METAL GEAR SOLID 2: SONS OF LIBERTY
General consensus seems to be that people are heavily down on this game. Personally, I love it. I’ve played it through more times than any other game in the series, so lemme tell you why. (and it’s not just because it has the best cover art either…)
Everyone knows the start of the game by now, it’s been highly documented; the brilliant, next-gen upgrade of Metal Gear Solid that everyone wished for. New features, new abilities, fantastic graphics (that still hold up on the incredibly well done HD collection) and a level of detail that somehow surpassed its heavily detailed predecessor. It’s a slice of perfection; from that incredible, noir-like rain soaked opening on the George Washington Bridge, (Solid Snake’s incredible introduction crashing down onto the tanker with mullet fully flowing in the wind) to that Titanic-aping final scene of the tanker splitting in two and sinking into the Hudson. It’s Kojima at his cinematic best.
Then we get to Raiden. What a rubbish, annoying character. A huge mistake on behalf of Kojima, right?
Wrong. You blithering idiot.
WHITE DEVIL, ‘Legendary Soldier’ and Simulation
Raiden is probably Kojima’s purest moment; a brilliant bit of misdirection to leave you feeling confused and unsure, questioning the nature of everything the game throws in front of you. I imagime at the time Kojima was under huge pressure to provide the game that everyone wanted him to: a tarted up Metal Gear Solid, no big changes, just enough to take advantage of the PS2’s power. So he gave us just that in the most Kojima way possible. See, I dunno how you perceived the story of this game, but I’m on the side of ‘the whole thing is a simulation’. A real life simulation of the Shadow Moses incident. The story beats, the situations and the characters are all cyphers for those we faced in MGS (an electrified floor blocking your path somewhere? Seems familiar…A fight with a Harrier? Where have I seen this before…?). Raiden is Solid Snake: a soldier thrown into a remote location and given an impossible task. He’s even given ‘Snake’ as his code name at the start.
Metal Gear Solid 2 is the exact game everyone wanted, but done in the way Kojima wanted: rug pulled, expectations twisted.
Raiden is also the player: look towards the fact that he’s been put through a simulation of Shadow Moses and the Tanker numerous times…who else has done that? Oh yeah, we have. Trained to become a new Solid Snake using Snake’s biggest challenges, using a virtual battlefield to create the perfect soldier. Computer games are even referenced in the plot when Snake talks to you about training virtual soldiers. Raiden is being played exactly like we are and constantly asks the same question the player would too; every ‘huh?’, ‘what?’ and ‘Solid Snake?’ is there for the player to get the info they need. Like Ellen Page in Inception, he’s here to ask the questions and receive the heavy exposition for us.
Snake is this game’s Grey Fox, the ‘ghost in the machine‘, the unaccounted for bug in the Patriots algorithm. He’s introduced as a bad guy, then re-introduced as a friend, dishing out advice and proverbs on the danger of war (Kojima again speaking his values through Snake), then switches to a bad guy again before he finally rises up to help you. Interestingly, Snake doesn’t even seem like the gruff veteran tired by war anymore. It’s almost like he was written to be the antithesis of what he was in MGS. He is, dare I say, boring. More content with lecturing you on the evils of man than being the kick-ass soldier we’d expect. He really doesn’t do anything whilst he’s in his Iroquois guise, it’s only when the fatigues come off and the sneaking suit goes on does he begin to resemble the legendary soldier again.
But it’s Raiden’s story arc that interests me the most. He’s the most rounded and human character in the whole series. He starts the game as a fool, a total rookie happy to take orders from his Commander (who he’s never met before and as far as he knows, probably doesn’t exist) without question. His meetings with ‘Iroquois’ begin making him ask questions about his role in the mission and the mission itself. Once we get to the now obligatory torture scene, we learn he was a child soldier, a violent killer, raised in battle. He’s known nothing but war his whole life, having a father figure like Solidus Snake will do that to you I guess. Raiden goes from puppet of the Patriots to a man who throws everything away to become who he wants to be (which was apparently a badass cyborg). Compare this to the arc that Snake takes in the first game:
Gruff Veteran > sleazes after all female characters > Gruff Veteran.
Raiden is better written, more interesting, rounded and not such a legit piece of shit. He also has better hair.
