8.4

Snake's Revenge review
Geared Up For Action

Summary:

What could be cooler than outgunning an army of enemies? How about outsmarting said enemies and eliminating them without alerting anyone else. The Metal Gear series is basically a stealth game where progression favours performing your tasks out of sight and punishes wannabe Rambos under a hail of bullets.

The action in the game is viewed from above as you command Solid Snake through different areas. The driving force of the game is the emphasis on stealth. You are deep in enemy territory and are up against everything they have to through at you. Snake's job is to sneak around while performing his tasks. Enemies typically have preset (and easy to read) movement patterns, so slipping around to their rear to dispatch them is simply about figuring out their patterns. It's not just the enemies' line of sight that you have to worry about though. Cameras and laser traps are there to detect unauthorized access, and so must be figured out as well. Even something like firing your gun without a silencer will raise the alarm.

So, what measures exist to evade detection? The most common aspect of this is simply taking advantage of the environment. Sticking close to the walls, taking alternate routes around an area or waiting patiently by some boxes for the next hapless soldier to walk past are just some of the ideas used here. They don't require any special 6 button combinations to perform but it's this simplicity that works so well.

If by chance you do trigger an alarm then all is not lost. An alarm causes the enemy to rush you with several guys that chase you all over the place. I've no idea where they keep these stockpile of grunts though. Escaping generally means gunning down the lot of them, although running into certain rooms can also cause the alarm to cease (an odd notion that they would just forget about you but a necessary element all the same).

When it comes to combat you have a few options open to you. For close range you can either subdue the target with your fists or go for the one hit kill with the knife (one hit against generics only, for obvious reasons). The knife is quicker but punching someone out has a chance of leaving an item behind, so it's often the preferred choice. For long range attacks you can fall back on a number of guns. The handgun is your starting weapon, and the only one you get find a silencer for later. It's weak but generally enough for anything that isn't a boss, making it the most ideal choice for killing bad guys. In addition you can pick up some extra neat toys to play with for when you do need to engage in the more fierce battles. Shotguns and rifles are part of the guns you can grab. There are also things like hand grenades, missile launchers and mines for those more inclined to add a little more 'bang' to their fights. Needless to say, the choice on offer is varied and great.

On their own, generic enemies aren't much of a threat. Despite having scary looking guns, the bullets fired are easy to dodge in the open. The difficulty comes when an alarm is set off and a hefty group of soldiers come at you, all of them firing together. Combine this with the often enclosed areas the game throws at you and you find dodging bullets a somewhat harder task. It's not massively difficult though, which is what makes maintaining a stealthy approach beneficial without putting out too dire consequences if you mess up.

In addition to the generic you also have some solid boss fights to take on. Some of these are actually quite strange (the first one seems to be a quintet of dancing cyborgs) but the difficult spikes up and you'll suddenly find that the handgun is no longer the weapon of choice. The actual strategies can vary throughout too, so while you might simply be pumping out shotgun blasts against some, others may require you to lob grenades over defensive barriers, drops mines beneath a moving tank or guide missiles into the target.

When you're not getting pounding by enemy fire then the various traps will present themselves to hinder you. Some of these are simply designed to raise the alarm, like the cameras, laser traps and the spotlights. Others are meant to harm or kill, like the vents that release poison gas or floor panels that give way when you step on them. Some of these are pretty annoying but mostly it helps the experience.

The game has a kind of ranking system, where performing certain actions will increase Snake's rank. HIs rank affects his maximum health, as well as the carrying capacity for any item that has limited uses. Increasing the rank involves rescuing hostages or using truth gas on high ranking enemy officers (who oddly don't try to raise the alarm when they see you) to extract valuable information. Since these people are often away from the main path then it helps expand on the gameplay by encouraging you to look around the different areas you are in and rewards you for doing so.

As well as numerous weapons there are also a lot of items to make use of. You have things like food that restores health, a mine sweeper to avoid stepping on hidden explosives, truth gas for those enemy officers you need to question and binoculars for looking around the place, amongst other items. Many of these are quite useful and work well enough. The problem comes with using some of them. See, using an item means having it actively selected. This is fine for items you don't use often, like when you need to devour some food or you want a quick peek around the map. The issue is with items you use often, as having to switch between them can be a pain.

