392. Philosophical Introspection on Growing a Beard

There is an old Greek legend of a king named Sisyphus. This lawless man deceived the gods, murdered travelers, and was generally a bad egg. After his death, the gods punished Sisyphus in the afterlife by forcing him to push a huge boulder up a hill. The boulder was enchanted to roll back down the hill before he could push it all the way to the top. Sisyphus was doomed to an eternity of maddening repetition, rolling the same rock up the same hill over and over again, never reaching the top.

Poor Sisyphus. Endless futility is just how he rolls.

I am growing a beard. Like Sisyphus, I am making yet another pointless attempt to reach an impossible goal. Just as the boulder rolled away from Sisyphus before he could make it to the top of the hill, my beard will certainly end up a failure. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

As I ponder my Sisyphean situation, rubbing my stubbled jaw and thinking gloomy thoughts, I recall my last attempt to grow a beard. It was an abomination that caused desolation. What could persuade me to unleash such a loathsome thing once more upon an unsuspecting world?

Epic jaw-beardOh, that’s right. I was playing Metal Gear Solid 4, a video game whose tough-as-nails protagonist has a rugged beard. I can only call it a jaw-beard: a line of thick stubble along the jawline. Since my own beard was strongest along the jaw, I wondered whether I might not manage a respectable jaw-beard. My hope is a forlorn one, but in a moment of quixotic stupidity, I resolved to try.

Why? Why have I returned to my folly as the dog to its vomit? What insights can I draw from my Sisyphean attempt to grow a beard? This is an opportunity for philosophical introspection. What can my patchy jaw-beard teach me about myself?

Is my beard a reaction to stagnation? After months of stressful transition, I have finally reached some shaky semblance of consistency—thank God. Does some small part of me rebel against the comfortable predictability that has settled over my life? Is my latest attempt to grow a beard a subconscious effort to escape the numbing influence of familiarity? That’s one possibility.

Is my beard an attempt to feel more grown-up? For all my twenty-something years, I don’t feel particularly competent or mature. I don’t feel very grown-up. Perhaps my beard is an attempt to instill some sort of confidence in myself as an adult—a hideous emblem of putting away childish things and embracing adulthood—a preemptive preparation against whatever grown-up challenges lie ahead. That’s another possibility.

The simplest explanation, of course, is that I think jaw-beards are cool. If that’s the case, my beard is merely a childish attempt to ape the good looks of a computer-generated character in a video game. Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.

A final possibility is that my beard has no sane explanation. It may be no more rational than the impulse a man feels when standing on a high place to jump to his death.

I suppose it doesn’t really matter. Like Sisyphus, here I go again.

This is probably a good time for me to mention that this blog post is fairly sarcastic, and not meant to be taken seriously.

376. Metal Gear Solid Absolutely Needs to Be a Movie

I realize that most of the people who read this blog don’t play video games, so this post will be ignored by nearly everyone in the universe. I accept this. You see, there are sometimes truths so obvious and self-evident that they must be stated—nay, shouted from the rooftops!—regardless of whether anyone listens.

I may be only a voice crying in the wilderness, unheard and unheeded, yet this must be known: Someone needs to make a Metal Gear Solid movie.

Metal Gear Solid movie (with TMTF logo)How can I describe the Metal Gear Solid series? If someone blended Tom Clancy’s Cold War thrillers, the James Bond movies, some Batman and X-Men comics, and all of Quentin Tarantino’s films, Metal Gear Solid would be the stylish, complex, campy, violent, and weird-as-all-heck result.

Released in the late nineties for the PlayStation, the first Metal Gear Solid follows Solid Snake as he infiltrates a nuclear weapons facility on a remote Alaskan island known as Shadow Moses. The facility has been seized by FOXHOUND: an elite unit of the US military that has gone rogue, taken two high-profile hostages, and acquired a weapon called Metal Gear REX. This superweapon, a bipedal tank armed with nuclear warheads, is now in the bloodstained hands of terrorists. Snake’s orders are to rescue the hostages and neutralize the Metal Gear before FOXHOUND can carry out its threats of nuclear reprisal.

