Metal Gear is my favourite series of all time – in any medium. The games seamlessly blend comedy, melodrama and filmic elements while still pushing gameplay to the forefront, unlike many other film-like games. I would consider myself to be an unabashed fan of Hideo Kojima’s work. Even the unfinished Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and Death Stranding – a game about parcel delivery – I adore, and consider to be two of the most interesting games made in the last decade. The former has a bottomless dedication to player expression, while the latter is one of the most bizarre and idiosyncratic blockbusters ever released for a multitude of reasons – and in an era where blockbusters were playing it safer than ever.
So it embarrasses me to say that I had never played Snatcher until now. After tracking down a copy of this super-hard-to-find game (that Konami flatout refuses to re-release), I’ve finally played Kojima’s second game as a director (after the original Metal Gear). It’s safe to say I was missing out.
Even from the opening moments, Snatcher has the most immaculate vibes imaginable. The cyberpunk aesthetic immediately pulls you into the world, where you’re treated to an opening crawl with narration on the history of the world that feels ripped straight from the best films of that era. A catastrophic bioweapon has emerged, Body Snatchers who can assume the form of humans. This may sound familiar. It’s well known that Kojima has never shied away from his influences, and you can feel Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner coursing through the world design and overall visual aesthetic, from the opening shot of Neo Kobe City to the fact that Detective Seed looks a touch too close to Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard. Meanwhile, the Snatchers themselves are almost directly ripped from Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
From the start, you’re treated to Masahiro Ikariko’s incredible soundtrack. From the game’s opening moments, before you even get to take control, you’re treated to the incredibly oppressive ‘BIO-HAZARD’ as you find out about the history of Snatchers. Minutes later you get the funky saxophone-led number ‘One Night in Neo Kobe City’, which transports you into the bustling nightlife of 2040’s Neo Kobe City while feeling ripped out of the opening credits of an 80’s detective serial.
Throughout the game, you play as Detective Gillian Seed; half stoic cool guy, half clueless weirdo who feels the need to repeat everything he’s told for good measure (y’know, the typical Hideo Kojima protagonist). Gillian and his estranged wife Jamie both suffer from amnesia, and the only clue they have to their past is a connection to the Snatchers. So, Gillian joins JUNKER, an elite anti-Snatcher team and unravels the mystery behind his past over the course of three acts.
What’s most striking about playing Snatcher post-Metal Gear Solid, is just how much of Kojima’s signature style – equal parts overly-serious, goofy, nigh-unintelligible, and full of character – is present all the way back in 1988, (keeping in mind I played the updated Mega-CD version released in 1994, since it’s the only English release). Even with the constraints of the Mega-CD it still managed to feel cinematic in ways other games of the era didn’t, through its filmic cutscene direction.
You even have that signature Kojima final act where there’s barely any gameplay and you’re treated to pure exposition, filled with late-game plot twists that change the context of the entire story. Snatcher’s storytelling feels miles ahead of anything else released by 1988. So much so in fact that even games lauded at the time for their cinematic elements, like Ninja Gaiden, feel lacking in comparison.
Even the English release has that Kojima style seen even now in Death Stranding shining through, thanks in part to the translation by Jeremy Blaustein – who went on to head the English translations of Metal Gear Solid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
I’m regretting not playing Snatcher before now, and I can only hope that I can convince some new cyberpunks to try it out. And hopefully we’ll eventually be given an official means to actually play the game on modern platforms. That way, even more people can experience this engrossing world that stands the test of time 35 years on.