Retrospective: Metal Gear Solid 2 – Sons of Liberty (2001)

Welcome back to the Metal Gear retrospective! In this entry we’re going to cover the fourth game in the franchise, 2001’s Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty! After the massive, genre-defining success that was Metal Gear Solid, would Hideo Kojima’s big follow-up manage to deliver on the expectations of fans? Read on to find out…

Before we go on further, in the interest of disclosure I feel that I should mention that when I first played this game 7 or 8 years ago it was easily one of my least-favourite entries in the Metal Gear franchise (in fact, the second most popular post on this blog is about me complaining about how poorly-handled the main character is). I had only beaten it the one time though, so the replay required for this retrospective has given me a much-needed refresher. I was especially curious to replay it because, in recent years, the game has gotten a major reassessment and I have heard it hailed as Kojima’s “masterpiece”. Has time softened my attitude? That’s another thing for you to keep an eye on as we continue onwards…

(I originally played this game on PS2. For the purposes of this retrospective, I played the Substance re-release contained in the HD re-release on PS3. In case you’re curious, the only real differences between the standard release and Substance are a bunch of VR missions and some very negligible differences in the environments.)

DEVELOPMENT
After the massive success of Metal Gear Solid cemented Solid Snake’s exploits in popular culture, the world was eager for a follow-up as the game left many plot threads dangling. Shortly after completing Metal Gear Soliddevelopment on a sequel began in 1999. Not really having another story in mind kind of came back to bite Kojima in the ass as he tried to figure out what direction to take the game.

The game was plagued with real-world issues which made settling on a story difficult. Apparently the game was originally meant to involve nuclear weapons inspections in Iraq and Iran, with Snake having to take out Metal Gear on board an aircraft carrier within a time limit. Liquid Snake was also supposed to be the villain, probably because Kojima expressed regret over killing him off when he found out how popular he was. However, this plot was dropped after about a half a year into the project when tensions in the Middle East made such a story unappealing. The aircraft carrier concept was carried over into the final game though, being reworked into Sons of Liberty‘s prologue “Tanker” chapter.

The final game also received some major cuts as it was set in Manhattan and released mere months after 9/11. As a result, a major scene near the end of the game depicting Arsenal Gear crashing into Manhattan was removed, as was a scene where Raiden causes an American flag to cover Solidus Snake’s body. Raiden’s name was also altered in the Japanese version, as there were concerns that “Raiden” was too similar to “Bin Laden”. Bizarrely, the game was originally going to be titled Metal Gear Solid III, with the Roman numerals representing the Manhattan skyline. Naturally, if they had actually decided to carry through with this, then 9/11 would have screwed this idea as well.

Also, no mention of Sons of Liberty‘s development would be complete without mentioning the marketing. Kojima pulled off one of the biggest trolls ever when he centered all of the game’s hype around Solid Snake. Raiden was a periphery character in the marketing and the people who actually noticed him, naturally, expected that he would be nothing more than a supporting sidekick…

PLOT SUMMARY
Picking up 2 years after the Shadow Moses incident, Snake and Otacon have gone on to create Philanthropy, an NGO with the express purpose of exposing and preventing Metal Gear proliferation. Otacon receives intel on a new type of Metal Gear, codenamed RAY, which is being transported through the New York Harbour by the US Marines. Snake sneaks aboard the tanker with the intention of photographing RAY and exposing it to the public. Shortly after arriving, the tanker begins to be swept and captured by Russian mercenaries led by Sergei Gurlukovich. Snake makes his way past the mercenaries to the bridge, where he discovers that the tanker is headed 500 miles past the Bermudas to test RAY. Snake then encounters Gurlukovich’s pregnant daughter, Olga, who engages Snake in a gun battle. Snake tranquilizes her, but is unexpectedly photographed by a Cypher UAV after the fight.

Snake then heads into the core of the ship, fighting his way past the mercenaries until he finds the remaining Marines listening to a presentation by commander Scott Dolph about Metal Gear RAY’s capabilities, unaware that the tanker has been hijacked in the interim. Snake manages to get his pictures of RAY and uploads them to Otacon before Revolver Ocelot suddenly arrives and interrupts the meeting. Sergei Gurlukovich and his soldiers arrive and hold the Marines at gunpoint. Sergei celebrates that they will use RAY to restore Russia to glory, but Ocelot turns on him – he reveals that he will deliver it to “The Patriots”. Ocelot then shoots Dolph and Gurlukovich as well as anyone who tries to stop him. He then blows a hole in the tanker’s hull using SEMTEX and hijacks RAY. Snake tries to stop Ocelot, but his sudden appearance causes Ocelot to begin to spasm and speak like Liquid Snake. It turns out that Ocelot had grafted Liquid’s arm onto his severed hand following the Shadow Moses incident, but that this has had the side effect of allowing Liquid’s consciousness to possess Ocelot. He then escapes in RAY, apparently leaving Snake and most of the Marines and Russian mercenaries dead from the sinking.

The game then fast forwards 2 years later. The tanker’s sinking has been covered up, being claimed as an environmental disaster which has necessitated the construction of an offshore cleanup facility called the “Big Shell”. During a government inspection, a terrorist group calling themselves the “Sons of Liberty”, led by disavowed special forces unit Dead Cell, capture the Big Shell using Gurlukovich mercenaries and take the 30 people hostage – including the US President, James Johnson. A single soldier from FOXHOUND, code-named “Raiden”, is sent in to rescue the hostages while two SEAL Teams attempt to secure the President. Raiden is told that the Sons of Liberty are demanding $30 billion or they will destroy the Big Shell, causing the worst environmental disaster in history in the process.

As Raiden gets aboard the Big Shell via underwater infiltration, he immediately discovers an intruder has beaten him into the facility, leaving unconscious guards in their wake. Raiden’s commanding officer, The Colonel, orders Raiden to proceed with caution. He also reveals that Raiden’s girlfriend, a systems analyst named Rosemary, will be aiding them on this mission. Raiden is incensed by this unexpected revelation, but reluctantly goes along with it. Listening in on the SEAL Teams, Raiden discovers that Team Alpha has located the President but their transmission is cut off as they are attacked. Raiden hurries to help them, but discovers that the unit has been massacred by a mysterious, knife-wielding Dead Cell member named Vamp and that the President is missing. Vamp attacks Raiden, but is prevented from killing him as a man dressed like a SEAL arrives and fires at him. Vamp escapes and the SEAL introduces himself as Iroquois Pliskin.

Raiden leaves Pliskin behind before moving to SEAL Team Bravo to try to catch up to the President. However, he finds SEAL Team Bravo engaged in a gunfight with Dead Cell member, Fortune. Despite firing hundreds of rounds and a grenade launcher at Fortune, the SEAL Team is baffled as their shots curve around her and the grenade fails to detonate. Fortune and Vamp secure the President and Fortune fires a railgun at SEAL Team Bravo, killing everyone and destroying much of the connecting bridge in the process.

The Colonel then informs Raiden that C4 has been placed all around the Big Shell. Raiden is ordered to disarm the C4 as his new priority objective. To help with this, he locates bomb disposal expert Peter Stillman, who was brought aboard with SEAL Team Bravo, and runs into Pliskin again. Stillman explains that the C4 is the doing of Dead Cell member Fatman, a protege of Stillman’s. Following Stillman’s advice, Raiden and Pliskin spread out across the Big Shell to locate and disarm the C4 charges. They have a suspiciously-easy time doing this, until Pliskin discovers that there is an enormous amount of C4 placed on the lower levels of Struts A and H. Raiden disarms the C4 in Strut A, but Stillman is killed when attempting to disarm explosives in Strut H. Attempting to leave Strut A, Raiden is ambushed by Fortune. He is unable to land a shot on her, but manages to buy himself an opening when a deflected bullet curves into Vamp’s head, apparently killing him. Fortune is distraught, allowing Raiden a chance to escape and confront Fatman, who has issued him a challenge. After Raiden leaves though, Vamp is revealed to still be alive. Raiden then tracks down Fatman, who reveals that he is not interested in Dead Cell’s objectives. He only wanted to surpass Peter Stillman and become the greatest bomber in history by destroying the Big Shell. He begins planting bombs all across their battlegrounds, but Raiden disarms them and kills Fatman.

With the threat of the bombs eliminated, The Colonel then orders Raiden to rescue the President. As he moves to do so, he is confronted by a cyborg ninja named “Mr. X”. Mr. X informs him that one of the hostages, a secret service agent named Richard Ames, knows the President’s location. Mr. X also tells him that the Sons of Liberty have nuclear strike capability, since the Big Shell is a cover-up site for a new Metal Gear. Raiden then makes his way to Ames, who tells him the President is in the Shell 2 core and is cooperating with the terrorists. When questioning Ames about the $30 billion ransom, Ames explains that there is no threat or ransom being made – the terrorists have always planned to launch a nuke over Manhattan to cause an EMP pulse and “liberate” it. Raiden and Ames are then interrupted by Ocelot, who begins accusing Ames of being a spy before Ames dies of a heart attack. Ocelot then attempts to capture Raiden, but is saved by Mr. X, who allows him to escape.

Raiden begins heading to the Shell 2 core, but is stopped by a man calling himself Solid Snake. Pliskin arrives in a helicopter piloted by Otacon and begins firing at the imposter. “Solid Snake” escapes and climbs aboard a Harrier gunship, piloted by Vamp. The Harrier then begins to strafe Raiden, Pliskin and Otacon, but Raiden manages to shoot it down. “Solid Snake” loses an eye from the attack, but before the Harrier can crash, Metal Gear RAY arrives and catches it before fleeing. Pliskin reveals that he is the real Solid Snake and that he faked his death 2 years earlier using Liquid Snake’s body to create a false DNA match. He explains that he and Otacon have come to the Big Shell to stop the new Metal Gear prototype and to rescue Otacon’s sister, Emma Emmerich.

Raiden then makes his way through the ruined Shell 2 struts and proceeds into the core. He makes contact with President Johnson, who is resigned to his fate. He begins to tell Raiden about The Patriots, a secret organization which rules over America and the rest of the world. He claims that The Patriots are run by twelve men called the Wisemen’s Committee, and that the leader of the Sons of Liberty was the previous President, George Sears aka Solidus Snake, the third clone from the “Les Enfants Terrible” project. He reveals that Solidus was behind the Shadow Moses incident, but was forced to step down from his presidency by The Patriots. This led Solidus to want to challenge The Patriots for supremacy, whereas President Johnson just wanted to be allowed to join their organization, using the terrorist takeover as leverage to be brought into the organization. Johnson also reveals that the Big Shell was a cover-up, but not for the construction of Metal Gear RAY – it was actually housing an enormous, mobile fortress called Arsenal Gear which was defended by mass-produced, unmanned RAYs. While Arsenal Gear had control over the US military network and nuclear arsenal, its true purpose was to censor the Internet and digital communication by using an AI called “GW”. Johnson gives Raiden a disc containing a worm cluster which will eradicate GW and tells him to locate Emma Emmerich to use it. He then orders Raiden to shoot him, but Raiden refuses. When he tries to wrestle the gun from Raiden, he is unexpectedly shot by Ocelot, who then immediately leaves.

After conferring with Snake and Otacon, Raiden heads into the basement levels of the Shell 2 core to locate Emma. On the way, he is confronted by Vamp. The pair battle in a small purification chamber, but Raiden overcomes him, sending him sinking into the depths of the sea. Raiden then makes his way to Emma, who reveals that she was the creator of the GW AI, but that it isn’t yet complete as it lacks the ability to properly judge and filter information.

With the lower levels of the core beginning to sink, Raiden discovers that Emma is afraid of water after a childhood accident where her step-father drowned himself to death, and nearly dragging her down with him. Raiden convinces Emma to overcome her fears and leads her out of the sinking core. With most of Shell 2 destroyed, Raiden and Emma make their way to the perimeter oil fence to get back to Shell 1. Emma makes her way across with Raiden and Snake providing cover fire with their PSG-1 sniper rifles. However, just before she reaches Shell 1, Vamp appears from the sea and grabs her. Raiden shoots Vamp, but he is too late – Vamp stabs her, leaving her mortally wounded. Snake and Raiden hurry into the Shell 1 core with her to meet up with Otacon and input the virus and destroy GW. Emma and Otacon reconcile just as she succumbs to her wound, but the virus fails to install as they had expected. With the virus failing to stop GW, Snake and Raiden deduce that the only thing they can do now is get inside of Arsenal Gear and take out Solidus while Otacon flies the hostages back to shore. Snake then mentions to Raiden that they will need a hand getting inside, at which point Mr. X appears and reveals that they are actually Olga Gurlukovich in disguise. Olga unexpectedly knocks Raiden out.

Raiden awakens naked, strapped to a torture bed with Solidus and Ocelot watching over him. Solidus (who is now wearing an eyepatch over his lost eye) reveals that he actually knows Raiden – he was an orphaned child soldier who he commanded during the Liberian Civil War. He was Solidus’ greatest student, which earned the nickname “Jack the Ripper”. After Solidus and Ocelot leave, Olga arrives and tells Raiden that The Patriots kidnapped her child at birth. She reveals that she was ordered to aid him in his mission or The Patriots would terminate the child. She tells him that Snake is nearby and then orchestrates his means for escape. Raiden makes his way through Arsenal Gear as The Colonel’s transmissions become increasingly strange. He finally meets up with Snake, who apologizes for his earlier “betrayal”, but claims that it was necessary to get aboard Arsenal Gear. He then provides Raiden with a high-frequency blade, courtesy of Olga, and the pair battle their way into the core of the fortress. Otacon then reveals that The Colonel wasn’t a real person, they were actually just a Patriot AI who has been manipulating Raiden this whole time. Raiden begins to question what is real and what isn’t when Fortune arrives. She accuses Snake of killing her father, Scott Dolph, 2 years earlier during the tanker incident. Snake tells Raiden to go on ahead while he deals with Fortune and Raiden obeys.

Raiden makes his way to a platform where Solidus calls out to him, claiming that Raiden is just a pawn in the S3 plan, a “Solid Snake Simulation” which would use VR training to mold Raiden into a warrior on the same level as Solid Snake. Raiden is then forced to fight Arsenal Gear’s entire fleet of Metal Gear RAYs. He destroys many of them, but there are so many of them that he is unable to keep fighting. Solidus then emerges and is about to kill Raiden when Olga suddenly appears. She saves Raiden’s life, saying that his life, and consequently her child’s, is more important than her own as Solidus shoots her in the head with his P90. Solidus then tries to get the RAY fleet to finish off Raiden, but they begin to malfunction due to Emma’s virus. Furious, Solidus destroys the remaining RAYs just as Fortune arrives with Snake as her prisoner.

Solidus then reveals his true plan: to use GW to locate The Patriots and eliminate them one-by-one. Meanwhile, the other Sons of Liberty would unintentionally serve as a diversion using Arsenal Gear. Ocelot laughs at this and reveals that everything that has happened was actually orchestrated by The Patriots all along, with all the similarities to the Shadow Moses incident being the real S3 plan to mold Raiden into a Solid Snake-calibre soldier. The only thing they hadn’t anticipated was the arrival of the real Snake, which is why The Colonel had continually cautioned Raiden not to rely on him as he wasn’t a part of the mission. Ocelot then shoots Fortune, revealing at her supernatural abilities were the results of Patriot electromagnetic technology. Ocelot climbs aboard Metal Gear RAY and attempts to kill everyone, but Fortune summons enough strength to stand and somehow manifests psychic powers to deflect the missiles before dying. Outraged, Ocelot prepares to finish the others when his arm begins to spasm and he is possessed by Liquid Snake once again. Liquid Ocelot reveals that he is the one who leaked information on Arsenal Gear to Philanthropy in order to draw Snake out to the Big Shell and allow him to possess Ocelot for good. With Ocelot’s knowledge on The Patriot’s location, he intends to destroy them and establish Outer Heaven once again. He sets Arsenal Gear on a collision course with Manhattan and then escapes in RAY. Breaking free from his restraints, Snake dives off of Arsenal Gear in pursuit.

Solidus and Raiden are helpless to stop Arsenal Gear as it crashes into New York City and obliterates much of the Lower West Side of the city before coming to a stop at Federal Hall. Solidus and Raiden fall onto the roof of Federal Hall where Solidus begins to explain his motives to Raiden. The Les Enfants Terrible children were engineered without the ability to reproduce, meaning that Solidus won’t be able to pass his genes on to another generation. He explains that all that he wants is to be remembered in history, but if The Patriots remain in control, they will suppress knowledge of him or twist it into a monstrosity. He reveals that his desires are borne not out of greed, but out of a desire to restore freedom which has been snatched away by The Patriots.

The Patriots AI then contacts Raiden via Codec. They explain that the digital age has led to the proliferation of “junk information” which will remain forever. Previously, society advanced by selectively retaining information which became what we know as history. With the “truth” of our present freely available to future generations, this knowledge will threaten social progress. The Patriots reveal that the S3 plan does not stand for “Solid Snake Simulation”, but rather “Selection for Societal Sanity” and that the Big Shell incident was a test for their crisis management capabilities. Believing their judgement to be superior, The Patriots feel that they are in a position to determine what information will be passed on to future generations, claiming that humans prefer courtesy and political correctness over the acceptance of unpleasant truths. They then order Raiden to kill Solidus, threatening to kill Olga’s child and Rosemary if he fails to comply. Solidus then reveals that he needs to kill Raiden as well, because the nanomachines in his head can be used to determine the location of The Patriots. Provoking Raiden, he also reveals that he was the one who killed Raiden’s parents. The pair battle with high-frequency blades, but Raiden overcomes his spiritual father and severs his spine. Solidus falls from the roof of Federal Hall and lands at the feet of a statue of George Washington before he succumbs to his wounds.

Raiden climbs down and Snake appears, revealing that he still has Emma’s virus disc. He deduces that, since it was programmed to censor the names of The Patriots’ leaders, it would therefore have some sort of indicator as to what those names were in the first place and that they will hunt down The Patriots with this information. Raiden tries to come with him, but Snake tells him to stay and do what he needs to. Rosemary then appears as Snake departs, and the two are reunited as they vow to make a new life together as Rose is pregnant with Raiden’s child.

