10 Things I Noticed As A First-Time Player Of Metal Gear Solid 3 And 4

10 Things I Noticed As A First-Time Player Of Metal Gear Solid 3 And 4

In preparation for Metal Gear Solid V, I’ve been playing through the entries in the series that I missed. It’s been enlightening.

Over the past week, in preparation for Metal Gear Solid V, I’ve been racing through MGS 3: Snake Eater and MGS 4: Guns of the Patriots, the two games in the series I hadn’t played before. As a first time player coming to these games years after they were released and running straight from one to the other, there are some things that have leaped out at me.

(There are major spoilers throughout this article for all the Metal Gear games except for Metal Gear Solid V.)

Metal Gear Solid 3 and 4 bookend the entire series

The two games serve as perfect bookends for the entire Metal Gear story, showing the start and the end of the Patriots, the secretive organisation that’s behind all the Metal Gear games.

Starting in 1964, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is chronologically the first game in the series. It tells the story of how a skilled CIA operative going by the codename Naked Snake becomes Big Boss, the man who would become a founding member of The Patriots. Throughout the Metal Gear series the story has repeatedly referred back to the legend of Big Boss, but he never appeared in any of the Metal Gear Solid games – only in the original Metal Gear games.

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots ends the story for Solid Snake, the clone of Big Boss we’ve played as since the original Metal Gear. In each game Snake has uncovered more of the Patriots’ plots and now, nearing death, Snake is finally able to end the organisation.

Seeing the start and the end of the story of The Patriots story re-contextualises everything that came in the games before. You get a better understanding of what was going on behind the scenes in Metal Gear Solid, you realise what was going in Metal Gear Solid 2’s nuts ending, and you get a sense of the grand plan the series’ creator Hideo Kojima has slotted together over the last 28 years.

The same mechanics are reinvented in each game

Most modern sequels have the same core game and then add a few mechanics to fit the new setting. Metal Gear doesn’t do that. Its mechanics are more like tropes that are reinvented for each game.

For instance, in Metal Gear Solid 1 and 2, you had a soliton map that showed you a top-down view of the environment and little vision cones for each soldier. In Metal Gear Solid 3, set thirty years before the original Metal Gear Solid, none of that tech exists. Mechanically it’s a step backwards, breaking down one passive system into multiple separate active systems. You have an AP sensor that will buzz when you’re near an enemy but doesn’t tell you where exactly they are; you have a motion detector that sweeps round in a circle around you highlighting pinpoints of movement, but is no use against a stationary enemy; and you have a sonar that you can use to ping out a pulse and detect enemy object locations (though potentially be found out from the noise).

The complication of detection from Metal Gear Solid 2 to 3 forces you to play more carefully, to make use of the new stealth mechanics, such as camouflage, because your technology is not as advanced as in the earlier games. It also embeds you in the Cold War setting, making you fully aware of the fact you’re in the past.

Metal Gear Solid 4 is set fifty years after Snake Eater, further into the future than any other Metal Gear game, so you’ve an eye camera that gives you augmented vision. When looking at drones you can see where their sensors are pointed, you get an overhead map that pinpoints enemies and, unlike in Metal Gear Solid 1 and 2, you can keep using this tech even when the enemy are on high alert. It all feels like an advance on what was available to you in the past games.

Metal Gear Solid 3’s controls are awful

Konami took Metal Gear Solid down the sim path in Snake Eater: you’re living off the land by capturing and eating animals, adjusting your camouflage to match your environment, and keeping your stamina up in the face of harsh weather conditions. The team also gives you much finer control over your weapons, which, while suited to deliberate gun battles like a sniping arena, is less well suited to fighting a guy wearing a jetpack and torching up the level with a flamethrower.

To accurately fire your AK, you have to ready it by half pressing in the square button, go into first-person by holding R1, put the gun against your shoulder so you can look down the sights by holding L1, aim with the left stick, and then press square all the way in to fire. I’ve played less intimidating flight simulators.

Boss fights become maddening as you’re frantically tapping between weapons and aim states, all while being attacked.

What makes it worse is that different guns have different controls. If I take out my sniper rifle I become rooted to the spot and L1 becomes your aim button instead of R1.

Separate to guns, the number of times I meant to roll out of fire but would simply lie down in the grass, or I wanted to crouch behind a rock but would instead stand up straight as if daring the eagle-eyed guards to ignore me, was not exactly insignificant.

