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Opinion – The ‘Mass Effect’ Universe is Superior to ‘Star Wars’

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Notwithstanding the title of this article, I want to make one thing abundantly clear before I begin to defend my position: I am a big fan of the Star Wars films.

I’m certainly not a die-hard fanatic by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t have Star Wars-themed bed sheets; I don’t cosplay as Darth Vader on weekends; I don’t queue outside the cinema for days on end prior to the release of the next installment, just so I can be amongst the first to see it; and I don’t have a room chock full of official action figures, complementary novels, signed posters, and commemorative crockery. Nevertheless, I have a great deal of affection for George Lucas’s sci-fi masterpiece.

The thing is, despite its cultural significance and some genre-defining qualities, for me, personally, Star Wars isn’t the pinnacle of science fiction. Despite its flaws, I actually believe BioWare’s Mass Effect series offers a marginally richer, more immersive and coherent universe.

Allow me to explain my reasoning.

Having seen each of the various Star Wars films multiple times before I got my first taste of the Mass Effect trilogy, what struck me most when I first booted up the 2007 original was the rigorousness of its approach to the scientific concepts that underpinned its universe.

Mass Effect seemed to place a far greater emphasis on realism, whereas Star Wars was more willing to bend the fundamental laws of science to suit its narrative requirements. Two areas illustrate this point particularly well: interstellar travel and the portrayal of alien life.

Star Wars’ solution to the problems posed by the former was the hyperdrive. A propulsion system powered by hypermatter, the hyperdrive enabled spacecraft to reach the speed of light and thus cross over into an alternate dimension called hyperspace, wherein the distance between two objects – Tatooine and Coruscant, say – was drastically shortened. It’s a seemingly elegant solution; one that allowed ships to essentially ‘jump’ from one end of the galaxy to the other along pre-determined ‘hyperspace lanes’. However, it always felt rather vague and just a little bit too straightforward, especially when compared to the FTL (faster than light) technology featured in Mass Effect.

While similarly based on a rare and exotic fictional substance – in this case, Element 0 – the explanation as to how FTL travel works in Mass Effect is far more comprehensive. Namely, the FTL drive creates a ‘mass effect field’ which, after enveloping the ship, simultaneously lowers its mass and increases the maximum speed at which light can travel within the field, thus enabling the craft to travel hundreds, even thousands of times faster than the speed of light (186,000 mps). Yet, in order to ensure the concept is as watertight as possible and accurately reflects the unimaginably vast distances that separate the stars in the real world, in the Mass Effect universe, it can still take days, weeks, and even, in the case of the intergalactic journey at the start of Andromeda, centuries to reach a specific destination.

This is only a condensed version, admittedly. But even in this rather simplified form, there’s a degree of believability in the Mass Effect solution that isn’t always present in the Star Wars films and, moreover, none of the obvious irregularities that exist in the latter; almost instantaneous deceleration, for example, or, more specifically, how Han can manually pilot the ship to exit hyperspace within the very atmosphere of a Starkiller base in The Force Awakens, despite the fact the Millennium Falcon is supposed to be traveling at the speed of light at the time.

The differences aren’t quite so noticeable as far as their respective depiction of alien life is concerned. Indeed, though the Star Wars Wiki puts the number of intelligent species recorded at a staggering 20 million, for a galaxy that’s described as being roughly the same size as the Milky Way, this isn’t actually a particularly unrealistic tally; if the famous Drake Equation can be relied upon to provide a reasonable estimate, that is.

The issue for me is how these physiognomically distinctive species are capable of surviving and thriving in the same environmental conditions. The Hutt, the Kowakian, the Tusken Raiders, the Rancor, the Jawa, and human beings all live together in apparent comfort on Tatooine, for instance; breathing the same air, eating similar foods, and enjoying the same temperatures. That, and their ability to communicate freely in their respective mother tongues without any discernible technological aids.

