Facing My Metal Gear Solid Demons

How our long-held opinions of certain games don't always stand the test of time.

by

A couple of weeks ago, Hideo Kojima dropped some not-so-subtle hints about the existence of Metal Gear Solid 5. The timing couldn't have been better. Days before that news broke, I had embarked on a quest to replay every game in the Metal Gear Solid franchise--a result of this year's yawning chasm of summer releases mixed with a desire to do something ambitious (if not a bit silly) on the 25th anniversary of one of my all-time-favorite franchises. With this journey ahead of me, I was excited. I was giddy. I was a little bit scared.

That fear stemmed from one particular game: Metal Gear Solid 2. I've always had a troubled relationship with Sons of Liberty, the game I've long considered my least favorite in the series by a fairly wide margin. Playing it for the first time back in 2001, I remember being put off by the surprising protagonist swap and a storyline that felt so much more convoluted than the game that preceded it. And that's the main plot thread--I'm not even talking about the painful soap opera that comes up every time you call up Rose to save your game. Remember the saga of Jack and Rose? Of course you do. Of course you do.

With memories like these in mind, I'd been regarding Metal Gear Solid 2 as the one speed bump on my journey through the delightfully ridiculous world of Solid Snake and company. It was a game that I was going to hunker down and force myself to get through, like it or not, in order to make this a complete trek through the series. Buckle up, old boy. You're doing this.

I suppose that's why I was so surprised when I put down the controller after the final boss fight and thought to myself, "Wow. That was…really good."

Time does strange things to our perception of older games. Opinions become stronger over the years, more stubborn and deeply rooted in our minds. I'd spent so many years telling myself how disappointing Metal Gear Solid 2 was that my opinion of it had become a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. The game didn't stand the slightest chance of finding redemption until I actually took the time to sit down and return to the source of that disappointment.

I'd spent so many years telling myself how disappointing Metal Gear Solid 2 was that my opinion of it had become a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.
Instead of that underwhelming sequel to Metal Gear Solid I remember playing in 2001, what I found was a deeply enjoyable game that has managed to age quite gracefully over the years. Granted, it helps that I played MGS2 as part of the PlayStation 3 HD Collection. It's a terrific-looking port whose clean visual design lends itself very well to a higher resolution, with none of the awkwardness you often see in these sorts of remakes.

But more important than any visual treatment is how differently I reacted to Raiden as a protagonist. Eleven years ago, my snotty teenage self was up in arms over playing as Solid Snake for the first hour or two, only to have him replaced for the rest of the game by this weird new guy with his ghostly hair and nasally voice. Returning to MGS2 now, it makes a tremendous difference when you know what you're in for. You don't feel like Kojima's pulling the ol' switcheroo on you. Raiden is the guy you'll be playing as for the bulk of the campaign, and you can appreciate him for who he is rather than who he isn't.

Then there's the benefit of a new perspective. Raiden hasn't exactly been blessed with good luck since MGS2, having been turned into a cyborg badass who excels in battle partially because he just doesn't have that much left to live for. He is, in some ways, a very tragic figure. As I played through the Big Shell incident in MGS2, my mind constantly returned to the image of Raiden in MGS4, that tortured shell of his former self he would later become. That knowledge of his future made Raiden a much more sympathetic character this time around. Eleven years ago he was a nasally voiced stranger the game sprung on me out of nowhere; now he was a character whose fate I was deeply familiar with.

Frankly, I'm surprised by how much I was able to dislike Raiden in the first place. I don't think I gave MGS2 enough credit for anticipating the fan backlash against Raiden and using that as a springboard to have some self-deprecating fun. I mean, there's a 30-minute stretch in this game where Raiden (A) gets peed on by a patrolling guard, (B) has his man-bits awkwardly groped by a stranger, and (C) watches the president of the United States die in his arms. It's as though Kojima, sly devil that he is, managed to steal my Raiden-hating thunder without me even noticing it.

Of course, certain elements of MGS2 are just as underwhelming as I remember them being in 2001. There's probably no greater offender than the game's relatively ho-hum collection of boss fights. Whereas Metal Gear Solid let us explore the tortured psyches of Psycho Mantis and Sniper Wolf, MGS2 gives us a vampire and a fat guy on rollerblades. The one truly interesting member of Dead Cell is Fortune, and you don't even get the chance to fight her though the game spends so much time building her up as a supernatural force of destruction who craves nothing more than a righteous death.