Across Metal Gear Solid 1 – 3 there’s a gradual increase of controls based off the same layout, but by 3 the added complexity just became too much.

Metal Gear Solid 4’s controls are excellent

It may be because I went straight from one game to the next that I loved the controls in Metal Gear Solid 4 so much, but they are leaps and bounds better. Movement is clearer, so you can crouch and walk while aiming your gun, either from the hip or, with a tap of the triangle button, down the sights. Selecting, aiming, and firing are all down with the same buttons across all the guns (and shooting is mapped to the triggers instead of the square button).

In Snake Eater it felt like I was fighting with the game to do what I wanted, in Guns of the Patriots I didn’t have to think about it.

The cutscenes in both games are ridiculous

Metal Gear Solid 4 is known for its long cutscenes. Across the game there’s more than five hours of them. The final video is in the Guinness Book of Records for being 71 minutes long. During one fight scene I was able to get my dinner and eat the entire thing before the video came to an end.

It took me 16 hours to complete Guns of the Patriots. That means I spent almost a third of my time watching cutscenes instead of playing the game.

But don’t think that means Metal Gear Solid 3 is much better.

It took me 30 minutes before I got to do anything in Snake Eater. There’s a 10 minute long intro video before 20 minutes of a codec call where your commander is telling you what your mission is. It’s a terrible way to open a game.

And, considering I completed Guns of the Patriots‘ final boss battle at 5.30am and I didn’t see the credits roll until 7am, that too, I think, is a terrible way to end a game.

The writing is seriously hammy

(Jump to 4.30 or watch the whole thing for a masterclass in cheese.)

Metal Gear’s story is an odd one. Reading summaries of each game’s story on Wikipedia, diving into more detailed character pages and breakdowns of the series’ many shadowy organisations, is really compelling. I’ve spent hours reading and re-reading those pages. However, the way that story is delivered in the game is terrible.

The dialogue in Snake Eater and Guns of the Patriots is vague, wordy, and sounds unnatural. When you explain something to someone you pick out the relevant details of a thing, enough to make the concept you’re explaining clear to the listener. In Hideo Kojima games the characters speak whole histories. It’s like they have jumped to a section of an encyclopaedia and are reading the whole thing out verbatim.

Nor are these spoken histories always that clear. A major part of Guns of the Patriots’ story revolves around a global AI system that’s being integrated into everything from hospital management to guns on a battlefield. Hearing the characters talk at length about multiple AIs that are embedded within one another that will activate when encoded with the AI of Big Boss and somehow lead to global enslavement is dull, confusing, and told badly.

The story is wonderful

I didn’t realise how much I loved the MGS story until I had to tell it to other people. It is the most batshit thing ever.

While playing Guns of the Patriots I had to explain who Liquid Ocelot was and I fell into a Kojima-style explanation. “Well, at the end of Metal Gear Solid you kill Liquid Snake, who is your brother and a clone of Big Boss, but Revolver Ocelot, who had his arm cut off my a ninja, transplants Liquid’s arm onto his stump and the nanomachines in Liquid’s blood take over Ocelot’s brain so the two now share one body.”

There’s almost no part of the game that can be explained without falling into a pile of pseudoscience, conspiracy-theory history, or implausible backstory. It’s great.

Snake asks a lot of questions

If you want to get really hammered, drink whenever Snake asks a question in a cutscene. His role in the game seems to be to have exposition told to him and, so he doesn’t seem left out of the conversation, he will say back one word as a question.

(If you want to go to hospital, drink when Snake asks a question AND whenever a character uses an acronym. You won’t make it through the first 30 minutes of Snake Eater.)

The Metal Gear games are full of wickedly tough women but their presentation is insidiously sexist

The presentation of women is where I struggled with the games most. Snake Eater and Guns of the Patriots are filled with great female characters but only a few escape being awkwardly sexualised.

Take EVA in Snake Eater, for instance. She enters the game on the back of a motorbike and saves you from an ambush. She then shows you her breasts. EVA is out to seduce you but the team couldn’t go with something more subtle than having her walk around in set of overalls unzipped to the navel most the time. During some cutscenes button prompts will pop up to let you get a different view of the action. The video introducing EVA lets you stare at her arse and her chest. Even when she’s riding her motorbike she wears her top zipped down. Throughout Snake Eater you have characters talking about the practicalities of war — how to hold your gun right, how to stay alive in the wild, and how not to draw attention to yourself — but somehow the developers didn’t think freezing your tits off while riding your motorbike in Russia ran counter to those ideas.

