There is very little I could tell you about Metal Gear Solid 2 without including spoilers, so consider yourself warned.
Hideo Kojima, the brains behind this game is a genius. Look at the back of the box art for this game, it includes screen shots with Solid Snake in them. On the front of the box we have a bad ass potrait of Snake too. Everything is geared to make you believe that you are going into this game as the hero protagonist of the previous installment, your character is even referred to as ‘Snake’ during the first few minutes of the opening movie. The aquatic suit mask and respirator hide the true identity of the main character, even after you’re told that your codename is being changed from Snake to Raiden for this mission. And then comes the big reveal: you’re not playing as Solid Snake at all, you’re a rookie by the name of Jack.
The rest of the game is surprise after surprise, I’ve never seen so many plot twists and double-crosses in a game in my life. The storyline is complicated to say the least, and draws heavily from Hollywood movies of the 80s and 90s. This is combined with a charm and sense of surreal humour that you would normally find in JRPGs. Metal Gear Solid 2 will have you single-handedly taking down a mysterious foreign organisation, and along the way you will be urinated on, pooped on by seaguls, have your balls groped by the President of America and fight a Harrier Jump-Jet as a boss battle. This game fuses the two traditions of heroic Hollywood storylines and Japanese video game charm. In fact, the cutscene sections are often so long that it would be fairly accurate to describe MGS 2 as more of video game-movie hybrid.
Just a quick note about this game compared to Zone of the Enders, which I wrote about a few weeks ago and for which Hideo Kojima was producer. Dispite these two games being worlds apart in terms of quality, there is one thing common to both of them: awesome boss fights. Metal Gear Solid 2 and Zone of the Enders do boss fights like how they should be done: frustrating, gruelling battles of wits and timing. From the aformentioned Harrier, to Fatman, Vamp, Solidus and the Metal Gear Rays, MGS 2 has a great line-up of infuriating bosses to get stuck in to. Also if you look closely downstairs inside Strut E you will notice the Z.O.E. insignia on some of the boxes there, a nice touch, but I feel as though that works as a metaphor for the development of the two games: MGS 2 taking centre stage, while Z.O.E. lies forgotten in a box in the basement.
Anyway, I came at Metal Gear Solid 2 as a complete novice, never having played any form of Metal Gear game before. As such, the initial impact of the switch in protagonist was somewhat lost on me. It was only after playing through the after-mission – where you actually do take control of Solid Snake – that the full significance of what they had pulled off hit me.
What had stopped me from playing this game and other games in the series before was the knowledge that I am awful at these games (the fact that I died 78 times during the main campaign on Normal mode can easily testify to my lack of ‘Tactical Espionage Action’ skills). I made the wrong assumption that MGS would be like a run of the mill shooter game: heavy on the action with little in the way of storyline. I could not have been further from the truth, and was pleasantly surprised by the depth of story and enjoyability of gameplay that I found. I became immersed in the lore of the MGS world.
Luckily for me, the game includes an entire novel explaining the backstory of MGS 2. It’s basically the storyline to the first Metal Gear Solid game told from the perspective of Natasha Romanenko – who was apparently one of the supporting characters in the first game – and it’s long. But what a brilliant and brave idea to include something like that in a game. It adds a lot to the mythology that this game works to culitvate, as I am sure the other games do too. It’s addition also meant that I did not feel excluded from some of the finer points of the plot, especially towards the end of the game. For example, whenever someone spoke about Shadow Moses, had I not read the material I would have been like “Who?”
Although still accessible as a stand-alone game, you undoubtedly get more out of it if you have some prior knowledge of the series. However, far from being an excluding factor, the game clearly wants you to know this information, it wants to include you in the world that has been built up around it.
Metal Gear Solid 2 gets a little crazy towards the end. But it does have a clear message: you are able to choose for yourself who you are, it doesn’t matter about what genes you have, or how you were brought up, you can still choose to be the best you can be. Snake was able to escape his genetics, whilst Jack was able to move beyond his uprbringing. And that is what this game does; born a Japenese video game it was brought up on a diet of Hollywood films, but it chose to try and be more than just a game, and more than just a movie, it chose to tell a great and entertaining story, to try and be the best that it can be. Obviously it is neither better than a lot of video games nor better than a lot of movies, but at least it tried.
I’m not the best at playing games that are in a series in the correct order. Did you play MGS 2 after having played the first one? Did you feel as though you were conned at all? I think that I probably would have.