Metal Gear REX artMetal Gear Solid could make a terrific movie. In my last post, I discussed three pitfalls in adapting video games into movies. First, many games lack a strong story; second, too many filmmakers make films that appeal only to people who play games; third, the cyclical structure of most video games can’t be compressed into movies.

Metal Gear Solid can easily dodge all of these problems. The game has a strong story, complete with a highly cinematic presentation. (The game’s director, Hideo Kojima, is a film aficionado whose tagline on Twitter reads: “70% of my body is made of movies.”) The game’s plot requires little backstory or gaming knowledge, and can be easily revised to require none.

Finally, while Metal Gear Solid only slightly follows the ubiquitous looping structure of video games. A few edits to the story would yield a focused narrative that lends itself beautifully to film.

What should be cut? The two hostages taken by FOXHOUND could be reduced to one. Several characters—FOXHOUND member Vulcan Raven and cyborg Gray Fox, among others—could be removed. The plot could be streamlined by leaving out the less interesting parts of Snake’s mission from the original game. One or two action scenes could be omitted, and the others rearranged for the sake of pacing. Finally, the villain’s angsty monologues (which are silly even in the game) could be extremely abridged.

What should be kept? I recommend abbreviating the story’s action-packed climax, keeping Snake’s epic battle against the Metal Gear and subsequent fistfight with the villain, but leaving out the vehicle chase. I also suggest keeping the character of Psycho Mantis, a member of FOXHOUND. This deranged psychic isn’t essential to the plot, yet remains one of the most iconic elements of the story. He is the kind of villain who peers into the flawed hero’s soul and pronounces judgment on him. In the hands of a good writer, Mr. Mantis could contribute a lot to the film’s mood and characterization.

Whatever else is kept for a film adaptation, Snake must, at some point, outsmart his enemies by hiding under a cardboard box.

In a perfect world, the Metal Gear Solid film would be written by David Hayter: the screenplay writer whose credits include X-Men and its sequel X2—and also, by glorious coincidence, the actor who voiced Solid Snake in the Metal Gear Solid games. Mr. Hayter actually wrote a treatment for a Metal Gear Solid movie, but it was rejected. Ours is truly a broken world.

My top picks to direct a Metal Gear Solid film are J.J. Abrams and Jon Favreau, but I would settle cheerfully for any competent action movie director. (The worst potential directors are Michael Bay and Uwe Boll; they should never direct a Metal Gear Solid movie… or any movie, honestly.) The obvious choice for the film’s composer is Harry Gregson-Williams, who wrote much of the score for the Metal Gear Solid games.

MGS artThe casting for Solid Snake is of utmost importance; I consider it no exaggeration to say a Metal Gear Solid movie would be made or broken by Snake. His actor must appear as tough, determined, and dangerous as any action hero. However, that action-movie persona must be accompanied by two things: first, a dry sense of humor; second, an attitude of philosophical resignation—a weary resignation to the fact that he is nothing more than a pawn in the hands of authorities no less corrupt than his enemies.

If Solid Snake is played as merely an action hero, the movie is lost. He is more than that, and also less. Appropriately to the title, he is a gear in the vast, impersonal machines of warfare and politics. He doesn’t make the rules or choose his morality. His mission is to do what he is told. Snake’s tired acceptance of his fate, along with an irrepressible vein of humor, are what make him such an interesting character.

I think Hugh Jackman would make an excellent Solid Snake.

My other casting picks are Kevin Spacy as Roy Cambell, Snake’s commanding officer; Scarlett Johansson as Meryl Silverburgh, Cambell’s niece stationed on Shadow Moses; Alan Tudyk as Hal “Otacon” Emmerich, the nerdy designer of the Metal Gear weapon; Tom Hiddleston as Liquid Snake, the leader of FOXHOUND; Willem Dafoe as Psycho Mantis, a FOXHOUND member and homicidal psychic; Anne Hathaway as Sniper Wolf, another FOXHOUND member and expert sniper; and Jeff Bridges as Revolver Ocelot, Liquid Snake’s enigmatic ally. Besides being a film fanatic, Hideo Kojima has a staggering ego, so he could cameo as an enemy soldier or something.

