We recently looked at the original Metal Gear Solid title. With Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes still to come, there are plenty more releases to explore. Today, we’ll be looking at Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, released on PlayStation 2 back in 2001. Metal Gear Solid 2 is a particularly interesting entry in the series. Surrounded in controversy, Metal Gear Solid 2 dared to replace Solid Snake as the lead protagonist. Meanwhile, the upcoming Ground Zeroes has also been subject to similar criticism, this time for replacing the iconic Solid Snake’s voice actor. It’s an interesting parallel, but I’d be deceiving you if I lead you to believe we’d be exploring any of Ground Zeroes’ controversies here.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty consists of two distinct chapters. The tanker chapter serves as a short prologue, in which players assume the role of iconic protagonist, Solid Snake, whose goal is to capture photographic evidence of the United States’ Marines new prototype Metal Gear. However, the subsequent plant chapter introduces the unexpected and rather controversial protagonist, Raiden, who players will control for the remaining duration of the game.
The story revolves around the central theme: “meme”. This ultimately leads to various subplots of varying relevance to be explored through-out the narrative. Players are exposed to various statements about cultural and historical information, data censorship, and are even faced with ambiguity as to whether the events that unfold are reality or virtual reality within Metal Gear Solid 2‘s fictional universe. In addition, the title seeks to explore the character of Solid Snake through a different perspective, fleshing out the hero further. The sheer depth and ambition of the story has lead to a number of debates, and the title has even been subject to a number critical analysis. This level of sophistication was rather unprecedented at the time, and is still rare even now. Furthermore, the title continues to present itself as a movie in a similar manner as that of the previous Metal Gear Solid.
Unfortunately, Metal Gear Solid 2 was too ambitious for its own good. In addition to the controversy caused by Director Hideo Kojima’s deception with the changed protagonist, there was also controversy over the convoluted story. Simply put, the title attempted to cover too much ground, which caused a lot of confusion. The presentation of many reveals through the Codec sequences, through long and drawn out explanations caused backlash. Additionally, the title aimed to be an anti-sequel by subverting many elements that players would expect in a sequel. While an interesting prospect, this was also detrimental to how much many players could enjoy the title.
The previous title was innovative in many ways. It had unprecedented depth for its time, and its presentation of story was rare and well executed. Metal Gear Solid 2 continues to innovate the genre that its predecessors practically pioneered. Various new mechanics were implemented to enhance the stealth experience, but also to improve the action should the players fail to go undetected.
As with Metal Gear Solid, players would still be expected to avoid enemy line of sight, and avoid making noises when nearby a sentry. They may peek around corners, crawl under tight spaces, use cigarette smoke to detect infrared censors, and so on. Almost all of the old mechanics make a return. In addition, players may now hide inside lockers, cartwheel around, aim in first person view, and hang off of railings. While these new additions may sound very basic, there are some very creative uses for them that also compliment the significant improvement in enemy artificial intelligence.
When detected, the player will no longer be immediately faced with an alert. Instead, a fast acting player may avert the incoming crisis by preventing the guard from calling for back up. They may prepare for this by shooting out the guard’s radio, requiring them to leave the current room to call for help (and they will return with it), or the player may just kill or put them to sleep. If a disposed guard is discovered by another, back up will be called in without an alert being called, increasing the risk. However, players may also hide leftover bodies in a number of locations, whether it’s tossing them into water or hiding them inside a locker.
When the player causes an alert, guards will move together as a unit to ensure that they keep all directions visible. Instead of running directly to where the player is roughly hiding, the enemy sentries clear each room while checking every possible hiding location that comes to their attention. They’ll peak into air vents, look inside lockers, and generally lurk around until they’re satisfied that nobody is in the room with them. This is great for delivering a tense atmosphere for the stealth gameplay, and leads to many close calls.
The gameplay is definitely a step up from the first game, but the inclusion of first person view aiming may also reduce the tension in the stealth mission. Rather, players will likely aim to put all enemy sentries to sleep or kill them all before proceeding. This has brought about the addition of stages with multiple layers in height. While the original title had this, it wasn’t as frequent or as dangerous, with enemies that can now see down below.
The previous Metal Gear Solid impressed with all of the attention to detail and easter eggs. This is one such area in which Metal Gear Solid 2 excels, possibly more than any other title. There are many comical and informative optional dialogue exchanges with characters through the game’s codec, various intractable objects, and lots of little hidden gags. It’s a title packed with extras despite its eight hour length.
Of course, with the improved hardware of the PlayStation 2, there have been many technical improvements for the presentation of the title as well. Visually, Metal Gear Solid 2 was absolutely astounding. Today, the characters may look like wax models, but the graphics were incredibly impressive at release. The animations were also equally as great, including additional animations for wounded enemies. There’s a lot of detail there, and a lot of polish through-out the entire title. Similarly, Metal Gear Solid 2 also now sports a soundtrack worked on by Harry Gregson-Williams, of Hollywood fame, which captures the atmosphere of the title well.
Unfortunately, while Metal Gear Solid was famous for its boss characters, Metal Gear Solid 2 is lacking on that front. Many players struggled to find them as engaging as the previous cast, and they were almost all mechanically unimpressive conflicts. The additional boss rush mode even has to include a couple moments when the player must fight grunts. That being said, there are a couple of good boss battles that take advantage of new additions to the series. One fight has the boss direct a spotlight to blind the player and throw off their accuracy, while in turn the player is able to shoot away a sheet or shoot out the spotlight to keep the boss in their sight. Another boss involves the bomb disarming mechanic introduced in the plant chapter, and sees the player face off against a fat man on roller skates that plants bombs on a heliport. These are possibly the best gameplay conflicts in the title. Interestingly enough, and potentially not coincidental in the slightest; these two boss battles also allow the player to employ stealth tactics to gain the upper hand.
It’s worth noting that Metal Gear Solid 2 was re-released in 2002 and 2003 on both Windows and Xbox, as well as PlayStation 2 again, as Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance. This iteration of Metal Gear Solid 2 included a massive array of scored VR Missions, five non-canonical stories starring Solid Snake, and a skateboarding bonus on PlayStation 2. This version has now been re-released as part of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PlayStation Vita.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was a tight game that provided lots of new content to explore, but was also rather deceptive and difficult to comprehend for many players. Coupled with the disappointing bosses, many players consider this the least enjoyable iteration of the series. Despite this, Metal Gear Solid 2 contributed some significant advancements in the series and was a massive accomplishment at the time.