In the post-credits sequence, Otacon announces that he has deduced the identity of The Patriots, but is perplexed to discover that all 12 of them have been dead for over 100 years and that 1 of them is one of Philanthropy’s biggest contributors. Snake realizes that this information is a false lead, leaving them unable to figure out how to proceed…

GAMEPLAY & DESIGN
Much like previous Metal Gear games, Sons of Liberty iterates on the mechanics of previous games, bringing with it some pretty big improvements. The biggest addition is the first-person shooting controls, which make combat in the game significantly more fun and viable. This also opens up a number of new infiltration techniques, from hold-ups, to expanded chokeholds, to using enemies as human shields. First person controls require quite a bit of acclimation to use effectively though. For one thing, the control scheme itself is really convoluted. You have to hold R1 to go into first person mode, then square to aim a weapon before releasing square to shoot. However, if you want to lean then you also have to press L2/R2 (or both), meaning that you can easily be pressing upwards of 5 buttons to perform a complex action (R1 for first person mode, square to shoot, L2+R2 to lean upwards and X to stand up in one single attack). The game also makes prodigious use of pressure-sensitive controls, which make assault rifles and grenades extremely difficult to use effectively. Basically, you have to half-press the square button to bring up the rifle and then press it fully to fire, meaning that you can easily fire it by mistake. This basically forces you to rely on the single-shot pistols as much as possible. You can also holster a weapon without firing by slowly depressing the square button, but this is not always successful – I’d hate to be on a non-lethal playthrough and then accidentally shoot an enemy in the head because of this stupid control scheme. There are also no sensitivity options and it can be hard to line up a shot, especially in the heat of combat. That said though, the first person aiming makes both combat and sneaking far more fun and strategic than it was in previous Metal Gear games, even if the controls make getting used to it a hassle.

Sons of Liberty makes a lot of smaller improvements to the gameplay as well though. The camera isn’t nearly as awful anymore and tends to show more of the environment. The first person aiming helps here quite a bit as well, meaning that you’re not being forced to shoot at enemies off-screen all the time. The game also applies significantly more cinematic camera angles which display more useful sightlines. Unfortunately, this is a double-edged sword, as the cinematic angles also leave you completely blind much of the time. As a consolation, peeking around corners and pressing against walls is now strongly incentivized to proceed safely, and the right analog stick can now be used to move the camera in this view.

The game also opens up more sneaking options which make gameplay styles much more freeform. One new addition which I love is the addition of the roll, which can be used to get into cover quickly or to stun enemies. You can also shoot security cameras, which is a long-overdue addition for the series. Unconscious, dead or held-up soldiers can also be shaken to steal items, although I didn’t find this strategy to be particularly necessary during my playthrough as equipment is provided in sufficient numbers and whether an enemy will actually drop something seems to be random. However, one very fun and challenging bonus objective is the ability to acquire dog tags from enemies. If you hold up an enemy, you can force them to give you their dog tag, which was a very fun diversion which actually tests your sneaking skills quite a bit! I also quite like the introduction of “adult literature” which can be used to distract guards and set up traps. It’s also worth noting that Sons of Liberty is the first Metal Gear game to allow for 100% non-lethal gameplay and to make it challenging yet viable with the introduction of non-lethal chokeholds and the tranquilizer pistol.

Sons of Liberty also stands out from its predecessors due to the absolutely enormous graphical leap between it and Metal Gear Solid. While Metal Gear Solid had very rudimentary shapes and suggestive textures that left a lot to the imagination, Sons of Liberty is very detailed, particularly its character models. This is also aided by the game’s attention to detail, which is absolutely insane. While the environments can be very claustrophobic and small, they are jam-packed with little details which bring them to life. For example, during the Tanker chapter, rain bounces off of objects in the environment and the Marines’ hoods actually “blow” in the wind, which really sells the setting. These little touches just permeate throughout the entire game and are frankly mind-blowing even in comparison to modern games: tranquilizers are actually visible and stay in enemies’ bodies, walking in puddles will leave footprint trails, ice cubes actually melt over time, you can slip and fall on bird shit, swarms of bugs crawl around on the floor, shell casings and spent magazines will litter the floor during gun battles, trying to roll up stairs will knock you flat on your ass and even walking in front of a urinal will cause it to flush! That last detail really struck me as an example of the insane desire for authenticity which no other game developer would even bother with or which no player would even expect to be included.

Despite the gameplay improvements that it makes though, Sons of Liberty can’t help but take a couple steps backward. For one thing, during the Plant chapter, the Soliton radar system now has to be manually activated every time you enter a new area. This might have been done due to complaints that the radar was too important in Metal Gear Solid, but withholding it for arbitrary reasons is not a good solution. Having no radar makes infiltrating new areas a very unwelcome experience as you attempt to track down the area’s terminal as quickly as possible. This also makes the cinematic camera angles a pain in the ass, since you often won’t even know if there’s an enemy nearby and can easily stumble into enemies unfairly.

Sons of Liberty also suffers from having a really boring environment in the Plant chapter, especially in comparison to Shadow Moses and the Tanker chapter. The Big Shell is a mostly-uniform environment which only changes somewhat inside each strut and the cores. It can be difficult to remember which room is which due to the layout of the shells. The Big Shell is also a very puny map – you only really get to explore Shell 1, because Shell 2 gets blown up, meaning that you only get to see the outside of a couple struts, the core and a little bit of one of the struts as you head down the ladder to the oil fence. Subsequent games have been kind to the Big Shell though, as its design has been reused and lent gravitas through retcons. Players who have played through latter Metal Gear games might attribute the Big Shell with additional meaning which was not actually intended when it was first released.

There is also an extended set piece which many people have expressed quite a bit of frustration over. This is the swimming sequence which ends up also being an escort mission as Raiden leads Emma out of Shell 2. Personally, I found these swimming segments to actually not be all that difficult, but when it turns into an escort mission it definitely starts to become frustrating. Emma’s O2 meter is pathetically small, meaning that you have to travel between oxygen pockets as fast as possible or Emma will start losing health. She’s not much better on land either, because she makes Raiden extremely slow and he can’t shoot when guiding her (plus all that they did in this section was obviously slow down both of their movement animations which just look awkward). This is thankfully not a major frustration as you can let her go to shoot at cypher drones or guards, meaning that you really don’t have to worry about her dying on you constantly. The only time you have to worry about her wandering into enemy fire is during the sniping section on the oil fence, when she will just keep walking into claymores and gunfire while you wrestle with the awful, random scope sway that has carried over from Metal Gear Solid. Thankfully, the game is balanced in such a way that you shouldn’t be forced to redo these sections much (if at all), but those who hate water levels and escort missions in particular will not be thrilled by this extended set piece.

Sons of Liberty also carries over some of the series’ persistent legacy issues. Foremost among these are the card keys, but thankfully they have been streamlined to the point of near obsolescence. Sons of Liberty carries over Metal Gear Solid‘s improvements to this system, giving you “one security card to rule them all” at any time. In addition, the number of key card rooms in the game is significantly reduced, being cut down to basically just an armoury, the access point to the oil fence and a couple story-based progression points. Finally, the key cards don’t even need to be equipped in order to access a key card room, making me wonder why they even bothered to include them in this game at all. Thankfully, this marks the last time that key cards are a major progression method in a Metal Gear game, and they will not be missed.

Seriously, screw you.

The Plant chapter also features quite a bit of backtracking, but it has been utilized in a much more bite-sized, sneaky manner due to the map layout. The Big Shell is laid out in a hexagonal-shape, meaning that you can go around its circumference to get to objectives. In a typical playthrough, you’re probably going to circle the Big Shell twice before backtracking a couple more times along its right side to get into and out of the core. Thankfully, due to the relatively small size of the Big Shell, it is quite easy to navigate and does not feel particularly intrusive or like a transparent attempt to pad out the game’s length.

Sons of Liberty also has to have arguably some of the most challenging enemy AI in the entire franchise. For one thing, their vision cones have been subtly extended – the cones visible on the radar are just the area where you will be instantly spotted, but guards can also spot you from outside this area and prompt an investigation. In addition to the enemy’s detection tricks from previous games, bodies also no longer disappear as soon as they die, which means that you have to quickly hide bodies out of sight (including in lockers as a new feature) or enemy patrols will discover them. In this way, killing is actually actively discouraged as you only get about 10-15 seconds to move about freely before the enemy’s HQ radios them for a status report and then sends in a heavily-armed patrol unit to investigate and increase security. These patrol units are extremely imposing with their riot shields, body armour and shotguns and can pose a significant problem if you end up getting spotted. They are also just impressive to witness as they actually use SWAT formations and room clearing tactics, which are highlighted with a cinematic overlay in the top right corner where you can witness their sweep in action. If you do get spotted though, you actually now have a few intense seconds to save your ass as enemies have to radio for backup. You can actually tip the odds in your favour by shooting the enemy’s radio, but normally I’ll just go for a tranquilizer headshot. This addition makes alerts a little fairer, while simultaneously making getting spotted much more intense as you attempt to stop enemies from bearing down on you from all angles. Finally, for the first time in the series’ history, enemy conditions are persistent if you leave an area – if you knock out or kill a guard and then come back within a short time frame, then they will still be in the same place.

As a side-note, I also noticed some really strange, but minor, issues with the HD edition which I’m not sure were present in the original release. For example, during the iconic opening cinematic of the game, the framerate drops significantly when car headlights are shown. I’m not sure if this is just poor optimization or what, but you’d think that if they could render the headlights on PS2, such lighting effects would be trivial on PS3. More concerning though is the lag with the Codec, which can vary anywhere from 1 to 3 seconds every single time you use it. Considering how frequent Codec calls are in this game, this is a pretty noticeable irritation. The upscaling from fullscreen to widescreen has also been handled rather inelegantly. During the sniping section as you try to cross from Shell 1 to Shell 2, I noticed that the camera is supposed to zoom in on semtex and controllers, but it inexplicably zooms in above both of them, suggesting to me that the remaster team didn’t bother to make sure that the camera was properly lined up during this cinematic. Radar overlays (such as oxygen pockets and the bomb “scents”) are also not properly synced with the radar itself, as you can easily notice that they are both moving at different speeds when displayed on the radar. These are rather small issues that hardly sink the game, but they are noticeable and made me wonder just how much work really went into the remastering of this game.

This brings us though to what is probably the biggest “gameplay” issue with Sons of Liberty: the wildly imbalanced gameplay-to-cutscene ratio. The Tanker chapter is a great opening to the game with a gameplay-cutscene ratio on par with Metal Gear Solid. It took me about 2 leisurely hours to get through, with probably around 3/4 of that consisting of actual gameplay. However, during the Tanker chapter, the extended cutscenes and codec calls just become overbearing as you are often forced to sit through 10-30 minute long cutscenes before you get to play again. I’d estimate that my first hour on the Big Shell was probably 90-95% cutscenes. You basically get bombarded with a new explanatory cutscene every time you enter a new area or when an event happens. For example, when you reach the President you sit through a 20-30 minute long cutscene before you finally get back in control… and then as soon as you exit the room you have to sit through another 10 minutes of cutscenes. The big showdown with Metal Gear RAY also marks one of the most ridiculous sets of cutscenes as literally every character betrays one another over the course of 40 minutes and the truth of one single plot point (the S3 plan) is revealed to be another deception three separate times. The Plant chapter took me around 9 hours to complete, but I’d be shocked if more than 4 of those hours involved actual gameplay – the game seriously has that many extended cutscenes breaking it up. Making things worse is the fact that you can’t pause any of them, so hopefully you don’t have to go to the bathroom in the middle of one or you’re going to have a hell of a time trying to figure out the game’s plot.

While the plot is arguably the real draw of any Metal Gear game, the sheer amount of cutscenes just become overbearing in Sons of Liberty and mark the first time when they really started to interrupt the gameplay significantly. I’ve mulled over why exactly they bug me so much in Sons of Liberty, especially since many later Metal Gear games have just as many (if not more and/or longer) cutscenes as this one. I think I have deduced the answer though, and that is that the gameplay and story for a significant portion of the Plant chapter is just not all that interesting. Up until Raiden gets onto Arsenal Gear, most of the plot of the Plant chapter consists of Raiden, a character without much of a personality at this point in the game, performing busywork for reasons which we already know are lies. Furthermore, while the gameplay itself can be quite fun, it is also rather mundane (bomb disposal and sneaking around enemy troops) and is very infrequently broken up by boss encounters. It makes it hard to be invested in the things going on in the cutscenes when you aren’t particularly enthused with the events going on within the game and when the game itself is constantly invalidating what you were told previously. However, Sons of Liberty really starts to pick up in the last couple hours as Raiden gets a personality and a high-frequency blade and goes on a crazy killing spree. It’s a ton of fun to hack and slash with the blade and gives him a very unique flavour which sets him apart from Solid Snake very well. This marks the game’s definite high-point, although by this point unfortunately much of the game has already come and gone.
 
Also, I think I do have to give the game credit for not forcing me to endure another button mashing torture sequence, despite having the chance to do so. I think I would have screamed obscenities if it had…
 
The boss battles are fun overall, but they are far more infrequent than they were in Metal Gear Solid. The battle against Olga Gurlukovich has some really fun twists with really challenge the player’s skills with the new first-person aiming system, but you don’t even fight another boss character until 4 or 5 hours later when you encounter Fortune. If you know what you’re doing, then this encounter doesn’t even count as a boss battle either, because she is unkillable. You basically just have to hide for a couple minutes until the battle ends itself before heading off to kill Fatman. At least his fight is quite fun – bomb disposal is one of the funnest parts of the game and Fatman’s fight utilizes it in spades. Unfortunately, Fatman himself doesn’t attack all that much, making this fight extremely easy, but it is still an enjoyable battle. The Harrier fight is also very similar to the Hind D battle from Metal Gear Solid, but with the main difference being that the Harrier has much more attacks available to it, a less-predictable pattern and there are 2 levels that you can attack it from. It’s still not very difficult, but it is definitely an improvement on the Hind battles from Metal Gear games past. Vamp is a little bit like Psycho Mantis and Olga in that he can’t be hit using auto-aim, meaning that you have to be really good with first person aim to take him down. He also has some cool attacks, such as pinning down your shadow with a knife, but the fight itself is quite easy. Unfortunately, the fight versus Metal Gear RAY is a big disappointment compared to REX. You end up fighting 3 at a time, meaning that their attacks are infrequent and their health bars have to be stymied to keep the fight from dragging on. Luckily they have a weak point, where you shoot a leg and then shoot their exposed mouths, which can be really intense to juggle while avoiding incoming missiles. The fight is super easy and dodging attacks is a trivial task, but it goes on for so long that it turns into a grind. Luckily, the final fight against Solidus is very fun as it requires you to use the high-frequency blade. It’s a little bit like a Ninja Gaiden showdown where you have to be careful about the timing of your attacks and avoid Solidus’ attack patterns. It is a hell of a lot of fun, and a great way to cap off the game.
STORY & CHARACTER ANALYSIS

If Metal Gear Solid represented Kojima’s the first steps into mature storytelling, then Sons of Liberty is the overconfident, adult strides. While the game’s actual narrative is convoluted mish-mash (which I will get to later), there’s no denying that Kojima really knocks the ball out of the park by imbuing Sons of Liberty with deep, existential themes. Remember, this was back in 2001, when gaming was still seen as a nerdy pursuit, when video game storytelling was still a tertiary concern outside of JRPGs and when “are games capable of being art?” was a very hotly debated subject. Sons of Liberty is often cited as the first “Post-Modern” video game, and honestly it is a very apt descriptor due to its deconstructions of society and the relationship between the player and the game itself. As a result, the fourth-wall breaks which had been a part of the series since the beginning actually become integrated into the message of the game itself:

Snake: “War as a video game – what better way to raise the ultimate soldier.”

Raiden: “So you’re saying that VR is some kind of mind control?”

Raiden: “This is like a bad dream I can’t wake up from. […] This doesn’t feel real.”

In some ways, Raiden himself seems to be meant to be a representation of the player. At the beginning of the game, you are asked to fill out your name, which becomes Raiden’s name on his dog tags in the final cutscene. Raiden also makes numerous references to VR training and simulations, which we are clearly meant to understand as being a reference to the player’s own experiences playing video games. As the game progresses though, Raiden begins to gain his own personality and desire to live his own life as he chooses. When the player ceases to control Raiden in the final cutscene, Raiden symbolically throws the dog tags away, signifying that he is now free to make his own decisions.

Furthermore, Kojima constantly messes with player expectations in order to leave them off balance and question the “reality” of the game itself. The big reveal that Raiden is the player character is perhaps the first, and most obvious, example of this. The sequence where Raiden runs around naked in Arsenal Gear while The Colonel calls him with such amazingly quotable lines as “I hear it’s amazing when the famous purple stuffed worm in flap-jaw space with the tuning fork does a raw blink on Hara-Kiri Rock. I need scissors! 61!” is probably the best example though, as by this point the player has settled into the game when it suddenly leaves them entirely flabbergasted. The fourth wall breaks become constant as well, as The Colonel urges Raiden to “turn off the console” – a line which has a double-meaning, as it is also a direct reference to the original Metal Gear. Metal Gear and Metal Gear Solid are both invoked during this sequence, which messes with the player’s own history with the series by directly breaking the “immersion” which so many players consider to be a crucial aspect of taking a game seriously. The game also gives you a number of fake game over screens as you progress through areas of Arsenal Gear which literally describe you as advancing up backwards out of its asshole. It’s absolutely bizarre and basically impossible to play through without being constantly reminded of the fictional construction of the game itself.