There have been persistent rumors of a Metal Gear Solid movie for years, but nothing is certain. This is a movie that needs to be made. Please make it happen, Hollywood.

Metal Gear Music

This song gives me chills nearly every time I listen to it. From the slow buildup underscored by static, to the epic crescendo and thrashing drums shortly after the two-minute mark, to the soaring conclusion backed by choir and strings—this song is odd and exciting and beautiful, and I love it.

This music comes from Metal Gear Solid 2 of all places. (It’s a strange game.) The creator of the Metal Gear Solid series, Hideo Kojima, is basically the video game industry’s Quentin Tarantino. Like Tarantino’s movies, Kojima’s games are violent and campy as all heck, yet stylish, complex, and compelling. This song, with its unusual blend of orchestra, drums, and electronic music, suits Metal Gear Solid perfectly.

I hear Kojima recently left the Metal Gear Solid series, which is a shame. I also realize I have yet to play Metal Gear Solid 4. One of these days.

A Collection of Fabulous Video Game Mustaches

Stache Stash

Clockwise, beginning at the top right: Yang (Final Fantasy), Mario (Super Mario Bros.), Dr. Eggman (Sonic the Hedgehog), Dr. Wily (Mega Man), Wario (Super Mario Bros.), Naked Snake (Metal Gear Solid), Don Paolo (Professor Layton) and Marvin Grossberg (Ace Attorney).

This is a collection of magnificent video game mustaches: a stache stash, if you will. Which is best? My money is on Mario’s mustache. It lacks the extravagant flair and staggering size of the competition, yet it boasts an understated charm.

This post was originally published on May 8, 2013. TMTF shall return with new content on April 20, 2015!

Lore in a Minute

Do you know what’s confusing? Video game stories. Seriously. Have you ever played a narrative-driven video game? Too many games set up complicated backstories or mythologies to rival Tolkien’s, which nearly always leave those games with one of two problems: explaining too much, or else not explaining enough.

I’ve played a lot of games with fantastic settings, brilliant characterization, and intricate plots—only to see those things obscured by poor storytelling. (I’m looking at you, Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, and Metal Gear Solid.) All the worldbuilding in the, um, world won’t matter if a game’s lore is too complicated for players to understand.

Fortunately for video game aficionados everywhere, a YouTube group called Lore in a Minute has taken it upon themselves to explain the complex lore of various video games, each in one minute… ish.

The video above explains the (admittedly complicated) setup of Chrono Trigger, which I consider probably the greatest RPG ever made. It takes one heck of an explanation to make sense of the time-traveling adventures of a swordsman, an inventor, a princess, a steampunk robot, a prehistoric cavewoman, a demon king, and a medieval knight/talking frog.

Yeah, it’s kind of a weird game. You should totally play it.

328. The Post of Resolutions Past

Christmas is over, but this is no time for gloom! A new year is nearly here! We must face 2015 with hope, caffeine, and courage. After all, the start of each new year is an opportunity for self-reflection and self-improvement… or despair and apathy, if you’re a pessimist. It’s also a time for reminiscence, celebration, and setting stuff on fire.

Well, I suppose that last one only applies in Ecuador, where effigies are burned in the streets on New Year’s Eve. Every December I remember this tradition fondly, and then make new year’s resolutions instead. I would be arrested for arson if I built a bonfire on the streets of my quiet Indiana town.

Good times, good times.

Oh, Ecuador, how I miss you. Your traditions an inspiration, like a beacon burning brightly—a blazing beacon doused in kerosene and likely to burn down entire city blocks.

Before I list my resolutions for the new year, I should take a few moments to review my goals for the old one. After all, what good are resolutions if I don’t try to keep them?

These were my resolutions for 2014.

I will value variety.

I enjoyed some new things this year, from culinary surprises (who knew fresh spinach made such a good salad?) to gaming discoveries (Metal Gear Solid is pretty rad). However, for the most part, I stuck to familiar comforts. I must consider this resolution a failure.

I will live with confidence.

