Metal Gear May Madness - Episode .02

Before I get this episode properly underway, I want to do something I should have done at the start of the last episode and draw your attention to @demoskinos' blog 'Metal Gear March'. It's a challenge with an almost identical concept to this one, but it pre-dates my blogs by a couple of months, and is therefore much better. I highly recommend you read it - it's well written, and clearly demonstrates a deep passion for Hideo Kojima's flagship series. Check it out, I promise you won't be disappointed.

Now on to the main point of this blog - the continuation of Metal Gear May Madness! If you're still not aware of what I'm doing, I'll point you in the direction of the introductory blog I wrote for this little series, which you can find here. That should clear up any questions you might have about the mad endeavour I'm currently caught up in. When I posted my last blog, I'd just beaten the original Metal Gear. Next on my agenda was its sequel - Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. How did I fare with it? And more importantly, how does it fare against my harsh critical judgement? Read on, dear reader, and ye shall find out.

Episode .02 - Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake

When I played through the first Metal Gear last week, I genuinely felt like I was playing something truly innovative and special. After playing through Metal Gear 2, I feel almost foolish for considering its predecessor to be anything more than marginally ahead of its time. Metal Gear 2 takes pretty much every innovation made by its older brother and runs with them until it can't run any further. It addresses most of my criticisms with the first game, while also making a ton of advances in ways I didn't even expect. Metal Gear may be the most prominent symbol of the birth of the stealth genre, but Metal Gear 2 is without a doubt the origin of the Metal Gear franchise as we know it.

I guess I'll start where I started with Metal Gear last time - the mechanics. Structurally Metal Gear 2 is a very similar game to its predecessor - it takes place across a large base the player must sneak through without being seen, completing objectives and defeating mercenaries along the way. Some areas are locked off and require certain card keys to get into, which invariably means a bit of back-tracking at various points in the campaign. Where Metal Gear 2 differs from the original is in its refinement of the gameplay mechanics that exist within this structural framework. Take the stealth, for instance, which is hugely expanded on and improved here. For a start, Snake can actually crawl this time around! Being able to hide under things might not sound like a big deal, but it opens up a whole new avenue of possibilities that weren't available to the player in the first game. Enemy AI has been improved as well, making enemy soldiers harder to get around - as well as being able to turn their heads for different lines of vision, enemies also now respond to sounds made by the player, giving players much more flexibility in how they deal with and distract the occupants of Zanzibar Land. Even the card key system is refined and improved upon, allowing the player to collect 'all-in-one' cards that will open up multiple levels of door and minimising the frustration borne from the trial and error of trying to find the right card to open any given door.

Probably the biggest leap made by Metal Gear 2 is in its narrative, though. While its story isn't all that far removed from the original Metal Gear, the way Metal Gear 2 tells that story puts its predecessor (and pretty much every other 8-bit game I've ever played) to shame. There's a clear narrative flow here that guides the player from objective to objective, something we've come to expect from the series but which was notably missing from the very stop-start Metal Gear. Characters are given real personalities and back-stories, and time in which they can be seen to develop, a fact that's even true of the game's boss characters. The Codec (or Radio, as it's simply called this time around) is much more fleshed out as well, with most of the contactable characters having something to say in most of the game's many situations. It's no doubt benefited from an updated translation (I was playing the version packaged with Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence), but given that's the way most people playing it today will experience it, I think it's fair praise. The level of depth and scope to the game's narrative is consistently astounding, and definitely one of the game's strongest suits.

I find myself much less ready to throw criticism at Metal Gear 2 than I was at its predecessor, probably because it addresses so many of the complaints I had after finishing the first Metal Gear. I guess the game still leans a little too much on the crutch of trial-and-error for me, as even in spite of the better narrative flow and improved card key system, I still found myself at a loss for ideas to progress in quite a few situations. The fact the game's final boss battle actually encourages the card key trial-and-error situation was pretty disappointing, and kind of killed the impact of the previous two boss fights, both of which were awesome. Also, while my criticism of it being easy to escape enemy alerts is no longer relevant in Metal Gear 2, it did occasionally feel like it had gone too far the other way, with it being incredibly difficult to get out of the enemy's line of sight long enough to find a hiding place. This is a minor complaint though, verging on nit-picking, so I shan't labour it any further.

If you're a fan of the Metal Gear franchise and have yet to play either of these early 2D instalments, I'd advise you to take the plunge and check them out. The original Metal Gear doesn't really hold up, and is more worth playing as an interest piece, to experience the genesis of the series. Metal Gear 2, on the other hand, is still a legitimately fun and interesting game to play, with a story that's still well worth experiencing first-hand. As with the original Metal Gear, I've captured my end-game statistics in the photo below. I'm definitely a little happier with them this time around, especially considering I had no previous experience with the game before now. There are still a few too many kills on record for my liking, but hey, 87 is a vast improvement on 339.

That's now two games under my belt, with six to go. I actually finished Metal Gear 2 on Thursday night, so my current progress record is two games in nine days - slightly over par, but I should be able to claw some of that time back. I'm already a fair way through the next game in the series, Metal Gear Solid, which I should be able to finish by Monday, if not tomorrow. As soon as that's done and dusted, you can expect the third episode of Metal Gear May Madness. In the meantime, I'd like to thank you all for reading, and I'm sure I'll see you around.



Currently playing - Metal Gear Solid (PS1)

Edited by Ravenlight

Man, fuck that swamp part. I can blow through the rest of the game in a couple hours but I always get hung up on the stupid swamp.

Posted by Ravenlight

Man, fuck that swamp part. I can blow through the rest of the game in a couple hours but I always get hung up on the stupid swamp.

Posted by dankempster

@ravenlight: Yeah, the swamp isn't great - definitely an example of old-school trial-and-error game design, and made all the worse by the fact there's nothing in-game that at least points the player towards a solution. By far one of the least enjoyable parts of the game, but thankfully it only makes up a small portion of it.