In Metal Gear Solid 4 we get to see Mei Ling again for the first time since the original Metal Gear Solid. She’s the captain of a ship now and, like EVA, saves Snake’s life. However, immediately after learning she’s a captain, Otacon says he’s heard it’s because an elderly admiral took a liking to her. And after she saves Snake’s life she gives a mission briefing where she trips over long enough to give the camera a long view of her arse.

From costumes to camera work, throughout these two games the women are almost always sexualised.

I’ve read a few people say that you spend more time looking at Snake’s bum than any other and it’s true: while in-game you spend a lot of your time staring at Snake’s muscular buttocks as he crawls. But it’s not a sexualised view. It seems any shot in the cutscenes that can be framed by the cleft of a girl’s arse is. Whenever a woman is introduced the camera pans over her body, lingering for a moment on her crotch, breasts, and bum. This is what is referred to as the “male gaze” in filmmaking. It’s very different than watching a guy crawl on his stomach from behind.

There are some exceptions, though. The Boss, a major character in Snake Eater, is awesome and remains unsexualised. She is the head of the Cobras, the unit of boss characters you fight throughout the game, and as you learn more of her story you realise she was playing a larger part in the story than any other character. In none of the cutscenes is she sexualised, including (I’d argue) the final battle where she unzips her overalls to her waist. Unlike EVA, where it was clearly meant to titillate, The Boss does it to show off the crude snaking ‘S’ left from where she had a cesarian in the middle of a battlefield in the Second World War. She is ever presented as the warrior.

(I’d love to play a game that went through her time in the Second World War and how she founded the special forces.)

Returning to Shadow Moses was the best thing

Before last week I hadn’t played a Metal Gear Solid game since completing Sons of Liberty in 2003, so when I returned to Shadow Moses in the penultimate act of Guns of the Patriots it was the first time I’d stepped in the arctic base from the original game in 15 years.

When I saw the snow-dusted helipad and the first notes of ‘The Best Is Yet To Come’ began to play over the howling winds I felt a lump in my throat. Kojima knows how to craft memorable moments. The battles with Sniper Wolf and Psycho Mantis, being tortured by Revolver Ocelot, and the fight with Liquid above the burning wreck of Metal Gear Rex have cemented themselves in my gaming memory. Returning to the place where it all happened and walking through the abandoned base so many years later was surprisingly emotional.

Despite the criticisms and frustrations I had while playing through Snake Eater and Guns of the Patriots, I came away completely in love with the games. Nothing compares to the bombast, the experimentation, and the style of Kojima’s games. I can’t wait to get stuck in The Phantom Pain.

This post originally appeared on Kotaku UK, bringing you original reporting, game culture and humour from the British isles.


  • To accurately fire your AK, you have to ready it by half pressing in the square button, go into first-person by holding R1, put the gun against your shoulder so you can look down the sights by holding L1, aim with the left stick, and then press square all the way in to fire

    Using a lethal weapon in Metal Gear, you’re doing it wrong..

  • My comment has some minor spoilers so be warned. Also don’t take my points as bashing for the games, I still enjoy them, but these are my thoughts on them.
    I have to agree regarding story. Metal Gear has an awesome plot and idea, but as the series progressed the story telling got cheesier and stupid.

    The aged snake thing I felt was over the top, I think the character of snake would have been more compelling if he had aged naturally. The idea being:
    ” Snake who was genetically engineered to be the perfect solder is now in his middle ages, he isn’t as fast or as strong as he used to be though he can still hold his own. His opponents have been subject to gene therapy and have cutting edge tech. Snake not being a part of SOP doesn’t have access to all the high tech gadgetry of the enemy and must rely on his skills to survive”
    I feel that snake should have been disadvantaged in MGS4. Middle aged, and without the technology gap that he had in his favour in the earlier games. Think the Expendables instead of Space Cowboys.

    MGS4 also took the Nanomachine thing way too far, like with Vamp. He should have been a mystical dude, in the same vein as Psycho Mantis or the Cobra Unit from Snake Eater, instead NANOMACHINES.

    hmm that’s about it. Most of my gripe comes with the over the top half assed approach for MGS4 in terms of story.

    • Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Snake have advanced aging due to the FoxDIE that was injected into him by Naomi in MGS1?

      • Nah Snake was genetically engineered from birth (though this was only mentioned in MGS4) to age quickly.

