In the build up to ‘The Phantom Pain‘ we’re having a look back at the numbered entries of the seminal Metal Gear Solid Series. Be sure to check out Part 1 before reading on if you haven’t. This time, lets talk about one of the most anticipated sequels of all time.
Part 2: Sons of Liberty
Every gamer of my generation remembers when Metal Gear Solid 2 came out. It was one of the very few ‘event’ releases that gaming had managed to muster up to that date: a title that transcended the dark corners of video game consciousness and was something that EVERYONE was talking about.
For most gamers, the first taste of MGS 2 was the demo disk that came with Zone of the Enders another, often underrated, Kojima game.The anticipation for Solid Snake’s next adventure was so high that a lot of my friends bought Zone Of The Enders just to get that 30-minute tanker prologue from MGS 2 and for weeks it was all we could talk about. It’s hard to imagine another series having that kind of all encompassing draw in the collective mindset that would get people so very excited. I played that demo to death, exploring every nook of that tanker, trying every permeation of the improved stealth mechanics to beat the level time and time again. My friends and I tried to break down the story: who were the new baddies? Where was Meryl? Just how badass was Metal Gear Ray? It really whetted the appetite for what was to come. The only other time I can think of this happening was when ‘Ground Zereos’ came out last year in preparation for The Phantom Pain… Metal Gear Solid did it again.
As I indicated in the last post in this series, MGS 1 was lightning in a bottle, a game which perfectly blended game mechanics and story to deliver one of the best experiences in gaming ever so the sequel would never be able to live up to its predecessor in my estimation…but that didn’t stop ‘Sons of Liberty’ giving it a damn good try. To be fair to the sequel the game mechanics were a lot better than MGS 1 but that was the natural progression of technology. The first person mode added a new dimension to the gameplay and thankfully avoided the trap of making the game too action orientated, maintaining the stealth we had all come to love. There was a lot more scope to this adventure too with a wider breadth of things to do like escort missions, mini-game esque sequences (disarming Fat Man’s bombs anyone?) and of-course the introduction of sword fighting. The whole game felt a lot grander and a lot more of a good thing.
Story-wise the series started to veer off kilter for me with more Japanese inspired sequences that were hard to digest as a western gamer, but fortunately these were sparse enough that I was still thoroughly engrossed by what was going on. For every moment like Liquid Snake’s consciousness living in his dismembered arm (WTF?!?!) we had amazing story beats like Solid Snake facing down Fortune, Socom pistol firing away against insurmountable odds… the thought of it still sends chills down my spine. The masterfully realised Shadow Moses was gone and replaced by the intriguing Big Shell letting us have a stealth game set in broad daylight against the backdrop of the sea washing against this unique structure. The potential for interesting storytelling in this environment was strongly utilised and it was a setting that really had a personality of its own. Big Shell was very much its own character in MGS 2.
Of Course, as ever with an MGS game, the real stars of the show were the rogues gallery each of whom were memorable additions to the pantheon of villains the series has produced. The unusually macabre Vamp gave us one of the most memorable boss fights of the series while Fortune discovering her supernatural powers gave us one of the most emotional story moments. The personal highlight for me was Fat Man: an obese, cackling, cocktail swigging, roller skating, bomb expert whose mocking catchphrase ‘Laugh! And grow Fat!’ has stayed with me over a decade later. You really are forced to wonder how Kojima comes up with these things… it must be like a drug-fueled fever dream inside his head.
Long term fans of the MGS series will ofcourse know what i’m referring to when I mention the bete noire of Sons of Liberty: We waited three long years to take up the reigns of Solid Snake again but, tragically, we were for the most part denied. We could only play as our favourite gaming hero during the tanker prologue (as featured heavily in the demo); the rest of the game we could only play as the much maligned Raiden with Snake featuring in the second half of the story as a support character. Now Raiden gets a lot more stick than he deserves but when you’re filling the shoes of Solid Snake and you insist on having an extended sequence where you run around doing back-flips naked (remember that off kilter storytelling I mentioned?) then you’re not going to receive the most widespread support. Was it a wrong move from Kojima? Or was it a carefully thought out move to keep the legendary Snake squeaky clean in the minds of gamers? I don’t know, but it can say I do still wish a lot more of the game had been dedicated to playing as Snake…it’s a real shame Kojima went down the road he did.
In the end MGS 2 proved that Metal Gear Solid wasn’t a one off. Although it never reached the dizzy heights of the original game, it was still and exceptional experience and one that cemented the Metal Gear Solid series as an institution. Next time we’ll look at ‘Snake Eater’ and what happened when Kojima turned his hand to a prequel.