So last month I played Metal Gear Solid for the first time and much to my genuine surprise I loved it!
I've tried to get into multiple somewhat old games that many perceive as classics yet due to the technological gap I often struggle to fully enjoy or appreciate them which is an incredibly frustrating feeling. So this made it all the better when I found myself loving and appreciating MGS, it's a game I would heavily regret passing on if I had known the effect it ended up having on me.
But the other great thing about it for me was that I knew there was a good number of sequels to jump into and further explore this new series that so far I had dearly enjoyed so much. So seeking more reasons to use my Vita I got the MGS HD collection for it and eagerly awaited its arrival to my house. It was going to be more of what I loved but even better thanks to the advancements of the PS2 back in the day, I was ready to love the hell out of Metal Gear Solid 2 and then I finally played it... the results were disappointing.
To go from loving something quite dearly and excitedly diving into more of the content it has to offer only to leave you disappointed is an incredibly devastating feeling. So sit yourself down my dear beautiful viewer and join me in my sorrow filled tears as I layout the fundamental failings of MGS2.
It's important for me to note that the start of the game I absolutely loved, it was the start and teasing of everything I was hoping for. I'm once again back in the role of Solid Snake along with our old pal Otacon on the transmission radio. Not only is it fun to see how they've tweaked, refined and evolved the gameplay but the story instantly raises multiple questions for myself.
Why is Snake back in the field of tactical espionage action? Wasn't he suppose to continue riding off in the sunset with Meryl and live happily ever after? Come to think of it what happened to Meryl? Is she still alive? Hey Otacon is also here that's cool! He was a pretty fun interesting guy in the previous game so I'm happy to see him back again once more. Wait why is he helping Snake in missions now? What are these two out to do?!
All these questions were firing through my head probably exactly at the speed of light and I was absolutely loving it. Starting off the story with multiple aspects of mystery and a healthy dose of intriguing questions guarantee's the players full attention. I was gripped from the start and was grinning heartily to be back in the swing of things.
But then it happens, I didn't know it at the time but it was the most horrible of things to happen. After a decent size lengthy section of playing as Solid Snake which ends in him attempting to escape a sinking ship we then cut to two years ahead in which we're introduced to someone new who's being referred to as 'Snake' by a familiar face from the old game, Roy Campbell. Once again questions begin firing off in my mind, Snake is working with Roy once again? How is that possible? What happened during the past two years? But it doesn't look like 'Snake' really...not the one that I know. We're then quickly introduced to our real protagonist of the game, Raiden.
This is where the game begins to drop severely in quality. It isn't a huge dramatic quick drop though, it's one that slowly begins to slip steadily down the hill of mediocrity and ear bleedingly horrible dialogue. I admit at the start I was a little disappointed to not be playing as Solid Snake still but I was of course willing to give Raiden a go and stayed open equally loving this character as well. There was also the small problem of that I assumed I would be going back to playing as Snake once more down the line which sadly never came to pass.
But for a time I was ok with Raiden, he wasn't a problem for me and I was still getting the same gameplay that I knew and loved so it wasn't like the entire game had been re-worked for him. However I eventually came to a point where he began to grate on me a little for two very irritating repetitive reasons.
Number 1 -
It seems that just about every damn order Raiden is given by the Colonel he immediately questions whether he can succeed in the task and goes into a long streak of self deprecating bullshit that I have to sit and suffer through till I can get back to the game and make the asshole do his job.
I don't remember having this problem in the previous game with Solid Snake, sure he would sometimes question the Colonels orders but only in the most dramatic of situations and would quickly cool himself down and compose himself for the upcoming task. Also when he self deprecates it's to do with his legendary icon status and the myths that surround him which actually serves to making him a much more endearing character. He could have been someone who let it go to his head and come across as a major arrogant prick from it but no it's a status that he holds no interest in and doesn't arrogantly perceive himself as some almighty hero.
With Raiden it's just like listening to a god damn teenager who's in the most strongest years of puberty where it's at full force and they're moping around to everyone constantly saying they hate themselves and that they suck which in the end makes people hate them and think that they suck.
Number 2 -
Carrying on the bullshit teenager theme we have Raiden's girlfriend Rose to talk about. She takes the role of helping save the game for you the radio transmission in which after saving you lucky devils get to listen to some of the most painfully awkwardly written dialogue ever.
Look Rose I don't give a shit about "what day it is tomorrow" for you two, stop going on about it I beg of you! Because it's just going turn out to be some clichéd romance bullshi- IT WAS THE DAY YOU MET? OH SCREW YOU REALLY?! I HAD TO SUFFER THROUGH YOU ASKING THAT GOD DAMN QUESTION THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE GAME ONLY TO FIND OUT IT WAS SOMETHING AS GENERIC AND BLAND AS THAT?!