Eleven years ago he was a nasally voiced stranger the game sprung on me out of nowhere; now he was a character whose fate I was deeply familiar with.
Yet the comparison between this game's boss fights and Metal Gear Solid isn't entirely fair. The original Metal Gear Solid lived and breathed by its boss fights because you could barely go an hour without running into another eccentric villain waiting to take you down. MGS2, by contrast, is more focused on the time in between boss encounters where you get to set your own pace and figure out how to approach a given objective. As strange as this is for me to admit, the core gameplay is much better because of it.

MGS2 may not be an open-world game, but it is a very sandbox one. For every tool you had to get past guards in the original Metal Gear Solid, you have five in MGS2. Hiding bodies in lockers, shooting at a guard's radio so he can't call for backup, firing at steam pipes to scald enemies--there's so much you can do and play around with here. Equally impressive is all the small situational stuff that no reasonable game developer would bother with but that Kojima and company crammed into every last corner of this game--stuff like slipping on bird poop, shooting fruit in the tanker pantry, or watching in terror as Rose refuses to save your game when you've killed too many seagulls.

In an era where so many games are attempting to mimic the tightly scripted formula of Call of Duty, it's incredibly refreshing to go back to a game like Metal Gear Solid 2 with all its weird little secrets and eccentricities and reasons to mess around prolonging the time in between each major story event. It's proof that developers can do cinematic without the handcuffs.

It's kind of odd, actually, just how much of Metal Gear Solid 2 has been aided by the passing of time. Even the overarching narrative--a plot I remember disliking for its muddled, clumsy storytelling--resonates much more these days thanks to the parallels between the Patriots' quest to manipulate the digital flow of information and our own close calls with online censorship like SOPA.

As someone who places Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid 3 in his top five favorite games of all time, I can't tell you how much of a relief it has been to revisit the black sheep of the franchise and discover just how much I'm able to enjoy it 11 years later. It's a testament to how powerful our ability to build up an opinion in our minds can be, and that sometimes it's best to question what you've been telling yourself over the years. You might just be surprised with the result.

Discussion

0 comments
bjornborgue
bjornborgue

I recently bought MGS3 for the Vita and I was BORED by it. I could not believe it, I used to enjoy this game! It took some poorly hidden items in the game world to spark my interest but man, it's not as I remembered it. Peace Walker definitely spoiled me (gameplay-wise of course, the story is a joke).

kyzersozerd
kyzersozerd

MGS2 actually had a very dark feel to it. Anyone remember the time when the Colonel starts losing it over Codec towards the end of the game. 

rene9ade520
rene9ade520

Excellent article Shaun:) My only comment is that I find it kinda funny you disliked it MGS:2 so much the first time around. I'm a HUGE MGS fanboy and even the first time I played the game, it was immediately my favorite game...not just overall, but even over its predecessor  MGS:1. Everything that you changed your mind to, from the opinion you originally formed, is what I had thought all along. I am really happy you got to truly enjoy it for what it was the second time around;) It truly is an amazing game!!! And its so true what you say about the little things most developers wouldn't even bother with and how so many games are "attempting to mimic the tightly scripted formula of Call of Duty". Don't get me wrong, I like the COD games just fine, but they will never entertain me the way MGS games do. Little quirky things like slipping in bird poop in number 2, shaking roaches off my rations in number 3, and having my memory card read for dialogue in number 1, are the reasons I am so into video games. So few developers, and very few titles, deliver in such a way these days. I hope that changes soon. It would be nice to see a new exciting title like MGS that could deliver with such depth, because anymore, I usually know almost exactly what to expect from upcoming titles long before they even hit store shelves. ...I like to be creative when I play games and that is something this series as always allowed me to do.

liononzion
liononzion

Thats funny cause I recently embarked on the same quest as you, around the same time and also found that I enjoyed MGS2 much more.  I also realised that it tied into MGS4 much more than I had first thought. The fact that you cant use the guns in MGS2 because of the Gun ID's  (just like in MGS4 up until Drebin) I never even realized that was in MGS2 until I played it recently. Colonel tells you right at the beginning but I never really payed attention to it until now

Gusz2
Gusz2

I dunno why, but when i playied MGS2 i had no problem with Raiden, not that i loved his style that is strange... but i gave him a chance, and when i started paying atenttion to the story i realized that he was a great character... maybe because he was kind... normal and naive maybe, He wasn't a super guy, it's like seeing a child growing, he becomes anorther "thing" in MGS4, suffering and fighting...

