Review and Rating: the ever-perplexing MGS2

part of Metal Gear Month

Metal Gear Solid 2 is the funkiest of the whole series, and possibly the most eclectic game of all time. What I mean is… the game is just so strange; it feels so foreign. It feels the most buried in Kojima’s fantasy-land-sculpting mind, offering the least appeal to a gamer without tolerance for oddities. I’m not exactly sure how to review this game… So I’ll just describe my strange personal experience with it.

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Keep in mind, I played MGS3, MGS4, and Peace Walker before playing this one. Those games all worked on a level of authenticity where the player would use their eyes to navigate the environment – closely watching the movements of enemy soldiers and choosing carefully when to progress. I really should have known it wouldn’t be this way with MGS2. It was the sequel to MGS1, basically, so I should have realized it would use the same methods as the old PS1 game where the player basically eyes the little 2D map in the HUD and follows enemies as little blips on the screen. I was not experienced with that, nor did I realize it was the way MGS2 was meant to be played. So, trying to go about it the way I was used to was very frustrating. I pretty much hated the game through the first six hours of gameplay. I kept feeling like the stealth action was just too damn hard! I didn’t have control over my character the way I wanted. I couldn’t see well. My view was very often placed horribly, not allowing me to get a good view of the environment and enemies. I eventually realized that this gameplay wasn’t as adult as MGS3’s, and the same rules from the older games still apply – even though the enhanced graphic presentation was fooling. The tactics still rely on watching the HUD representation of the soldier’s sightlines, avoiding noisy grates on the floor, running by people when the timing is juuuuust right, waiting for the camera to turn the other way… simple things like that. Once I realized those things, I found the stealth action to make a bit more sense. It eventually became enjoyable, but only after it was too late to keep from resenting the game for all the frustration it caused.

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The main thing I disliked about the experience was the boring environments. The majority takes place on this “big shell” which is a big orange metal facility that the player goes back and forth and back and forth on. It gets mundane quickly. When it isn’t the shell, it’s the tanker – an even less interesting metal environment. What’s with all these big hunks of metal… Oh wait, Metal Gear Solid, that’s right.

So, about the story. It is an absolute slap in the face to all first-time players, because things are never as they seem and info is only revealed after many hours of gameplay leaving us confused in the meantime. And some things are never explicitly revealed, like why and when Ocelot had liquid’s hand melded on to his body. That kind of info seems to come from the MGS lore itself, not really being part of one of the games. But how are we supposed to know? The story was really aggravating, because I couldn’t tell what anything had to do with anything I already knew about the complete MGS story. It eventually came together. It eventually got pretty interesting, but not before a bunch of confusing crap. That’s the way this game always is, but I feel MGS2 pushed it to extremes.

That’s not the only thing that was pushed to extremes. The silliness is sillier than ever. In moments like when Snake points to his bandana in a cutscene and says, “infinite ammo”, referring to the unlock able bandana item in previous games that gives him infinite ammo, I was pretty whimsically pickled. Half the time, the game spends dealing with uber-serious topics like terrorism, new governing bodies, and nuclear war, then silly things like that remind us its all for pretend. Don’t get me wrong, I like that. It’s just so silly. I also think it’s pretty silly that Raiden turns out to be the main player character even though Snake is on the cover… Then suddenly Raiden gets a sword and it becomes a hack’n’slash game? Things like that inspire the catchphrase, “only Metal Gear”.

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Just look at Raiden’s character model. So silly. He makes no sense, what’s with his heels and toe-shoe combination?

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But the thing I liked most about the game is: it’s full of surprises. Anyone who plays this game, MUST follow through. Follow the conversations, watch the cutscenes, think about the story, learn the gameplay, because it all pays off. Specifically, I didn’t care much about the Rose-Raiden relationship much, because I didn’t care much about either of the two individually. But Metal Gear’s writing is always interesting. So, just have faith that there is something worth knowing about every character in every game! Towards the end, the gameplay gets very exciting. Around the time Raiden is naked and that creepy music comes in, and the environment, is surreal, and something strange is happening to Raiden’s commander… it started really fascinating me. Then, of course, the sword play follows and the crazy metal gear boss battle, and then the Solidus fight… Metal Gear Solid 2 will really sneak up on you, lulling you into a sense of drabness or familiarity, then POW! Sword Fighting! And the credits feature a jazz number with shots of New York taxis, which couldn’t be farther from the predictable aesthetic…

Once finished, I was happy. MGS2 offered some cool boss battles, some cool characters, some good additions to the story, and some surprises I will never forget. The fact that it took a lot of crumminess to realize those things is far less important than the overall retrospection.

Could have had better gameplay though, seriously.

My rating for Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty for PS2 is…

★★★½

…kind of a mix between 4-star elements and 2-star elements, and some 4.5-star elements.

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