SIDE NOTE: It’s worth mentioning that female characters in MGS2 are treated much, much better than in MGS. They’re no longer just there for Snake to flirt with and bar the little easter egg involving the posters in the lockers, they’re not used in this way at all. Fortune, Rose, Olga…all written really well and given proper character. Kojima actually treating female characters as humans…see, he can do it!
Bomb disposal, Boss fights and BIG BOSS
It’s not all good though. The relationship subplot between Raiden and Rose is painfully boring, taking place over some horribly long Codec conversations, usually after boss fights. They add nothing to the game. The relationship just isn’t believable. This may be because the Rose you converse with is actually an AI creation and so is only playing on Raiden’s emotions towards her to achieve its goal.
This subplot encapsulates a problem of the game as a whole: it LOVES itself and the sound of its own voice. As with the Rose Codec conversations, the ones with Peter Stillman and his bomb disposal history go on for an age. It’s a good story, don’t get me wrong on that; Stillman faking his injury to cope with the mistakes he’s made reflects nicely with Raiden suppressing the memory of his childhood to cope with the horrors he caused, but it slows the game to a crawl. The whole bomb disposal section is a chore of backtracking, super long Codec sequences and stop-start gameplay; you know all there is to know about disarming the bombs in 3 minutes, but the cutscene continues for another 20. It’s the worst parts of every Metal Gear condensed into an hour. My colleague on this blog actually fell asleep at this section during a recent play through, that’s how boring it is.
My other grievance lies with the game’s bosses. Deadcell just aren’t as memorable as Foxhound were in MGS. For all the sleaze and weirdness of Vamp, there’s a Fatman or a Fortune. Fortune seems like an interesting, conflicted character but is rendered a bit rubbish when it’s revealed that her powers of luck are caused by nothing more than a device she was wearing OR WAS IT?!? I’m honestly not sure, but it’s just another factor of the character I don’t really like.
The design of the fights has nothing on the likes of Vulcan Raven, Sniper Wolf or, of course, Psycho Mantis either. The first fight against Fortune does ape your fight with Vulcan a bit, but there’s no drawn out sniper battles to be had here, most fights involve you running in circles around some crates until you get a shot off) The savior of the bosses is the big bad himself, Solidus:
The design of him is fantastic. Enormous in his armoured suit with extra tentacle arms coming off it, he’s hugely imposing. The way he’s only slowly glimpsed throughout the game until the torture section is all brilliantly done and the final fight against him on top of Federal Hall is immensely satisfying. Being the third clone of Big Boss and adopted parent of Raiden, he continues the series trend of Father and Son relationships, or more specifically, the act of the Son surpassing the Father figure. Note how at the start of the game, Raiden has the codename Solid Snake and Solidus looks exactly like Big Boss…emulating the real Solid Snake’s surpassing of his father Big Boss back in Metal Gear.
Admittedly, the story itself can seem like a bit of a baffling mess; hugely complex with layers and offshoots branching out and with no real clean cut ending. But I believe it makes a strong case for being the best the series has had to offer so far. Without going into heavy detail, the ‘memes as a way of controlling a person’ thing and the ‘controlling the flow of the information on the Internet’ thing seem as relevant today as they did back in 2001. Let me direct you to Super Bunnyhop’s plot analysis for a deeper insight into it, he does a better job than I ever could at unravelling it all.
Despite all the problems this game has (I’ve not even mentioned the dull as piss environments, very few areas of Big Shell stand out), I absolutely love this game and the ceaseless ambition it has. The twists, the turns and the rug-pulls are all expertly created, but it’s also a solidly made game. All the gameplay additions are implemented perfectly and things such as first-person aiming, interrogations and diving have all become essential elements of the following games. And, because it’s a Metal Gear game, the level of detail is nothing but impressive; shooting ice cubes and watching them melt, exploding fruit, cockroaches crawling around, shooting out lights to create darkness to hide in, Snake catching a cold if he’s in the rain too long, these all add up to create an incredibly ‘real’ feeling. There’s just those few shortcomings in the bosses and sections of the story that stop me from saying this is my favorite Metal Gear game. That title belongs to the next game in the series…
NEXT!!!!!! Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater – in short: LADDERS…that aren’t short.