Metal Gear May Madness - Episode .04

It's a little later than planned, but at last, here's the continuation of Metal Gear May Madness - an attempt on my part to play every single game in the core Metal Gear canon within the month of May. If you're not sure what's going on here, I'd advise you to stop and read the inaugural entry for the series here - it'll explain what I'm up to, and how I'm doing it. If you've missed any of the episodes concerning individual games, you can find them presented in the table below:

The Episode Roster
Episode .01 - Metal GearEpisode .02 - Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake
Episode .03 - Metal Gear Solid

This fourth episode in the series is all about Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. As well as being the franchise's first instalment on the PlayStation 2, it was also my own initiation to the Metal Gear saga, so it's sure to be a pretty nostalgic journey at the very least. Read on to find out how I got on with Kojima's original mind-fuck...

Episode .04 - Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

The PS2's increased graphical horsepower brings Kojima's vision to life like never before

The first thing that crossed my mind booting up Metal Gear Solid 2 for the first time in about six or seven years was simply, "Damn, this looks good". I want to clarify that I'm not playing the HD re-release here, just the Substance expansion of the original Sons of Liberty that came out just over ten years ago. Sure, the textures may be a little blurry and the animation isn't realistic to a fault, but there's a consistency to MGS2's visual package that makes the whole thing a joy to look at. Coming into the game straight off the back of the original Metal Gear Solid, there's something marvellous about seeing the likes of Solid Snake, Otacon and Revolver Ocelot appearing fully realised this time around, their in-game appearances no longer as restricted by limiting hardware. Similarly, the extra graphical punch means that the sense of scale debuted in MGS is amplified ten-fold here, perhaps best illustrated by the outdoor moments on the Big Shell and that epic boss fight against multiple Metal Gear RAYs near the game's end.

Unlike the graphical leap from Metal Gear 2 to Metal Gear Solid, this time around the aesthetic advancements are backed up with some seriously meaty additions on the gameplay side of things as well. The protagonists of Metal Gear Solid 2 have a huge array of new skills and manoeuvres at their disposal too, such as hanging from railings, peeking round corners, and being able to fire any weapon from a first-person perspective. This last enhancement is definitely the biggest, because it imparts a whole new tactical approach to combat for the series. Being able to pop out of cover and squeeze off a headshot with any weapon actually goes a long way to amalgamating the series' previously distinct combat and stealth mechanics. This new-found mechanical symbiosis is further aided by the introduction of non-lethal, tranquilising weaponry for the first time in the series. It doesn't turn the game into a run-and-gun shoot-'em-up, but it does even the odds somewhat. Thankfully there are a host of improvements to the enemy AI as well - guards are smarter than ever in MGS2, and interact with each other in much more sophisticated ways that make the dreaded Alert Phase even more of a threat. These enhancements render the increased move-set and new gadgets not only useful, but necessary.

I'm pretty sure we'll never see anything quite like the reveal of Raiden in gaming again

And then there's the story. It's something I've grown to appreciate about the game more and more as I've become more enveloped in the series as a whole, because it's only by knowing the franchise that it's possible to realise just how much of a gamble Kojima took with this one. The decision to ditch Snake as the protagonist in favour of Raiden wasn't met with approval when the game was originally released, but I personally think it's one of Kojima's bravest and most brilliant narrative decisions through the whole franchise. It's a bait-and-switch that I simply couldn't see happening in the leak-prone environment of the modern games industry, and we're unlikely to see anything like it ever again. The plot itself is well crafted too, for the most part, mirroring the events of the Shadow Moses incident while still managing to feel original, and packing twists so tight they make the narrative of Metal Gear Solid look like a Roman road by comparison. It's definitely a thrilling plot to follow.

For every occasion that the story of Metal Gear Solid 2 hits the right mark, though, there's another moment not too far off where it overshoots the mark and simply refuses to turn around. Nowhere is this more true than in the game's closing ninety minutes or so, which piles a series of revelations onto the player with so little breathing time that it's easy to lose track of what is actually going on. Hell, I've played the game multiple times in the last ten years and I'm still not completely sure what the S3 Plan really is. MGS2 is also the first game in the series where Kojima's propensity for cutscene-driven storytelling starts to win out over the actual gameplay. In simpler terms, it often feels like you're watching Metal Gear Solid 2 more than you're playing it. That's not an inherently bad thing - I personally enjoy the way Kojima chooses to tell his stories, and I love watching the plots of the Metal Gear games unfold just as much as I love playing them - but the cutscene-to-gameplay ratio of MGS2 is much closer to 1:1 than those of its predecessors.

This time around I've had to snag two photos of my end-game statistics - one for the actual statistical side of things, and another for my final ranking. Interesting story - this is actually the first time I've ever played the Substance version of the game, having previously only owned the original Sons of Liberty. As a result, I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've actually received a codename while playing MGS2 (I seem to remember Sons of Liberty tied all that stuff up with the now-defunct clear codes, so you had to go online to find out your ranking, a luxury I didn't have back then). I'm fairly happy with the statistical side of things, although once again I think there were a few too many enemy deaths, especially considering I had the luxury of knock-out weaponry this time around. I'm pretty sure most of those deaths came about in the game's boss battles and mandatory alert stages, but that's still a figure I'll definitely be trying to reduce in the next game.

These are my end-game statistics...
...and this is my codename and now-obsolete clear code.

The completion of Metal Gear Solid 2 means I'm now at the halfway point of the May Madness challenge - four games down, four games to go. Unfortunately, the timescale for the challenge doesn't stand quite so favourably - due to work and other commitments keeping me from my gaming time, it took me a crippling eight days to reach the end of MGS2. Including the remainder of today, that means I have just twelve days left to clear the four remaining games. So it's not looking great for the challenge, but I'm determined to keep pressing on. Next up is Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, by far my favourite instalment in the whole franchise, and one I'm really looking forward to revisiting. Hopefully you won't have to wait another eight days for the next instalment. Until then, thanks for reading and I'll see you around.



Currently playing - Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence (PS2)

Posted by Oni

How'd you actually feel about the game as it played? I replayed MGS3 HD recently, and I thought it stood the test of time fairly well, though the convoluted CQC controls haven't aged well. Haven't gone back to MGS2 yet though, and I'm curious how it would hold up. But I'm with you, MGS3 is the best of the series, closely trailed by MGS, for me.

Edited by dankempster

@oni: I think mechanically it holds up just fine. A lot of people seem to criticise the first three Solid games for having an 'archaic' or 'unusual' control scheme (read: you don't press L1 to aim and R1 to shoot), but personally I've never taken issue with that side of things. Maybe it's because I grew up playing these games to a point where the controls still feel second-nature, but I really don't have a problem with pressing a face button to fire. My main complaint would be that while the game pushes analog control in a big way, it's still much easier to play with the D-pad, probably because of the angular nature of most of the game's environments. The analog control felt pretty clumsy to me, but that may just be because I'm playing with a PS3 controller with a left analog stick that tends to become stuck. The lack of a freely movable camera might be frustrating for some people, too.

I hope you enjoy revisiting MGS2 when you get around to it. I'm glad to hear you think MGS3 holds up okay, because I genuinely cannot wait to get to grips with it.

Posted by StudioErebus

The Metal Gear games are some of my favorites and I've really enjoyed reading your thoughts here. Good luck with the challenge and I can't wait to read more.