker than a whippet the enemies have a pretty good nose for hidden Snakes. It's not uncommon to switch between Alert and Caution several times as you dash around like the Cold War Benny Hill with a big line of soldiers in pursuit - and when they finally give up just before a guy checks the locker you're in, it's a hell of a rush.
Fighting toe-to-toe always feels like a last resort, even though Snake is more or less Rambo. Up close, taps will unleash a quick combo that's good for downing enemies (though it doesn't keep them down), and holding R and a direction will execute a judo throw in that direction. A key move is holding R without any movement - Snake grabs the enemy in a chokehold, and from this position you can throw him, knock him out, interrogate him or simply cut his throat.