In fact, the constant references to the fictional nature of the game have prompted many players to question whether we are intended to take the game’s events “literally” or rather whether it is intended to be a VR simulation. They also cite the numerous “references” to Metal Gear Solid as an example of this, that Sons of Liberty is indeed simulating the player’s memories of the first game. For one thing, I think this is missing the forest for the trees – I believe that the game is trying to make the player aware that the game is game, rather than it being a game within a game. I believe very strongly that the events of the game are meant to be taken as things which are actually happening within the game’s world, because otherwise much of the narrative serves absolutely no purpose. For example, there is absolutely nothing in the Tanker chapter to suggest that the events of it are anything other than the “truth”. From there, the pieces of the VR simulation theory just begin to fall apart, because if the Tanker chapter actually happened then why would that be then followed up by a VR simulation? How does that make narrative sense? Where is the closure? I think that some people would suggest that things like this and the numerous nonsensical plot twists that populate the game’s narrative are also meant to make absolutely no sense and simply exist to make the players confused on an existential level. This, however, just gives Kojima simultaneously too much and too little credit for his storytelling abilities in my opinion, when realizing that the VR simulation is the game that you are literally playing is the actual intent is so much easier to believe.

Sons of Liberty also builds on the genetics theme from Metal Gear Solid, evolving it to the next most logical level with the concept of “memes“. Put simply, memes are like the cultural version of genes, where information, concepts and ideas are passed on from generation to generation. Much like genes in Metal Gear Solid, the concept of memes are what drives the motivations of many of the characters in Sons of Liberty. One of the more subtle examples of this is the character of Fatman. It can also be discerned that Fatman turns on Dead Cell and becomes an agent of The Patriots because he believes that doing so will allow him to become remembered as the greatest bomber in all of history. After all, if he remained a part of Dead Cell, then his existence and ambitions would have been covered up and controlled by others.

Perhaps the most obvious characters to be linked with the meme theme though are Les Enfants Terrible, Solid and Solidus. During Sons of Liberty, Snake often encourages Raiden with his personal philosophies that he has developed over the course of his previous adventures. One particularly noteworthy quote that he makes though is Gray Fox’s dying words:

Solid Snake: “We’re not tools of the government, or anyone else. Fighting was the only thing I was good at, but at least I fought for what I believe in.”

This is quote is very important for a few of reasons. First of all, it demonstrates Snake’s evolution as a character. In Metal Gear Solid he fought for little more than a sense of obligation, but by Sons of Liberty he is now a member of an NGO. Perhaps due to Gray Fox’s dying words, he has literally decided to dedicate his life in service of his morals. This quote also demonstrates the use of memes in action. Gray Fox may not have passed on his genes, but he has passed this particular meme on to Solid Snake, who has adopted it as a personal mantra. In this way, Gray Fox becomes “immortal” in a sense and is remembered. By passing it on again to Raiden, Snake perpetuates the meme, much like how genes are passed on to the next generation, although he also adapts it for his own understanding, putting his own touches on the meme:

Snake: “Find something to believe in, and find it for yourself. When you do, pass it on to the future.”

It’s also very noteworthy that the Snakes are so concerned with memes since they have all been engineered to be infertile. With no chance of passing on their genes, the Snakes will inevitably die out and be forgotten in a few short decades if they do not pass on their memes. Solidus makes this very clear in his surprisingly affecting speech with Raiden on top of Federal Hall:

Solidus Snake: “Jack, listen to me. We’re all born with an expiration date. No one lasts forever. Life is nothing but a grace period – for turning our genetic material into the next generation. The data of life is transferred from parent to child. That’s how it works. But we have no heirs, no legacy. Cloned from our father, with the ability to reproduce conveniently engineered out. What is our legacy if we cannot pass the torch? Proof of our existence – a mark of some sort. When the torch is passed on from parent to child… it extends beyond DNA; information is imparted as well. All I want is to be remembered. By other people, by history. The Patriots are trying to protect their power, their own interests, by controlling the digital flow of information. I want my memory, my existence to remain. Unlike an intron of history, I will be remembered as an exon. That will be my legacy, my mark on history. But the Patriots would deny us even that, I will triumph over the Patriots, and liberate us all. And we will become the Sons of Liberty!”

While we are led to believe that Solidus has megalomaniacal, unapologetically evil ambitions throughout the game, when he reveals that this has been his motivation all this time, it is a shockingly human and sympathetic desire: the simple wish to not be forgotten when he is gone. Most people wrestle with this sort of existential crisis, but Solidus has had the deck stacked against him at birth due to genetic tampering and the meddling of an unstoppable force pushing back against him. This actually makes his objectives seem almost noble in the end, despite the fact that he’s still a total bastard who raised child soldiers, killed Raiden’s parents and executed Olga Gurlukovich in cold blood…

Of course, much of the plot of Sons of Liberty revolves around The Patriots, a shadowy organization which exerts power through information control. Their ultimate goal throughout the game is to make their version of history the officially recognized history for future generations, meaning that they essentially want a monopoly on memes. Immediately after Solidus explains his motivations, The Patriots contact Raiden and explain their motivations in an extremely long-winded Codec call, which is clearly intended to set his ideology against theirs. Some of the most important quotes as are follows:

Patriot AI (switching between depictions of The Colonel and Rosemary): “We started with genetic engineering, and in the end, we succeeded in digitizing life itself. But there are things not covered by genetic information.”
Raiden : “What do you mean?”
Patriot AI : “Human memories, ideas. Culture. History. Genes don’t contain any record of human history. Is it something that should not be passed on? Should that information be left at the mercy of nature? We’ve always kept records of our lives. Through words, pictures, symbols… from tablets to books… But not all the information was inherited by later generations. A small percentage of the whole was selected and processed, then passed on. Not unlike genes, really. That’s what history is, Jack. But in the current, digitized world, trivial information is accumulating every second, preserved in all its triteness. Never fading, always accessible. Rumors about petty issues, misinterpretations, slander… All this junk data preserved in an unfiltered state, growing at an alarming rate. It will only slow down social progress, reduce the rate of evolution. […] Not even natural selection can take place here. The world is being engulfed in ‘truth.’ And this is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper. We’re trying to stop that from happening. It’s our responsibility as rulers. Just as in genetics, unnecessary information and memory must be filtered out to stimulate the evolution of the species.”
Raiden: “And you think you’re qualified to decide what’s necessary and not?”
Patriot AI: “Absolutely. Who else could wade through the sea of garbage you people produce, retrieve valuable truths and even interpret their meaning for later generations? That’s what it means to create context.”
Raiden: “I’ll decide for myself what to believe and what to pass on!”
Patriot AI: “But is that even your own idea? Or something Snake told you? That’s the proof of your incompetence, right there. You lack the qualifications to exercise free will.”

In short, The Patriots believe that memes are just as much a force of human evolution and adaptation as genes are traditionally thought to be. With the theoretically-limitless capabilities of digital archiving at our disposal, The Patriots believe that this sudden and permanent influx of “junk” ideas will eradicate the traditional natural selection of memes and lead to the end of humanity (in the same way that a white supremacist would believe that the propagation of “inferior” genes will lead to the destruction of humanity). As a result, The Patriots believe that they must curate information in order to maintain the development of society. This sets them at odds with Solidus: Solidus believes in personal liberty and the ability for humans to chart their own legacy, whereas The Patriots believe that only they have the necessary qualifications to determine what is in the best interest of social progression. These are all extremely interesting philosophical ideas which were very topical at the turn of the millennium and, honestly, are still very relevant today. Within the last few years, people have been beginning to really understand the permanence of the Internet as their lives are archived on social media, as election campaigns are fought with smear campaigns built on quotes from upwards of a decade ago and when shamed individuals have their entire life ruined by one moment of misunderstanding which ends up defining their existence forever. If Sons of Liberty was misunderstood and unappreciated back in 2001, this is likely because it was almost a decade before its time.

While the themes in Sons of Liberty are handled in a rather masterful fashion, the same can’t be said of the actual narrative they occur within. There are some very interesting moments in the game’s story, but I think it would be fair to say that the plot is told in an unnecessarily convoluted and sometimes just plain insane manner. The Tanker chapter is quite interesting as it does a great job of setting up its circumstances and then providing forward momentum which keeps the player invested. However, as I said in the gameplay section, the plot turns into a lot of busywork throughout the majority of the Plant chapter, which isn’t helped by the fact that that it is made very obvious to the player that nearly everyone is lying to them up until Raiden meets President Johnson. For example, from the second that Iroquois Pliskin is introduced, everyone knows that he is actually Solid Snake so all the “oh is he really a SEAL?” questioning is kind of pointless. In addition, one of the first lines of the Plant chapter reveals that The Colonel is bullshitting Raiden as he tells him that the Big Shell was built to clean up an environmental disaster, while the player knows that this is not the case. Throw in the fact that Raiden’s personality is largely withheld from the player until the last couple hours of the Plant chapter, and you get a recipe for lots of unsatisfying busywork as you try to get to the points where the plot gets interesting.

That said, even when the story starts picking up near the end, the game suddenly goes into an overdrive of plot twists. Over the course of one single stretch of cutscenes in the game’s final hour, we are treated to the following plot twists, many of which are introduced and then reversed shortly after their introduction (and note that the S3 plan is revealed and altered three separate times in this one stretch): Raiden is a product of the S3 plan, using VR to turn him into the next Solid Snake! Solidus actually wants to capture Arsenal, not the Big Shell! No wait, he didn’t want Arsenal, Fortune did and she was going to betray him! He really wanted the names and location of the Wisemen’s Committee! But wait, Ocelot screwed them all over because The Patriots were using them to pull off the S3 plan in real time! And Fortune wasn’t really psychic, it was all electromagnets that she had hidden on her for years now without knowing! But wait, it turns out that she actually does have psychic powers! How fortuitous! But then Ocelot betrays himself and then goes to destroy the Patriots as Liquid Ocelot! Wait, Solidus wasn’t a bad guy at all, he was trying to free the world from The Patriots! But wait, The Patriots are trying to keep the world’s information from destroying humanity! Plus the S3 plan is actually an information control system that has basically nothing to do with Raiden at all! As you can no doubt see, this is the distillation of batshit insanity and basically requires multiple playthroughs to even begin to understand what is going on.

In addition to the ridiculous number of plot twists, Sons of Liberty also introduces some strange and/or problematic plot points. The most obvious of these has to be the Liquid arm twist, which is often derided as one of the most insane twists in the entire series. The idea of having Liquid Snake be able to psychically possess Ocelot is insane, even by the standards of Metal Gear‘s magical realism, as there is no real precedent for it… and that’s not even getting into the question of why Ocelot would even use Liquid as an arm donor in the first place. There’s also an incredibly strange and unnecessary plotline where Otacon tearfully explains that he was banging his stepmother, which just comes out of absolutely nowhere. I know Kojima wanted to explain why Otacon felt guilty that Emma almost drowned, but was that really the best he could come up with (that’s not even mentioning the incestual vibes between Otacon and Emma)? Kojima also sort of writes himself into a corner with Solidus – the idea that a clone of Big Boss would become president and that no one would notice this is one of the more ridiculous plot holes in the series. This was silly enough when it was revealed in Metal Gear Solid, but Sons of Liberty makes it worse when it is revealed that Solidus has been training child soldiers and that at least one of them was living in America and surely would have recognized him at some point or another. When people talk about how crazy and impenetrable Metal Gear stories are, they are referring specifically to the reputation set by Sons of Liberty. Most other games in the series can be fairly complex, but are not too difficult to follow on their own merits.*

On the more positive side of things though, The Patriots were a great introduction in my opinion. Having a conspiracy theory-style Illuminati controlling world events from behind the scenes makes for some fascinating plot developments. They are also foreshadowed in very clever ways, such as having Solidus and Fortune be referred to as “King” and “Queen” respectively, suggesting that they are just playing pieces in The Patriots’ chess game. The skull-faced Colonel also seems to be a reference to John Carpenter’s They Live, a film which tackles similar themes. Kojima also does a great job of hinting at what their roles were in previous games, which goes a long way to retconning those games to have much deeper and more interesting background conflicts. However, they are somewhat dampened by the fact that literally every single named character in Sons of Liberty knows that they exist except for Raiden and Peter Stillman**. I’m not even exaggerating either: Scott Dolph, Snake, Otacon, the Gurlukovich family, the Sons of Liberty, the President, Richard Ames, Emma Emmerich – they’re all aware of this supposedly “top secret” organization, which is frankly ridiculous.Perhaps the best part about The Patriots though is the fact that they allow Kojima a chance to exercise moral ambiguity. Previous Metal Gear games had rather straightforward stories with mostly-straightforward good and evil characters (although Big Boss in Solid Snake did have a certain amount of ambiguity up until the end when he reveals that he’s training child soldiers). From Sons of Liberty onward, there are very few “true” villains in the franchise, as they almost all have some sort of sympathetic motivation or tragic backstory to flesh them out, and even the heroes do not always come out unblemished. The prelude to the final battle on Federal Hall is a clear example of this. Both Solidus and The Patriots reveal an understandable level of sympathetic motivation to their actions, even if we still know that both sides are total bastards. In the end we’re left with a choice between two bad sides, but while I sympathize far more with Solidus, The Patriots have leverage over Raiden to force him to choose their ends. As a result, while Solidus is defeated, The Patriots’ position is actually strengthened and they are free to continue their information control.

Despite all this serious talk about heavy themes and games as art, Sons of Liberty still manages to be one of the funniest games in the whole franchise. In addition to aforementioned plot points which include literally running naked up Arsenal Gear’s asshole as The Colonel wigs out, Kojima also throws in tons of little details and fun abilities for the player to discover. One odd example of this is the ability to interact with Codec calls. If you press R1 or R2 when someone is talking to Raiden, he will actually say something to taunt or praise the speaker (such as “uh huh?”, “you’re crazy!” or “you’re so cute!”). In addition to the already-silly cardboard box, the game also gives you the ability to distract enemies with pornographic magazines, which is just hilarious when you manage to pull it off. I think my favourite trolling moment though is when you have to sneak through the Marines in the Tanker chapter. In addition to just messing with them by changing the projector screen displays, there is also a moment where Scott Dolph gets the Marines to set off a false alert. This was a huge troll moment for me way back when I first played this game and is one of my fondest memories of that playthrough as I seriously thought I had been spotted by everyone for a moment before I burst out laughing at Kojima’s ingenuity. Then there’s all the other little, often juvenile, details that you’ll come across, such as slipping and falling to your death on bird shit, getting pissed on by a guard and having the President of the United States come up to you and grab your balls and say, with surprise, that you’re a man. You also get a trophy for staring at bikini models in the game which is, appropriately, called “Snake Beater”. In all, this adds up to a very silly experience which kind of goes at odds with the otherwise-serious story and themes, but which no doubt makes it more enjoyable to play through.

Sons of Liberty is also unique for having two new Metal Gear models featured in the game, although both of them twist the definition of “Metal Gear” pretty significantly. The first, and most obvious, is Metal Gear RAY. This model has a very badass and iconic design. Whereas REX is bulky and imposing, RAY is sleek and efficient. However, it differs from traditional Metal Gears by not being nuclear-equipped. Rather, it is actually meant to be a counter to other Metal Gears. The other Metal Gear in the game is Arsenal Gear, which is an extremely unorthodox design for the series. It has more in common with a spaceship or a submarine rather than a Metal Gear. After all, isn’t the whole point of a Metal Gear for it to be a bipedal, nuclear-equipped tank? The only part of that which fits Arsenal Gear is the nuclear-equipped bit. It’s also ends up being a rather throwaway plot point by the end of the game when The Patriots reveal that they basically threw away billions upon billions of dollars on its construction for basically no actual purpose.

As for the characters, they aren’t quite as distinctive as the cast from Metal Gear Solid, but there are still some very interesting individuals driving the plot forward. I really like Ocelot here in particular. He was already cool in Metal Gear Solid when there was only implications that there was more to him than meets the eye, but in Sons of Liberty he really comes into his own as one of the greatest villains in the entire franchise. He is always two steps ahead of everyone, has extreme chronic backstabbing syndrome and is pulling the strings from behind the scenes… which makes the fact that The Patriots manage to double-cross even him all the more impressive and actually one of the more effective demonstrations of their power.

Similarly, Sons of Liberty builds upon the other returning cast members to flesh them out quite well. I have already shown how Snake has evolved in some detail, but Kojima also goes a long way to turning Snake into the ultimate badass now that the player doesn’t get to play as him. Like Ocelot, he is always just ahead of Raiden. This is best demonstrated in the opening of the Plant chapter, where Raiden is literally a minute too late to witness Snake kick the shit out of all the guards. Otacon also gets a bit more development which shows that he has become a less-passive individual since the Shadow Moses incident (although the stepmother revelation is still totally baffling). Despite being a secretly new character, The Colonel actually plays on the players’ memories of Colonel Campbell with his extremely mechanical and impersonal dialogue. I heard one commenter claim that they suspect that The Colonel’s voice acting is intentionally robotic, and having played through the game with this in mind, I definitely have to agree. His performance and lines can be extremely odd, which strikes me as being something which was deliberately done to clue in the player to his true intentions with a certain amount of subtly.

As for the new characters, they are more of a mixed bag. Raiden was a major point of contention for a lot of fans when this game was first released. I have written about it before and, while there were the idiots who just didn’t like his androgynous looks, I think that most of them just didn’t like his personality, especially when compared to the much better fleshed-out Solid Snake. Honestly though, Raiden is fairly decent once he finally gets his backstory near the end of the Plant chapter. Up until that point though, he lacks an interesting personality and can be kind of petulant at times. To be fair though, his “whininess” is usually in response to reasonable stimuli, such as being asked to perform bomb disposal despite not being trained for such a dangerous task. By the ending though, Raiden begins to assert his own history and makes his own decisions, which makes him significantly more endearing. He also gets a pretty strong character arc by the ending, which couldn’t possibly be wiped out by any sequels which would reverse all of his character development… nope, not a chance…

I think the real issue though for most people is Rosemary. She isn’t as bad as I remembered, but she has been written as a bit of an overly-emotional wet blanket and only brings out the whiniest parts of Raiden. You only really have to listen to her when you save the game, but if you are someone who saves frequently you might want to start holding down the triangle button to skip their “relationship talk”.