        • Yep and mgs3 was a nozick tank sunny made for him after mgs4….to find out who his progenitor was. 🙂

          EDIT: btw your opinion about deus ex is ..great. remember people whined at the length of cutscenes in mgs4 (which was fan service)…..now they whine at the lack of them in PP. Lol.

    • Snake aging naturally would not have made sense. Because then all characters in the game would have aged equally as much. I don’t really want to play a game with old meryl, old otacon, old naomi, etc…one oldie is enough

      • How so? What I mean is that snake would have been the same age as those guys, not old and desiccated.

        • I think I understand. But I meant your pitch was that he is middle aged. That would make all the other characters middle aged too, with a few exceptions. So this is like Bruce Willis’ R.E.D all over again…

          • I thought they were all middle aged or getting there at least. Snake was quite a bit older than the other guys as it was (having been born in ’72) Meaning by the time the Shadow Moses incident happened he would have been thirty something. Meryl quite a bit younger and Otacon younger or same age?
            MGS 4 took place during 2014 which would make Snake 42

            HAHA LOL I sound like such a nerd ! Just love Metal Gear (played the first one when I was like 5 yrs old in ’89 on the NES)

  • In a way MGS4 is my favourite simply cause MGS (the original psx game) & Snake Eater had so many moments for me from a million playthroughs that the emotional hits are just that, massive emotional resonance.

    • Without spoiling, did you listen to the final ‘codec’ conversation in the new one? About a……hmm…..lol

      • Nah still playing through 5. I am stalling it out cause 1. It is the last proper one and 2. I keep hearing the story goes nowhere and is complete trite which just breaks my little heart.

        • I assume you have finished by now. I had a completely different response. I finished before read reviews/collectivist opinion. I thought that the final codec was brilliant. Then dumped back into the chopper/fantasy to imagine the outcomes of that conversation never taking place. Remembering the questions that he asked of zero at the end of mgs4. Everything would have been different.

          As we discussed before, that game was about choice. The mission that was cut involved a large stretch of realistic imagination. At the end of PP ‘we’ got a reveal….but it was hidden away for only ‘us’. The opposite of mgs4. The other players that the game was built for most likely missed it entirely and ‘felt’ nothing. Which was beautiful.

          • Having now exhausted all story, custscene, codec or otherwise I can say the ending is brilliant.
            There is so much there that people just didn’t get it. It is perfect. Best MGS, all the feels.
            It just puts MGS5 plot twist and all the little details of MGS 1 to 4 together in a brilliant way.

            Every single problem people find on specific things is only cause they don’t know enough. It is not actually a plot hole at all.

            I just love how Master Miller/Liquid having killed Kaz 2 days before Snake infiltrates Shadow Moses now has a context with how Ocelot backs the real Big Boss and Kaz says fuck him and supports Medic. I could go on for days.

  • I just got MGS 5 phantom pain and it is my first metal gear game… Figured I can scrub up online what I have missed and if I like MGS 5 I will most likely play the old ones, (only have a pc so I would require a ps3).

    After reading a in depth timeline of all the events leading up to MGS 5 and after, my head was spinning, I have just finished the hospital scene in 5 and my god its a fantastic game, the only downer so far is its capped at 60fps but that can be forgiven as it seems wonderfully optimized. Story wise I am somewhat lost but the production value is fantastic, I get that he was in a coma and how he got to that point but ocelot gets you on your way in Afghanistan and I thought he was apart of patriots/cipher crew. I never read anywhere he came over to your crew, Militaires Sans Frontieres. I know all about Ocelots history right up to the point Big boss leaves the Patriots and then am confused… though it has been 9 years and as I typed this I realized maybe he hadn’t come over at that point, big bosses memory seems shady at best atm so things might of changed, Ocelot does like changes sides.

    I think ill be playing the other games for sure.

    • Ocelot is a weird one, he’s basically a triple crosser. He just crosses everyone he meets, it’s his thing.

      I’m finding it interesting how his character has developed, we first meet him in MGS1 as a boss and enemy, but then back in 3 he’s a young rival of Snake, and now he’s a comrade to snake years later.

    • Sorry, no if you are going to spoil I feel fine answering. Ocelot in essence is the same character in every game. In a way. I would recommend buying a ps3 (they’re fairly cheap now) and the legacy collection.

      Don’t expect PP though….lol. The article is relatively accurate re. controls….. but as I am a relative maniac I like the mgs3 controls and the limitations. If you can I would also recommend twin snakes over the base mgs1 at this point. Especially if you have never played it before, that way mgs2 will likely be your only real challenge.