Much to my own surprise, I kept this resolution. I’m still an anxious person, but I’m learning to have fake greater confidence in myself.

I will be a people person.

I… sort of kept this one, I guess? I didn’t go out of my way to meet people, but I made a couple of new friends and did a slightly better job of keeping in touch with old ones.

I will keep up with this lousy blog.

This resolution was mostly successful. TMTF took a few breaks, but I’m pretty sure it was more consistent this year than before. If it wasn’t, blame my typewriter monkeys. Always blame my typewriter monkeys. (I need that slogan on a T-shirt.)

I will drink tea and coffee while they’re still hot.

I nailed this one.

I will be consistent and faithful in fulfilling my spiritual commitments.

I didn’t spend as much time praying and reading the Bible this year as in years past, but I was also busier this year with work, blogging, and other commitments. Although the quantity of time spent with God was less, I think its quality was improved; I’m getting better at reflecting on Scripture and praying prayers that aren’t completely awful. Let’s call this one a draw.

I have half a dozen new resolutions lined up for next year… but that’s for the next post on this blog.

Speaking of the blog, this was an interesting year for TMTF. I revamped its reviews, embraced the Oxford comma, turned into the Hulk, had an insightful discussion (in an animated video!) with a well-dressed wolf, and reviewed all those Metal Gear Solid games. In fact, I played even more of those games than I reviewed. I may declare 2014 the Year of Metal Gear Solid… or Metal Year Solid for short. (I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.)

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go daydream about setting fire to stuff in the streets.

Thanks for reading! If you have a moment, please check out TMTF’s charity fundraisers this month and make the new year awesome for a person in need!

312. Gritty or Glittery?

In the past few years, we’ve seen a lot of gritty media: books, films, and video games characterized by darkness, angst, violence, and square-jawed men brooding over inner conflicts. From Wolverine to Walter White, we’ve seen plenty of angsty characters on the large and small screens. Books—even young adult literature—feature people killing (and dying!) in all sorts of creative ways. The video game industry continues making games with guns, gore, and roughly one in every five words of dialogue being the f-bomb.

Angst! Darkness! Square jaws!

Angst! Darkness! Square jaws!

Why is gritty media popular? That’s a tough question to answer. I suppose there’s some truth to the darkness and violence in these media, and it resonates with people. We all feel sadness, discouragement, and anger. Some face depression, abuse, self-destructive impulses, or equally “gritty” problems.

Finally, gritty media often seems mature, sophisticated, or “grown-up.” All of this begs the question: Is it?

While gritty media has become more popular in past years, there are still plenty of lighthearted books, films, and video games: “glittery” media, so to speak.

Light! Smiles! Goofy braces!

Light! Smiles! Goofy braces!

Throughout history, comedy has nearly always taken a backseat to tragedy. Shakespeare’s most famous plays are his tragedies; Mark Twain’s cynical Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is celebrated over his cheerfuller books; P.G. Wodehouse’s clever comedies are largely eclipsed by the gloomy writings of his contemporaries. It seems humor and optimism can’t be taken seriously.

While there are certainly good things to say for gritty narratives, I don’t believe grittier is necessarily better. A purpose of art is to reflect or represent truth; the truth is that life isn’t always gloomy. A Farewell to Arms or The Things They Carried may be brilliant depictions of the horrors of war, but peace is no less real than violence. I think it’s absurd to suppose, say, Anne of Green Gables is necessarily an inferior book because it reflects joy and sentiment instead of pain and despair.

In the end, it’s a mistake to judge the quality of a thing by whether it’s gritty or glittery, tragic or comic, cynical or optimistic. That said, I would love to see people take glittery media more seriously. Can we study humorists like P.G. Wodehouse or James Thurber more widely in schools? I’m sure students wouldn’t mind putting down The Lord of the Flies. Can we have fewer gritty superhero movies and have more like Marvel’s quirky Guardians of the Galaxy? We could use a break from gloom and doom.

The world is an awfully dark place, but there’s a little light left. Some stories remember that, and I think they’re worth taking seriously.