Galactic Basic Standard (the galaxy-wide lingua franca) explains away some of the difficulties as regards inter-species communication, but it’s still hard to believe the Mon Calamari are capable of producing human language or that Count Dooku would be able to understand the thrumming, rhythmic language of the Geonosians in the prequel trilogy.

Mass Effect’s far smaller roster of distinctive sentient races (reflecting the relative infancy of space travel during the time in which the games are set and perhaps BioWare’s own views on the rarity of complex life), on the other hand, often rely on specially designed full-body suits with in-built breathing apparatuses and real-time communication tools in order to live and work together communally. The Volus, for example, must wear protective suits at all times whenever they leave their ammonia-based home world, whilst the Drell are forced to live beneath climate-controlled domes on the Hanar homeworld, so different is it from the arid landscapes of the now dead Rakhana.

It’s far from perfect, of course. Although the evolutionary differences between the games’ various intelligent species provides an additional layer of scientific authenticity (the Turian’s metallic plating or the Krogan’s multiple back-up organs), it’s hard to ignore the fact that the majority of these races are roughly 6-feet tall, bipedal creatures. While the sultry, all-female Asari specifically come across as little more than a male fantasy, rather than a plausible alien race.

Even so, Mass Effect offers what I think is a more realistic depiction of alien life in a universe that subscribes to the established laws of physics and, though perhaps less creative in the designs of these species, is just as capable as Star Wars of capturing the player’s imagination and evoking that sense of the mysteriousness of space.

At this point, I should mention it isn’t just Mass Effect’s, in my mind, superior approach to the science of science fiction that initially won me over. Although the finale of the original trilogy is a bit anti-climactic, I also feel Mass Effect trumps Star Wars in terms of its storytelling too. A slightly more controversial argument perhaps, but hear me out.

For starters, three of the seven numbered films – A New Hope, Return of the Jedi, and The Force Awakens – follow broadly the same plot; indeed, the similarities between episodes IV and VII are well documented. Each revolves around the efforts of a rag-tag rebellion to free the galaxy from the shackles of a tyrannical government and sabotage a giant space station/weapon capable of destroying an entire planet with a single attack, culminating in a seemingly hopeless, last-ditch effort to destroy said weapon that succeeds largely as a result of Jedi intervention and some extraordinary individual acts of heroism.

It’s a timeless premise certainly, and a highly satisfying one to boot, but it also robs the series of narrative diversity. In fact, as poor as the prequel trilogy undoubtedly is (both for its failure to recapture the spirit of the original films and for making some truly egregious mistakes, e.g., casting Hayden Christensen as Anakin, placing so much emphasis on Midichlorians, thinking Jar Jar Binks was a whimsical, charming character etc. etc.) at least the screenwriters attempted to tell a more varied, complex story that offered something other than the standard tale of good vs evil.

There’s a noticeable lack of diversity in the personality and motives of the series various antagonists too. Darth Maul, Count Dooku, General Grievous, and Orson Krennic are all depicted as nothing more than ambitious, power-hungry pawns of Darth Sidious and the Empire, while the Emperor himself, despite protesting that centralized rule would benefit everyone in the galaxy throughout the Star Wars saga, it’s clear that, in reality, his only desire is domination and control. True, Darth Vader is an excellent villain; his internal struggle arguably the most interesting aspect of the original trilogy and his final steps towards the dark side the main draw of the prequels. The problem is, he’s basically the only one that offers anything different.

Conversely, though Mass Effect can’t claim responsibility for such seminal moments as the confrontation between Luke and Vader at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, it does possess a more compelling central narrative, supported by an array of equally complex intertwining sub-plots and intriguing antagonists.

The Reaper War is perfectly paced and relentlessly interesting, due in no small part to the nature of the reapers themselves who, while outwardly resembling Emperor Palpatine in as much as both seem to be cruel, callous, and only interested in their personal goals, are convinced that what they’re doing is for the greater good; indeed, a certain twisted logic suggests they might actually be right. The sub-plots referred to above, meanwhile, give BioWare the scope to tackle a broader range of themes within the wider central narrative – the Quarian-Geth conflict, for example, which addresses the growing concerns of some individuals in the real world as to what would happen if humanity created genuine synthetic intelligence; or the Genophage and how such biochemical weapons cause as much harm to innocent bystanders, in the long run, as enemy combatants – adding to the complexity and authenticity of the Mass Effect universe itself, and generally making it a far more engaging experience.

