How do you remake a game like Snake Eater without a director like Hideo Kojima?
In many ways, remaking Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is an obvious choice. The game is a near-universally beloved PS2 classic, one of the best stealth action games of all time, and is filled with iconic moments and set pieces. And the remake -- titled Metal Gear Solid Delta: Snake Eater -- is being announced at a time when audiences and critics alike have ample appetite for revisiting gaming's past. Several of this year's biggest and most critically acclaimed releases have been remakes and remasters, including Resident Evil 4, Dead Space, Advance Wars, and Metroid Prime.
Remaking MGS3 feels uniquely challenging, however, because of how inseparable the Metal Gear games are from series creator Hideo Kojima, who parted ways with Konami in 2015. The events and chaotic messaging surrounding his departure made it look like a less than amicable separation, and Kojima's name was conspicuously absent from Konami's press release announcing its MGS3 remake. It raises the inevitable question: how good can a Metal Gear game, even if it's a remake, be without the involvement of its singular creator?
"A Hideo Kojima game"
Kojima is an unusually prominent figure for a game developer, one of the small number who can be considered a household name in the industry. Many could tell you that Shinji Mikami directed Resident Evil 4, but almost anyone who's played a Metal Gear Solid game can name Kojima. Resident Evil 4 feels like a Capcom game and Metroid Prime feels like a Nintendo game, but Metal Gear Solid 3 feels like "a Hideo Kojima game."
Yes, part of this comes down to the way the series was marketed. Many, though not all, of the games Kojima directed shipped with the words "a Hideo Kojima game" printed front and center on the box, and his development team within Konami was even named "Kojima Productions" for later entries in the series.
But it would be reductive to claim that Kojima's fame is the result of cynical marketing. The director has a singular and unique style, not to mention a sense of humor, that permeates his games. It's hard to imagine a recurring character who can't stop shitting himself, a level where you're forced to play in the nude, or a mask that made your character look like the reviled protagonist of a previous game in anything other than one of Kojima's games.
It's these more bizarre elements that often dominate discussions of Metal Gear games today. One boss in MGS1 could read your PlayStation memory card and comment on other games you'd been playing, and you could only defeat them by plugging your controller into the second controller port. Another fight in MGS3 is either an arduous cat-and-mouse game played over the better part of an hour or can be skipped entirely if you wait for your enemy to die of old age.
Kojima's work post Konami suggests it was the director, rather than the publisher he worked for, that was the source of much of this weirdness. Death Stranding let you make grenades out of your own piss and blood and featured a character who died every 21 minutes. Meanwhile, Metal Gear Survive, so far the only Metal Gear game to have been produced by Konami following Kojima's departure, was met with middling reviews and has been largely forgotten.
Konami has so far said little about how it plans to tackle its Metal Gear Solid 3 remake, aka Metal Gear Solid Delta: Snake Eater. It's said the delta symbol (?) in the name is supposed to represent "'change' or 'difference' without changing structure" and in a press release added that the remake "will star the original voice characters," suggesting we'll see David Hayter reprise his iconic role as Snake. Otherwise, the teaser trailer focused more on the dog-eat-dog world of the forest ecosystem, rather than offering any specific hints about the game's structure or gameplay.
We can draw some clues about which direction Konami might take with Delta from an earlier Metal Gear remake: Twin Snakes. In 2004, Konami collaborated with Silicon Knights to remake the original Metal Gear Solid for the GameCube, which largely preserved the PlayStation game's core structure but remade it in the style of its PS2 sequel, MGS2.
It's not hard to see how Konami could take a similar approach with Delta, drawing inspiration from the graphics and mechanics of later Metal Gear games like 2015's Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.
But the major difference between Twin Snakes and Delta is the involvement of Kojima. The designer has several credits on Twin Snakes, but there's been no mention of him being involved with Delta, and his work on Death Stranding 2 and rumored Xbox title Overdose suggests he's not struggling to keep busy.
The original director's involvement doesn't entirely shield a remake from criticism. Twin Snakes was criticized by some fans for the stylized action it added to the game's cut scenes and the addition of new mechanics that undermined the structure of the original game. But it still serves as a vote of confidence, a stamp that suggests Kojima approved of the project even if many fans still prefer his original, and the critical reception to Twin Snakes was positive overall.
Remaking any game is never simple (just ask Ubisoft). Even a seemingly straightforward task like modernizing a game's art for more powerful modern systems involves making hard decisions about how to use the extra graphical horsepower. Do you go in a more photorealistic direction or maintain aspects of the simplified style of the original game?
And that's before you get into the specific weirdness of Snake Eater, a title that's filled with mechanics I'd call "clunky but endearing." I distinctly remember constantly hopping into menus to change my camouflage outfit as I painstakingly crawled across its levels, endlessly switching my clothing to blend in best with whatever surface I was wriggling across. Yes, it was arguably annoying and fiddly, but it's also one of my key memories of the game. Same with the way it asked you to dive into its menus to manually heal certain injuries. Arguably clunky -- but also an essential part of the Snake Eater experience.
Then, there's that ladder. That unbroken, unskippable, minute-plus climbing marathon. Writing for Polygon in 2018, Allegra Frank called the ladder "more intermission than interruption."
"Metal Gear Solid has always been about mind games, but to stick us in a tube with nowhere to go but up -- or all the way down -- sequesters the battlefield inside of our own heads," Frank wrote. "Anxiety mounts as we consider what we've already seen, the bosses we've taken down, the levels we've crawled (or gunned wildly) through." So help me god, if the remake's ladder takes anything less than a full one minute and 47 seconds to climb, I'll riot.
No remake can please everyone. There'll always be people who see an original game's bugs and rough edges as essential parts of the experience that would be sacrilegious to remove. It's also legitimate to want a remake to go in the opposite direction -- to take bigger swings and create its own identity that can stand apart from the original game. And lest we forget, plenty of people who play Delta won't have touched the original Snake Eater and just want to play a game that's approachable to a modern audience. Konami will have to thread a near-impossible needle, and it'll seemingly have to do so without the input of an auteur who oversaw the series for the better part of 30 years.
So I'm reassured by the fact that Delta won't be the only way to experience Snake Eater on modern platforms. When the remake (eventually) releases, it will sit alongside a port of the original game that the company is putting out on modern platforms later this year as the Metal Gear Solid Master Collection. The implication is that Delta is an alternative, not a replacement, for Kojima's classic game. That's more than can be said for some other remakes.
In theory at least, regardless of how Konami's attempt to remake one of its greatest games goes, we'll still have the original game to enjoy. Warts and all.