Emma Emmerich has some similar issues. She is actually kind of an entertaining character who has much more chemistry with Raiden than Rosemary ever displays. There’s also the fact that Emma is wracked with PTSD due to almost drowning as a child when her father tried to commit murder-suicide. This alone makes her more endearing and makes her otherwise annoying qualities more forgivable. During the escort mission, Emma becomes a major burden on the player as she flat-out refuses to help herself and slows down Raiden significantly as he tries to get her to safety. This can make Emma very annoying to deal with, even if her actual characterization seems to be otherwise positive.

If Rosemary and Emma are both rather poor female characters though, then Olga Gurlukovich makes up for them in spades. I had forgotten just how awesome Olga is in this game – she has a strong code of honour, is loyal to her comrades-in-arms to a fault and is a very capable fighter. She takes all of this to the next level though when the Plant chapter begins. Here, Olga’s code of honour is used against her as she is forced into betraying her comrades in order to protect her child, who was stolen at birth by The Patriots. She damns herself for her actions, but does what is necessary in order to keep her child safe, even sacrificing her own life without a second thought. There’s also the fact that her cyborg ninja design, Mr. X, might just be my favourite in the franchise.

Rounding out the support cast is Peter Stillman, who I quite liked but who gets unfortunately killed off fairly quickly. That said, he has a fantastically tragic backstory and has a very interesting and strong character arc which is started and wrapped up over the course of about an hour and a half. Many characters in gaming don’t even get as much development as Stillman does in their entire runtimes, if not their entire franchise history.

As for Dead Cell, they aren’t quite as interesting as the FOXHOUND unit. Fatman in particular is really over the top, between his roller skates, morbid obesity and proclivity to sip wine during the battle, he’s just absolutely insane. Fortune is also unfortunately a poorly-utilized character. She has an interesting motivation and iconic “powers”, but she spends nearly the entire game moping about her misfortune and not really doing all that much. The strange twist where it seems that she actually does have psychic powers is just the icing on top and makes basically no sense (unless we reason that her electromagnet was reactivated, or that Ocelot intentionally made RAY’s payload miss their target for reasons that would become clear in Guns of the Patriots). I do rather like Vamp though. He has a very distinct and strange personality, while his powers make him a very love-to-hate enemy as he just constantly shows up at the worst possible times. I really love Phil Lamarr’s performance as well, it lends Vamp an incredibly creepy and sadistic vibe which meshes well with his imposing freakishness.I have already covered Solidus a few times now so I won’t go into too much extraneous detail, but I will say that he is a great main villain – not quite on the same level as Liquid Snake though, mainly due to his reduced screen time. He is rather badass in his own right though, but more than a little ridiculous with his Dr. Octopus arms, bulky exoskeleton and the fact that he’s an ex-President. I really do like how Solidus and Raiden are turned into a parallel of the Snakes and Big Boss, that was a great idea which lends a lot of emotional resonance to the conflict between these foes.

All-in-all, Sons of Liberty is a better game than I remembered, but it is still flawed. While the game’s themes are… uh… solid, the game suffers at times in its narrative and gameplay. That said, it’s hard not to appreciate just how daring Sons of Liberty is at times and how relevant it remains to this day. If you can stomach the Matrix-esque philosophizing and tangled narrative, there’s a real gem just waiting to be found.Plus you can trick enemies into looking at porno mags. That never gets old.

8.5/10

*With Guns of the Patriots being the biggest exception, mainly because it has to follow-up on Sons of Liberty and actually wrap up all the insane plot points that game introduced to the series.
**And possibly Johnny Sasaki, but I can’t even confirm that that is true… not to mention that he is an Easter egg character of course.

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IC2S Playlist Update 06/01/2016

First up this week we have “Blind” by Korn from their self-titled debut. I have a bit of an odd history with Korn: I saw them live in 2011 when they were double-headlining a concert with Disturbed, but didn’t really care for much of their music. However, I grew to really like the band’s (former, at the time) guitarist, Brian “Head” Welch, his conversion story and fantastic side-projects The Whosoevers, Save Me From Myself (the book and the album) and Love & Death, which make significantly better music than Korn proper. Through Head, I have retroactively been finding more interest in the band, and actually can appreciate a few of their earlier albums now. Their first, self-titled album is arguably their best though, and so I figured it was appropriate to put their first big hit, “Blind”, on the playlist as it exemplifies the best of their sound.

I was pretty torn between a couple other songs though. I had been seriously considering “Ball Tongue”, although deferred from it because I only really like the first 40 seconds of it. I was also really mulling over “Daddy”, but decided against it for a couple reasons. First of all, it’s excessively vulgar. More importantly though, it’s a rather strange song with some really sloppy craftwork. However, it makes up for this by being extremely passionate. By the time that “mother” is singing softly while Jonathan Davis literally bawls like a baby, you can tell that this is a really special moment and that Jonathan is working some major issues out in front of us. For that reason I rather like it, but it just wouldn’t work particularly well on its own in a playlist.

…so, uh, yeah I picked “Blind” this week.

Secondly, we have “Hearts of Iron” by Sabaton from their most recent album, Heroes. The album recounts the accomplishments of exceptional individuals during wars, from archetypal war heroes (Audie Murphy), to brave medics (Leslie “Bull” Allan), to the lesser-known efforts of units who fought back in spite of overwhelming odds (“Night Witches”, “Resist and Bite”). “Hearts of Iron” is an interesting choice in all of this as it recounts the heroism of the German 9th and 12th armies, who fought through the Soviet army to allow German refugees to surrender to the West. I like that Sabaton acknowledges that, even if you’re on the losing side of a conflict and have been in support of a horrifically evil regime, you can still be a hero by doing good and saving innocent people. Not only did this action allow these refugees to get on the nicer side of the Iron Curtain during the Cold War, but this also allowed these innocents to avoid the Rape of Berlin, an action which I would put up amongst the most despicable actions of the entire war. Considering that we have mythologized the Second World War as being a “good” conflict and placed ourselves upon the moral pedestal, it’s absolutely despicable that these sorts of atrocities have been swept under the rug of history for not fitting into our narrative. War, even one that is justified, is still a source of great evil and should be avoided at all costs.

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Retrospective: Metal Gear Solid (1998)

Welcome back to the Metal Gear retrospective! In this entry we’re going to cover the third, and arguably most popular, game in the franchise, 1998’s Metal Gear Solid. This game often ends up in the top 5 in “Greatest Games of All Time” lists. Does it still retain its legendary status more than 17 years since its initial release? Read on to find out…

(Note, I have beaten this game once on an emulator in 2007 or 2008 and have experimented with a PS1 copy of it a few times on PS2/PS3. For this playthrough, I decided to try the game out on PS Vita. It played very closely to the PS1 version with no real detriments. The lack of L2/R2 buttons required a bit of experimenting, but I ended up remapping them to the right analog stick with considerable success. If you play the game on Vita, I’d recommend keeping it on digital mode, mapping movement to the D-pad and left analog stick and then mapping L2/R2 to the right analog stick, as this is a very intuitive solution and considerably better than using the awful touch controls.)

DEVELOPMENT
Following the completion of Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake in 1990, Hideo Kojima moved on to other projects. While he did have plans of putting out a third game on the 3DO in 1994, he instead worked on his own original IP, Policenauts, which would further develop his talents as a director and storyteller. Policenauts is also notable for having a number of references to the Metal Gear series, and actually marked the first appearance of Meryl Silverburgh, who would later be carried over into Metal Gear Solid. By the time that Policenauts was completed in 1995, Kojima was looking into another Metal Gear for the 3DO, but the console was in a decline. As a result, development shifted onto the original PlayStation.

Given how much time had passed since the last Metal Gear release, and not to mention that there were two different continuities depending on the region where each game was played, Kojima decided to give the series a very “soft” reboot and titled the game Metal Gear Solid, retaining the events from the previous games, but not requiring a knowledge of them to be appreciated.

The developers tried to make the game as accurate as possible, utilizing SWAT team members as advisers. The game’s artists also put a lot of effort into small details within the environment with the aim of making the experience as authentic as possible. Levels were also occasionally designed using Lego pieces to conceptualize the game’s spaces. Kojima also wanted to have persistent bodies that would have to be hidden by the player and a dynamically-altered soundtrack. These ambitions were unachievable on the PS1 hardware, but would become possible in subsequent games in the franchise.

Following its initial release in 1998, Metal Gear Solid also received a number of re-releases and a remake. In 1999, a re-release called Metal Gear Solid: Integral was released in Japan with some slight improvements to the game which had been missing from the original Japanese release, but present in the North American version of the game (such as different difficulty levels and the first person camera). The game also packed in a series of simulated gameplay challenges that would be repackaged in international markets as Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions. A remake was also released in 2004 called Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes. The game was developed by Silicon Knights and exclusive to the Gamecube. The Twin Snakes‘ gameplay was updated to match Sons of Liberty, and featured re-recorded dialogue and altered cutscenes. As a result of the changes to the original game, including some major tonal dissonance and gameplay-breaking elements, this remake was not particularly liked amongst fans of the series. The game also received one more “pseudo-remake” in the form of the Metal Gear Solid: Digital Graphic Novel, which is essentially an interactive retelling of the game.

PLOT SUMMARY
6 years after the Zanzibar Land Uprising, Snake is forcibly called out of retirement once again to infiltrate a secret Alaskan nuclear disposal site called Shadow Moses island. The island has been captured by rebels from the FOXHOUND unit, who take the island’s staff hostage and threaten to launch a nuclear strike if their demands aren’t met. Under the command of Colonel Campbell and receiving support from chief medic Naomi Hunter, local advisor Master Miller, data analyst Mei Ling and military analyst Nastasha Romanenko, Solid Snake is sent in to perform a solo infiltration to save the two high-priority captives, the DARPA Chief Donald Anderson and ArmsTech President Kenneth Baker, and to assess and stop the terrorists from launching a nuclear strike.

Snake infiltrates the island via sea and then makes his way into the base after overhearing the location of the DARPA Chief. Snake makes contact with Anderson, who informs him that the terrorists have captured an experimental Metal Gear, codenamed REX, from the US government. He warns that Metal Gear requires two launch codes to activate, and that the terrorists have already acquired his code via Psycho Mantis’ mind reading powers. However, Anderson reveals that REX can be deactivated with a series of three PAL cards. Before Snake can extract the DARPA Chief, he suddenly begins to convulse and dies of a heart attack. Snake finds this extremely suspicious, but before he can really react, he is released from Anderson’s cell by Meryl Silverburgh, Colonel Campbell’s niece who has acquired an enemy uniform to disguise herself. Snake and Meryl are attacked by enemy Genome Soldiers, but they manage to fight their way through them. As soon as they are defeated, Meryl escapes and runs further into the base using her disguise.

Using the intel provided by Anderson before he died, Snake locates Kenneth Baker. However, he inadvertently stumbles into a trap planted by Revolver Ocelot, who has surrounded Baker with C4 charges. Snake and Ocelot battle, but their fight is interrupted by a mysterious cyborg ninja, who slices Ocelot’s hand off and sets off the C4 trap. Ocelot and the ninja flee as Snake secures Kenneth Baker. Baker reveals that he gave up his launch code under torture, but mentions that he gave the PAL override keys to Meryl. He also gives Snake an optical disc containing data for Metal Gear REX and tells him to make contact with the lead scientist on the project, Dr. Hal Emmerich. Before he can be evacuated, Baker also dies of a heart attack, screaming in rage that the “Pentagon betrayed him” before he succumbs. Now incredibly suspicious about the way that the mission is unfolding, Snake becomes furious at Campbell for keeping secrets from him, but continues to press onwards regardless.

After making contact with Meryl via codec, Snake begins heading towards Dr. Emmerich’s lab. He is contacted by a mysterious stranger calling himself “Deepthroat” who warns Snake of mines and a tank ahead of him piloted by FOXHOUND’s Vulcan Raven. Thanks to the tip, Snake is able to make his way through the mines and defeat the tank before moving on to Emmerich’s lab. As he heads into the lab, he finds the eviscerated bodies of Genome Soldiers and confronts the cyborg ninja once again as he corners Emmerich. Snake and the ninja clash, but the ninja flees after making a number of familiar statements to Snake. Shocked, Snake realizes that the ninja is Gray Fox, his old comrade whom he had killed 6 years earlier in Zanzibar Land. Naomi confirms this, revealing that Gray Fox had been resurrected and used as a test subject in gene therapy, the results of which were used to create the Genome Soldiers. With Gray Fox gone, Snake secures Emmerich, who refers to himself as “Otacon”. Otacon reveals that he had no idea that REX was meant to be capable of launching nuclear strikes, as its weapons were handled by a separate department. He is saddened that his work was being abused to perpetuate nuclear weaponry, and promises Snake to support him to stop the launch.

Snake then finds Meryl to acquire the PAL override keys, but discovers that she only has 1 key card. Frustrated, the pair begin heading towards REX’s hangar. However, they are quickly ambushed by Psycho Mantis, who uses his psychic powers to take control of Meryl and to fool Snake. Luckily, Snake is able to overcome Mantis’ powers, defeating him and saving Meryl in the process. A dying Mantis tells Snake and Meryl about all the evils that he had committed and explains that he found Snake interesting because they both shared a love for killing. With Mantis dead, Snake and Meryl proceed onwards through the Communication Towers. However, they are ambushed again, this time by Sniper Wolf, who shoots Meryl multiple times, using her as bait to lure Snake out of cover. Distraught, Snake hurries back to the armoury to get a sniper rifle, but when he returns, Meryl is gone. He battles Sniper Wolf and defeats her, but when he attempts to interrogate her, Sniper Wolf and a squad of Genome Soldiers take Snake captive.

Snake is then brought to Ocelot, who steals the optical disc that Baker had given to Snake earlier. He then tortures Snake, threatening to kill Meryl is he gives in. Snake endures the torture and then is taken to a holding cell. In the cell, he finds the DARPA Chief’s corpse, but is surprised to see that he appears to have been dead for days and that his blood has been drained out. Eventually, Octacon arrives using stealth camouflage and gives Snake some rations and ketchup. He begs Snake not to kill Sniper Wolf, as he has become very infatuated with her and believes that she is a good person. Snake makes no promises, and uses the ketchup to fool the guard into thinking that he is dead, giving him a chance to break free and escape.

After reacquiring his equipment, Snake heads back to the Communication Towers, where he is attacked by Liquid Snake in a Hind D. After making his way to the second tower, Snake shoots the Hind down using a Stinger Missile Launcher, seemingly killing Liquid. On how way back down from the second tower, Snake is ambushed in an elevator by a squad of four Genome Soldiers with stealth camouflage, but he manages to defeat them after a warning from Otacon. However, when he exits the tower, he is confronted by Sniper Wolf for a second time. He pair fight, and Snake leaves her mortally wounded. Sniper Wolf relates her harsh upbringing and her history with Big Boss, before coming to the realization that all she has ever wanted was for someone to kill her. As Otacon watches on with tears in his eyes, Snake finishes Sniper Wolf. Distraught, Otacon draws upon some unknown resolve and promises to help Snake however he can.

Heading down towards REX’s hangar, Snake is confronted once again by Vulcan Raven, who is now armed with a minigun. Utilizing stealth tactics against Vulcan Raven’s brute force, Snake manages to overcome his foe. Feeling charitable in his death throes, Vulcan Raven reveals that the man who Snake confronted in the DARPA Chief’s cell was actually Decoy Octopus and that the real Donald Anderson was the corpse in the cell when Snake was tortured. Snake tries to press Vulcan Raven for more information, but he refuses and dies. Master Miller also informs Snake that Naomi has been lying to them all, after analyzing some inconsistent statements she had made earlier about her past. Miller insists that Naomi be arrested, as she could be spying for the terrorists and could compromise the mission, and Campbell obeys.

Snake makes his way into REX’s hangar, where Otacon reveals that REX’s railgun has been designed as a stealth weapon – when fired, nuclear missiles won’t require rocket propulsion, rendering them invisible to radar. With the US and Russian governments in disarmament talks during the terrorist takeover, discovery of a project such as REX would create a massive international incident and leave the president in disgrace. Otacon also informs him that there’s a trick to the PAL key – it changes shape in different temperatures, effectively giving it the versatility of three cards in one. Snake also overhears Liquid (who somehow survived the Hind crash) and Ocelot discussing their plans. They have set the strike target as Lop Nor, China, since this is a nuclear test site. This will mean that the governments can try to cover up the strike and that FOXHOUND can continue their negotiations, but that the US government will inevitably be forced to give up state secrets in order to explain what happened and avoid war. At that point, Liquid and Ocelot would be able to sell Metal Gear REX to other governments around the world. They also reveal that they have changed their demands. In addition to $1 billion and Big Boss’s DNA, they have also demanded a vaccine for a disease called FOXDIE. With these demands, Liquid would join forces with a Russian officer named Sergei Gurlukovich and turn Shadow Moses into Outer Heaven, fulfilling Big Boss’s dream of a world where soldiers always have a place.

Snake begins inputting the PAL keys after getting them to the proper temperature to change their shapes. In the process, he is secretly contacted by Naomi, who informs him that she is the adopted sister of Frank Jaeger, aka Gray Fox, who took her in during the Rhodesian Civil War. After Snake killed Gray Fox in the Zanzibar Land uprising, Naomi joined FOXHOUND in hopes of getting her revenge. She reveals that Snake has been injected with FOXDIE, an engineered virus which targets specific genetic codes and then kills them with a heart attack. He had been originally injected with it to kill off the FOXHOUND soldiers and Kenneth Baker, but Naomi had modified it so that it would kill Snake as well. However, she reveals that she regrets this action and admits that she no longer feels hatred towards Snake before Campbell discovers Naomi’s codec and cuts off her transmission. Furious at Campbell for keeping this information from him, Snake tells him that he has been betrayed and used.