284. TMTF’s Top Ten Toughest Dudes in Video Games

It would be tough to live in a video game.

Seriously, I wouldn’t last two minutes. If I were extremely fortunate, I might end up in a nice, nonviolent title like Animal Crossing or Professor Layton. I would more likely blunder into a racing game, fantasy RPG or first-person shooter and be run over, beheaded or blown to bits. Even family-friendly titles like Mario Kart offer plenty of opportunities for violence and mayhem. (Curse you, blue shells!)

With perils, pitfalls, monsters, explosions, blades, bullets, traps, tyrants or bottomless pits at every turn, life as a video game character must be tough. It makes sense, then, for video game characters to be tough dudes. Today, dear reader, we will look at ten of the toughest.

For the purpose of this list, toughness is defined as the quality of being durable, stoic, intimidating and that word I can’t use. The usual top ten list rules apply: only characters from games I’ve played, only one character per game series, no licensed characters from other media (e.g. Han Solo or Indiana Jones) and so forth.

Toughen up, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Toughest Dudes in Video Games!

Be ye warned, here there be minor spoilers.

10. Wobbuffet (Pokémon series)


At this point there are more than seven hundred Pokémon, representing all kinds of creatures and concepts. It makes perfect sense, then, that there is a punching bag Pokémon. In battle, Wobbuffet doesn’t ever strike first, but receives blows and then counterattacks. The stoic, patient way it takes its enemies’ attacks is astonishing.

9. Chell (Portal series)


Chell isn’t a dude, per se, but the mute protagonist of the Portal games is as tough as they come. Unfazed by deadly traps, frightening falls and the childish taunting of a deranged opponent, Chell solves puzzles and cheats death with a deadpan expression and stubborn silence that would make Clint Eastwood proud.

8. Link (Legend of Zelda series)

Tough Link

Link is an all-purpose hero, navigating dark dungeons, solving puzzles, defeating monsters and wielding an endless array of weapons with effortless aplomb. Neither horrifying enemies nor baffling riddles seem to trouble him in the slightest, and no obstacle or pitfall ever derails his adventures. Link would be much higher on this list if he were not so adorable.

7. Jim Raynor (StarCraft)

Jim Raynor

Jim Raynor—a man covered in tattoos and ammunition, and probably smelling of whiskey, tobacco and engine grease—is a marshal-turned-outlaw-turned-hero. Bringing together the grit of a Wild West lawman and the tactical brilliance of an admiral, this spacefaring marine is betrayed by humans, hunted by space monsters and feared by practically everyone.

6. Bowser (Mario series)


Bowser may be surly, self-absorbed and not very bright, but there’s no denying he’s tougher than iron. This hulking monster survives eight plunges into molten lava in his first game alone. The games that follow subject Bowser to falls, beatings and all kinds of injuries, yet the only thing he ever seems to bruise is his ego.

Update: My younger brother corrected me by pointing out that Bowser plunges into lava only once in his first game, not eight times. Notwithstanding this correction, Bowser is a pretty tough dude.

5. Samus Aran (Metroid series)

Samus Aran

Samus Aran, like Chell, isn’t a dude, but that never keeps her from being resourceful, independent and ridiculously tough. Venturing alone onto enemy spaceships and hostile planets, Samus guns down the galaxy’s most dangerous criminals and escapes without a scratch. Truly, hell hath no fury like a woman with a laser cannon.

4. Tyrell Badd (Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth)

Tyrell Badd

Look at those bullet holes. Look at them. Even Tyrell Badd’s necktie has bullet holes. I can only surmise that the bullets, after passing through his tie, simply bounced off Badd. This hard-bitten homicide detective is a man of few words. Really, his coat says it all. By the way, that’s not a cigarette in his mouth, nor is he grabbing a gun when he reaches abruptly into his pocket. No, that’s a sucker in his mouth, and he’s reaching for a hand mirror. It’s a testament to his toughness that Badd makes even these effeminate items seem intimidating.

