Having returned to Shadow Moses (for the first time) some months back, I decided to take advantage of the summer lull and jump into Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and all that entails. Now, MGS 2 was the first MGS game I played, way back when it was a Greatest Hits for the PS2. I had heard so much hype before the game’s release and then so much disappointment afterwards that I simply had to see what the big hairy deal was.
MGS 2 was the first game where I remember the hype being mostly fixed around the story. Everyone was scanning demos and trailers for the most obscure clues, anything that might shine a light on where Hideo Kojima was taking gamers next. As we found out, nowhere they expected or really wanted.
My first experience with the game was okay. I enjoyed the gameplay, cumbersome though it was to a newcomer. I lacked any elegance and mainly pushed my way forward with brute force. The story completely baffled me and led me to a conclusion that I sometimes still draw on to this day: Gamers like shitty stories. Right? Because what else could explain it? The most hyped story in the history of games and in the end, it’s this tripe? Come on! That’s bushleague! That was 2002.
Here in 2012, having just finished MGS 2 again, I would like to revise my opinion of the game entirely and share with you my insights. Having played the original MGS not too long ago and loving it, I figured I would enjoy the story and gameplay even more this time around. I was right.
First, let me say this: I suck at MGS games. Well, I do initially, anyway. It takes me a bit to get used to things and I end up messing up more often than I would care to admit. An hour or so in and I am a stealth machine, shooting punks in the eyes with my tranq gun and hauling their asses into the hurt lockers. And there is something deeply satisfying about snapping someone’s neck. In a video game. Not in real life. Please don’t come and take me way.
So MGS 2 starts off, as we all know by now, with Snake on the tanker. But here’s something rather strange that I noticed this time around: there is no tutorial. No explanation from Otacon about hanging from railings or anything that might help someone new to the series acclimate themselves a little faster. Hell, the FPS view, which is kind of a big deal, isn’t even explained, which wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for a mandatory shooting sequence.
But that’s fine, no big deal. The problem lies when you take control of Raiden on the Big Shell. The Colonel THEN explains to Raiden all the stuff Otacon should have been explaining an hour ago! This makes sense storywise, but none at all gameplay-wise. I’ve been playing the game for an hour at this point. I have some basic stuff figured out, so it’s rather useless. It’s such an odd addition to the game’s pacing that I felt the need to mention it. I would really like to ask Kojima WTF about this one.
One thing I really love about MGS 2, and this particular item dates back to my first playthrough, is the way Big Shell is set up. MGS is daunting and having the game neatly divided between the struts and the connecting bridges really lets the player explore without feeling like he is getting too off track. Even areas you might initially skip over are covered when you are forced to backtrack in order to disable Fatman’s bombs.
Speaking of which: boss battles. Nobody does it better. Every video game designer should take a class in boss battles administered by Kojima. Each one is a puzzle, but an action-packed puzzle, that requires timing, smarts and patience to win. Everytime I defeat a boss, I feel a genuine sense of accomplishment. And kudos to Kojima for trying to flesh out even minor characters like Fatman by bringing his past to the forefront and creating this really interesting side-plot with his mentor, Stillman. For characters that I just met, I was surprised at the level of emotion Stillman’s defeat at the hands of his student brought forth. Not that I cried or anything: I just usually don’t give a BLEEP about characters like this. But I did this time.
Something else I adore? Liquid Ocelot. Revolver Ocelot is already pretty awesome. Liquid Snake was my favorite thing in the first game aside from Gray Fox’s classic line, “I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR THIS PAIN! HURT ME MORE!” So the brilliant idea to combine the two, not only catapults this game so far over the shark that the ocean is no longer visible, it also makes me laugh harder than anything in the game that is intentionally humorous. To sum up: Ocelot loses his arm to Gray Fox in the first game and his replacement arm is the now-dead Liquid’s. WHICH SOMETIMES POSSESSES HIM! Seriously, back in 2002, this is the point when I knew that gamers were stupid. Now, I cackle at how awesome this. Don’t think about it like it’s a movie. Think about it like it’s a comic book. There. Doesn’t that feel better?
Now I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the ending: WTF. Seriously. The game’s narrative totally goes off the rails at the end, killing any momentum it had garnered. At some point it begins to feel like an Ayn Rand produced video game, where the author (Kojima, in this instance) has stopped telling a story and is just talking directly to the player, with no filter and no editing. Add to that the insane number of twists (I counted 3 different motives given for the Big Shell mission) and the really odd habit of a “cinematic” game to hold long conversations via Codec instead of cut-scene, and the game leaves you with a sour taste in your mouth. So much so that most players consider this to be a bad game, when it isn’t: it’s a great game with a poorly told story and an author who badly needs someone to restrain his more off-kilter tendancies.
Metal Gear Solid 2 doesn’t deserve the bad rap it has. Hopefully, with the HD collection, more people will go back and give it another look because it is worth playing. It has all the makings of a great game, while at the same time exhibiting all the bad habits of a sequel to a successful game: overreach, lack of focus and indulgence. I understand that Metal Gear Solid 3 fixes some of those issues and I look forward to playing that one for the first time. Until then, I am happy I decided to replay MGS 2 and experience the game with the proper background needed to fully enjoy it. I would rank MGS higher than this one at the moment, but it is still a damn fine game, one worth revisiting if you played it already and trying for the first time if you haven’t.