Featured Game: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
Posted by Sam Hale
Metal Gear Solid was one of the best selling games on the Playstation, selling over six million copies worldwide. It was inevitable that it would get a sequel. The second installment of the Metal Gear Solid series was planned to be released for Sony’s upcoming gaming console, the Playstation 2. Metal Gear Solid 2 is one of the most ambitious video game sequels ever made. Video games have a tendency to play it safe, especially with sequels but Metal Gear Solid 2 defies expectations and takes an astonishing amount of risks. It’s the first ever postmodern video game and an early example of video games being art.
Following the success of Metal Gear Solid, Hideo Kojima began writing the script for Metal Gear Solid 2 in Nov. 1998; it wound up being 800 pages long. Because of the success of the first game, the development team was expanded from 15 people to 70 and the the game was given a bigger budget. Kojima now had the resources to expand on the cinematic experience of the previous game and translate his passion for films into the video game format.
The choice of the composer also came from Kojima’s love of movies. While watching The Replacement Killers, Kojima observed that the soundtrack of the film would be perfect for Metal Gear Solid 2. The man who composed that movie’s score was none other than Harry Gregson-Williams. According to Williams, Kojima sent him a disc that consisted of his music from various films and offered Williams to compose the music for Metal Gear Solid 2. Kojima expressed a desire to have the music resemble that of a Hollywood action movie. Williams accepted Kojima’s offer and would go one to compose every Metal Gear Solid game from that point onwards.
When writing the script, Kojima originally pictured two scenarios for the game to take place. The first was a small mobile space which was originally an aircraft carrier; this was changed to a tanker in subsequent drafts. The second scenario was a larger, immobile space which later turned into an oil plant, due the Alaskan setting of the first game. After realizing the first scenario would be too short for an entire game, the development team chose to go with both scenarios.
One of the more notable improvements in Metal Gear Solid 2 was an emphasis on interaction with the environment. A lot of time was spent modelling individual objects that the player could interact with. Bottles and lights can be shot out, fire extinguishers and pipes can be used against guards and lockers had several uses. A greater sense of realism was also achieved. Guards were fully motion captured and Motosada Mori, military consultant for Metal Gear Solid, returned to assist the development team for the sequel.
After three years of development and an impressive showing at E3 2000, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was released in North America on Nov. 12, 2001. One year later, the game was repackaged for the Xbox as Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance. This revised edition included extra content and a boss survival mode. The game was repackaged yet again as part of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 in 2011. Across multiple consoles, Metal Gear Solid 2 has sold over 7 million units worldwide.
Two years after the events of the first game, Snake and his partner Otacon investigate an oil tanker that they suspect is housing a new model of Metal Gear. The events of Shadow Moses Island have gone public and countries all over the globe are developing their own version of Metal Gear Rex. Snake’s mission is to infiltrate the tanker and gather photographic evidence of a new model of Metal Gear.
Immediately after landing on the tanker, Russian mercenaries led by Colonel Gurlukovich seize control of the ship. The Russians are accompanied by Revolver Ocelot, who escaped Shadow Moses in the first game. The mission goes horribly awry, the tanker sinks and Snake presumably dies.
Two years later an oil cleanup facility called the Big Shell, built to cleanup the mess left by the sunken tanker, is seized by a group terrorists called “Sons of Liberty.” This group is led by a man who claims to be Solid Snake, who is also joined by a rogue training unit called Dead Cell. Raiden, a member of FOXHOUND, is sent into the Big Shell along with two Navy SEAL teams to rescue the hostages, which includes the President of the United States.
As the story progresses, Raiden uncovers a massive conspiracy that extends to the US government and discovers that a new model of Metal Gear is in development. Raiden’s sense of reality completely collapses by the end of the story and he begins to question whether or not his life is real or a well-crafted lie.
Raiden is a very controversial character among fans of the first game. Not only he was omitted from every trailer and image prior to Metal Gear Solid 2‘s release, but he is an inexperienced soldier who is much more feminine than Snake, which naturally made some players angry. It was a bold move to go with a different character for a sequel and it’s one of the most famous bait-and-switch moments in video game history.