Nonetheless, I would say Star Wars has the edge, in a certain sense anyway, when it comes to the extensiveness and depth of its lore.

With so many people adding to the Star Wars universe over the years, it’s become a branch of mythology all of its own; the sci-fi equivalent of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. Even a precursory look at the Star Wars Wiki throws up countless pages detailing everything from the startling variety of alien life and planets, to the history of the Jedi order and the development of space travel.

Moreover, there are some truly unique features that set it apart from every other science fiction universe ever created, including Mass Effect; and nowhere is this more obvious than in the Jedi and Sith orders. The X factor of the Star Wars films, what makes them so special for me is how they seamlessly blend science fiction and religion in a way that’s both interesting and believable. Fond as I am of Mass Effect, I’ve never felt the personal religious beliefs of Suvi Anwar or the Asari people in general makes much sense in a setting that’s so deeply entrenched in scientific realism; and the same is true of plenty of other IPs within the sci-fi genre that try to depict religion in a technologically advanced society.

Not that Mass Effect is deficient in the lore department. Indeed, though Star Wars’ greater age and popularity means it’s naturally the more comprehensive of the two, BioWare never fails to describe every aspect of the Mass Effect universe in impressive detail, be it humanity’s technological evolution, the birth of the Quarian migrant fleet, the existence of biotics (which, though almost certainly included for reasons of gameplay diversity, is framed in a pretty convincing manner), the development of the Citadel, or the history of the mysterious Prothean civilisation. And, crucially, it’s largely free from the continuity errors and inconsistencies that mar certain elements of the Star Wars universe.

Indeed, continuity is the only thing that lets Star Wars down as far as its lore is concerned.

For, though the constant expansion of the last 40 years has given Star Wars lore a richness that’s almost unparalleled anywhere else in literature, television, or cinema, this self-same process has also thrown up numerous inconsistencies that are sometimes difficult to reconcile. Obi Wan’s inability to remember R2D2 in A New Hope, for instance, or his assertion in the same film that he was trained by Yoda, not Qui-Gon Jinn (though perhaps that says more about the slap dash treatment of Star Wars canon in the prequel trilogy than anything else).

I guess what I’m trying to say, in a rather roundabout way, is that my preference of Mass Effect over Star Wars is twofold: realism and narrative complexity.

Though both try to adhere to a semi-realistic scientific framework, I feel Mass Effect is the more successful of the two. This, combined with an enthralling multi-faceted plot and a cast of intriguing, morally ambiguous characters, enables BioWare to tell a richer tale that’s better equipped to match the modern sci-fi fan’s sensibilities and expectations.

I’m not saying there aren’t holes Mass Effect’s lore or storytelling, of course; I’ve mentioned some of them already. Nor do I wish to denigrate Star Wars’ many, many qualities. But for me – and this is something I can’t emphasize enough; everything written here is my personal opinion and should in no way be construed as empirical fact – Mass Effect offers a far more coherent and engaging universe that is, as a result, much easier to lose yourself in.

Counting Final Fantasy VII, The Last of Us, the original Mass Effect trilogy, and The Witcher 3 amongst his favourite games, John enjoys anything that promises to take up an absurdly large amount of his free time. When he’s not gaming, chances are you’ll find him engrossed in a science fiction or fantasy novel; basically, John’s happiest when his attention is as far from the real world as possible.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. John Cal McCormick

    December 4, 2017 at 8:10 am

    The problem with this argument is that it’s almost entirely built upon a fallacy. Star Wars isn’t science fiction, and never was. It’s science fantasy. If you transpose basically everything that happens in Star Wars into a more traditional, Tolkien-style setting, it still works. It’s a fantasy movie set in the future-past in space.

