Does Hideo Kojima’s Snatcher Live up to Modern Cyberpunk Standards?
Before rising to prominence with Metal Gear Solid in 1998, game designer Hideo Kojima was involved in multiple noteworthy projects. The most prominent were his cyberpunk visual novel Snatcher in 1988 and sci-fi adventure Policenauts in 1994. While both games are regarded highly within the video game community, the former has become something of an icon of the cyberpunk genre.
Snatcher has garnered cult status, being revered as one of the greatest cyberpunk games of all time.
But does it truly live up to its status?
Snatcher’s Plot Is Pure Cyberpunk
Enter Neo Kobe, the Japanese megapolis of the future. The year is 2047, and society runs rampant with snatchers. Similar in appearance to Terminators, these androids are killing humans and assuming their likeness.
A government task force known as Junker is assigned to identify and neutralize the snatcher threat. Gillian Seed and his wife Jamie have lost any memory of their past and decide to spend time apart to recuperate and rediscover feelings for each other.
Hoping to bring back lost memories, Gillian joins Junker and investigate the recent rise in snatcher sightings.
Gillian teams up with Metal Gear Mk. 2, a small robot navigator which assists him during the investigation. Perhaps having a glorified security camera for a partner doesn’t sound that exciting on paper, but as their relationship develops, exchanges between them become easily among the most enjoyable in the whole story. Metal Gear often provides a welcome comic relief to instances which would otherwise be much darker in tone.
Things take a turn for the worse when Jean-Jack Gibson, a veteran Junker, is killed by snatchers on Gillian’s first day on the force. With the remnant’s of Gibson’s navigator being the only clue, the pair embark on a risky hunt for snatchers which leads them all the way to the Kremlin in Moscow — but not before their investigation takes them across numerous districts of Neo Kobe: from abandoned factories and hospitals to shady nightclubs like Outer Heaven.
Snatcher is all About the Cyberpunk Details
Snatcher doesn’t simply throw you into 2047. Instead, the game tells you the story of society’s decline. The meticulous attention to detail shines through. Jordan, a Junker-owned computer database, explains prior events, wars, technology and weaponry in great detail. This makes it feel like Snatcher doesn’t exist simply within its own confines, but as part of a much bigger universe. The makers took inspiration from film classics like Blade Runner and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. And Gillian’s attire, a beige trenchcoat, is a clear nod to Rick Deckard’s (Harrison Ford) signature outfit.
Visually, Snatcher resembles anime series of its time period (think Macross and Mobile Suit Gundam). But don’t let this colorful aesthetic fool you. Depending on the version you’re playing, the game contains heavy scenes of gore. Seeing a dead dog with its innards hanging out is not for the faint of heart. Likewise, Gibson’s decapitated body is an unsettling sight even for sophisticated and desensitized gamers of the 21st century.
Snatcher tells a serious story while seamlessly transitioning from a peaceful videophone conversation with Jamie to a humorous exchange between Gillian and Metal Gear. One moment, you might enjoy a leisurely visit to the downtown Neo Kobe, with an electronic version of Jingle Bells playing in the background. Five minutes later, you’re facing the fright of being left alone in a room with a potential snatcher, ready to tear you apart. Encounters against snatchers are few and far between, but every single one is tense and unexpected.
Fantastic Gameplay for a Retro Video Game
Roughly 90% of your time is spent scouring the city, questioning people, gathering intel and piecing together evidence. This unfolds through text-based menus and gradually reveals the whereabouts of possible snatchers to help you proceed with the investigation. Metal Gear can also scan the environment for snatchers, identify them, store valuable evidence in its database or even act as a portable joke box. On some occasions, you may need to examine evidence for clues or solve a puzzle. One such puzzle requires knowledge of the periodic table.
Snatcher often breaks the fourth wall and addresses you directly. Solutions to puzzles are always found through evidence or the game’s environment. Something as simple as a poster in the background might contain an integral clue. If you simply look the solution up in a walkthrough, the game recognizes that you cheated. For instance, Metal Gear might mention that you somehow solved the puzzle without accessing the required information in the game.
Snatcher hides a lot of optional and often bizarre content. Some dialogue options or locations may seem to be exhausted, but persistently attempting to examine them might reveal additional events and secret content. This is important because Snatcher’s appeal lies in its excellent cast of characters and witty dialogue with them.
Snatcher has Great Characters, but Random Hajile Stands Out
There’s the already mentioned Metal Gear and Gillian’s wife Jamie. But one of the main standouts is the rogue bounty hunter Random Hajile, who dispatches snatchers for fun and profit. He adds an element of cool to the story. While at first he may seem like trouble for Gillian, eventually both become close allies in dealing with the common threat.
To answer the original question, yes, Snatcher is indeed a masterpiece. Some of the English voice-lines come off as inconsistent, stiff and exaggerated.
Clicking through numerous options and reading an abundance of text might not be to everyone’s taste, But after playing through it once, I can say that it’s one of the most captivating cyberpunk stories I’ve ever experienced. To draw parallels, it’s like reading or watching Blade Runner with more control over your actions.
It’s full of character, tone and detail that, unfortunately, many of today’s games lack. Snatcher is a window which provides a glimpse into Kojima’s future projects. We dub the game, by all accounts, essential for any cyberpunk fan.
Each version of Snatcher differs in terms of visuals, censorship and even soundtrack. But unless you speak Japanese, you’ll likely want to play the US Sega CD version.
But that’s easier said than done. Due to scarcity and high demand, physical copies of the game go for absurd amounts on eBay. Prepare to shell out $500 – $600 dollars for a US version. On the flip side, it’s playable on Retro Games for free directly via the browser. However, I experienced sound issues playing like this. It was a shame because Snatcher has one of the best soundtracks and sound design of its era. Of course, there’s always the emulator route and installing something like BizHawk or Kega Fusion takes mere minutes.