This problem is no more pronounced than with the key cards. There are eight key cards throughout the game, and various locked doors will only respond to one of these cards. The issue? The door will only respond if the relevant key card is actively selected. Even earlier on this can mean juggling through 2-3 cards, but when you're having to cycle through 7-8 cards just to get a bloody door open it becomes ridiculous. Some areas can become tedious as you may end up spending more time trying to open a simple lock than you do sneaking past the enemy.

Snake isn't totally alone in the mission. Snake is initially dropped off with two comrades, who promptly vanish into the jungle. You also have a double agent working inside the enemy organisation and the helicopter pilot that seems to follow you around. You rarely ever see any of them actually during gameplay, as their only appearances come in the form of a few scripted events. Instead most of the assistance come from the transceiver Snake carries. Here Snake can receive and make communications from his four allies (well, except he can't choose to contact the pilot himself). Getting a connection to each team member relies on being in the right screen, but getting that intel can be very handy. There's also a radar setup that allows you to track down a signal that is being broadcast, but this feature is only used a couple of times.

For some sections of the game the view switches to a side-on approach, where you move Snake sideways. Despite the game still retaining the alarm system for enemies spotting you any sense of stealth gameplay is tossed out the window. After all, how can you sneak past enemies ahead of you when there's nothing to hide behind? This makes it a little frustrating when you can't help but be spotted. Some of these sections also present blockages that you must blow up with explosives and water that you must crawl through (with the aid of oxygen tanks). However, the gameplay in these areas is very bland, especially in comparison to the rest of the game, so it is fortunate that you don't have to endure these sections often.

The game is simply massive. Each area has so many rooms/clearings, passageways, alternate routes and offshoots that you can easily lose a lot of time to exploring each area. Amazingly, the game doesn't force you to backtrack much either, making the sheer length all the more impressive. It's also a very challenging game, as you evade detection, tackle bosses, avoid traps and figure out just how to move forward. The game uses a password feature to record progress, although this generally only saves your general location and rank (precise ammo supplies and position are not recorded, so you'll start at a pre-determined spot in the current area when you enter the password). The system is a little cumbersome with its fairly long passwords, and getting a password actually involves killing Snake. Well, at least there is a way to continue progress, so I'm grateful for that.

Most of the graphics are quite good. The environments are varied, ranging from the more common industrial bases bad guys always seem to occupy to stuff like jungles, sandy compounds and even a train. The textures used to construct each area also looks quite good, with a high level of detail and effective use of tiling to craft believable (by NES standards) locations. Character sprites are a bit minimal but you can see pick out basic details and it's easy enough to see which way they're looking. The one odd thing is Snake himself. He has less detail on him than the enemy, but the really strange trait is the choice of colours. For reasons unknown, Snake has been outfitted with a bright orange jumpsuit with all the stealthy subtly of an enraged bull. Maybe this was done to make it easy to identify the player character, but it sure does look really out of place.

The music works pretty well, with a suitable selection of tracks that seem to fit in well with the whole theme of the product. None of the music is really designed to jump out at you but instead sits in the background and enhances the atmosphere with its subtle tones. Sometimes the music will change pace and pump out more intense stuff (generally during states of emergency) and these are a welcome change and do indeed rely the feeling of urgency associated with the onscreen actions. Sound effects are pretty solid, with gun firing and explosions doing their job. There's also a rather distinct 'you've been spotted' sound and the alarms blaring out, which is neat.

The story is actually pretty good, although nothing to do with the main point. We have a backstory that is essentially more of the same as before - bad guys intend to make Metal Gears and you're going to stop them. That's pretty generic and while not bad it isn't winning awards. What is great is the underlying storylines that play out. In essence, it's the happenings with the team that drives the game. For example, there's a really cool subplot that arises involving some of your comrades and who Snake can really trust. Forget stopping Metal Gear, this is the reason you'll want to find out what happens next.

Snake's Revenge may not have been the game fans were expecting, but it is a damn good stealth game that offers a lot to the player. It has a few quirks, but overall it's the kind of game you can get a lot out of.

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