After inputting all three PAL keys, Snake discovers that he has unintentionally activated Metal Gear REX, rather than deactivating it. Master Miller contacts Snake, revealing that he was actually Liquid Snake in disguise, and that Master Miller was killed days ago. He reveals that Donald Anderson died before he could give up his launch code, and that the terrorists had been trying to get Snake to locate the PAL keys and figure out how to use them himself, while tricking him into thinking that this would stop Metal Gear from launching. Liquid reveals that the Pentagon is trying to cover up everything at Shadow Moses – they want to recover REX and the bodies of the Genome Soldiers and will eliminate everyone involved in the operation to keep this disgrace from getting out. Finally, Liquid also reveals that he and Snake are brothers, of sorts. They are both the products of the “Les Enfants Terrible” project, which had attempted to clone Big Boss and create his successor. Liquid is jealous of Snake because he received Big Boss’s recessive genes, whereas Snake possesses the dominant genes.

Liquid then climbs inside of REX and battles Snake. Otacon informs Snake to shoot REX’s sensory radome in order to expose the pilot. Snake does so, firing stinger missiles at the radome, but with little effect. However, Gray Fox appears and begins attacking REX with Snake. He tells Snake that the reason he adopted Naomi was because he had killed her parents and felt guilt for his actions. He destroys REX’s radome, but is severely wounded in the battle, losing an arm. REX crushes Gray Fox under its foot and then turns its attention back to Snake. With the cockpit now exposed due to the destroyed radome, Snake begins firing at Liquid until REX begins to explode and is deactivated, knocking Snake unconscious. He wakes up on top of REX with Liquid watching over him. Liquid reveals that the Genome Soldiers are genetic brothers of theirs, as they have been treated with Big Boss’s genes. Liquid believes that he is obeying the “will” of his genes and that he will surpass Big Boss and his inferior heritage by killing Snake. He draws Snake’s attention to Meryl’s unconscious body and warns him that they are nearly out of time – with REX destroyed, the Pentagon would surely attempt damage control and will nuke Shadow Moses to keep any knowledge of the operation from leaking out. Campbell confirms this information, and explains that Meryl had been transferred to Shadow Moses in order to blackmail him into obedience during the operation. He asks for Snake’s forgiveness for lying to him throughout the operation and promises to delay the bombers long enough for Snake and Meryl to escape. However, their transmission is then interrupted by the Secretary of Defence, Jim Houseman, who assures them that bombers are inbound and expresses regret at the DARPA Chief’s death.

With time running short, Liquid and Snake fight once again, this time precariously poised atop REX and with only their fists. Snake eventually prevails, forcing Liquid to fall off of the side of REX. Snake then resuscitates Meryl and the pair hurry to make their escape as the bombers begin to strike Shadow Moses. Otacon offers to stay behind and open up security doors as Snake and Meryl drive a jeep through a supply tunnel. The pair break through a few enemy checkpoints before they are pursued by Liquid once again, who pursues them in a jeep. As they reach the end of the tunnel, the two jeeps crash and Liquid approaches the now-unarmed Snake and Meryl. However, before he can pull the trigger, Liquid succumbs to FOXDIE. Snake takes this as a sign that he is going to die now as well, since he and Liquid are clones and FOXDIE targets specific genes.

The pair then notice that the bombers have stopped their bombardment. Campbell calls and informs them that Houseman has been arrested and that the President has called off the bombers. Campbell informs them that Snake, Meryl and Otacon are now considered “dead” and are free to leave. Snake contacts Naomi and asks when he can expect to succumb to FOXDIE, but she tells him not to worry and to live his life as best he can. Snake and Meryl then ride off together into the Alaskan sunset.

In the game’s post-credits sequence, Revolver Ocelot reports the events of the operation of the President of the United States, revealing that he was acting as a double agent to recover Metal Gear REX’s launch data. He also reveals that the death of the DARPA Chief wasn’t an accident, because the chief recognized Ocelot and had discerned his true motives. He also reveals that Snake was actually the inferior clone, and that the President is the perfect clone of Big Boss – Solidus Snake.

GAMEPLAY & DESIGN
Despite being released 8 years later, Metal Gear Solid plays very similarly to Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. The two main design differences are the shift to 3D and the addition of voice acting and more cinematic elements. That said, these two additions make Metal Gear Solid feel like an enormous leap forward, even if the core gameplay is basically just a refinement on Solid Snake. Shifting to 3D opens up some much-needed improvements to the core gameplay. For example, while Metal Gear Solid still utilizes card keys to gate off sections of the game, they have been made so much more convenient than in previous Metal Gear games. Doors actually display which key card is required to open them, you only carry one key card on you now which constantly upgrades its security clearance (similar to the red/blue/green cards from Solid Snake) and are more conveniently-placed. This last point is in part due to the fact that backtracking is much less prevalent than it was in previous Metal Gear games. In total, you have to backtrack to the start of the game once to acquire a PSG1 sniper rifle for the fight with Sniper Wolf, and then you also get forced here again for the torture sequence. The end of the game also requires that you backtrack through Metal Gear REX’s hangar about 4 times, but these are thankfully relatively short and easy sequences. It is also nice that these backtracking sequences are kept fresh by adding new enemies and obstacles that weren’t there the first time you were there, such as new guards or gun cameras. Interestingly enough, the reliance on key cards and backtracking are easily two of the biggest problems with the game. However, playing through Metal Gear and Solid Snake has given me an appreciation for just how much of an improvement these systems are in Metal Gear Solid and has allowed me to be much more forgiving, although I do remember disliking these design elements the first time I played the game.

Metal Gear Solid also introduces some other gameplay refinements which are much more universally accepted. Probably the best of these is the new shooting mechanics, which finally allow for 360 degree targeting with a lock-on system when enemies get close. The previous two Metal Gear games were artificially made so much more difficult when Snake could only fire in 4 axis, so being able to shoot in any direction opens things up quite a bit and makes encounters much less frustrating to deal with. The game also introduces some new close combat mechanics. Punches no longer kill enemies, and instead knock them out for a couple seconds after you hit them about 5 times. The game also introduces chokeholds, which allow you to kidnap enemies and then snap their necks, and throws, which let you knock over an enemy when they’re facing you. While this expanded arsenal is nice, the unreliability of chokeholds and the minimal effectiveness of punches mean that shooting is a much more reliable method to get through enemies, especially once you acquire the silencer. This is held somewhat in check by end-game ratings which encourage non-lethal gameplay, but the gameplay definitely incentivizes silenced shooting rather than close quarters takedowns.

Also worth noting is that Metal Gear Solid has a much more intuitive design philosophy than previous games in the franchise. Finding your way from place-to-place is quite simple and every location has a very distinct art style and purpose which keeps it memorable. For example, when I discovered that I had to find a hot and a cold room to change the PAL key, I knew exactly what I had to do to accomplish this feat without having to be told how to. This might not seem like a big deal, but Solid Snake had a similar requirement which I found significantly more challenging because I couldn’t for the life of me remember where the hell the hot and cold rooms were. That said, if you do ever get lost, a quick Codec call to Campbell or another support team member is sure to help. The Codec acts as a really great way to get hints without requiring literal arrows pointing you in the direction you need to go. As a result, Metal Gear Solid is a very easy game to pick up and play without requiring a guide (again, unlike Metal Gear or Solid Snake).

As I said previously, the adoption of cinematic elements is one major feature of Metal Gear Solid which really makes it stand out. From the opening moments of the game, it becomes apparent that the direction and cinematography of the cutscenes is top notch. The very deliberate camera angles and neat little tricks that they pull off really make the game’s production values soar through the roof. The game does often feel like you’re involved in a playable movie, and the addition of voice acting really helps in this regard. The voice acting in the game is quite… er… “solid”. Even if the writing can be rather awkward at times, the sincerity of the performances helps overcome this.

With the addition of cutscenes and the emphasis on story elements, Metal Gear Solid‘s design shifts from being primarily gameplay-based to more of an equal balance between story and gameplay. The cutscenes* can be lengthy at times (with one near the end of the game probably clocking in around 20 minutes), but they contextualize the gameplay and make accomplishing your objectives more emotionally satisfying. While Solid Snake clocked in around 6 hours of almost 100% pure gameplay, I finished Metal Gear Solid in 9 leisurely hours (not including continues), which are largely padded out with numerous cutscenes and codec calls. Without these non-playable bits, the game is probably closer to 6 hours long, with speedrunners being known to complete it in just over an hour. That said, I quite like the balance they were able to achieve between gameplay and cutscenes – non-fans might find them off-putting or overly long, but as someone who has played through the entire franchise multiple times, it was refreshing to go back to Metal Gear Solid and see how well balanced the cutscene-to-gameplay ratio was.

The game’s visual style also plays into its cinematic ambitions. It’s quite interesting that nearly every cutscene has been pre-rendered using the in-game engine (with the exception of a handful of live action FMVs during exposition moments). For a game this old, this could have definitely been a detriment if the character models weren’t detailed enough or were animated poorly, but luckily the graphics complement the game’s style quite well. Despite the limited textures and polygon count, the game’s character models do a good job of illustrating a character features to such a point that your imagination is able to fill in the details without actually having the ability to display those details directly. The one big exception to this is during the second battle with Sniper Wolf – this showdown is clearly intended to be occurring in a raging blizzard, but the hardware is just too inadequate to actually render anything more than a light snowfall. For the rest of the game though, Kojima and his development team really do a masterful job of making the most of their hardware and wringing out every ounce of power to create an effective setting.

Similarly to Solid Snake, Metal Gear Solid has a really strong visual aesthetic. The colour palette is largely made up of blues, greens, whites, greys and blacks, lending it an extremely cold aesthetic which is clearly meant to invoke the harsh Alaskan environment. It’s actually quite striking, beautiful and distinctive, which makes it stand in sharp contrast to many modern games of this sort which have adopted the “default” blockbuster colour grading of orange and blue.

It’s also worth noting that Metal Gear Solid is extremely unique within the franchise for containing a player-determinant ending. If the player submits during Ocelot’s torture, then Meryl dies in the end and the game takes on a much more melancholy tone. If you don’t submit, then the game takes on a more hopeful tone as Snake attempts to atone for his life’s mistakes and find love. It’s a really unique mechanic which was never really repeated again during the franchise (with the possible exception of some much more minor story elements in The Phantom Pain 17 years later).

While the shift to 3D resulted in some major refinements, it did bring with it the game’s one critical flaw. In the first 2 Metal Gear games, the “screen” system meant that you always knew where enemies were and whether you could be detected as the screen gave you a very wide view to orient yourself within it. However, in Metal Gear Solid, there screen system is completely removed and Snake moves around in a full-rendered area. This is a great improvement in general, but it becomes a problem in execution, as the game features an absolutely wretched camera system. Honestly, I made six separate notes when playing about how much the camera was pissing me off, which is a pretty damning indictment. Like the previous games, Metal Gear Solid utilizes a top-down camera, but it is centered far too close to Snake, making sneaking difficult and generous usage of the Soliton Radar System and first person mode mandatory in order to avoid combat. Even then, the camera is so close to Snake that enemies can see him from off-screen and you’re very rarely going to be shooting at enemies that you can actually see.

Of course, things just get worse when you set off an alert. Like previous games in the franchise, Metal Gear Solid features instant alerts when spotted which jam your radar, but the camera makes these so much worse to deal with. At least you could see the whole screen in Solid Snake and could deal with enemies with the appropriate knowledge. In Metal Gear Solid you can’t tell if enemies are approaching without leaning against an object or by going into first person mode, and if you get spotted again then you’re not even going to know where they are because they will do so off-screen. Making things worse, in some areas running around causes the orientation of the camera to lag a little behind Snake, meaning that you’re going to have even less time to react to enemies in front of you as even less of the screen shows enemies ahead of you. This all means that getting out of alerts can be a massive pain in the ass as you gun down anyone nearby and just try to find somewhere to hide when no one’s looking. The fact that the Japanese original release didn’t feature first person mode and that any difficulty beyond normal removes the radar is just baffling to me. The game is clearly balanced around having the radar and without it you’re basically just being masochistic.

That’s not the end of the camera woes though. The game also sometimes changes the camera angle into a more cinematic view, sort of like the system employed by the PS1 Resident Evil games. The issue here is that, while the perspective is on an angle, the controls remain identical. So, while the game’s perspective looks like you need to go up-right to avoid a security camera, the game actually wants you to press up to go straight, and pressing up-right will actually walk you right into the security camera’s view (and into an instant alert). This caused me no end of trouble in the early sections of the game before I realized what the issue was.

Furthermore, the mid-to-late sections of the game just push the camera frustrations to their limit. This point of the game often leaves your radar jammed, at which point Kojima just seems to delight in placing gun cameras in places where they don’t even appear on the in-game camera until you’re right inside their range. As a result, you end up having to go into first person view quite frequently to avoid taking damage from such cheap sources. Clearly, Metal Gear Solid‘s camera is its biggest weakness, adding quite a bit of frustration and somewhat souring the series’ translation to 3D, even if it is otherwise a great improvement.

I laughed very early on in Metal Gear Solid when Mei Ling warned me that the Genome Soldiers have heightened senses, because their vision cones are rather pathetic in-game. This is likely due to the limited camera, but they can only see a few meters ahead of themselves and have no peripheral vision. They’re also total idiots – if you knock them out or shoot them, they’ll look around for about 5 seconds and then go back to a normal patrol as if nothing happened. That said, they do get a few cool tricks that they can use to find you. Like Solid Snake, they can hear footsteps depending on the terrain you move along (including puddles now) and can see your footprints in the snow at one point in the game and track them.

However, as at least one reviewer has pointed out, the core gameplay of evading regular guards is quite limited within Metal Gear Solid, which is clearly why the game features as much backtracking as it does. The game seems to value set pieces and boss battles at least as much as its core gameplay. Solid Snake featured a few gameplay twists, such as following the green beret through the jungle, but Metal Gear Solid shakes things up constantly. In addition to the frequent boss battles, the game also features a rappelling section, shootouts up a seemingly-endless stairway, an elevator ambush and a prison escape sequence. While some people might decry the lack of core gameplay, I do appreciate the ambition involved in creating such a diverse group of set pieces, which really goes a long way to making Metal Gear Solid feel like the playable action movie it so clearly wants to be.

Metal Gear Solid also features the first of many torture sequences which would become a series staple. Personally, I absolutely hate this sequence, as button mashing is not my forte in the slightest. I do like that success or failure results in a narrative split, but I am just a horrid button masher. The first time I beat this game, 7 or 8 years ago now, I didn’t make it very far and submitted, although I was left very disappointed when it turned out that Meryl died because of me. As a result, for this playthrough I resolved to complete it successfully and save Meryl. I must have tried almost a dozen times but couldn’t even get close as I tried desperately to cheat the game by messing with PS Vita control remapping (it turns out that the sequence is looking for button presses and releases, so if you map the O button to every single button on the system or onto analog sticks, then it’s going to register this as you simply holding onto the O button rather than tapping it). In the end, I paid one of my brothers $5 to complete it for me, but even then it took him 3 or 4 tries to finish it, with us suspending the Vita part way through to let his finger rest. That was when we discovered that, if you succeed, then you have to beat it at least 1 more time!!!!!!!! Thank God I saved when I got into the prison cell, but holy shit did the torture sequence ever leave me incredibly frustrated and ended up stretching out my playthrough for a few more days as I felt so deflated by how irritating it was. So, uh, yeah… this part actually annoyed me far more than the camera woes, but for most people I imagine that this won’t be quite so big an issue.

One other aspect of the gameplay design I want to cover before moving on to the boss battles is that disc 2 is definitely a hell of a lot weaker than disc 1, at least until REX is activated. Disc 1 has quite a lot of momentum propelling the story ahead at a breakneck pace and a lot more involving gameplay. Disc 2 involves considerably less interesting gameplay, as you largely throw chaff grenades to disable gun cameras and backtrack quite a few times. The radar is also jammed quite often in these areas, which makes it very annoying when you end up in areas with gun cameras and mines hidden off-screen without receiving any sort of warning ahead of time. It is clearly largely annoying filler and busywork to keep the game going for another hour or so (with the loss of the PAL key being the most egregious example), but at least the Vulcan Raven fight and story sequences keep this part of the game afloat until the climax hits.

With the jump to the PS1, Metal Gear Solid‘s boss battles have gotten far more interesting than they were in previous Metal Gear games. In fact, this game might just have the absolute best batch of boss battles in the entire series, as the FOXHOUND unit has very distinct personalities, interesting gameplay twists and reasonable challenge to make for some of the most memorable encounters in the whole franchise.

The fight with Revolver Ocelot is, in a lot of ways, a rather straightforward and easy gunfight, but it is very enjoyable and features just enough twists to keep it interesting – the center of the room is booby-trapped with C4, you have to be careful about not hitting Kenneth Baker with a stray bullet as you try to track Ocelot, not to mention that Ocelot can ricochet bullets and has a reload count that you need to exploit to catch him off guard. It’s a much deeper fight than you would reasonably expect a shootout like this to be, and that’s not even covering how enjoyably hammy Ocelot can be.

The fight with Gray Fox is quite fun and is clever for harkening back to the minefield fight with him in Solid Snake. Furthermore, while it is a simple beat ’em up in a lot of ways, Kojima makes the very wise decision to add different “stages” to the fight – a feature which is a staple in many of Metal Gear Solid‘s boss battles. The first stage of the fight is a rather straightforward fight, the second stage sees Gray Fox utilizing stealth camouflage to get close to Snake, while stage three involves powerful but slow attacks. These sorts of boss fight progressions go a long way to keeping Metal Gear Solid‘s bosses interesting and challenging, even when they feature otherwise-simple mechanics.

The Psycho Mantis fight is also often considered one of the greatest boss battles of all time for Mantis’ extremely creative attacks and parlour tricks (which are still hilarious, even though they have been so widely covered since the game was released). The fight itself is rather simple (boiling down to “dodge the things that Mantis throws at you”), but it is quite enjoyable and the fourth-wall breaks involved in fighting and beating him are very clever. Probably the biggest boon to the fight though is Mantis’ insane and unabashedly evil personality, which makes him extremely memorable and satisfying to defeat.