 

When i heard in the Codec Raiden saying: "My first gift of birthday was a AK-47" I thought: That's a tough guy!

VGJunky
VGJunky

"Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid 3 in his top five favorite games of all time"

 

I didn't know this about you, McInnis. You're alright.

theexperience13
theexperience13

I just beat MGS 2 on my Vita last week, and it was the first time I'd beaten it in at least 5 years, and i felt just like you- really good, and I couldn't explain why. I just liked it way better than the last 2 or 3 times I'd beaten it so long ago.

moe050
moe050

another cool aspect of MGS2... was seeing how awesome snake really was lol. I'll never forget the first time we made it through the GW... Raiden and Snake... taking down hordes of Tengu soldiers... I was like "holy crap! look at snake go!" lol. Kojima took young snake out of our hands in MGS2 because he knew everyone wasn't being awesome enough with him lol :-P

moe050
moe050

I never hated MGS2... but like the author, I revisited MGS2 a few months back as I was doing a top-rank run through the MGS games (i still have to do it for MGS1 though). when replaying through MGS2, i was like... I can't believe how much people hated on this game - it's awesome. I'm glad someone else replayed it too, and came to the same result.... but better than that is that the person was one of the haters of MGS2, and the greatness changed his mind.

PMOLLOY17
PMOLLOY17

I'm still playing my first playthrough of Snake Eater. So far though, I just don't like it. I just think it's all too complicated. The story is tough for me to follow. All the new game mechanics are no fun, and I don't know about the rest of you, but I cannot stand CQC one bit.

sabresieben
sabresieben

I always liked Raiden more than Snake.  Have at me.

Leir_Bag
Leir_Bag

I have played every MGS game, with the exception of Peace Walker, definitely enjoyed MGS 2.

 

However, MGS 4 takes the 1st place in my heart, and MGS 1 gets second place. I just aways loved Solid Snake's duty to his "mission" and dislike for his legendary fame. And in MGS 4, you get all that feeling about feeling out of place with this world as you age, because Solid/Old Snake feels like that. Still, my favourite character and favourite game so far.

 

The moment you step in Shadow Moses in MGS 4, your brain dies and gets revived a million times per second. I never consumed drugs, but I can't imagine any of them giving me a better feeling than that. It's just proof that this game left deep marks on our beings and hearts.

DC3893
DC3893

Man... it's hard to believe it's been 11 years. I remember my older brother showing me screen shots of some tanker gameplay, and watching a clip of Snake running around the tanker holding enemies up.

 

And yes, it's an amazing game. It looks fantastic for how old it is too.

 

Just_DJ
Just_DJ

I had the same reaction to MGS2 back then. I couldn't believe how badly they screwed up Metal Gear Solid, and would slight and malign it at every opportunity. That was a mistake. If I had known that future me was going to try it again, seeing it with prejudiced eyes, and STILL come out of the experience thinking that it was, in fact, one of the best games I'd ever played, I would never have set the game down to begin with.

 

tl;dr - Yeah, what you said!

p.s.- the whole thing with Liquid's arm possessing him is STILL kinda lame.

splendormk7
splendormk7

MGS2 is just the best of the series. i guess it always will be. it was freaking awedamnsome. i miss it

JJB03
JJB03

I loved MGS2 I seemed to embrace the complex story, related to raiden in some ways and thoroughly enjoyed the gameplay and boss fights. Its art style led me to look into Yoji Shinkawa which then led me to get myself into art as well and it was one of the first games that had me thinking about it long after I completed it. I spent countless hours on wikipedia looking up all the characters and there back stories just so it did'nt feel like I was missing anything in the story, I think I owe a lot to this over looked sequel.  

logancread
logancread

Kojima is not only genious but he is a goo d guy with great story every time. :)

YPenguinY
YPenguinY

MGS2 is a work of art, and Hideo Kojima played with our emotions and perceptions through the entire game. That was the point! The swapping of Raiden in place of Snake was suppose to annoy and aggrivate and frustrate you. This is why Kojima is a genius.

s0l1dsnake
s0l1dsnake

MGS2 was actually my first MGS game I ever played, I remember when my cousin lent it to me he told me it's not as good as the first one because they changed the character but I decided to give it a shot anyway. I was never emotionally attached to a game until I played this one. I'm glad I never played MGS1 first, I never ended up playing it until it was on Gamecube as twin snakes, with the improved graphics it really made me appreciate Shadow Moses Island. My favorite was MGS3, but this whole series is what even made me appreciate politics in the first place, no other game will actually have a place in my heart and has influenced my views on the world quite like this one. It's fun innovative and educational series.