Raiden is joined by a supporting cast much like the previous game. Roy Campbell returns from Metal Gear Solid to guide Raiden on his mission. Raiden is also assisted by his girlfriend Rose, who frequently brings up their relationship at various points in the game. The amount of optional dialogue is mind-blowing. There are amusing anecdotes, easter eggs and witty banter to flesh out the characters and plenty of legitimately funny moments. This is all rounded out by a stellar soundtrack and excellent performances from the voice actors.
Metal Gear Solid 2 is best known for its adherence to its theme but towards the end of the game it begins to shoot the plot in the foot. This game brings up some of the most thought-provoking questions you’ll ever hear from a video game but this results in a convoluted narrative. In this way, Metal Gear Solid 2’s greatest asset is also it’s greatest weakness.
The main reason behind Raiden being the main character over Snake was because Hideo Kojima wanted to advance Snake’s character but was limited by the player being in control of his actions. So he created a new character who would allow the player to observe Snake’s developing personality. This isn’t a fully justifiable reason; it’s the equivalent of making a movie about Robin just to make Batman seem more awesome. If you look closer at the themes of Metal Gear Solid 2 however, the decision to have the player control Raiden starts to make sense.
Raiden is a perfect representation of the player. There is no separation between character and player which is evocative of the works of Jean Baudrillard. For those of you who are unfamiliar, much of Baudrillard’s writings revolve around the notion that given the right social circumstances, the difference between reality and a simulated reality disappear.
This naturally lends itself to the medium of video games, which already allows the player to interact with a world that doesn’t exist. Metal Gear Solid 2 examines the relationship (or perhaps lack of one) between a fictionalized character in the game and the player that controls this character. Raiden is interchangeable with the player up until the end of the story where he becomes his own person. There’s no difference between fiction or truth before this moment however and the collapse of Raiden’s reality is perfectly executed.
That being said, there are plenty of bizarre moments that don’t seem necessary. For example: one of the antagonists is a vampire. I’m not exaggerating, he’s a straight up vampire. These moments, along with too many nonsensical plot twists detract from the experience. Metal Gear Solid 2 has some moments that will completely screw with your head, but it also means having to sit through plenty of moments that make no sense.
In terms of gameplay Metal Gear Solid 2 surpasses its predecessor. Like the first game, the areas are designed with the player’s limitations in mind. The player has to rely on their skill to get through an area. The added features to the gameplay are so numerous that at times it hardly resembles it predecessor. This is an outstanding achievement considering it was released only three years after Metal Gear Solid.
Once again, the player is aided with a radar that marks enemy positions and sight-lines. However, when entering an area for the first time, the player must first log into a node to activate the radar for that area. This makes every area a two-stage mini-puzzle that requires skill and tactics to overcome.
Among the many new abilities in Metal Gear Solid 2, the player can aim and shoot from a first person perspective, hang from railings, move unconscious or dead bodies and hold up enemies. If the player is detected, the radar is knocked offline and the guards will call for reinforcements. Breaking the line of sight is much harder to accomplish than in Metal Gear Solid and will not immediately result in the guards returning to their posts. If the player slips out of sight, the guards will a caution mode and look for the player for a brief period of time.
The AI is a massive improvement from the previous game. Enemy guards have greater lines of sight and are more sensitive to the player’s actions. If a guard discovers a body or regains consciousness he’ll call for backup and every nearby guard will actively search the area for the player.
The stealth gameplay is a fast-paced, high tension experience. There’s little room for error and a situation can go from safe to lethal in a matter of seconds. The combat in Metal Gear Solid 2 is only effective when the player is hidden from enemies. This means that despite that enemies are easier to neutralize, the game remains focused on delivering a stealth-action experience reminiscent of an advanced game of hide-and-seek.
Metal Gear Solid 2 is great example of a game that was too clever for its time. People weren’t expecting a game to ask these thought-provoking questions and this explains why some fans reacted negatively to this game. However despite these flaws Metal Gear Solid 2 is an ambitious game and it’s hard not to respect it for the risks that it took. Few games can screw with your head the way this game does and not enough games attempt to ask the questions that this game asks. It’s a statement on the video game industry and overall a satisfying, if not flawed experience. I recommend to it to anyone looking for a good stealth game, just try to keep an open mind and decide for yourself.