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December 10, 2012

I Should Have Finished... Metal Gear Solid 2

Part 1

A few months ago I finished the second of the Metal Gear Solid series, and the first for the PlayStation 2, Sons of Liberty. I played the first earlier this year and wrote a couple of posts about it back then, focusing on the interaction between stealth, combat, boss battle, and team communications and exposition that really drove me on.

It's hard to know where to begin with Metal Gear Solid 2; the game splits between two major narrative element sections, one as Snake and one as Raiden, and since this was a big deal at the time, perhaps I should start with that first. For the most part, you play this game as Raiden, a VR-trained operative that is only now getting his first work out in the field, supported by others in much the same way Solid Snake was in the first game. However, the game begins with a memorable section of Snake infiltrating an oil tanker in New York's harbor. This establishes the storyline -- Snake has gone after other Metal Gears to expose them and the danger they pose to the world, and a major new model is being moved on this boat. (It also serves as a showpiece for the sorts of technical improvements that the PS2 can provide; I can remember watching these early cutscenes from the E3 footage earlier that year, and watching someone play a bit of the game when it came out here in the States. Between the weather effects and the camouflage suit effects, the whole thing was pretty damned impressive.) The section also introduces us to the controls, teaching us all the tools we'll need to tackle the game as a whole.

And then it does the unthinkable -- it kills off Solid Snake. Fades to black and introduces a new character trained entirely in VR¹ brought up to speed on what's going on at the same location a few years later, where an enormous pair of "shells" has been built to contain the environmental disaster caused by the original oil tanker going down. It's quite a big choice by Kojima, and it didn't sit well with fans. What's more, he has a whiny voice and it's his first mission in the field. You can sort of see why fans were annoyed.

I'll get back to Raiden and the rest of the game and its structures in a second post, probably in the next week or two, but I wanted to talk about the response I had to this moment, which was somewhat bittersweet.

I have no special attachment to Snake himself -- to me, he seems like a fairly generic wish-fulfillment vehicle, intentionally like so many we've seen before. But I had finished the first game approximately six months before, and as I blogged about, I found the interaction between Snake and the support team members particularly compelling, and in this new title, I had already seen a bit of the interaction between Otacon and Snake in the Codec and really responded to it. I especially liked the interactions surrounding the save game system, where Otacon would talk inanely about the meaning of various Chinese proverbs and Snake would be kind of bewildered, a nice bit of self-mockery regarding the Mei Ling character from the first game by Kojima. While it had that tone of Kojima having a bit of fun at his and his characters' expense, it also established these as two men who had had a friendship that had been going on for some time between the first game and the second.

Besides, what kind of threat is so big that it can take out Solid Snake? This ramps up the stakes considerably, and even though I think Kojima is making a statement through this game about the similarity of the player experience across all these titles, it's still a nuanced one which puts that same experience front and center and as the most important thing. It's almost as if Kojima is scratching his head and saying, "Boy, videogames, they sure are strange, aren't they? Everyone having this same experience, which would seem to trivialize it, but at the same time that experience doesn't exist at all without the player there to guide it, so the player is hugely important." The threat that's so big that it can appear to take out even the super-soldier requires something superior, a player, to take it on.

That's my read, anyway. Solid Snake will, of course, return later in the game as Lieutenant Junior Grade Iroquois Pliskin, but the player will control a new character, Raiden, through the rest of the game's challenges and bosses. The story will basically retell that of the original, and in typical Kojima form, that'll be part of the story as well. I'll get back to talk about that part of the story and about the gameplay later on.

¹The idea that every soldier is as interchangeable as are the millions of players sharing the same experience was not lost on me.

Posted by Brett Douville at December 10, 2012 07:03 AM