I found the Sniper Wolf fights to be the most frustrating during my playtime. It’s a reasonably fun confrontation, but the game’s shooting controls with sniper rifles make it very challenging to line up a shot without getting hit first (and worse, when you get shot, the camera gets thrown far to the side, meaning that you’re going to get shot again before you can line up another shot). I ended up burning through all 4 of my rations to just barely beat her the first time. The second fight is actually harder in this regard, but thankfully there are some exploits – you can easily defeat her in this fight by using nikita missiles or stingers if you aren’t adept with the game’s sniping mechanics. Sniper Wolf is made much more interesting thanks to Otacon’s infatuation with her and her tragic history, which makes her defeat an extremely sombre moment and easily one of the highlights of the entire franchise.

Vulcan Raven is a rather fun fight. You don’t stand a chance if you try to take him on directly, meaning that you have to hide from him and try to lure him into C4 or claymore traps, or shoot him with nikita missiles. It’s kind of like the anti-shootout boss battle, as stealth is basically the only way to get through alive. That said, it’s a rather easy fight to get through without a scratch, but it can be quite tense trying to track him with a nikita missile and then seeing him approach your position on the radar. He’s a rather strange and ridiculous character, but somehow also manages to come across as absolutely badass at the same time (which I’m sure is helped by his epic minigun).

The game also features quite a few fights with Liquid Snake, and they’re all very thrilling. The fight with the Hind D is easy but very fun as you basically play hide and seek and lock on with your stinger missiles. This is definitely the best Hind D fight in the franchise by far. The two-stage fight with Liquid in Metal Gear REX (which, by the way, is the coolest Metal Gear design in the whole franchise by far) is also a fantastic fight and extremely impressive for a PS1 game. After the extremely simple Metal Gear fights in Metal Gear and Solid Snake, it’s awesome to see a Metal Gear actually able to follow you around and move to try to kill you without getting gimped by the limited hardware. In fact, I’m still shocked and impressed that they managed to get it running on PS1 at all. That said, with chaff/stun grenades and stinger missiles, the battle is incredibly easy to complete without taking any damage.

Of course, that’s not the end of Liquid, as you end up fist fighting him on top of REX. This sequence clearly draws a parallel to the Gray Fox fight from Solid Snake, with a time limit making it even more intense. Liquid has enough health that you have to be extremely aggressive while also avoiding his heavy attacks, or you are guaranteed to run out of time. It’s a simple but extremely satisfying battle. The game also concludes with an amazing escape sequence as Snake fires a machine gun on a jeep into enemy patrols and Liquid, who is pursuing in a jeep of his own. The fight is notable for actually letting you fire the machine gun in first person mode, making it much easier to actually hit Liquid during the fight, although I wonder why the hell they didn’t let us shoot this way through the rest of the game as it would have helped matters quite a bit. All-in-all, Liquid makes for a fantastically smug final antagonist and is easily one of the greatest villains in the entire franchise, despite only appearing in this game (although Kojima has admitted that he would have kept him alive if he had realized that the series was going to continue).**

STORY & CHARACTER ANALYSIS

With the stronger emphasis on storytelling, Metal Gear Solid finally reaches a point where the specifics of the plot and characters actually drive the game forward. Solid Snake certainly made great strides in this regard, but Metal Gear Solid has a much more involved and interesting story to tell which is, in a lot of ways, more interesting than the sorts of blockbuster films that the game seems to emulate. This is in part due to the fact that Metal Gear Solid is not content to just tell a straightforward B-movie story (like Solid Snake did), but rather tries to add some depth and feature a couple key themes. Foremost amongst these is the question of whether a person’s fate is controlled by their genes. A number of characters’ actions are defined based on the way that they perceive this question, and much of the plot is advanced based on their changing beliefs.

Naomi Hunter is probably the most obvious example of a character who fits squarely into the “genes theme”. Naomi is a doctor and states that she got into her field because she was a war orphan. She grew up with no knowledge of her biological family or native land, leaving her with no connection to her past. By going into the field of biology, Naomi was able to look directly into her genes to study her specific legacy in exact detail. Through this study, she developed a belief that a person’s fate is built directly into their genes via their biological predispositions. This ties directly into her relationship with Solid Snake. Naomi is aware that Solid Snake is a genetically-modified clone of Big Boss, designed to be the ultimate soldier. As a result, she believes that Snake is an monstrous killer, especially after he kills her adopted brother, Frank Jaeger. Naomi sums this up rather succinctly when she declares to Snake that “It’s your genes, they make you predisposed to violence!”

However, over the course of the mission, Naomi’s perception of Snake begins to change. Her picture of Snake as an emotionless assassin is tested on a number of occasions as he begins to assert his own agency and begins to develop feelings for Meryl. Naomi is audibly shocked when Snake refuses to leave Meryl after she is wounded by Sniper Wolf, and when he resolves to save her life rather than continue onward with the mission. She also finds it surprising that Snake still considers Frank Jaeger a friend, despite having to kill him as part of a mission, which causes her to declare him an “animal”. However, when he encounters Gray Fox during the Shadow Moses incident, he demonstrates that he still considers him a friend and tries to help, showing that Zanzibar Land wasn’t a personal vendetta.

By the end of Metal Gear Solid, Snake’s actions have shown Naomi that her beliefs about genes were far too extreme, as he has proven that he creates his own fate. In the ending, Snake questions Naomi on when (or if) he can expect to succumb to FOXDIE, but Naomi refuses to give him a straight answer. Instead, she tells Snake that:

“You mustn’t allow yourself to be chained to fate, to be ruled by your genes. Human beings can choose the kind of life that they want to live. What’s important is that you choose life… and then live. […] Genes exist to pass down our hopes and dreams for the future through our children. Living is a link to the future. That’s how all life works. Loving each other, teaching each other… that’s how we can change the world. I finally realized it. The true meaning of life…”

Similarly to Naomi, Liquid is completely obsessed with his genes (despite having a wretched understanding of how they actually work). Liquid has been led to believe that, because he received Big Boss’s recessive genetic traits, he is therefore the inferior clone whereas Solid Snake’s dominant genes make him superior. As a result, he feels that both Solid Snake and Big Boss have robbed him of his future and forced him into obscurity. While he, like Naomi, believes that genes define an individual and set their fate, his entire life struggle revolves around fighting back against his fate regardless. Liquid also espouses the “Selfish Gene Theory“, claiming that he wishes to save Big Boss’s genetic successors from extinction – since Solid Snake, Liquid Snake and the Genome Soldiers are all based on Big Boss’s genetic code, they are all susceptible to the same diseases and lack the diversity necessary to adapt. Of course, he will do so by defeating Solid Snake, set himself up as the last son of Big Boss and diversify the Genome Soldiers to keep them from extinction.

In contrast, Solid Snake doesn’t care about his genes at all, but rather believes that he is free to do what he wants. Whether or not this is true is a major question throughout Metal Gear Solid and ties into the ending of Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake very well. If you remember, in the ending of Solid Snake, Big Boss tells Snake that whichever one of them comes out on top will be fated to fight forever, to which Snake claims that he will live his life however he chooses. However, by the time Metal Gear Solid rolls around, Snake is once again killing professionally. Psycho Mantis really brings this into perspective. In his dying monologue, he states that he hates humanity because all that they care about is sex, but that Snake is different. He is like Mantis, someone defined by violence who isn’t concerned with carrying on his genetic legacy. Furthermore, the reveal of the Genome Soldiers as genetic successors of Big Boss essentially means that Snake has been committing fratricide throughout the whole game. Whether or not Snake is truly in control of his fate is an ambiguous question for about the first third of the game due to his actions.

However, as the mission progresses, Snake begins to display more examples of agency. Initially, Snake tells Meryl that if she slows him down, he’ll kill her. However, Snake begins to develop feelings for Meryl as the mission goes on and refuses to finish her and carry on with the mission when she is wounded by Sniper Wolf. He also expresses genuine sorrow and weakness when Meryl is captured (and possibly killed), causing him to fight back in an effort to redeem himself. When Mantis insists that Snake is destined to kill Snake rebuffs this assertion, stating that “A strong man doesn’t need to read the future. He makes his own.” Snake also chides Naomi on a couple occasions, telling her that she is too worried about her past and what her genes say instead of living in the “now” and doing what you feel is right. Ultimately, despite now knowing his exact genetic legacy and facing down potential death as a result of FOXDIE, Snake finally asserts himself unequivocally as he decides to live, riding into the sunset with Meryl (or Otacon) into a bright future.

There are also a couple other aspects of the game which demonstrate the “genes theme”. FOXDIE itself is a pretty clear example, as it is a weapon which attacks a person based on their genes (put another way, it causes a target’s genes to literally decide their fate). Meryl also fits into the theme as she claims that she became a soldier in order to understand her father, who died in war when she was young.

Like most Metal Gear games, there is a strong anti-nuclear sentiment running throughout Metal Gear Solid, although this is the first game in the franchise to truly hammer these feelings home. This is expressed most obviously when Kenneth Baker tells Snake just how real the threat of nuclear attack is in this day and age, whenever Snake speaks with Otacon about the horrifying capabilities of Metal Gear REX, and whenever Snake calls Nastasha on the Codec – in a lot of ways, she seems to be Kojima’s espy to espouse his feelings about nuclear weaponry. The threat is also just ever prevalent throughout the narrative, with lots of reminders throughout the story stemming from the fact that Shadow Moses is a nuclear disposal facility (not to mention the giant, nuclear-equipped threat that is the primary threat in the plot).

Metal Gear Solid marks the first game in the franchise with that utilizes frequent and complex plot twists, a narrative trick that would become a series hallmark from this point onward. Unfortunately, some of these plot twist don’t hold up quite as well under scrutiny as the twists in later game in the series, which actually undermines the otherwise-engaging narrative. In addition to the aforementioned poor understanding of genetics which messes with the “Snake and Liquid are Big Boss’s clones” twist, Metal Gear Solid also revolves heavily around a major plot twist near the ending which throws the rest of the game for a loop. This is the reveal that FOXHOUND has manipulated Snake into activating Metal Gear REX using the PAL key system after making him believe that this will stop it from launching. It is honestly a rather cool idea for a twist and is set up cleverly throughout the story (such as having Decoy Octopus give you a lot of the early objectives while in disguise). Unfortunately, for each good set-up attempt, the game undermines it with some strange narrative decisions which I can’t chalk up to anything other than gaping plot holes. One problem with this is the fact that Psycho Mantis, Sniper Wolf and Vulcan Raven all seem to have been in on the plan, but yet all of them do try to kill Snake and are willing to sacrifice their lives for… some reason? Or what about all the myriad of ways that the FOXHOUND unit puts themselves and Snake in danger when they could have easily just put up minimal resistance, allowed Snake to reach Metal Gear and then have to fight off all of FOXHOUND together? Why do they even need Snake to activate the PAL system anyway? They had both Meryl and Kenneth Baker in custody and had already broken Baker under torture, could they not have gotten him to admit the location of the PAL key and how to activate it? Why did they need Snake at all? That’s not even the end of the plot holes unfortunately, because Otacon and Kenneth Baker are both under the impression that the PAL key will override the launch codes as well – how could they get this wrong? The game doesn’t really give us an explanation.

Luckily, the other twists are all handled in a far better fashion. The whole game sets up that there’s more to Naomi than meets the eye, so when it is revealed that she was a spy all along, her motivations and actions actually make sense. The twist regarding Master Miller is also rather clever, although I do have a hard time believing that Campbell and Snake would mistake Liquid Snake for Miller. The post-credits sequence also adds a ton of twists and manages to tie into subsequent games in the franchise surprisingly well. This scene alone lays the foundation for a number of future plot points, from the reveal of the third clone (Solidus), to the importance of Ocelot (who was really a seemingly-minor character here) and the reveal that Snake is actually the inferior clone. Considering how the Metal Gear franchise was clearly cobbled together piece by piece, it’s interesting how these plot points and some future retcons tie in so well and actually make Metal Gear Solid‘s story feel even richer in retrospect (particularly the identities of the DARPA Chief and Dr. Clark).

It’s also worth noting that Metal Gear Solid throws in a huge retcon with surprising deftness. This would be the reveal that Solid Snake knew that he was the son of Big Boss, a plot element which many of us who didn’t play the first two Metal Gear games would have assumed was revealed there. However, this is not the case and it is only casually brought up by Snake here in a codec call. While this doesn’t contradict Metal Gear or Solid Snake, it does make it rather odd that Snake or Big Boss wouldn’t bring up their familial relationship during the battle and it does make it rather unclear exactly when Snake became aware of this – all we know for certain is that it was sometime before he killed Big Boss, meaning that it either happened prior to Metal Gear or sometime off-screen just before the battle in Solid Snake. Not that I should really nitpick it all that much, as it was an inspired retcon which also makes the previous 2 Metal Gear games’ narratives richer and would open up some fantastic future plot points.

Moving on to the characters, Metal Gear Solid definitely has one of the best casts of characters in the entire franchise. Every character has a very interesting and distinct personality, from the protagonists, to the villains, to the support staff. In fact, it’s quite impressive that the support staff get a ton of interaction within the plot, whereas in basically every other Metal Gear game they tend to be relegated to exposition dumps or hint sources. The only expendable support staff member is Nastasha, as you can easily play through the whole game without ever contacting her if you don’t want to. That said, she still is a very interesting and well-rounded character who, unfortunately, disappears after this game. She has some background importance within Sons of Liberty, but I was quite disappointed when she was left out of Guns of the Patriots entirely, making her basically the only surviving character from the Solid games to be left out of the series’ conclusion.

As for the villains though, we’re absolutely spoiled with a wealth of fantastic antagonists. As I wrote earlier, Liquid Snake is easily one of the best villains in the entire franchise, with his imposing figure, clever strategy and his relationship with Snake setting him up as a natural match. However, his supporting crew are all just as memorable. Revolver Ocelot is already quite interesting as the cowboy-and-torture-loving sadist, and that’s before we even find out that he has chronic backstabbing disorder. Psycho Mantis is extremely interesting and unique, but is really pushed into the upper echelons of villains in the franchise due to his fantastic dying monologue (not to mention his tragic final words: “This is the first time I’ve ever used my power to help someone. It’s strange… it feels… kind of… nice”). The same goes for Sniper Wolf – she is incredibly interesting due to her code of honour and her extremely tragic backstory and you really feel for her by the time that Snake is forced to kill her.*** Vulcan Raven is probably the strangest FOXHOUND member, but he is quite badass when he runs around after you with his minigun and his dying monologue is interesting (although not nearly as good as Wolf or Mantis’). All-in-all, Metal Gear Solid easily has the best cast of villains in the entire franchise, none of the other games even come close to recapturing the personality of the FOXHOUND unit.

Metal Gear Solid‘s key players are all also quite well defined. Snake continues to be a really great lead, and now that he has much more dialogue (with great voice acting to go along with it), he comes across as being exceptionally badass with a ton of personality. Meryl has a great emotional journey as she wrestles with her desire to become a soldier and understand her dead father, while also falling for Snake over the course of the mission. I was really feeling for her and this was a primary motivator for me to not submit to Ocelot’s torture… no matter how much that part frustrated the hell out of me. Otacon is also an inspired addition to the cast. He starts out as a lovable loser who pisses himself and hides at the sight of danger, but as the plot progresses he gains his own type of unique courage and even offers to sacrifice himself to allow Snake and Meryl a chance to escape the island before it is nuked. Gray Fox is also quite interesting and is wisely used in a very sparing fashion, making him into an effective wildcard. You can never be sure when exactly he may show up, but when he does show up you know something insane is going to go down.

Also, before I wrap things up, I have to give special mention to some of the fantastic lines in Metal Gear Solid. While the writing can be awkward at times (the line about ending up as “worm food” stands out as being incredibly strange to me for whatever reason), there are some really inspired moments, many of which have become personal anthems of sorts. Here are just a few of the great character moments captured in the dialogue:

Otacon: “Snake… What was she fighting for? What am I fighting for? What are you fighting for?”

Solid Snake: “There are no heroes in war. The only heroes I know are either dead or in prison. One or the other.”
Meryl Silverburgh: “But Snake, you’re a hero, aren’t you?”
Solid Snake: “I’m just a man who’s good at what he does: Killing.”

Solid Snake: “Never doubt yourself. Just let it make you stronger. Learn something from it!”

Sniper Wolf: “I finally understand. I wasn’t waiting to kill people, I was waiting for someone to kill me. A man like you. You’re a hero.”

Gray Fox: “We’re not tools of the government or anyone else. Fighting was the only thing I was good at, but at least I always fought for what I believed in.”

All-in-all, despite a terribly inadequate camera, a wonky plot twist and a infuriating torture sequence, Metal Gear Solid is a landmark game well-deserving of the praise it has had heaped upon it since its release. It take the already-great foundation established by Solid Snake and improves upon it in nearly every way, making it significantly more accessible, while also introducing fantastic new cinematic elements, telling a very engrossing story and featuring some very ambitious, action-packed gameplay. There’s a good reason why this game is still so highly regarded to this day. If you can get used to the camera and try not to worry too much about the big twist, then you’re going to have a hell of a time with Metal Gear Solid. It’s truly a masterpiece of gaming excellence.

9.5/10

*Note that I include codec calls in this umbrella definition, especially when a pair of cutscenes are interrupted by a codec call – you don’t get to take control again and at that point it’s basically just a part of the cutscene.
**Personally I’m glad that Kojima did kill Liquid here. This is actually the nice thing about having the franchise’s story get put together over time – we get cool, one-off villains with a lot of importance to the overarching plot without having to involve them in every event.
***Although she could stand to button up her shirt, it’s cold in Alaska!!!