3. Leon S. Kennedy (Resident Evil 4)

Leon S. Kennedy

Nothing seems to faze this tough-as-nails government agent: not homicidal maniacs with chainsaws, not mutated monstrosities, not even the whiny college student he is sent to rescue. Leon S. Kennedy calmly and professionally handles every crisis, making every bullet count, thinking on his feet and suplexing anyone who gets too close. His tireless persistence and grace under pressure are remarkable.

2. Auron (Final Fantasy X)

I’m not sure I even need to say anything about this guy. Auron’s sword is nearly as big as he is, for heaven’s sake! He often fights one-handed simply because he can. His clothes are equal parts samurai and gunslinger, with an awesome pair of shades for good measure. Auron is noble and courteous, but takes no nonsense and will cut any obstacle into very tiny pieces. Oh, and one final thing: Auron is dead. Not even death can stop this man. He lingers for one final adventure simply because he has unfinished business in the land of the living. Heroes hardly get tougher than that!

1. Naked Snake (Metal Gear Solid series)

Naked Snake

Naked Snake is the perfect soldier: an unstoppable combination of sniper, spy and infantryman. He sneaks through jungles and military bases, enduring harsh weather, surviving on rats and snakes, digging bullets out of his body with a knife and patching up his wounds before charging (or sneaking) back onto the battlefield. Snake defeats legendary soldiers, destroys massive war machines and prevents worldwide nuclear war at least three times. Then, tired of serving a corrupt government, he becomes a mercenary, creates his own nation-state and nearly conquers the world. (Note also his wicked eye patch.) There is no tougher dude in video games than this man.

O people of the Internet, what tough video game dudes would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!

Video Games Need More Gilbert Gottfried

Video games are great and all, but do you know what they need? Gilbert Gottfried, the comedian who voiced the parrot from Disney’s Aladdin. Gilbert Gottfried is what video games need.

That said, here is two minutes and forty-five seconds of Gilbert Gottfried voicing iconic lines from video games, followed by a few very brief observations of my own.

1. Navi, the fairy from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, would be less annoying if she were voiced by Mr. Gottfried.

2. Mr. Gottfried’s quiet “Fus ro dah,” a casual performance of a fierce dragon shout, is still enough to send a man plummeting to his death in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The man’s got skills.

3. The famous opera scene from Final Fantasy VI definitely loses some of its charm and beauty when Mr. Gottfried reads its lyrics. I suppose he can’t win them all.

4. A Mario game in which Mr. Gottfried provided Mario’s voice would be sublime.

5. Mr. Gottfried’s performance is possibly the only thing in the universe that could make Liquid Snake’s monologue about genetics from Metal Gear Solid any cheesier.

Now all we need is a video in which iconic game lines are read by Morgan Freeman. Get on it, Internet!

263. TMTF Reviews: Metal Gear Solid 3

The year is 1964. The Cold War, a state of political tension between the US and the Soviet Union, has pushed the world’s greatest military powers to the brink of nuclear warfare. All it will take to ignite a third World War is one wrong move.

When America’s most legendary soldier, The Boss, defects to the Soviet Union and hands over a nuclear weapon to a renegade Soviet colonel, things look pretty grim. The rogue colonel promptly nukes a Soviet installation, kidnaps a rocket scientist and develops an experimental tank known as the Shagohod. The USSR blames the US for these incidents, and World War III seems inevitable.

Then the Soviet Union gives America one chance to prove its innocence and avert nuclear war. A lone American operative must rescue the rocket scientist, destroy the Shagohod and kill The Boss. Only Naked Snake, The Boss’s tough-as-nails apprentice, can kill her and prevent nuclear catastrophe from consuming the world.

So, you know, no pressure.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a prequel to Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, games I reviewed for this blog. It’s been fun, and it seems appropriate to end this blog’s run of Metal Gear reviews with the story that starts it all. (There are more Metal Gear games, but I’ll spare my readers further reviews.)

How does MGS3 stack up to its predecessors? Is it the same delightful mix of sneaking, shooting and hiding in cardboard boxes? Does its director, Hideo Kojima, give us the same storytelling problems, gameplay frustrations and pointless sexual objectification?


It has its share of problems, yet Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is an exceptionally brilliant game.

