Has anyone noticed that Metal Gear Solid has a parallel development history to Castlevania? We have the first game, a classic on their respective consoles, and then you have the second game, which is…less so. Not that Metal Gear Solid 2 is a bad game, but it does have some huge issues holding it back.
Metal Gear Solid 2 was released for the PS2 in 2001, and follows Solid Snake after the events of the first game as he leads a counter Metal Gear organization named Philanthropy. Since the Shadow Moses incident Revolver Ocelot, allowing anyone to develop their own Metal Gear, released the plans for Metal Gear. However on a mission to collect information on a Navy built anti-Metal Gear weapon known as Metal Gear Ray, the new weapon is stolen by Ocelot, who sunk the ship it was loaded on and framed Snake and his group for the incident. Two years later the incident has been covered up as an oil spill, causing a gigantic structure to be built over the area off the coast of Manhattan, called the Big Shell. During an inspection by the President Russian extremists being led by members of an anti-terrorist group Dead Cell, overruns the facility. A covert agent named Raiden is inserted into the site to stop the terrorist’s plot, and it’s him who you will be controlling in this game.
Yes, despite Snake being prominent on the cover and all advertisement, the main character is actually this new character, Raiden. I have no problem with changing the main character, but the new guy has to at least be compelling, which Raiden is not. He’s so winey and bitchy, that you just want him to shut up! He comes across as a complete incompetent and is constantly confused by what’s around him. In the first game Snake was finding out about this information with the audience, but he at least came across as competent. Take for example Nero in Devil May Cry 4, taking over from Dante the protagonist of the first games. Nero was his own flavor of badass and while inexperienced, at least came across as competent in his approach to his new surroundings. He didn’t complain when he gets pinned to the wall with a lance, he spits in his opponents face and tells him to eat shit. Raiden is just not a very compelling protagonist. He does get a proper backstory at the very end, but by them it’s too late to empathize with him! This should have been woven into the narrative early on, to slowly like this new character, rather than dumping a load of exposition on us near the final battle. Not that Raiden doesn’t have potential, and it wouldn’t be until his spin off, Metal Gear Rising when he would prove that he could handle a game himself if given the right script.
While we’re on the complain train, lets talk about the exposition in this game. In the fist game there was a lot of talking and cut scenes, but they at least they let you know more about the world and characters, helping to flesh out this universe. Every once and while it would go off topic and talk about nuclear waste or Gulf War survivors, but for the most part the themes were integrated into the narrative and plot. In Metal Gear Solid 2 however it goes way off topic.
There’s a section where you’re helping a character through a flooded section of the base, and it stops you half way through to talk about Y2K and the human genome project, and it feels as though it affects nothing in the overall story. It could have been summed up in a line, but it feels like it has to explain everything. But the worst, the very worst, is right at the end, when you’re about to fight the final boss. You discover the plan of the Patriots, the secret government behind the scenes, in a 12-minute exposition dump right before the final fight. It sucks you right out of the moment and feels like it lasts forever. This isn’t a cut scene either; it’s a radio call with talking heads! The purpose of this scene is to have you question everything that you’ve been told and immerse you in this concept of betrayal and mistrust, but it just tells you the same point over, and over and over again. It’s 12 minuets of Raiden whining, and the Patriots patting themselves on the back for their mast plan! Not enough pointless? How a continuation of said pointless conversation in the middle of the final fight? There’s no end to how much time is wasted!
But that’s enough of the negative, how about the positives of Metal Gear Solid 2?
It may have its rather huge flaws as far as the writing is concerned, but I can’t fault the gameplay itself. Everything is improved from the first game, with entirely new ways to stay hidden. From hiding in lockers, to hanging over railings, the game feels a lot more three dimensional, as opposed to the straightforward layout of the first Metal Gear Solid game. You can now climb up and jump over railings to move between floors efficiently. There are also new methods to incapacitate without killing; a tranquilizer gun for sending targets to sleep, with varying levels of effectiveness depending on where they’re hit, and the ability to choke people out and render them unconscious, as opposed to in the first game, where doing this breaks the targets neck, killing them.
Overall there’s a lot more freedom and as a result the game feels much more refined. The restricted combat returns, but with the new ability to shoot from a 1st person view, with the ability to peek out while aiming, compensating for the inability to move and shoot and making gun combat feel somewhat like Time Crisis. It doesn’t ruin the game in that you feel like you can just shoot everything, but set fights include cover to incorporate this new gameplay style and make battles feel more fair. There’s also a free form sword combat, using the stick to swing a blade in the direction you want, which would ironically be the defining attribute of the Metal Gear Rising spin-off.
The structure of the game also feels more free roaming for the first half of the big shell incident, which involves traveling to each of the plants struts to diffuse a hidden explosive, which feels less restrictive than just moving through area by area. Granted this is still present for most of the game, but the building itself allows you to travel around with more relative freedom than before. You can move around the perimeter, or simply cut across the middle to save time. Compare this to the layout of Shadow Moses in the first game; if you wanted to access the armory located at he bottom of the first building you enter, you would have to travel through each area individually. There is the ability to hide in a truck and get taken to a pre set destination, but the path itself is ultimately a straight line.
I would mention the bosses here, but they are pretty lack luster in this game. There are only three members of Dead Cell and one is just avoiding gunfire until the time runs out. There are some interesting concepts, like Fatman who places C4 around the arena that you have to diffuse, while he skates around taking shot at you with an automatic pistol. Or Vamp, who hides under water and throws knives, which you have to shoot out of the air. A duel with the mercenary Olga Gerlukavich near the beginning has an emphasis on using first person view from behind cover which is interesting and different, and then there’s Metal Gear Ray, in a fight which tries to one up the Rex battle by having you fight multiple Ray’s at the same time, but they die too quick and there’s little overall strategy, so it doesn’t have the same presence that the first game did. It’s not bad, but just kind of average. And then there’s the final duel with the games stand in for Big Boss, Solidus Snake, the third clone along with Solid and Liquid. Once again it’s an up close and personal duel, but this time it’s a sword fight, against an old man with an eye patch, wielding twin katanas and Dr Octopus arms (not quite as surreal as a small purple dragon dog fighting a blue rhino with a crown and magic wand flying a space ship, but still pretty awesome).
Metal Gear Solid 2 is a pretty good game overall. Sure, I bash some elements, but it’s out of love that I criticize; you can tell that the dedication is there, but it just falls short. A few more drafts of the script could have helped the overall presentation, but at the end of the day the positives far out weigh the negatives. If you enjoyed the first game then I highly recommend it, warts and all. And if you didn’t enjoy the first game, give it a shot anyway.
Despite my gripes with this game, it does pave way to the awesomeness of Metal Gear Solid 3…..