    Once you’re board with that, then comparing the Mass Effect universe to the Star Wars universe and rating the former more highly because of its more realistic approach to scientific concepts is like preferring He Got Game to Space Jam because it offers a more believable representation of basketball.

    • John Websell

      December 4, 2017 at 10:05 am

      But it’d be equally wrong to say there’s absolutely nothing science fiction about Star Wars whatsoever. As I said in the article, the canon explanation for FTL travel, Midichlorians etc. attempts to bring it in line with the scientific reality, unlike Tolkien who never attempts to apply the theory of evolution to the Elves or Orcs, for instance, or explain how magic works within the established laws of physics.

      And for that reason, I don’t think it’s so absurd to prefer Mass Effect to Star Wars primarily on the strength of its scientific concepts.

      • John Cal McCormick

        December 4, 2017 at 10:39 am

        I would concur that it’s equally wrong to say there’s no science fiction elements to Star Wars whatsoever, but my argument is that taking a hard(er) sci-fi series like Mass Effect and comparing it to a science fantasy series like Star Wars (albeit one with, I guess, some fairly flimsy sci-fi elements) and then deciding which is better based on how well they do something that only one of them really attempts makes it a tough argument to swallow.

        If the argument is about story or lore or characters or practically anything else then it’s easier to follow, and I might even be inclined to agree in some parts of it. Just seems a mite unfair as is, that’s all.

        As a side note, midichlorians are one of the most widely despised aspects of the Star Wars canon precisely because they attempt to explain something that fans didn’t want explaining. Science fiction explanations felt out of character for the series, and the fans revolted. I mean, I never personally felt that insulted by the whole space bacteria force thing, but hey, you know Star Wars fans.

        • John Websell

          December 5, 2017 at 5:29 am

          I take your point; I did mention my preference for the plot, characters etc., but perhaps I should have placed more emphasis on that than the sci-fi elements. Indeed, I was intending too, but the article had become so long by that point, I was worried it’d start resembling a dissertation rather than an opinion piece!

          Out of interest, I felt the same way re Midichlorians. Though perhaps that was because I was quite young when I first saw it; that and I went into the film expecting sci-fi rather than science fantasy.

  2. James Baker

    December 5, 2017 at 6:37 am

    The micro-biological universe of my toenail is better than Star Wars. Only Star Wars fans would rave about a franchise that’s so unimaginative that they couldn’t even make Episode 7 different from Episode 4.

    That said, the comparisons between Star Wars and Lord of the Rings aren’t fair on Tolkien. The Tolkien universe was inspired by European conflicts and its universe is so deep and grey in morality that the films – as amazing as they are – never did the books justice. Star Wars is a borefest of good vs evil, which contrary to popular belief, Lord of the Rings isn’t.

    • Patrick

      December 5, 2017 at 8:26 pm

      Ha, I thought I was doing Tolkien a massive favor comparing his stuff to Star Wars. The LOTR books seem like such straightforward retreads of better stories, only written in the least interesting, least creative way possible. In my eyes the movies gave his works a reputation for depth and entertainment they never earned (at least the first two films – the last was garbage). Like Star Wars his stories do borrow from myth and fairy tale (Tolkien more from myth, Star Wars more from fairy tale), but though their may be more morally gray area in Tolkien, I wouldn’t say that the two are much different. Except that Star Wars found a humanity (even in its droids) in execution that Tolkien could never muster (though Jackson did). Hell, Artoo is less of a robot than nearly every character in LOTR.

      The original Star Wars trilogy has struck a chord due to some pretty flawless and sincere depictions of mythological archetypes, but I’ll agree that everything since has been devoid of any soul. What’s releasing now isn’t Star Wars – it’s just a nostalgia-ridden cash grab, which is a shame. Anyway, I do love bashing Tolkien, but I guess that’s a little off topic.