Claudu
Claudu

I always liked MGS2. It's not my favorite, but I played through the game like 5 times when I first got it. I had no problem with Raiden, cause I'm a big jrpg fan and I actually like androgynous heroes :P Also, Snake as a mentor was a very cool idea.

luhdafh
luhdafh

I needed to be Snake again after MGS cause it was so awesome; understandably was disappointed. years later After playing the whole series in chronological order (according to game universe) and getting deep into the saga I started to see where Raiden fits in. As I've aged, the generational commentary and gap between characters became more relevant as well as the death of ideological motivation, And really loved the play on the characters' adoption of technology, also loved humor more as I got older, David Haters gave a timeless performance, I've used the Pliskin/Snake voice for years, infinitely entertaining in an inside joke not gonna get you laid sort of way. Last but not least the gameplay  is awesome and varied, the AI is awesome and consistent (something most modern games still struggle to achieve). One of the best series ever. Can't wait for more

bakagami
bakagami

SOPA = Sons of the Patriots Act

brgreen
brgreen

I felt the same way about snake eater and ended up enjoying the game so very much.

ragnalamb
ragnalamb

I really enjoyed this game, for the first time I played. Of course, I noticed the big change of protagonist, but I really thought Raiden would be a temporary character, and eventually Snake would jump in the action. I was so into my idea tha I just get used to play with raiden. 

 

Even tough the game was solid as a rock, los of stuff to do, like collecting dogtags, making the guards pee and some other stuff. 

 

Great game. 

SciFiCat
SciFiCat

My disappointment with MGS had nothing to do with Raiden being the protagonist, it had to do more with the decaffeinated boss characters, and the utter sense of hopelessness with regards to a certain character in the story that dies even after your best efforts to save her.

 

And Vamp, yeah, I hate that SOB to no end.

 

Viktor737
Viktor737

As many people i was disappointed when i switched to Raiden character first time. But i don't know. It didn't last long and i started to love the game as it is. Because Kojima made the game so well that i simply accepted Raiden fast.

And it's really amazing how Kojima is able to make every MGS game better and better. Not many developers or movie makers are able to do that. Maybe Cameron was ablet to do that with Terminator. For me MGS4 is the best. It was the first game which after i finished it, i started to search for some contact to Kojima just to tell him how great the game is. I loved all MGS games but MGS4 is best for me. And hell, now after i read this, i want to play MGS4 again (the only MGS i have now) even if i achieved everything in the game already. But i want to feel the MGS story atmosphere again :D

eamonbrown
eamonbrown

i love all the metal gear games love the snake part of the game raiden was good as well the only thing the HD Collection need  was metal gear solid 1 in hd and i wood love for  Hideo Kojima to remake metal gear 1 and 2 hopeful soon he will make them 

acealexander702
acealexander702

basically all I have to say is, I agree, when I first played MGS2 I love the gameplay. but disliked the character Raiden, but now I'm more appreciative of him and just the game itself with CoD being the "golden game" -_____-

coaltango
coaltango

one of the best Mgs of all time.

 

even though raiden had more playtime than snake

Xenon2001
Xenon2001

Wow, fantastic article, Shaun, thanks for the insight and the willingness to reevaluate your impressions. Thanks to your renewed faith in this game, I am more interested in playing out the early games in the series.

02050muh
02050muh

i think kojima is an awesome guy (of course the entire kojima team as well). his metal gear solid series have different feels and plays different ways. it distinguish itself from one series to another. see it for yourself. in every forums or discussions, there must be some people who hate MGS4 or 1. some didn't like MGS3 or 2. different people love MGS4 n some thought that 3 is the best. there is no ABSOLUTE idea which is the best n worse. everyone,every gamers, every fans have their own opinions.

 

it's not like god of war 1 compare to god of war 2.

and that is what make MGS a unique series

ski11buzz
ski11buzz

MGS1 is the best game.  The story is the most personal.  Snake fights his brother, falls in love, gains a lifelong friend, and changes his beliefs and what he fights for.