Don't get me wrong I'm not expecting perfect Hollywood romance, I get that real life romance is usually awkward and full of painful small talk but I'm playing a piece of media that has been designed ultimately to entertain me. Adjust the small details so that these two don't get on my nerves so that I end up not giving a single damn about their petty relationship. Give them some god damn chemistry so I can be invested in these two and hey maybe then I wouldn't have minded what their special day was.
Hey you know why Snake and Meryl worked? Because she was an important factor in not only the story but for the character of Snake. We saw and felt an impact of change upon Snake with her around, they didn't have mind splitting horrible conversations with one another, they had a level of cute banter which resulted in some strong chemistry between the two which then made me invested in their blossoming relationship.
To put it another way when Meryl's life was in danger I actually cared and worried. With Rose I'd be happy to see the end of her.
Phew feels good to let that rage out, but back to Raiden and his awfulness. Because really he's what makes a lot of this games emotional framework fall apart and burn, he spends the majority of the game with little personality or any traits and those that he does hold are those of an immature, whiny child who only to irritate rather than capture the imagination and hearts of the audience. You could argue this has a lot do with the fact he's a rookie agent so he's hasn't fully learned the ropes with what he's doing so he's wary of the situations he finds himself in.
But this only makes me more irritated at how much of a missed opportunity that was. Rookie stories can be vastly enjoyable when decent writing is applied. It can help provide a unique sense of tension that not even the character of Solid Snake could provide due to his experience in the field. Raidens inexperience means he can mess up at any time and is more likely to which in turn would raise the stakes within the story but also ultimately make him an interesting character to watch develop as he goes from rookie to pro.
But he approach's situations like that of a self concious child, he's afraid to mess up so he'll consistently voice his agonizing concerns along with many doses of self deprecation. By this point I don't care that he's a rookie, he has now irritated me to the point that any mistake made will not be forgiven because he's not a character I care for or even like. He makes me reach a point where I actively want him to fail and get killed off so I can go back to playing as Snake a character who I actually like, has a personality and doesn't have twilight levels of horrible romance over the radio.
Another argument can be brought up that he's MEANT to be a character with little personality to show due to the fact it's revealed near the end of the game that he's been manipulated and used for most of his life. He's someone who's made little to no choices or decisions regarding his own life but...that makes no sense. Whether you're being controlled or not you're going to develop a personality one way or another, even if it's one that's crafted from being manipulated.
What's even more frustrating that if he did have a strong likeable persona going on with him it would be all the more tragic and devastating when we discover that his entire life has never been in his hands. Once more an opportunity for me and the audience to connect to this character is wasted and this just builds upon the piles of irritating dullness that we have to suffer through.
Sadly the dullness of Raiden can also be found in some of the new characters we're introduced to. Most disappointingly those of the unit named 'Dead Cell'. One of my favourite things about MGS was the FOXHOUND group and its members. Each one were equally vibrant and unique in they're own individual ways which gave us a truly endearing cast villains and bosses but also made sure that each boss battle with them left a mark on you in both terms of gameplay and story. Sadly the members of Dead Cell barely hold a flame to them.
Vamp can be fun to watch with his very campy and ridiculous ways but the amount of times he gets shot to shreds or hell even right in the head only to once again come back again to mess things up for you just ends up being boring. He's not an interesting enough character for me to want to see him running around so much getting in my god damn way and ruining my missions, there's barely any substance to him other than "I vant to suck you blood". The boss fight with him is also upsettingly dull to play and takes place in a rather sterile room. For a guy that's is essentially a vampire and can literally run on water it's really depressing how little he impresses or entertains.
Fatman also does little to impress, other than the fact he moves around on roller-skates his design is pretty dull to the eye and has most of his obscured by his jacket. I'm also fairly certain the only time we really see him is when we have to fight against him which admittedly was probably the most interesting boss fight out of the entire game. Sadly though he just comes across some generic crazy man who just likes to blow things up, there's no substance there, just a mad man let loose with little else to offer or contribute to the story.
Fortune was the one I was most excited to see more of. Not only does she have a delightful jazz soundtrack theme that seems to follow her wherever she goes but she also has a god damn rail gun that she carries around which in turn leads up to tearing places apart. But even more interestingly she has the making bullets, missiles and grenades to miss her completely, anything that can harm and kill her is quickly diverted thanks to this fascinating ability. This in turn led to me being extremely impatient for the wait for finally fighting her...which we never really get to do. Oh we do get cornered by her in which we can do nothing to harm her and have to run around avoiding her attacks until a time triggered event happens to move on the story, that's it.
I was looking forward to figuring out a strategy to bypass her ability and take her down whilst also avoiding her rail gun taking down everything in its path. Possibly the most fascinating member of the unit ends up being the only member we never have a true battle with, a sorely missed opportunity.
