Author’s Note: I don’t have many screenshots of the game since my Xbox One decided not to save any of them for some reason. Only two survived from my original playthrough: the two end game stat screens. In order to get more screenshots, I played the game again for a few minutes from the beginning. Thus, I only have screenshots of Solid Snake and none of Raiden.
Laugh and grow fat.
I remember being at my cousin’s house when Metal Gear Solid 2 first came out. I believe I was there for a Christmas party but I’m not a hundred percent sure on that. Regardless, while everyone else was socializing in the living room and kitchen, I was watching my cousin play Metal Gear Solid 2 in his bedroom. To say I was mesmerized by the game would be an understatement. The way the game opens with Solid Snake jumping off of the George Washington bridge onto a tanker passing underneath it is spectacular. That first level imprinted itself on my mind that night and, to this day, I can remember pretty much everything about it. I distinctly recall trying to describe the game’s opening to my brother once I got home later that night (it’s odd he wasn’t there which leads me to believe it wasn’t a Christmas party after all but I digress). I don’t think he understood a word I said because I was young and didn’t know how to describe things adequately. I still have that problem today if I’m being honest but, once again, I digress. To be fair to my brother, as someone who now has actually played through the whole game, I don’t even fully understand what happened in Metal Gear Solid 2.
At the outset, you play as Solid Snake who was the star of the first Metal Gear Solid. I’m going to be honest with you all and say that I have never played the first game since I never owned a PlayStation. I would have played it before Metal Gear Solid 2 but it’s not available on any convenient platforms and God knows I’m not going to buy a PlayStation Classic just to play it but here I go digressing for a third time (I seem to be having a problem with that today). Anyways, the point is I didn’t play the first one. Therefore, I didn’t understand everything about the initial setup of the story but it obviously didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the game since it’s getting a biased review.
As I was saying above, you start out as Solid Snake investigating a report that there’s a new type of Metal Gear (a bi-pedal mech with nuclear armaments) being transported on a tanker through New York harbor. It’s been seventeen years since I first saw the game in action and, I have to say, it felt good to see that tanker again. Even after all these years, it was a joy rewatching those cutscenes and hearing the banter between Solid Snake and Otacon, his collaborator who provides information through the Codex (a neural communications device). As memorable and awesome as the first level is, it isn’t what people remember most about the game. What really made the game interesting was what it did at the end of the Tanker level (minor spoiler incoming). Instead of using Solid Snake, players would assume the role of series newcomer Raiden for the rest of the game.
To be clear, this is a much bigger deal than what I’m making it sound like here. Pre-release, Metals Gear Solid 2 was heavily marketed with Snake front and center. People were surprised to learn that the battle-hardened, gruff Snake, after being featured for a relatively short introductory mission, was exchanged for the green and youthful Raiden. A lot of people had (and still do have) a problem with Raiden as a character but I didn’t mind him 17 years ago and I don’t mind him today. I will admit that he is a little bland at first but he becomes more interesting as his backstory is gradually revealed. I will admit, however, that the conversations between Raiden and Rose, his girlfriend, are annoying and childish and are without a doubt the worst part of the game.
Anyways, back to the review. You play as Raiden two years after Snake disappears in the wreckage of the tanker (oops, late spoiler warning!). Raiden, as a member of the government agency FOXHOUND, is dispatched to the Big Shell, an offshore cleanup facility built to contain the oil spill from the sunken tanker. A terrorist group has seized the facility and they have taken the President of the United States hostage and is demanding a huge ransom for him. Raiden’s mission is to save the President and to stop the terrorists from blowing up the Big Shell. Seems like a simple enough story, right? Well, you’d be wrong.
Although I didn’t understand some of what happened (I didn’t play the first game, remember?), I thought the story was fantastic. All of the characters were fascinating and compelling (Fat Man, Ocelot, Fortune, Olga, and even Raiden were standouts) and there were so many twists and turns to the plot that if I were to recount it all here you wouldn’t believe me. Conspiracies, secret organizations, discussions of what it means to be human, misinformation, and the very fabric of reality all play a part in this tale. I was very impressed with this seventeen year old story because it covers many topics that are relevant today (misinformation in particular).
My only complaints are that it does become one huge info dump towards the end of the game and it does get a little preachy. I sincerely wish I could go into more detail about the story but to do so would be a disservice not only to you, the reader, but also to the game and its creators too. Seriously, if you like a story that’s large in scope but personal in nature and isn’t afraid to be downright goofy at times then this is the game for you. I urge you to check it out.