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‘New Super Lucky’s Tale’ is Polished, Pleasing Platforming

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Streamlined, focused, and tons of fun, New Super Lucky’s Tale is a fantastic reworking for the Switch that absolutely nails the lighter side of Nintendo-style 3D platforming. Tight controls and a nearly flawless camera support running and jumping challenges which more often than not emphasize creativity over complexity, and it’s all set against a colorful, pun-filled, charming world full of quirky characters and light satire. Though the experience is not as epic or razzle-dazzle as something like Super Mario Odyssey, developer Playful has wisely trimmed the collect-a-thon fat that so many others in the genre employ in order to pad play time. The result lasts long enough to satisfy, yet also instills a fervent desire to see more adventures from its fearless, furry hero.

New Super Lucky's Tale carnival

In the fine tradition of its gaming ancestors dating back to the N64 days, the basics of New Super Lucky’s Tale revolve around acquiring arbitrary objects sprinkled through various stages in order to unlock doors and move on to the next area. This time it’s pages from the mystical Book of Ages, which contains the power to travel between worlds, and is the endgame of an nefarious cat sorcerer named Jinx and his gang of cartoonish thugs, the Kitty Litter. As part of a secret organization sworn to defending this kiddie-friendly Necronomicon knockoff, it’s up to Lucky to track down as many of these clover-embossed pages as he possibly can, and hopefully complete the book before his nemesis can get his claws on it.

It’s doubtful that the story will be what compels most players to keep going, and to that end, New Super Lucky’s Tale‘s simple setup also fits right in with its genre brethren. Still, Lucky is an amiable and upbeat fox to follow around, and Playful does an excellent job of surrounding him with a cast of gibberish-spouting weirdo goofballs that includes hayseed grub worms, supremely zen Yetis, loyal rock golems, and slick carny ghosts. Though their dialogue does little to drive any sort of narrative, it is endlessly amusing and often witty in its cheesy wordplay. In other words, the writing has a very Nintendo-like feel in its eccentricities that adds to the overall fun.

New Super Lucky's Tale factory

Those jokes would be less endearing without fantastic gameplay, but New Super Lucky’s Tale delivers some of the best running and jumping this side of Mario. Though this fabulous fox can’t quite match the plumber’s precision, Lucky does feel extremely responsive, and has a nice sense of weight and momentum that never feels out of control. He also comes out of the den with a well-rounded moveset, including a nifty double jump, a swishy tail (a la Mario’s spin punch), and the ability to burrow under ground. These moves can be chained together to create a satisfying flow both when exploring 3D stages and side-scrolling ones alike, and will surely inspire players to use them in creative ways in order to access seemingly out-of-reach spots.

And they’ll have to if they want to find all four pages hidden in each stage. New Super Lucky’s Tale requires a bare minimum of these leaflets to be found (and simply beating the stage merits one as a reward), but it’s in rooting around those nooks and crannies where much of the fun lies, and it gives the developer a chance to squeeze every ounce out of the unique mixture of environments they’ve created. From the assorted carnival games of a haunted amusement park to a beach party dance-off, there are a surprising amount of different things for Lucky (and players) to do here, with hardly any two stages ever feeling alike. One 3D level might task Lucky with casually exploring a farm as he gathers up the members of country jug band, while a side-scrolling obstacle course sees him dodging canon fire from an airship piloted by a feline Napolean. Some stages have a platforming bent, while others emphasize searching out secrets tucked away in mini puzzles.

New Super Lucky's Tale farm

It’s an absolutely delightful mix, and that sheer variety keeps New Super Lucky’s Tale fresh all the way through to the epic battle with fat cat Jinx himself. And though platforming veterans might find the overall challenge a bit too much on the friendly side, a few of the later bosses and and bonus stages may make that 100% goal a little tougher than it at first seems. And yet, it’s hard not to want to go back to incomplete stages or that block-pushing puzzle that stumped the first time around; the brisk pace and clever design will likely compel many players to find every scrap of paper out there.

No, Lucky isn’t the second coming of Mario, but there are few 3D platformers that offer such a polished, concise, joyful experience as New Super Lucky’s Tale. It may have taken a couple of efforts to get there (and for those who have played the original Super Lucky’s Tale, levels and bosses have been reworked here), but Playful has nailed a balance between creativity and efficiency that begs for more. 

