Just two hours into Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and it looked like the massive hype machine had outstripped creator Hideo Kojima's ability to deliver. Far from being a brave return to core values, the new game was excruciatingly slow.
Worse still, the heavily trailed survival skills seemed to splinter gameplay that was already perilously fractured by the return of the long-winded cutscene.
In fact, it was after watching 30 or so minutes of plot exposition either side of a slender 10 minutes actual playing, that we decided to pack up for the night. Heavy heart. Bloodshot eyes. Another classic goes off the boil...
Well, you know that's not how the story ends. After those early frustrations, the game grew. It grew in scale, complexity and spectacle. So here's the assurance MGS fans have been waiting to hear: Snake Eater rocks.
Snake Eater is set in 1964 and chronologically, it's a prequel to the entire series and follows the story of the idealistic operative that would eventually become the early games' arch nemesis, Big Boss. We're itching to tell you more, but we don't want to spoil a minute of the fun you'll have finding out for yourself...
That said, the game covers the events of Operation Snake Eater; a US incursion deep into Soviet territory to rescue a brilliant scientist called Sokolov, who's being forced to complete work on a gigantic, nuclear tank.
This is classic tactical espionage action. And so you'll hide, seek and shoot your way through mangrove swamps, wind-swept mountain ranges, tropical jungles, European forests, sewers, cavernous ventilation systems and red-brick laboratories.
Hunting for provisions is great. Look around and you'll realise the game is heaving with flora and fauna ripe for the eating. In MGS3, Snake's health will automatically replenish over time, but it will only do that efficiently if his stamina bar is full. And to keep stamina high, you need to keep the munchies away. What does reticulated python taste like? Shoot one and have a taste. Fancy a rat? Breast or leg?
As for the Cure menu? Put simply, it means that Snake no longer just loses health. He can be wounded, too. It's not a complex system, with most wounds simple to treat, but find yourself out of antiseptic or splints after a vicious fight and suddenly the hunt for medical supplies seems like the most important thing in the world.
If there's a weak link in MGS3's new features, it's the Close Quarters Combat. It's not that it's broken. It's just that it's neither as fluid nor as user-friendly as you'd hope.
But forget that. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a profoundly satisfying game to play. Exciting, tense, totally immersive and with the best story yet in a Metal Gear.