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Retrospective: Metal Gear 2 – Solid Snake (1990)

Welcome back to the Metal Gear retrospective! In this entry we’re going to cover the second canonical game in the franchise, 1990’s Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. How would Kojima build upon the foundation he set up in 1987’s Metal Gear? Read on to find out…

(Similarly to the first game in the series, I will be reviewing Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake based on the HD Edition re-release on PS3 on Original difficulty. Also, unlike Metal Gear, which I had gotten about 30 minutes into on a couple occasions, I went into this game completely blind and relied heavily on a guide to complete it.)

DEVELOPMENT
The NES port of Metal Gear ended up becoming a big success for Konami, despite being an inferior bastardization of the MSX version. As a result, Konami ordered the creation of a NES-only sequel, Metal Gear 2: Snake’s Revenge, without the knowledge of series creator Hideo Kojima, who had been busy stretching his storytelling and directing talents on the cult classic Snatcher series. In fact, Kojima didn’t even know that Snake’s Revenge existed until a fateful train ride where he met a member of the game’s development staff. In the meeting, the developer asked Kojima to make a “true” Metal Gear sequel. While he hadn’t planned on making a sequel to Metal Gear, by the end of the train ride Kojima had come up with the game’s storyline and got the go-ahead from Konami. As a result, Solid Snake was considered the Japanese sequel on MSX2 and Snake’s Revenge was considered the North American sequel on NES (similarly to how Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels was the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2). In fact, the game would not see an official release in North America until 2006 when it was included in Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence.

PLOT SUMMARY
The year is 1999. The Cold War is drawing to a close, and nations seem to be moving towards universal nuclear disarmament. However, the mercenary nation of Zanzibar Land, begin attacking weapon disposal sites and take them for themselves in order to become the world’s greatest nuclear power. Meanwhile, an energy crisis grips the world as oil stocks plummet. At the height of the crisis, a scientist named Dr. Kio Marv creates an algae, OILIX, which synthesizes petroleum-grade fuel efficiently. Before he can present these findings to the international community though, he is kidnapped by agents from Zanzibar Land and held hostage. As a result, Zanzibar holds the world’s fuel supplies and its nuclear weapons, making it the greatest threat to international security ever known.

With the fate of the world in the balance, a PTSD-suffering Solid Snake is forced out of retirement to save the world by the new leader of FOXHOUND, Colonel Campbell. Infiltrating the Zanzibar Land complexes in search of Kio Marv, Snake is contacted by CIA agent Holly White who offers to help him during the mission. He follows Kio Marv’s transmitter signal, but is ambushed by a man calling himself “Black Ninja”. Snake defeats him, but is shocked to discover that Black Ninja is Kyle Schneider, the leader of the resistance against Outer Heaven 4 years earlier. Schneider reveals that NATO bombed Outer Heaven after Snake’s mission was complete, causing staggering amounts of collateral damage which killed many resistance members indiscriminately. Schneider himself was captured and used as a research guinea pig for NASA. He reveals that he was saved by the leader of Zanzibar Land and tells Snake to “follow the green beret” before succumbing to his wounds.

Following Schneider’s dying advice, Snake follows a man in a green beret into the jungle to a prison cell. The cell is empty, but Snake hears someone knocking from the next room over. Snake translates the tap code and discovers Dr. Drago Pettrovich Madnar is the one in the next cell. Madnar reveals that he has been captured to construct a new Metal Gear for Zanzibar Land, Metal Gear D. He also reveals that the leader of Zanzibar Land is none other than Big Boss. Madnar advises Snake not to worry about him and to search for Kio Marv as quickly as he can.

Snake then tries to make his way towards Zanzibar tower. In the process, he encounters a speedy mercenary named Running Man, who tries to kill Snake with poisonous gas as he stays out of Snake’s reach. However, Snake outsmarts him and places landmines in his path, killing him. Snake then heads towards the Zanzibar tower after acquiring Stinger Missiles, encountering and destroying a Hind D along the way. Snake then has to rescue Holly, who is captured by Zanzibar Land forces, but she tells him that there is a carrier pigeon at the top of the tower that has info on Marv’s whereabouts. After defeating a mercenary named Red Blaster, Snake locates the pigeon which has Marv’s radio frequency written on a note. Unfortunately, Marv doesn’t speak english, so Madnar suggests that Snake search for Czechoslovakian state security agent, Gustava Heffner, who was Marv’s bodyguard and is undercover in the facility.

Snake manages to locate Gustava, who is posing as an enemy soldier. The pair descend into the sewers and manage to rescue Dr. Madnar as they make their way to Marv’s cell. Madnar stops for a quick bathroom break while Gustava tells Snake about her past in Olympic figure skating and how she wanted to defect to the west to be with her fiance, Frank Hunter, but was denied asylum. When Madnar returns, the trio continue on their way and exit the sewers. However, when they attempt to cross a bridge to reach the detention camp, Gustava is mortally wounded when Metal Gear D, piloted by Gray Fox, suddenly shows up and destroys the bridge. Madnar is captured again and a dying Gustava gives Snake her brooch for unexplained reasons as Gray Fox gives Snake one last chance to turn around with his life.

Snake manages to get ahold of a hang glider to cross the destroyed bridge and battles a series of Zanzibar Land mercenaries, the Four Horsemen, Jungle Evil and Night Fright. Eventually, Snake is able to make his way into the detention facility and reach Dr. Madnar and Dr. Marv’s cell. However, he arrives too late – Marv has succumbed to torture and died. Holly then calls Snake and warns him that Madnar was not captured by Zanzibar Land, he joined them willingly. With the truth out, Madnar admits to accidentally killing Dr. Marv and ordering Gray Fox to attack them at the bridge. Madnar then attacks Snake and tries to strangle him, but Snake wounds him with remote controlled missiles. Snake manages to open a locker in the cell by using Gustava’s brooch as a key and retrieves the OILIX formula.

Before he can leave with the formula, Snake falls down a trap door where he confronts Gray Fox in Metal Gear D. Gray Fox tries to kill Snake, but Snake destroys Metal Gear by blowing its weakly-armoured legs up with grenades. However, Snake is forced to discard all his weapons as the explosion lights them on fire. Fox then leads Snake into a room ringed by land mines, where Snake discovers that Gray Fox is Frank Hunter, the man who was engaged to Gustava. Snake and Gray Fox then engage in a fist fight, with Snake beating Fox to death, with his last words of comfort being that Fox would get to see Gustava again on the other side and that they could finally be united.

Snake then is confronted by Big Boss. Snake tells his former commander that he intends to kill him to rid himself of the nightmares he has suffered due to the operation in Outer Heaven. Big Boss says that he and Snake have tasted battle and can’t go back to normal life anymore. The only way they can feel alive is on the battlefield. He and Snake would face one another, with the victor being fated to fight while the loser will finally find peace. Big Boss then pursues Snake, but Snake manages to create an improvised flamethrower using a lighter and aerosol spray can, burning Big Boss alive as he screams in rage. Snake and Holly then fight their way out of Zanzibar Land and to their extraction point. Snake and Holly hand over the OILIX formula to the government, and the world celebrates the end of the energy crisis. However, Snake claims that his fight is over and retires for a second time, disappearing without a trace…


GAMEPLAY & DESIGN
As soon as you boot up Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, it’s easy to tell that the game is a big leap forward from the original Metal Gear. For one thing, the game has an awesome opening soundtrack and cinematic for a game from this period, which shows off how much Kojima’s storytelling prowess has improved between Metal Gear and Snatcher. The opening cinematic hypes up Metal Gear D really well and actually lays down a rather interesting and (at the time) relevant backstory which contextualizes the game’s story quite well. As for the game itself, the graphics have significantly improved since Metal Gear, despite having the exact same hardware limitations. I felt that Snake looked really terrible in Metal Gear, with his character model being noticeably less-detailed than the enemies around him. However, in Solid Snake, he looks quite well-defined and even has a turning animation which is an unexpected extra attention to detail. If you need a better illustration of the improvements in Solid Snake, it’s kind of like the graphical difference between Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3.

After this initial impression fades away though, the game has other aspects which are straight-up improvements on the formula established in the first game. For one thing, the silly respawning items seem to have been fixed. They do respawn occasionally when you leave an area , but you can’t farm them with nearly as much ease as you could in the first game. Considering that this exploit in Metal Gear was likely a hardware limitation, it’s impressive that they were able to get rid of it here, especially since Solid Snake is such a significantly larger and more ambitious game. The game also has a radar, which shows you enemies within all adjacent screens (basically giving you a view of 8 whole screens, in addition to the one you occupy). This is a very impressive addition which makes sneaking all the more strategic and potentially more difficult. Alerts and guards are persistent unless you enter certain locked rooms, meaning that you can’t just sprint to the next screen to escape an alert anymore, and enemies won’t instantly respawn as soon as you walk back onto their screen. You can also make noise by walking on certain types of flooring, or intentionally lure guards by punching walls, which is a great strategic option and makes the minute-to-minute sneaking more interesting.

Oh, and they’ve added a crawling mechanic! SCORE.

These additions to Solid Snake make it a more engaging stealth game than the original Metal Gear, but they also make it quite a bit more challenging. Having persistent alert phases makes escape quite difficult, especially since enemies will pursue you relentlessly. Worse, enemies spawn from exit points and your radar gets jammed during alerts. As a result, you can be a step away from freedom when an enemy will appear out of nowhere and get the whole alert going all over again. At times, getting through an alert can feel like a matter of dumb luck. The lack of gradient to an alert phase is also an annoyance – you can set up an ambush for an enemy, but if he suddenly turns at the last second then the alert is instant and everyone in the area is going to come after you. Not having any warning on when they might change direction makes this kind of approach dangerous. There is an exploit to quickly and safely end an alert phase though, which I used copiously throughout my playtime – when spotted, immediately enter a small room and then stand just off from the entrance. Enemies will enter single file every few seconds, but if you just spam the punch button you will catch them all off guard and not even get spotted.

That said, guards are much smarter than they were in Metal Gear. For one thing, they now have vision cones rather than vision lines, and if they’re on the same screen as Snake, then they can potentially spot you from the opposite side of the screen. This makes stealth much more skillful and difficult to pull off successfully. When spotted, they move far less erratically than before as well, usually heading straight towards you without running into pathfinding issues. They also have some tricks in certain areas, such as guards who can turn off the lights so you can’t see where you’re going without night vision goggles, or the guards who hide in a room full of dummies!

The game does have some other small touches which improve on the systems from Metal Gear. For one thing, gas rooms are far more infrequent and are less infuriating with the addition of the O2 meter. This means that you get a small grace period before your health begins to drain, making these sections much funner to go through. The game will also fully heal you after you finish a boss battle which is nice, and it seems that certain boss battles have replaced the “class” system from Metal Gear, providing you with equipment and health bar upgrades. This is a better system in my mind, since most POWs were hidden away in elusive places, whereas adding rewards for narrative completion is more sensible and easy to design encounters around. The gameplay is also a little more diverse, with some puzzle-solving, a section where you have to follow a soldier without getting detected, and a room full of sleeping guards that you have to be careful not to wake up. These additions help to make the minute-to-minute gameplay just a little more interesting.

Even some of the more annoying aspects of Metal Gear which have carried over to Solid Snake have been refined. The checkpoint system is basically identical to the first game, with it only activating when entering a new area. However, this game has far more access to new areas, so checkpoints seem to be much more frequent and death results in much less lost gameplay in my experience. Solid Snake also retains the crappy key card system from the first game, but with a welcome change: after acquiring a certain number of key cards, you can exchange them for a red, blue and/or a green key card which has the functionalities of three normal cards in one. While this is a welcome improvement, it suggests to me that Kojima knew that key card swapping was an inherent problem with the game, but decided to keep them in anyway for design convenience. If this is the case, then it rubs me the wrong way… especially because it’s basically the only reason why backtracking exists in this game (but I’ll get to that soon enough).

It’s also worth pointing out that Solid Snake might be the silliest Metal Gear game in the whole franchise. Here are just a few selected examples:

  • At one point in the game, Snake has to comically chase a carrier pigeon around the roof.
  • You can play a recording of the Zanzibar Land national anthem to cause enemy soldiers to salute you instead of attacking.
  • There’s a room full of dummies that look like enemy soldiers, just to make you nearly shit your pants when you first walk in.
  • You have to hatch an owl egg and then getting it to hoot in order to convince an idiotic guard that it’s night time (somehow).
  • There’s a room full of vicious rats which can kill Snake with ease (somehow).
  • Oh, and you defeat Big Boss with a slapstick improvised weapon.

The game also has some fourth wall-breaking moments, such as requiring you to check the game manual to decode a tap code or to figure out the frequencies of the various support characters (although this was likely included to give a middle finger to pirates, since you have almost no direction on where to go or what to do without these support characters). The silliness makes Solid Snake very funny at times and definitely had me laughing out loud on more than one occasion.

Fans of the franchise would also be interested to hear that Kojima directly ripped off some elements of Solid Snake and re-purposed them for Metal Gear Solid, including some of that game’s most iconic moments. A small list of examples (not including moments that I would deem “homages” to Solid Snake) includes checking the back of the box for a radio frequency, the elevator ambush, a comically-long stair run, temperature-based keys and even tailing a woman disguised as a soldier into the ladies’ washroom. For fans who have never played Solid Snake before, it can be quite interesting to see what parts Kojima re-purposed, although it does slightly diminish their uniqueness.

I feel it’s also worth pointing out that Solid Snake is a much lengthier game than Metal Gear. This is mainly due to the more refined and engaging gameplay, not to mention that the mission objectives in general just result in a longer, more enjoyable experience. With a detailed guide, the game took me about 4 and a half hours to beat, although with continues I imagine that it’s closer to the 5 or 6 hour mark.

Solid Snake‘s one huge negative though is the unforgivably ridiculous amount of backtracking. Most egregiously, you have to backtrack all the way to the start of the game at least 3 or 4 times in order to finish the game, which just reeks of attempting to pad out the runtime. You also don’t usually have a good idea of where to go if you don’t have a guide, meaning that you might backtrack to an area just trying to figure out what the hell you’re supposed to do next. Oh and you also have to backtrack through a really annoying swamp maze on a couple different occasions. Basically, there’s a narrow maze that you have to go through which is hidden underneath the surface of a swamp. This would be a minor annoyance if it was just a 1-screen-maze, but this swamp stretches across 7 or 8 screens. Without a map, you’re going to be sinking as you trial-and-error your way through and then try to remember the exact pattern the next few times you are forced through this swamp again. Hardcore retro gamers: is it really so bad that modern games will let us know where we’re supposed to go? Is wandering around in directionless frustration worth the small satisfaction that comes from accidentally stumbling upon a solution to the problem? Frustrating design decisions like this just turn the very act of playing into a chore.

The game’s punching mechanics are also a bit of a negative point. I don’t think that they’re much different than they were in Metal Gear, but the much harsher punishment for detection makes their imprecise nature a bigger problem. Specifically, the direction you punch in is a major factor in your success or failure. The game is clearly designed around having Snake punch downwards or to the sides and his punches in these directions all have a surprisingly long reach. However, when punching upwards, Snake’s punches all of a sudden have much shorter reach, meaning that you have to poke out further to hit enemies, meaning that you are likely to get spotted while trying to set up an ambush. Considering that most of the stealth gameplay revolves around hiding around a corner and bashing enemies when they get close, this is a real frustration and eventually I was just avoiding having to punch enemies above me on the screen entirely. If I needed to take them out, then it feels like the silenced pistol is my only viable option.

Luckily, the bosses in the game are much more interesting and challenging than they were in Metal Gear. Most could be downed with a half dozen bullets, but the bosses in Solid Snake have more health, recognizable attack patterns and some sort of exploitable gameplay twist that you can take advantage of to pull through. Most of these bosses were quite fun to fight, although none of them were all that challenging (I have heard that many people find Gray Fox very hard, but I beat him on my first attempt after taking a negligible amount of damage). I think my favourite fights were the battle with Black Ninja, Running Man, the Four Horsemen, Metal Gear D and Dr. Madnar (just because he made me laugh out loud).

The Hind D is the only boss battle which left me very frustrated. Once you understand its movement and attack pattern, which always moves in the exact same way, avoiding damage is laughably easy. However, the method to destroy it is the problem. First of all, after encountering it you have to backtrack to the start of the game to acquire Stinger Missiles, which instantly makes it an annoyance. Secondly, you only get 6 Stinger Missiles, and you need 4 to connect to actually destroy it. Thirdly, the method to destroy it isn’t really well explained and can lead to some bafflement as you wonder whether or not you did any damage. Basically, you get a crosshair on the radar which you need to line up with the Hind’s radar blip to score a hit. I thought that I had to center this crosshair over the Hind to cause damage, which would have made more sense, but the actual way to hit it is to get the Hind inside of the edge of the crosshairs and then fire so that the Hind runs into the rocket. It’s a system that isn’t well explained and made me just committing in-game suicide a few times to avoid having to run all the way back to the beginning of the game to get more ammo to try again. That said, by my 3rd try, I beat it while only using 4 rockets and not getting hit once, so you can get a handle on it… it’s just the “getting a handle on it” that’s the annoying part.

STORY & CHARACTER ANALYSIS
As I mentioned in the previous section, Solid Snake opens with a rather interesting and elaborate backstory cinematic touching on such relevant topics from the time as the end of the Cold War and energy supply concerns. The game’s opening area also suggests a much more futuristic design than the first game, with Zanzibar Land’s trucks appearing to be from some sort of sci-fi movie rather than a 90s-era military tale. These sorts of design decisions quite subtly suggest an advanced, near-future society unlike our own. Between the opening cinematic and the design elements that appear in the opening moments of the game, Solid Snake sketches out a rather compelling setting which is still engaging 15 years after its release, and must have been mind-blowing when it first dropped.

Due to the much more fleshed-out narrative though, Solid Snake retcons and twists the relatively simple Metal Gear storyline almost immediately. For one thing, Snake having PTSD is never really even hinted at as a factor in Metal Gear, as it seems like he didn’t really face that many true horrors. The very first boss fight hammers the retcons and twists home as well, as the Black Ninja ends up being former ally Kyle Schneider. While Big Boss was obviously just meant to be the cackling bad guy in Metal Gear, Schneider paints a far more nuanced and sympathetic view of him which ends up being more in line with his portrayal in later games in the franchise. In addition, having a former ally (who was believed to have been killed) switch sides because of a callous bombing action (which was never suggested in Metal Gear) makes the events of the first game seem much darker.