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How Do ‘Pokemon Sword and Shield’s’ Max Raid Battles Measure Up?

Max Raid Battles are one of Pokemon Sword and Shield’s premier new features. Do they live up to their full potential? Let’s find out.

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max raid battles

One of the most heavily promoted new features of Pokémon Sword and Shield have been their Max Raid Battles. These gargantuan fights are both a key part of the online experience and likely the first taste most players will get of Dynamaxed Pokémon in-game. So, how’d this take on Pokémon Go’s raid system pan out in the series’ first mainline entry on console?

Well, on the plus side, getting into the thick of a raid is super straightforward. After the opening hour or two, players are introduced to the Wild Area and can access Max Raid Battles straight away by walking up to a pillar of red light on the field. From there you can invite others, challenge the raid with NPCs, and choose which Pokémon you want to use.

Real Friends Raid Together

Playing with friends online, though, is a bit more convoluted. There’s no “Invite Friends” option to be seen. Instead, all social features are handled through the Y-comm (literally accessed by pressing the Y button). It’s here that players can Link Trade, Link Battle, exchange player cards, and more.

After actively connecting to the internet–which has to be done each play session and each time the Switch is put into sleep mode–it’s up to the host of the match to find a portal and send an invitation to everyone. A notification will pop for friends on the side of the screen, and then it’s up to everyone to join the match directly through the Y-comm interface.

If players want real people to fill in any remaining slots (all raids are four-person affairs), they’ll need to join before the room fills up. Setting a Link Code avoids this hassle by creating a room but, unlike Salmon Run in Splatoon 2, only computer players can fill remaining spots after friends finish joining this way.

After some experimenting and fudding about, my buddy and I were able to hop into matches fairly quickly without much issue. Nonetheless, it’s hard to shake the feeling that creating friend lobbies is only such a headache because it had to be tied to the Y-comm. Pair this with the fact that battling while waiting for a friend to create a room can cause the notification not to pop, and getting a group together is a bit more painful than it should be.

Max Raid Battle Rundown

The raids themselves are a surprisingly engaging twist on the classic Pokémon battle formula. Groups of four challengers work together to take on a Dynamaxed raid boss. Each raid boss has a different star rating, and even the 1-star battles are no joke the first few times around. These boss Pokémon are merciless, and regularly one-shot lower leveled ‘mons with ease.

To combat these monstrous foes, one random trainer in every group is granted the ability to Dynamax their chosen Pokémon and lead the charge. The Dynamaxed Pokémon gets the benefit of having extra-powerful moves and increased HP, though it’s rather disappointing that there only seems to be one Max Move per move type (one Grass move, one Dark move, and so on). Each of these has a secondary effect on the battlefield; some trigger sandstorms, others trigger a health regeneration field that heals everyone a bit each turn. Regular moves with type advantages deal a significant chunk of damage, but it’s Max Moves that can truly turn the tide of battle.

If one of the group’s Pokémon faints, that trainer has to sit out for a turn before it automatically gets revived (a smart design choice to keep all trainers actively involved). However, the fainting of each Pokémon triggers the storm above to become more and more vicious. After four faints or ten turns, everyone is booted out of the raid sans rewards.

max raid battles

The Fruits of Victory

Two of the easiest ways to better your odds are 1) Choose a Pokémon with a type advantage going into battle, and 2) Manage who Dynamaxes when. Each trainer’s Dynamax meter grows periodically and, though only one trainer can use it at a time, multiple players can activate it over the course of a raid. It also seems like each raid’s star rating is tied directly to the raid boss’ level, so bringing a generally powerful Pokémon to a lower-level raid is another viable strategy for success.