  • *minor spoilers*

    Actually the Cobra unit is not mystical, it’s the result of certain parasites (Revealed in a tape in MGSV) and psycho mantis is also mentioned in MGSV, though I cannot remember the specifics.

    So there really isn’t any simply “mystical” explanation.

    • spoiler I guess

      …yeah I am a fanboy but still.
      I had a conversation with someone close to me the other day who is definitely not a fan.
      I convinced that person to purchase PP (which the individual loved) and the conversation basically went like this:

      “Ok so you have all the tools available to you in PP, how do you deal with someone who shoots bees?” – me
      “nope you are getting hit….5 seconds” – me
      “smoke” – me
      “…..” (smile)
      “metal gear” – me
      🙂 – both

  • Whenever a woman is introduced the camera pans over her body, lingering for a moment on her crotch, breasts, and bum. This is what is referred to as the “male gaze” in filmmaking. It’s very different than watching a guy crawl on his stomach from behind.

    I’m constantly confused as to why so many factors (and NONE that excuse the practice) are so consistently omitted when talking about sexualisation in games. This is not the “male gaze” in filmmaking, you’re appropriating a definition by way of ignorance. Is this why everyone on twitter is referring to “male gaze” every time they see a bikini? Why not explain the purpose of these camera angles the way they were intended? I mean, when we’re in school it seems weird that all these concepts are constructed from loads of different conventions but as soon as we finish, it’s all forgotten, despite the fact that we should be acutely aware that we are intentionally ignoring the perspective of creators. Filmmaking also contains an idea known as parody, which makes use of the conventions of other concepts. We also have depiction and juxtaposition, which can make use of certain conventions generally used to frame a negative perspective right next to a positive one to allow the viewer to think cognitively about the opposing concepts.

    It could also be noted that the huge majority of Japanese media makes use of a parody conventions that are generally a veiled excuse for different types of prejudice, including sexism. That is clearly what’s happening here, so much intention is attempting to excuse the sexism, the perspective should be less “well, that’s OBVIOUSLY sexism, because boobs” and more, “that is sexist because the Japanese media consistently tends to appropriate sexuality with the female form… etc.” Acknowledging cultural difference doesn’t mean there’s no criticism to be made, it seems like anything that moves away from the reactionary “obviously sexist” with no legitimate explanation is simply an example of idiots who can’t help but defend sexism. I’m wondering why it’s so frowned upon to deconstruct the components based on the education we’ve acquired in their construction over the last half a century when you end up saying the same thing anyway? Yeah, it’s sexist but it’s totally more complex than that. Pretending it isn’t is the same as the right wing denying legitimate research and expert opinion and dismissing all other perspectives in a maniacal pre-emptive strike every time they touch on the subject. It doesn’t hurt to discuss, i’m not sure when hard line stances against depictions of certain ideas have proven to aid progress in creative work in the past because it rarely works with anything.

    For the educated, it’s a complex issue that permeates every little thing we consume every day, actually thinking about the construction of the idea enables us to move away from it, at least in learning principles that aid us in navigating and informing these perspectives. At the moment, general consensus is “Quiet is sexist, thus sucks”. Like, I totally found her to be interesting and definitely feel her place in the actual narrative is far more important thematically than the way she dresses. Her visual design tells us that she’s hot, that’s it. The camera angles aim at her boobs constantly. These are criticisms of something so audacious, it seems strange they were there at all but we’ve allowed them to identify her completely. If anything, the character is the victim, that an interesting concept was marred by immature presentation. I’d like to be able to respect Quiet as a character whilst being annoyed at her visual portrayal in the game, almost abused by her captors/creators. I feel like I end up with a very similar perspective, it seems strange people would be so defensive over the process it takes to get there if they actually understood it.

    • I thought the recent metal gear was largely about choice, behaviour and consequence.
      I thought it was purposeful.
      The shot of man ass in the beginning because that’s most likely what you were looking for made me laugh (hospital gown/desperation).

  • Yeah the writing…..but you also in a way…play the same thing every time. I usually was unable to guess it even when I was looking for it, or at least the specific nature of…’it’. Guess i’m dumb.
    EDIT: I guessed the new one after midge ure, making a face, being taught how to treat my wounds and miller smiling after reinforcement of personality. Maybe not that dumb. Other people seemed surprised.

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