Having Gray Fox as a villain is also a clear retcon because, if he was working for Big Boss before, then why would he have been captured in Metal Gear and then have Snake come in to complete his mission?* The only reasonable explanation I can come up with is that it’s possible that he didn’t realize that Big Boss was a traitor until Snake exposed him, at which point he he decided to stick with his commanding officer. In any case, it’s obviously meant to turn the narrative of Metal Gear on its head (much like the Kyle Schneider revelation), which is fine because Gray Fox makes for a great villain. He is clearly modeled to be the “anti-Snake” archetype, similar to other villains in the franchise, such as Liquid Snake in Metal Gear Solid, Python in Portable Ops or Skullface in The Phantom Pain. Gray Fox’s dying monologue is also a fantastic moment, nearly as impactful as the acclaimed Psycho Mantis and Sniper Wolf death monologues in Metal Gear Solid, although the shorter length and lack of voice acting are the only things holding it back.

Solid Snake also features some much more interesting characters than the first game. Snake himself actually has a bit more personality this time around, and his support staff interact with him far more often. The addition of radio pictures helps personalize everyone just a little more, since it actually puts a face to the various people dispensing information at you. While Holly White is an unfortunately boring and poorly defined generic love interest, I felt that Gustava Heffner was a very cool character with an interesting and sad backstory. In fact, despite her limited screentime in the game, I was legitimately heartbroken when Gustava was accidentally killed by her former lover. I also felt a little better for Gray Fox when he was dying, knowing that he and Gustava were finally going to be able to reunite in the afterlife, where borders and politics can no longer separate them. Fleshing out Big Boss was also a great idea, although I wish that they had done so earlier in the game – he doesn’t really get a chance to explain his ideology until the end of the game. In some ways, he still comes across as a cackling super villain, but I found the endorsements of the children in Zanzibar Land especially to soften his evil veneer in my eyes (even if he does plan on raising them as soldiers… but so what, he’s still helping people no one else cares for).

Oddly enough, some elements of the game’s story seem to have been shoved to the wayside in subsequent Metal Gear games. Obviously you can’t put Solid Snake to fault for this, but since most fans are going to come to them after playing the other entries in the series, it’s worth noting. For example, global nuclear disarmament is a notion which seems to disappear entirely by the time that Metal Gear Solid was released. Metal Gear Solid hints very subtly at disarmament talks, but it seems like Solid Snake‘s insistence that they were in a world on the brink peace is actually just a pipe dream. It seems like this idealistic notion is just thrown out the window or handwaved away as actually being far more simple than we were led to believe, with small-scale nuclear disarmament. There’s also no mention of OILIX in subsequent Metal Gear games, despite it being hyped as the solution to the game’s sudden energy crisis. It’s also definitely worth mentioning that the showdown between Solid Snake and Big Boss is a little anti-climactic, especially in relation to how it is hyped up as this epic clash in subsequent Metal Gear games. For people who come to the this entry after playing the newer Metal Gear games, this is a revelation which will likely disappoint fans of the 20th century’s greatest soldier.

That said, Solid Snake is still well worth experiencing, as it makes some plot elements from Metal Gear Solid much stronger, particularly Snake and Gray Fox’s relationship. I can now truly appreciate and understand that Gray Fox’s forced resurrection is basically torture and makes his madness throughout Metal Gear Solid much more understandable (that said, it also makes his role in Portable Ops unforgivable, but we’ll get to that another time…). It’s also very cool seeing recurring characters show up here, such as Colonel Campbell and “Master” Kazuhira Miller. Of course, the narrative is still rather shallow, and is basically just an elaborate and interesting b-level action story, but it is quite engaging for what it is (and considerably better than many games of the time).

Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake is a fantastic 8-bit experience that I heartily recommend trying out. My only real complaints are that enemies spot you a little bit too easily, the backtracking required is absolutely ridiculous and the game’s puzzles can be rather obtuse. If you haven’t played it, then this common summary turned out to be quite apt: it’s like playing Metal Gear Solid in 2D… or, more accurately, playing Metal Gear Solid is like playing a more refined, 3D version of Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. This game was definitely way ahead of its time and is worth checking out if you have any interest in the 8-bit Metal Gear games.

8.5/10

*The Phantom Pain‘s twist can now be used as an excuse for this to make sense, but that clearly wasn’t intended when Solid Snake was released. What I mean is that, when Solid Snake came out, this plot element was just intended to be a straight retcon of the situation from Metal Gear.
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Retrospective: Metal Gear (1987)

Kept you waiting, huh? It’s finally time for the Metal Gear retrospective! I’ve spent way too much time over the past few months getting through every canonical game in the franchise and then writing up my analyses, so hopefully you enjoy the fruits of my labour. For this retrospective, we’ll be only looking at the 11 canonical installments in the Metal Gear franchise, and then I’ll cap everything off with some final words, a ranking of the series’ 10 greatest moments and my personal ranking of all the games in the franchise! First up is the game which started it all, 1987’s Metal Gear for the MSX2.

(Note, I will be reviewing this game based on the HD Edition re-release on PS3, which I beat on Original difficulty to try to get the “authentic experience”. I will also mention that I hadn’t completed Metal Gear before this playthrough and was relying heavily on a guide, so my review is probably going to be somewhat skewed as a result.)

DEVELOPMENT
A young Hideo Kojima joined Konami in 1986 as a planner, but was having trouble getting his ideas completed. After the cancellation of a game he had been working on for six months, Konami asked Kojima to come up with a war game for them for the MSX2. Due to hardware limitations, Kojima was becoming frustrated by the lack of bullet and enemy sprites he was able to get on screen at once. A massive film buff*, Kojima took inspiration from The Great Escape and decided to make a game where the goal was to avoid combat as much as possible. Konami wasn’t too keen on this idea, and Kojima nearly left the company due to internal friction, but eventually these differences were sorted out and the game was completed and released in 1987.

Shortly after Metal Gear‘s completion, the game’s code was given to a separate team to release a NES port without Kojima’s knowledge or consent. The heads at Konami specified that they wanted this version to be as different as the team could make it, and gave them a 3 month development window. The resulting game was markedly different and much shoddier, with notoriously bad Engrish and with the game’s Metal Gear boss being replaced by a supercomputer, among other questionable changes. This already-inferior port was further tarnished by being ported again to the shoddier Commodore 64 and MS-DOS, resulting in two practically unplayable versions of the game.

As I played the PS3 re-release, which is very slightly changed from the MSX2 version, I can’t really give much commentary on the NES port or its bastards, but I will link to this review for an analysis if you’re interested. For quite some time though, the NES port was the only version of Metal Gear available in North America, and actually received its own non-canon sequel, Metal Gear 2: Snake’s Revenge. Suffice to say, that game will not be covered in this retrospective.

PLOT SUMMARY
In 1995, intelligence reports begin to leak out that there a weapon of mass destruction has been constructed within Outer Heaven, a mercenary fortress in South Africa. The US government gets Big Boss to send FOXHOUND operative Gray Fox to infiltrate their fortress and determine if their intelligence was correct. Gray Fox does locate the weapon, but is captured by Outer Heaven forces, his last transmission being an ominous utterance of “Metal Gear…”

Shortly after, FOXHOUND member Solid Snake is sent into Outer Heaven for his first mission by Big Boss. He is instructed to locate and rescue Gray Fox and then find what he can about Metal Gear. After freeing many prisoners of war, including the local resistance leader Kyle Schneider, Snake is pointed to Gray Fox’s location. He is intentionally captured and then breaks into Fox’s cell, where he is told of Metal Gear’s capabilities: it is a walking, nuclear-equipped tank, but luckily is still inactive. Fox instructs Snake to locate Metal Gear’s captive creator, Dr. Pettrovich Madnar, in order to discover how to destroy it.

After fighting his way through Outer Heaven, including taking down some of the group’s lieutenants, a Hind D, a battle tank, a bulldozer and an imposter Dr. Madnar, Snake makes his way to the real Dr. Madnar’s cell with the help of the resistance member, Jennifer. However, Dr. Madnar refuses to help Snake until his daughter, Ellen, is saved. A resistance member, Diane, advises Snake on where to find Ellen, and he dutifully hurries to rescue her. After fighting through more of Outer Heaven’s soldiers, Ellen is rescued and Snake returns to Dr. Madnar. He tells Snake that Metal Gear is in the 100th basement floor 20km north and would need to place plastic explosives on its feet in a specific order to destroy it.

Determined to complete his mission, Snake hurries to Metal Gear’s hangar, but is constantly ambushed by enemy troops and nearly led into a series of traps due to poor intelligence from Big Boss. Eventually, Big Boss orders him to abort the mission entirely. Disregarding Big Boss’s orders, Snake enters Metal Gear TX-55’s hangar and places the explosives on its feet as per Dr. Madnar’s orders. Metal Gear is destroyed and a self-destruct sequence is initiated. Snake hurries to escape, but is confronted by Big Boss! Big Boss tells him that Snake had been sent in to acquire false information, but he had gone too far. The pair fight, but Snake defeats his mentor and escapes Outer Heaven just as the facility is destroyed.

However, as the credits draw to a close, Big Boss vows revenge on Snake for destroying Outer Heaven…

 
GAMEPLAY & DESIGN

It should probably go without saying that Metal Gear‘s gameplay is incredibly simple, but I was actually really surprised by how many of the series’ distinctive elements were still intact here. For example, Metal Gear has remote control missiles, cigarettes, rations, card keys, a Hind D, post-credit twist and even the cardboard box – elements which would be intact through most (or, in some cases, all) subsequent releases in the franchise. As a result, this lends the game a sense of familiarity for someone like me who got into the series with Metal Gear Solid, and makes it quite interesting to see how the game’s systems were iterated upon over time.

Naturally, the stealth gameplay is incredibly simple – enemies and cameras can basically only see things that are right in front of them and you’re going to be punching most enemies to death to sneak around. A methodical approach is very much necessary though, especially in the early moments in the game as you are still learning how to remain undetected. I was trying to rush at times (especially when I died and redid a section), but when I did so I was making all sorts of little, critical errors which would get me killed all over again. As a result, the game has a very clear skill gap which rewards replays, similar to many 8-bit classics of the era.

Rewarding replays also ties into the map layouts. The game gives you very little direction and lacks a map system, so you’re probably going to end up wandering around a lot if you don’t have a guide. It’s also worth noting that most items and enemies refresh when you exit a room, so you can farm for necessary items by entering and exiting rooms. This is, in fact, a crucial key to success, and a factor which I was ignoring in my noob-ness in the first hour with the game. Once I figured this out though, the game became significantly easier and I enjoyed it much more. Guide-less exploration also helps to memorize map layouts and these critical item locations. While the game contains quite a bit of “Metroidvania”-style backtracking, it becomes rather satisfying to be able to navigate throughout the buildings to get to a specific destination without having to refer to a guide or map to get you through. There are quite a few parts of the game though where you need to punch specific walls to figure out where to place plastic explosives in order to advance, and if you are unaware of this then I imagine that these sections can be quite frustrating.

There is definitely a vein of old-school charm to be had in Metal Gear, but it also has a punishing skill gap which is going to be a major turn-off for many who might not even get past the first 15 minutes. I myself was tempted to throw in the towel a few times. The game can be very difficult, especially in the first part of the game where every death can cost you 10-15 minutes of playtime. This is primarily due to the game’s poor checkpoint system, which only triggers when you reach an elevator or achieve some sort of major progress (eg, getting captured in order to rescue Gray Fox). From what I understand, the frequency of the checkpoint system is also tied to your “Class”, a system which also increases your inventory size and health bar based on how many POWs you rescue during the game. This system further makes the early parts of the game significantly harder than the latter sections, but can also make completion of the game impossible – if you don’t have 4 stars and there are no POWs left, then it becomes impossible to destroy Metal Gear, prompting a full-restart. To make this worse, one of the last bosses that you might before Metal Gear uses POWs as human shields, and if you shoot a POW, your class will decrease.

Detection is also very punishing, if only due to the inadequate shooting controls on the MSX2. Snake can only shoot up, down, left and right, meaning that there are huge chunks of the screen which he can’t hit. Considering that enemies can shoot diagonally and move very fast and very erratically, chances are that you’re probably going to take quite a bit of damage on every detection. This is mitigated somewhat by having most alerts refresh as soon as you move on to the next screen, but this isn’t really a foolproof solution – for one thing, it makes the enemies seem extremely stupid, but it also is really inconsistently implemented. Sometimes detection results in enemies pursuing you constantly, with total annihilation of them being required to end the alert. However, you won’t know if this is the case until you have left the screen and the alert is still in effect, as there seems to be no audio or visual cue to show what state of alert is in effect.

Arguably the worst aspect of the game though is the reliance on key cards. This is a major source of frustration and is the main reason why the backtracking is so prevalent in the game (not to mention that it pads out the runtime significantly). The game has 8 unique key cards, so if you don’t know which card works for each door then you’re going to have to cycle through your entire inventory to see if a card will work on the door you’re trying to get into (and you may not even have the required card in your inventory, which is even more of a kick in the balls). Considering that you may be under fire when this is happening or in a room filled with poison gas (and not wearing your mask because you can only have 1 item equipped at a time), you can very easily die because of this inexcusable, frustrating piece of archaic game design.

The game’s graphics are also pretty bad. This is actually more than a petty complaint (although the graphical style is strikingly reminiscent of the notoriously bad Bible Adventures game), because the graphical design does a poor job of letting you know when you’re in danger. For example, the security cameras can be annoyingly inconsistent – normally you have to hide behind cover to avoid them, but I had a few instances where I was certain that I was in cover but would get spotted anyway. The land mines are also major offenders here, as I was constantly stepping on land mines… with my upper torso. I had a quite a few inexplicably cheap deaths from the game’s ambiguity about whether you’re safe or not. The absolute worst offender in the game though is the infamous “trap rooms” in the late stage of the game – these floor traps are one-hit kills and if even 1 pixel of your character model brushes against them, you die. There’s basically no warning when or where these traps show up, so getting through them is just a matter of frustrating trial, error and route memorization as you try to remember the few places where you won’t get killed if a single pixel touches the edge of the pits.

Guards in this game are incredibly stupid. In addition to completely forgetting you if you leave their screen most of the time, when they are alerted they will run around randomly and bump into objects as they try to home in on you, meaning you can hide behind a corner and punch them to death easily when they finally manage to get to you. When they are unaware though, they follow a standard, set patrol pattern which will feel instantly familiar to Metal Gear franchise vets and makes for some fun gameplay. The game also features jetpack enemies, which can be panic-inducing the first few times you encounter them. They’re very fast and hard to actually hit, making combat with them inadvisable. Luckily, they only show up at parts where you should run like hell away from them, but if you aren’t following a guide then I imagine they could be a major headache.

The game also has quite a few distinct bosses which, while very simple and easy, are quite fun and often feature the signature Metal Gear gameplay-twists that make these battles so exciting… plus in the original release they have some pretty hilarious Engrish names like Shoot Gunner and Coward Duck. I think my favourites were the fights against a tank and the fight with Shotmaker (aka Shoot Gunner), in which you start the battle with no weapons. Also of note is that the MSX version of the game has a showdown with a non-active Metal Gear. This fight is a bit disappointing and artificially challenging – you have to put plastic explosives on its legs in a specific order to do any damage for some inexplicable reason. Meanwhile, laser cameras shoot at you, with each shot taking off half of your health bar! It’s not particularly challenging, especially if you’ve farmed for rations prior to the fight, but it is certainly noteworthy as the first battle with Metal Gear in the entire series. This is then capped off with a fight against “Big Boss” himself, although it is quite easy as he doesn’t seem to know enough to not run into your rocket launcher’s shots.

STORY & CHARACTER ANALYSIS

It should probably go without saying, but Metal Gear‘s story is significantly more simple than any other game in the franchise, and is only marginally better than your average 8-bit game. Most of the plot points are just meant to pad out the game’s length (eg, all the hunting for Dr. Madnar and then having to rescue his daughter before he’ll actually help you). As a result, it is probably the most heavily-retconned game in the entire franchise, with even its direct sequel, Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, making some pretty substantial changes to the game’s story. Unfortunately, this can lead to some retroactive disappointment, such as Solid Snake’s lack of characterization and Outer Heaven getting dispatched so easily after being hyped up so much in the prequel games (not to mention the multiple issues that The Phantom Pain‘s ending throws into the mix). At best, I guess you can argue that the simple nature of the plot means that there’s a lot of room for background plots to be unfolding which are implied by the other games but never really explicitly shown in Metal Gear itself.

Put simply, Metal Gear was obviously never intended to become the first chapter in an epic saga. It was clearly just meant to be a fun, 80s-style action story, including the requisite “traitorous commander” twist. Considering that the game’s art (and the art of its sequel) use images of action movie stars as the basis of Solid Snake and Big Boss, it seems fair to suggest that this was the intent. The concept of Metal Gear itself though is quite an interesting one for such an otherwise simple game and one which definitely deserved expanding upon for its own merits. Metal Gear TX-55 has a really cool, unique, old-school design which I wish that Peace Walker and The Phantom Pain would have tried to emulate.

As I’ve hopefully made clear, Metal Gear is a very simple, if at times frustrating, game with a lot of old-school charm and a great (if sparse) 8-bit soundtrack. Not not sure that everyone will have what it takes to get through it, but completing it with a guide should only take around 3-4 hours. In fact, now that I have gotten through the game and have acquired the necessary skills to succeed, I’m kind of itching to play it again – this time, without a guide. Considering that I still have to play through the rest of the series to get this retrospective done, it probably won’t happen, but if that isn’t a testament to how fun this game is almost 30 years later, then I don’t know what else will sway you.

7/10

*As a child, Kojima was apparently forced to watch 1 movie every night before bedtime.
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