Finally there's the big bad himself, Solidus Snake. After the amusing antics of Liquid Snake from the previous game I was enthusiastically eager to meet the new big bad of the sequel. For me he ends up being a hugely disappointing villain and character. Granted his goals were arguably more admirable than those of Liquid Snake's but his personality and performance feels vastly flat in contrast.
Liquid Snake was a character full of gravitas and great hammy dramatic delivery, he was someone who always demanded your attention when he was on screen to the point that hearing him utter "Brother" was a unique joy to behold. He was loud and full of energy which ended up becoming the perfect recipes for entertainment. However I don't want to compare them too much as I feel Solidus Snake was barely given any room or chance to truly shine. We see him fairly late into the game (roughly halfway I believe.) and we aren't given much time to learn about him as a character and truly understand him.
He's a character who's backed full of ideas of which sadly don't ever rise to the occasion to transform him into an unforgettable character. He left little impact upon me and that's just disappointing really, I WANTED to get to know this character more, I WANTED to see more of him. I never really got this and instead just had brief glimpses of who he was as he paraded around in his weird Dr Octopus like outfit. Since I was barely invested or interested in his character this led to the final boss battle with him feeling incredibly flat, empty, boring and a sorely missed aspect of tension and emotion. Solidus Snake is a character I wanted to get to know, I sadly never got the chance.
I feel like I've made it clear by now why the emotional framework of the game struggles to hold its self together so now I'll move more onto the visual side of things and how it left me even more apathetic towards the game.
Although Metal Gear Solid isn't presently the most visually appealing game due to the ugly limitations of the PS1 I still never felt bored when looking at it. Shadow Moses was a place brought vividly to life and became an environment that rang true to me whilst also offering up plenty of side dish areas that have an extra hint of vibrancy to them but felt natural in the game. Places like the underground section of the base which is chuck full of lava ensures that the games environment just doesn't all blend together for me so that select moments can really stick out to me.
The environments can be most strongly praised to with the areas in which we fought the games bosses. We fight Revolver Ocelot in a dark, claustrophobic and rusted room, we fight Psycho Mantis in a one off classically designed office, we fight Liquid Snake on top of a vertigo inducing tower, we fight Sniper Wolf in a vast serene peaceful snow field. The environments work together with the characters/bosses so that it doesn't just feel like 'another' boss fight to push yourself through. Each one feels unique to play through with a comfy blend of gameplay and visuals, the same cannot be said for MGS2.
The majority of the game takes place in Big Shell which is does very little to shake things up in terms of its own level design. It's all steel and iron crafted hallways and bridges with bright silver doors smoothly opening all around you. When you're outside you can grow bored with wonder at the blandly coloured orange sections of the Big Shell stand before you. When you're inside you can die from a severe dose of extremely dull hallways and rooms with little to mix it up with.
This could have been somewhat forgiven if they had made the areas in which we fight the bosses visually interesting but again its just the same metallic designed places we end up coming to expect. Also as I said before the bosses in this game are far from impressive as the previous ones so that we end up with dull visuals and gameplay. Arguably the two major components of a video game have been let down here, the two things every developer should ultimately nail down and then wove together. This is even more upsetting I look back on my time with MGS and how I never had this problem!
After all this Raiden levels of whining and moaning you'd be forgiven for thinking that I hate Metal Gear Solid 2 but that's not the case here. When I finished the game I let out an audible sigh of disappointment and then a breath of "Ehhhhh....that was...ok...I guess?". That is not how I want to be feeling about a Metal Gear game at all, the first one thrilled me so much, it resonated with me, it managed to produce so much emotion out of me. With Metal Gear Solid 2 it only manages to produce emotion out of me due to my extreme frustration out of how mediocre the experience was.
It's not a badly crafted game at all despite a few missteps here and there, it doesn't spit in the face of what I loved about the first game either. The problem is that it failed to connect to me in any meaningful way and also failed to get a powerful reaction out of me through genuine means. To me that's a tragic failing of any piece of artwork from any group of media. It's not even so bad that I can hate it and be thoroughly mad with Kojima, you may say that's a good thing and ask why I would want to be mad at him and the game.
Well I don't want to be at all and I certainly currently am not mad with but if I was at least it would have provoked a strong feeling from me, at least it would have been crafted in a way that got a genuine feeling out of me. It would be proof it got through to me in some way or manner. Heck the only way it got to me was through awfully written characters but even that was down to a lack of any genuinely interesting features.
To put it into weird metaphorical terms Metal Gear Solid on PS1 was like having a weirdly named meal off a chinese menu for the first time as a risk and laugh then being pleasantly surprised by the flavour. Metal Gear Solid 2 is like seeking out more meals like the one you discovered only to receive what tastes like shredded up cardboard. I'm sad that I was unable to enjoy MGS2 and I hope I never have to feel such a non-emotional response from a Metal Gear game ever again.
But recent new experiences tell me I'm certainly in for a thrill...