It wouldn’t be a game review if I didn’t talk about the gameplay, now, would it? Metal Gear Solid 2 is a third-person game with a top-down perspective that emphasizes stealth above all else. Which is good because it’s hard to hit anything when shooting while looking down at Raiden. It is admittedly an outdated design when compared with modern games but I got used to it by the end. My biggest issue with the control scheme is the fact that, since this is a stealth-focused game, I would sometimes run headlong into an enemy without realizing it. This was especially true when I didn’t have radar and was running around looking for the computer modules that granted it on the Big Shell. There is a first-person option available but once you activate it you can look around but not move. Raiden is essentially a sitting duck when using it but hey, at least you can actually see what’s around you!
The only reason I can think of for using such a weird perspective and control scheme was that Hideo Kojima (the director) & co. wanted it to be a stealth game and not a fast-paced action/FPS one. In fact, most of the scenarios within the game support this reasoning. If you use a gun to shoot an enemy, other enemies will hear the noise and become alert. In addition, if you try to shoot your way out of trouble then enemies will call in reinforcements to try and surround you. In some cases, Raiden must hang off of a bridge or railing to avoid being seen. All of this evidence (the controls, smart AI [sort of]) all point to a concerted effort by the developers to make it a stealth game and not a “play it how you want” affair. I personally didn’t mind it since I prefer playing games in a stealthy fashion but I know some of you do not and probably won’t like it.
Before we move on, I will say that the stealth-encouraging controls don’t lend themselves very well to either the boss battles or the special gameplay sections. It was very challenging trying to shoot a boss that was freely running around a level and you’re stuck trying to hit him/her while looking down at Raiden. The first-person perspective doesn’t really help either since the bosses usually moved too quickly to make use of it (remember, you can’t move your feet once in first-person mode).
In addition, the controls aren’t easy to use in the special gameplay sections. In one particular instance, Raiden must provide sniper cover fire for an ally. I had a lot of trouble with this scenario because the sniping is so difficult to pull off. It is nearly impossible without Raiden taking a drug called pentazemin which stabilizes his shaking hands. If anyone reading this finished the sequence without taking pentazemin then my hat is off to you.
I would like to take this opportunity to say that the overall design of Metal Gear Solid 2 is great. This is particularly true of the Big Shell. There is a lot of backtracking in the Big Shell and while I don’t usually like that sort of thing in a game, I felt it wasn’t too obtrusive here. In order to progress past certain areas, Raiden must acquire new equipment and access codes hence the backtracking. The reason why it didn’t bother me is because it bred a familiarity with the level. Additionally, each section of the Big Shell was so well-designed that it wasn’t a chore to return to each area. I for one thought it was fantastically done.
Before I wrap this up, I would like to say that I absolutely loved the ever-present humor in the game. I’m not just talking about what the characters said to each other during the story either though I did laugh at the dialogue in a few instances). I’m talking about the gag humor and the level of silliness present throughout the game. Metal Gear Solid 2’s story is very serious but comic relief is always right around the corner. I have compiled a list of things that made me laugh the most.
- Solid Snake, while trying to enter the Tanker in the first level, oftentimes encounters a locked bulkhead door. When he tries to open these, he twists the door handle off, looks around, and then quietly puts it back on the door and walks away without a word.
- Raiden can slip on bird poo (although that screwed me over one time).
- The player can hide from enemies under movable boxes.
- Nudie magazines can be placed on the floor. They serve as distractions for guards.
- During an important story scene, Raiden must use a device which lets him listen to conversations from afar. While trying to listen to the main conversation, the device keeps picking up interference from a guard having bowel issues.
- You can encounter guards who are asleep on duty or even listening to music on headphones and thus they don’t hear you sneaking up on them.
In case you missed it in this review, I consider Metal Gear Solid 2 to be one of the greatest games of all time. I know I’m far from alone for thinking that way but I wanted to make my thoughts on the matter abundantly clear. Although the controls do leave something to be desired, the characters, story, overall design, and humor more than make up for them. Metal Gear Solid 2 is a game that stands the test of time and if you haven’t played it, I highly recommend you do so.
Final Score: 11/10 Would Play Again
- Excellent story with themes that are strikingly relevant for today’s world
- Great Characters
- Fantastic overall design
- Wonderful humor and silliness
- Dated controls
Thanks for reading!