 

None of the convoluted plot in there.  just a badass game

ii_shugo_ii
ii_shugo_ii

I remember the Sons of Liberty being my first Metal Gear Solid game, so I probably wasn't as put off by the character switch as most people who were anticipating the sequel to the first. In fact it's what led me to enjoy these series of games as a introduction.

Still, I remember thinking why the game had me playing a feminine guy and not the bamf "Iroquois Pliskin"! ;)

ryogapower
ryogapower

I too played it only recently and thought it was such a strange entry in the series given the years of hype leading up to it, that it was so strange and didnt pander to expectation was actually commendable. knowing more about raiden since helps too, his future as a cyborg and his past as a child soldier. i think he stands up as a great protaganist for the series.

howie1926
howie1926

Awesome article and I completely agree. I bought the MGS HD collection mainly for MGS3. I actually found myself enjoying MGS2 just as much.

SaurabhAV
SaurabhAV

this was a great article.. I don't always read articles..but this one captured me

Lunchbox
Lunchbox

 @moe050 While I was reading, this was exactly what I was thinking of posting. MGS2 is my favorite of the series and the fact that you get to see Snake as a badass is a major reason why. I always thought the part where he grabs Emma was cool. He didn't even do anything too spectacular, but he looked awesome doing it. And the end of the game is just awesome, like you said they tear through the soldiers, then he breaks the handcuffs and jumps after MG Ray by himself. That was sweet.

moe050
moe050

 @PMOLLOY17 MGS3 is awesome. just take you time and learn the mechanics and pay attention during the narrative. it'll make sense as you progress. also, replay the game afterwards. it gets more fun and you'll get the story even more. if you want, you can message me with any questions

moe050
moe050

 @Leir_Bag i co-sign on this (with exception to which game is number2... i can't decide.... they're all tied lol). MGS4 was just amazing. played through it again to get big boss rank some month ago (which was hard as hell btw lol).... after playing through i was "WOW... this game deserved every bit of it's perfect score when it came out, and should still get a perfect score even if it launched today"you KNOW a game is amazing when around 4 years pass, and it's still a pretty much perfect game.

 

moe050
moe050

 @Just_DJ glad you had the same experience as the author of the article.

 

i remember when i replayed this... towards the end, i remember being like "WTF?!?" when the Campbell stated bugging out, and then being like "OMG... what do i do?!? i'm so tired!" when I got the corridor and the codec is ringing like crazy lol (i was playing late at night lol). but playing htrough now, while more mature and whatnot... everything made SO MUCH MORE sense.

 

and Kojima must have been a psychic because i swear that the narrative before the last fight is brimming with truth lol

rene9ade520
rene9ade520

 @splendormk7 I can't say whether I like 2 or 4 more, but 2 is definitely one of my most fave games ever!

 

rene9ade520
rene9ade520

 @JJB03 Couldn't agree with you more! That was my experience as well! And while I was already into art at the point I played it, it was definitely an inspiration to my artistic side. I too looked more into the back stories as well having played it!:) What an amazing game!!!

rene9ade520
rene9ade520

 @s0l1dsnake Strange.....I too didn't have much outlook on politics before this game, and my outlook on war was also much more linear then it is today. Its strange because its all fantasy, and yet, the story really compelled such interests in me.

AngelsandDemon
AngelsandDemon

 @ski11buzz

 I agree...I remember playing MGS2 in Taiwan after a 2 year hiatus on games; I was 24 at the time and teaching ESOL.  The protagonist switch didn't bother me nor did the weak bosses.  It was that whole end monologue/epilogue.  It bothered me so much that I called my buddy back in the States, who had finished the game way before me, and I asked him, what the hell happened to Metal Gear. ..SMH

liononzion
liononzion

 @rene9ade520  @splendormk7  Unlike the Zelda series which IMO reached its peak in Ocorina of time (maybe TP), The metal gear series has continued to improve from 1 game to the next. 4 was definately the best, 2 was better than 1 and 3 was better than 2 what with the original story of big boss and his relationship with "THE" boss (worthy of a origin story).  you can safely say that every entry was improved from the previous game. That gives me alot of hope  for MGS5, MGS is the shining example of why people get a game on day 1 and keep it for the entire console cycle and much can be learned from the series. "anticipation" and "delivery".  Hideo Kojima always seems to outdue himself with each game probably the most consistantly improving series in the industry. I cant wait for MGS5 and heck even Rising