Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (PS2, 2004, 10-20 hrs) - The best game in the Metal Gear series and, tragically, the one no one seems to have played. Snake Eater's deep, convoluted, irreverent world is a magical assault on the Western spy genre, dismantling the mythological universe of 1960's James Bond and reassembling it according to the logics of Japanese post-Hiroshima pacifism. Snake, the title hero, a sort of composite parody of Bond and Rambo, is sent on a secret mission in 1964 to assassinate his lover and mentor who has defected to the Soviet Union. As a prequel designed to explain the origins of Metal Gear's Castro-like central villain, MGS3 portrays Snake's mission as a journey into himself, sketching his disillusion as CIA puppet and laying the psychological groundwork for his mutation into separatist revolutionary. This process involves facing human embodiments of war's vices - pain, fear, sorrow - the worst of which is joy, embodied by his mentor. Contrary to popular belief, the gameplay systems are as meaty as they come. Each screen in MGS3 is a marvel of non-linear design, with the same sort of richness on display in Hitman or Thief. Unlike those games, however, MGS3's gameplay resonates within a richly symbolic narrative framework pointed squarely at exploring the shaky ideological foundation of Western imperial democracy. A cursory glance will suggest a moderately well-produced Bond imitation, but there is dark magic at work here. Directed by Hideo Kojima, with lovely sumie art design by Yoji Shinkawa, and a spot-on John Barry-style title song by Norihiko Hibino. Also the final game by Kojima's long-time co-writer Tomokazu Fukushima, whose absence arguably sank MGS4.