Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

"So all I have to do is push the Action button in front of the computer once I have the pictures, right?"

Source // PlayStation

I absolutely loved going back through Metal Gear Solid when it appeared on the 1001 list, so you might be able to guess how much I was looking forward to getting around to the PlayStation 2 sequel, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.

While the die-hard fans would go on to buy Zone of the Enders to play the demo, I couldn't justify buying an entire game I wasn't sure of to play just a snippet of a game I most definitely did want. Instead, I had a VHS of that E3 trailer, and then a magazine demo finally arrived, and then magazine article after magazine article kept my interest until the game finally released.

Delayed in Europe, we got a bonus DVD as means of an apology, full of behind the scenes, making of stuff. I gave it its own case, complete with homemade box art. I think it may even have been done in Paint. If not, then Jasc PaintShop Pro.

The point is, I was quite a fan of MGS, and when I was done with MGS2, you can bet that I also bought MGS2: Substance when it came out, complete with gameplay tweaks and extra modes, including skateboarding. Madness.

So. Having not played it in a while, can I still get through the demo?

Source // Konami


I opened up my CD case and flipped to the M's, only to discover that I haven't got MGS2 or even Substance, and definitely no bonus DVD. Huh. Did I just not bring them with me when I moved out? I didn't get rid of them, did I? I mean, I don't think I replaced them with the HD Collection. Why do I own the HD Collection? I don't remember buying that.

But there it is, the PlayStation 3 Metal Gear Solid HD Collection. I guess this is how I'll be playing MGS2 today, then. After firing up my PS3, I checked my trophies to see if I had even played this collection. I had. Numerous trophies for Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater but nothing for anything else. It also looks like I was finished with Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots before the trophy patch for it came out, but that's a story for another time.

It seems my memory is appalling, so let's find out what trouble I get myself into.

Source // PlayStation

Fun Times

"The Hudson River, two years ago."

Gah. GAH THIS GAME. Damn. I still get shivers from this opening. I feel the cold wind and rain. The HD remake looks phenomenal. The original PS2 release looked fantastic, but this seems out of this world. It may be the fact that I'm sitting barely three feet from the TV, thanks to having to charge my controller with that ridiculously short lead, but whatever, I'm enjoying it all.

Source // PlayStation

So, MGS was a game that, like Con Air, I just wanted to play. I was swept up with the wacky plot and wanted to see as much of it as possible. I can't compare MGS2 to Con Air. It needs to be compared to something like Enemy of the State, instead, which is apt when both that film and this game share composer Harry Gregson-Williams. If Hideo Kojima wanted MGS to look, sound and feel like a film, in MGS2 he took quite a big leap forward with Harry's appointment.

We are Snake, working alongside Otacon to rid the world of Metal Gears. A hot new rumour puts a Metal Gear killer on a tanker drifting right on down through New York. You'd have thought a Metal Gear that kills Metal Gears would be a good thing, but no. That'd just mean that eventually one faction/military/terrorist organisation would have absolute control thanks to their Metal Gear, so we're got to deal with it. Being a small operation, however, we're more useful taking photos of it and exposing its existence for the rest of the world to deal with, and so that's our mission. Infiltrate this tanker and snap some photos.

Source // Konami

It's full of Marines, but a bunch of Russians swoop in on helicopters and start taking over the tanker, attempting to steal Metal Gear. That's a bit problematic, but in this new generation of gaming, Snake has some new skills available to him.

While in MGS you could stick yourself to a wall and slide along it in safety, in MGS2 you can do so up to a corner, then peek around it, pop out, shoot a steam vent to scold/blind an enemy, before returning back into cover. It takes like 4 buttons to pull it off, but it's possible.

You can hold up guards, who have their own responses to your actions. Some will immediately cower and give up the goods, but others will call your bluff and will need to be shot in a limb before they start to believe you. Shoot their radio, and they won't even be able to call for help if you mess up. And you're holding another 3 buttons or so to hold someone up, so you might.

If you kill someone, accidentally or not, you can hide their bodies inside lockers. You can hide in a locker too if you want. You might have to, because the guards have new skills as well, including actually sweeping the rooms while looking for you, including underneath things you might previously have crawled under.

Source // Konami

You are first introduced to this guard through his shadow on the floor, and like the footsteps in the snow in the first game, cues like shadows can give your position away if you don't take things carefully.

The crazy details don't stop at shadows, either. Hand animated exploding wine bottles, food, sacks of flour? Ice cubes that melt in real-time? Pots and pans that can be played like an instrument if you shoot them? MGS2 is insane. Or maybe it's just Kojima who is.

Source // Konami

Making our way through the Tanker, we're introduced to Olga, a Russian soldier like no other. In true MGS fashion, elaborate, cinema-inspired cutscenes are everywhere. The character models might look a little flat or simple, but they do the job. Besides, when combined with the tense music and the fancy camerawork, you're engrossed by the whole thing, regardless of what these people look like.

She serves as the first boss fight, full of little environmental tricks to show off yet more tech. Lights can be shot out, and tarp gets whipped up by the wind and swept away if you shoot out its strapping. While you only have non-lethal means to defeat Olga, you can beat the bosses via non-lethal means at any stage of the game, if you're up to it.