Aside from the chance to capture the raid boss itself (and some Pokémon are Max Raid Battle-exclusive), winning a raid nets players some very worthwhile rewards. These include everything from EXP candies and berries to nuggets and TMs. It’s not so much of a haul that it hurts the overall balance of the game, but there’s enough to make getting a few friends together and grinding raids for a couple of hours worth it.

max raid battles

Though Max Raid Battles are just a small part of the overall Sword and Shield package, they’ve ended up being a rather fun take on Pokémon’s traditional multiplayer offerings. For as unnecessarily complicated as playing with friends is, there are also a few cool ideas here, like being able to join a raid from anywhere on the map as long as the host is at the raid pillar. There’s some good fun to be had here if you prefer to battle alongside your friends instead of against them.

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15 Years Later: ‘Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater’ Is Kojima’s Espionage Love Letter

On November 17th, 2004, ‘Metal Gear Solid 3’ was released, marking the first entry in what would become a major part of the Metal Gear Saga.

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Metal Gear Solid 3

“After the end of World War II, the world was split into two — East and West. This marked the beginning of the era called the Cold War.”

On November 17th, 2004, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater released in North America and Japan marking the first entry in what would later become a line of prequel games within the Metal Gear Saga. Big Boss’s story would finally be expanded upon in the Hollywood action game that forever changed the course of video game storytelling.

The legendary mercenary’s journey began in Kojima’s espionage love letter to the ’60s that broke the primordial gaming standards of both interactive design and visual storytelling through immeasurable gameplay depth piled onto a mind-boggling top-notch origin story. Snake Eater was only the beginning of a tale of how one of gaming’s greatest heroes descended into a villain through what is not only arguably the most compact and well-executed Metal Gear story, but Kojima Productions story ever conjured up to date.

Taking the Narrative Back

Metal Gear Solid 3
“Snake, try and remember some of the basics of CQC.”

Snake Eater ditched Solid Snake and Raiden’s current predicaments in a postmodern world to provide audiences with background knowledge and explanations for the previous chapters that came before it in what was intended to be Hideo Kojima’s final Metal Gear game at the time. Cold War political fiction and espionage thrillers from the game’s time period such as the Sean Connery and Roger Moore James Bond 007 films became the foundation for this entry’s story and tone; a balance of both goofiness and seriousness that is simply unmatched when compared to the rest of the series.

Metal Gear Solid 3 marked the beginning of a prequel series of games that would later proceed to continue after Solid Snake’s story had concluded in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the PatriotsSnake Eater threw players back in time to tackle the story of Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake villain Big Boss, who was formerly referred to as three different names being John, Jack, and of course the iconic codename Naked Snake — the first character to take on the reptilian infiltration name.

Revolver Ocelot’s gun-slinging pre-boss cutscene was completely animated through motion capture footage.

Whereas Metal Gear Solid and Sons of Liberty questioned the fantasy aspects of the story, Snake Eater fully embraced the campiness that it provided. A gun-slinging, cat-growling GRU Major or a man who is able to manipulate bees are never questioned by the game’s characters. Nothing feels out of place due to how accepting everyone is of what is going on in their interpretation of history. The first fantasy aspect that players encounter is during the opening 5 minutes of the game when Naked Snake makes the HALO jump. The location the game takes place, Tselinoyarsk, is not the actual name of the location and isn’t an area of the world that has jungles.

Political fiction often comes into play during the story by incorporating real figures and the game’s characters into events that actually happened during the height of the Cold War. For example, Eva and Ocelot are depicted as the two NSA codebreakers, Martin and Mitchell, who defected to the Soviet Union. Weapons and designs featured in the game such as the hybrid screw-propelled metal gear, the Shagohod, are based on real blueprints for military weapons of the time period. While the story incorporates science fiction and fantasy aspects, the story still remains grounded and has its own limits even in gameplay.

A Whole New Meaning to Survival

When Hideo Kojima and Yoji Shinkawa saw the 1987 movie Predator, one concept from the film that stuck with them was how the technologically advanced alien Predator used camouflage within the jungle setting to stealthily take out a military rescue team lead by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Camouflage became part of the foundation for Snake Eater‘s gameplay that delved into the realism and campy side of the series. Players could swap outfits and face paints at any given moment to adapt to their current surroundings. The top right-hand corner has a camouflage index that constantly keeps track of how well-hidden you are in the environment.