Naked Snake, forebear to Solid Snake from previous games in the series, is probably the toughest son of a gun I’ve seen in any video game—and speaking of guns, the game has its share of them. The older Snake uses the same weapons, equipment and moves as his successor… including hiding in cardboard boxes, those bastions of battlefield invisibility.

In a neat twist, MGS3 strips away many of the high-tech “luxuries” of previous games. There is no radar, for example, and silencers on guns wear out quickly. Naked Snake has to sneak around the old-fashioned way. Fortunately, he has a new trick—or an old one, technically speaking—up his sleeve: camouflage. Uniforms and face paints can be used to blend into environments.

This brings me to the next point of interest: MGS3 takes place mostly outdoors. Previous games took place in military bases and industrial plants. I was delighted to trade dreary hallways for swamps, jungles and mountains. It’s no longer enough for players to sneak around—they must survive.

To this end, MGS3 introduces two neat gameplay mechanics to the familiar Metal Gear formula of sneaking and shooting.

The first is a Stamina Gauge, which depletes slowly over time. Low Stamina prevents Snake from aiming steadily or recovering from injuries. He must scour his environments for food, eating everything from mushrooms to serpents. (The game is called Snake Eater. What did you expect?) Before you ask: Yes, Snake can feed on a tree frog.

The second clever gameplay twist is a Cure System. Players can no longer simply restore health—they must treat Snake’s individual injuries. Bullet wound? Dig out the bullet with a survival knife, disinfect the wound, stop the bleeding and put on a bandage. Severe burn? Apply ointment. Broken bone? Use a splint.

I loved the Stamina Gauge. It encouraged me to pay attention to my surroundings, searching for potential sources of food. The Cure System was a mixed bag. As much as I appreciated the (relative) realism of treating injuries over simply restoring health with items, it was a pain—especially during boss battles—to open up the Cure System screen repeatedly.

As for those boss battles, MGS3 has by far the best yet. Every Metal Gear game has its own band of memorable, supervillain-esque baddies. This game has the Cobra Unit, whose members are equal parts terrifying, ridiculous and that word I can’t use.

Cobra UnitEach battle is wonderfully different and totally absurd. Whether a deranged beekeeper was spitting bees at me or a Soviet cosmonaut was trying to burn me to ashes, I had a blast fighting the Cobras.

The best (and worst) battle was against The End: the old man with the sniper rifle in the picture above. It was probably the most creative boss fight I’ve ever experienced.

Most boss encounters are quick, spectacular and confined to small arenas. By contrast, The End disappears into a huge forest and attacks from great distances. There is no music, no obvious target and no clear strategy for winning. It’s a long game of hide-and-seek in which the player has only faint hints of where The End may be hiding: fading footprints, faint breathing, the glint from a rifle scope. It was frustrating to fight The End, but also totally unlike anything I’d ever played in a video game.

Previous Metal Gear games felt like futuristic Tom Clancy thrillers, packed with nanomachines and political conspiracies. MGS3 feels more like a classic James Bond movie, with larger-than-life villains, femme fatales and an oddly nostalgic atmosphere. I found the Cold War setting and numerous historical allusions fascinating.

MGS1 had a plot packed with twists and turns. MGS2 boasted a narrative that spun off in daring, postmodern and—dare I say?—incomprehensible directions. MGS3 outdoes both its predecessors. Its story is straightforward and occasionally laughable—equal parts James Bond films, Marvel comics and eighties action movies—yet ends with surprising poignancy. As a prequel to the Metal Gear series, it’s a fine place for players to start.

MGS3 certainly has its flaws. Like every other game by Hideo Kojima, the story gets unnecessarily complicated. There are objectionable elements such as drunkenness, skimpy outfits and mild vulgarity. The learning curve is steep. Oh, and in case you hadn’t guessed it, the game is kind of violent.

All the same, I enjoyed Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater tremendously. It has enough history to be interesting, enough absurdity to be hilarious and enough good level design and brilliant gameplay to keep players engaged from beginning to end. MGS3 is a fine story and an even better game, so long as you have an appetite for snakes and tree frogs.