Source // Konami

Working our way deeper into the tanker holds, we find hundreds of Marines that we need to navigate through, silently. Hanging over the side of ledges is a new trick Snake has picked up, and a grip gauge ensures we don't push it to ridiculous levels by forcing us to make the most of our dangle time before it turns into falling and making a loud noise time.

Source // Konami

Switching projectors give us a small puzzle to deal with, but we can just push some buttons to change things around. Push too many, and softcore porn starts playing. No, really.

Source // Konami

Eventually, we find Metal Gear Ray, on display with Marines logos plastered on its amphibious legs. They're proud of this one. Sadly, it's about to be stolen by a rogue Revolver Ocelot in a twenty-minute cutscene, but that does conclude our mission - we've found the Metal Gear, we've taken the photos. We should probably track it down and destroy it for good, though, knowing Ocelot is piloting it...

Source // PlayStation

Further Frustrations

*record scratch*

But that'll have to wait because MGS2 isn't the game you wanted to play, it's the game you're going to play whether you like it or not. The vast majority of the game doesn't have you play as Snake at all. It doesn't even feature Snake. You are, instead, the dainty rookie Raiden, whose hundreds of hours of VR training is still not enough for him to understand the plot. Nor me, to be honest.

On the surface, it's a hostage rescue mission. As a Metal Gear title, it's about secret organisations and artificial intelligence trying to guide the world. Some fifteen years later, and then some, people are still trying to decode its underlying messages about the state of the Internet, and the overwhelming amounts of useless data we've put into the world. And this was released before the rise of social media, and of people uploading useless crap onto the Internet. Yeah, I'm not the person to explain this to you.

Source // PlayStation

The bulk of MGS2 takes place on the Big Shell, an oil spill cleanup facility, as it is taken over by a group known as Dead Cell, whose members include an immortal Vampire, a woman who can't be shot, and a fat man called Fatman. So far, so Metal Gear.

In fact, the premise is that this is basically a retelling of Metal Gear Solid, even down to the little details, like starting underwater, before heading to the surface via a lift. I certainly didn't notice, even when it was revealed to me, through the plot, towards the end of the game. And then the game continues and says that it wasn't about recreating the events of MGS at all, that was yet another lie. Did I mention that I simply cannot explain this plot?

Source // Konami

MGS2 has its fans, but it's so thick and deep with stuff to wrap your head around that I don't recall replaying it too often. I've gone through it multiple times, definitely, and have enjoyed it to varying degrees over the years, but to pick it up these days, I prefer to play the Tanker chapter and watch the Plant chapter. The Plant chapter being nine-tenths of the game.

You might argue that watching is all you do in a Metal Gear title, but it's more than that. You're given so many options to tackle this game, from lethal to non-lethal to entirely outside of the box thinking. It's almost like a sandbox, only it's actually a bunch of corridors and rooms that need to be checked off one by one - and then backtracked through a couple of times for good measure.

Source // PlayStation

Final Word

But it is a great game, and the HD Collection makes it shine brighter than I've ever seen it shine before. There's always an argument to play on original hardware, but this is a mighty tempting alternative, especially with trophy support. Knowing the silly little things you can do in MGS2, my first trophy wasn't 'Hurt Locker', but 'Kissing Booth'. What does that say about me, I wonder?

I am a big Metal Gear fan, but not so big that I know everything there is to know. I have bought MGS2 in three different playable formats, I've bought the graphic novel adaptation, and then I went "whaaaaaaat?" when I found out they turned that graphic novel into an animated film - and this is years after owning and playing MGS as a graphic novel for the PSP. I didn't know it existed. Now it's the next way I want to see MGS2.

And that's mostly where I place MGS2 these days. I've played most of the series to death already, but I'll pick up and play almost all of them before MGS2, and I couldn't definitively say why. I don't think it's because we're not playing as Snake. I don't think it's because of the plot. It's certainly not because there aren't enough things to do. There's just something about it that doesn't interest me in going through it once more (ignoring that I might go through it once more to see what trophies I can snag on memory alone).

If you've not played MGS2, I recommend doing so, and I recommend the HD Collection as your starting point, but I must stress that while it looks like a 3D action game, it came from that funny little bubble of video game history where we're not sure what the best ways to control a game are. The camera is fixed (was it loosened up in Substance? I can't recall), and the controls are super sensitive.

While I didn't go into any detail about the button layout, I'm not joking when I say that it's a multiple button process to do this and that. Make a mistake, and Snake zips across the map like he's ice skating, he's so slippery. It's also full of chest-high obstacles that you have to climb on to get an item pick up, or whatever, where any sane person would just stick their hand out and grab it. While that's only one press of the action button, you have to be at the right distance and facing the right way and not moving... Move, and you'll just stick your back to the obstacle and look like a pillock. Do you want Snake to look like a pillock? No, no, you do not.

There are hours and hours of great gaming to be had here, whether you're in it for the mechanics or the plot or both. Don't take anyone's 'yeah, but...' as a negative. Nothing's perfect. MGS wasn't perfect. MGS2 isn't perfect. MGS3 won't be perfect. But they're all on this 1001 list because they're damn good video games.

Fun Facts

Initially set in the Middle East, MGS2 was relocated to New York because of escalating tensions in the area, only to then have elements of the game cut or otherwise altered due to the September 11th attacks.

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, developed by Konami, first released in 2001.
Version played: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, PlayStation 2, 2002, via teenage memory
Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance, PlayStation 2, 2003, via teenage memory
Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, PlayStation 3, 2012.