Retrospective: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons Of Liberty
A typically bold Hideo Kojima stunned gamers when he revealed that the star of Metal Gear Solid 2 would not be Solid Snake, but rather an effeminate rookie soldier with floppy blonde hair. Raiden was universally rejected by Metal Gear fans, but this was exactly Kojima’s intention. He wanted us to see Solid Snake from the perspective of a fresh recruit, to amplify the grizzled protagonist’s heroic image. And it worked. In the closing scenes when a confused, naked Raiden meets Snake in the bowels of the Arsenal Gear, he becomes his saviour. His hero. And, ultimately, ours.
And this kind of unorthodox, intelligent design runs through the game’s lifeblood. The basic premise remains unchanged from its predecessor, being essentially a computerised game of hide and seek, but the world is infinitely more detailed. And it’s this attention to detail that defines the game, from your vocal and entertaining support crew’s lengthy comments on seemingly innocuous actions (try calling Campbell with a cardboard box equipped to hear a lengthy history of its use in the field), to the way you can manipulate almost any item you see – watching scattered ice cubes melt in real time, making music with hanging pots, and spraying a parrot with anti-freeze while disguised as the enemy until it squawks angrily and blows your cover. Things that might’ve passed you over, but that make your surroundings feel natural and legitimate, as opposed to static movie sets.
But as much as there is to focus on in minute detail, there’s also plenty to gawp at in awe. Kojima’s cutscene direction steals liberally from Hollywood’s greatest action directors, and as such every major event is an overblown, grandiloquent epic, typically involving boss battles, like Snake’s rain-lashed knife fight with Olga in the prologue or Raiden going up against a Harrier jump jet armed only with a rocket launcher. All charmingly preposterous.
From a technical standpoint, MGS2 took PS2 game environments to the next level. The art wasn’t bad either.
As is the plot, which is a snaking mess of ill-translated dialogue and clumsy philosophy. But there’s no denying the poignant impact of the later scenes, especially the death of Otacon’s sister Emma which is not only moving, but instills you with the drive and motivation to proceed with the game and hunt down her killer. Kojima’s overall message is also endearing; just as the first MGS lamented the impact of nuclear weapons on the world, MGS2 extols the virtues, and the consequences, of the information age and its effects on humanity. Although explaining this involves literally hours of cutscenes and radio conversations, which can be as exhausting as they are inspiring.
And they can also be confusing, thanks to Kojima’s love of shattering the fourth wall and our perceptions of what a videogame can make you feel. After a typically baffling plot twist, you discover that your commander and most reliable source of information throughout the entire game is actually a piece of incredibly sophisticated artificial intelligence software. And you find this out when it becomes infected by a virus.
Suddenly, the game turns completely on its head. The colonel begins to recite lines of dialogue from old Metal Gear games while video footage plays of Japanese girls gazing longingly at the camera. Then he aggressively urges you to switch off your console. And because you’re so confused, you almost do it. It’s around the time when his face begins to morph eerily into a skull that you begin to really worry, and your feelings are only compounded by a misspelled game over screen (‘Fission Mailed’) that isn’t actually a game over screen, rather an attempt to distract you from the task at hand: killing swarms of soldiers with a samurai sword. It’s sadistic. But brilliant, and humbling in its grip on your mind. And most gamers will reach this point after 20 or so hours of gameplay, which is crueller yet.
But it’s exciting. It’s a new feeling, and one that’s yet to be replicated as effectively by any other developer. MGS2’s brilliance doesn’t lie in its cinematic flair, attention to detail, story, characters or impossibly detailed environments. It’s all of these things, working together coherently to create a game that feels intricately tested, perfected and shipped with its creators’ utmost confidence. A rich, uncompromisingly detailed classic, MGS2 is the series’ finest moment, despite the efforts made by Snake Eater. It’s the quintessential Metal Gear experience.