Just as gadgets are a critical part of James Bond’s arsenal of weapons, Snake Eater saw the Metal Gear Solid series expand on the variety and utilization of items. The number of different ways to tackle standard environmental obstacles and boss battles was exponentially increased due to how many ways one could actually use their equipment. Grenades, lethal firearms, night-vision goggles, cigarettes, and even cardboard boxes all inherited a multi-functional philosophy that most players would never even discover unless they had experimented during their playthrough or were told to do a specific action. Even food became a weapon of war that could be used to poison and distract guards if it had gone spoiled.

On the topic of food, alongside the standard health bar, Snake has a stamina meter that must be ministered to constantly by eating foods found on-site and administering proper medical treatment. Animals, fruit, medicinal items, and various packaged resources must be collected and watched over throughout the game. All food items ran on a real-time clock leaving food to go unsanitary and rotten after a matter of real-time days.

The Beginning of Product Placement

Fun Fact: Kojima has gone on record saying that Naked Snake’s favorite CalorieMate Block is the chocolate-flavored line (rightfully for promotional reasons!).

The Metal Gear Solid series kickstarted Hideo Kojima’s constant usage of product placements within his games that are still ongoing today. These products include but are certainly not limited to clothing, accessories, toys, household items, and of course, food. Snake Eater began a trend of future Kojima Production games featuring real-life items that are purchasable in many small scale and large retail stores throughout Japan through the brand of nutritional energy bars and gels, CalorieMate.

The chocolate-flavored CalorieMate Block appeared in the original version of Snake Eater, while the maple-flavored kind replaced it in the HD Collection due to it being the latest flavor release at the time. Advertisements for CalorieMate during the game’s release showed Naked Snake holding a chocolate-flavored Block saying “If you wanna survive in the jungle, your going to need one of these.”

When initiating a Codec call with Paramedic after eating a CalorieMate Block, the character will question the legitimacy of the food. In reality, CalorieMate first released in 1983, contradicting the 1960’s setting of the story, therefore, making its placement in the game an anachronism; an object or person that is displaced in time.

A Legacy Worthy of The Big Boss Rank

At the time of Snake Eater’s release, although the game garnered a completely positive reception from critics with a 91 Metacritic score, it was highly debated whether the sequel-prequel was superior to the entries that came before it. Critics commonly praised the graphics and cinematics the game had to offer but questioned whether the gameplay was too complex for its own good. Snake Eater also had to ride the coattails of unsatisfied audiences originating from the previous entry’s lack of Solid Snake being the protagonist which ultimately lead to sales of the game being significantly lower than the previous Solid entries.

Over time, Snake Eater became the fan-favorite entry of the series and would go on to receive the most re-releases out of all the Metal Gear games to date. Most notably, in 2006 Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence expanded upon the online mode in the game and added a completely new third-person controlled camera system that enhanced the overall experience and became the right analog stick standard for future entries. Buyers of this version were also treated with the original two MSX Metal Gear games found on the main menu- the first time the original Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake had ever been localized outside of Japan.

Snake Eater 3D Limited Edition Bundle included a ‘Snake Skin’ themed standard 3DS (only released in Japan).

2011 saw the release of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collectiona compilation title that included an updated version of Subsistence — arguably the best way to play Snake Eater today. In 2012 the game also saw a release on the Nintendo 3DS dubbed Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater which included a new real-life camera camouflage system and multiple gameplay changes inherited from Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker to accommodate the 3DS’s lack of dual analog sticks.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a true patriot that definitively holds its ground against the rest of the series today due to its creative liberties that the series never quite revisited in complete depth. Hideo Kojima and his team of masterminds behind Kojima Productions are well deserved of a salute for the tremendous efforts they put into creating a groundbreaking title that forever changed what it meant to be a cinematic video game. From its action-packed plot to its cinematic orchestra inspired-score, even after 15 years the pure indigenous nature of creativity from the studio never ceases to amaze audiences.

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