It’s Never Too Late: Metal Gear Solid 2 Steps Forward, and Back

I love starting video games. The sense of mystery with the story to come, unique game mechanics that surprise you, but my favorite part is seeing how a series evolves with its next entry. If I have access to a sequel or the next game in a series, I’ll pop it in as soon as the credits roll on the previous game. That’s been the case for each Metal Gear Solid game as I work my way through the series, and the gap between the first game and Sons of Liberty is drastic. The leap in graphics is even more pronounced since I played the HD edition on Playstation 3.

After finishing the first Metal Gear Solid in early January, I decided to write about my experiences here. Is it too late to review a game that released in 1998? Probably. But with the “It’s Never Too Late” series, I show that you can absolutely still enjoy a game even 20 years post-release.

The Protagonist Problem

I know that Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was controversial when it was released in 2001. Hideo Kojima subverted expectations by only letting players control Solid Snake for the first few hours of the game (the Tanker episode). So fans expecting a full Metal Gear Solid experience with their gruff protagonist were disappointed to be playing as a younger blonde guy codenamed Raiden. I can see why’d they were upset.

I didn’t mind having to control Raiden instead of Snake. To me, it was a cool way to have a “boots on the ground” supporter for the Big Shell mission, something more tangible than only radio guidance. This also allowed for cool co-operative moments like Snake/Otacon defending you in the helicopter during the Harrier jet fight. I loved escorting Emma along the oil fence, sniping enemies before they could hurt her too much as she tried to reach Snake on the other side.  

However, Raiden wasn’t nearly as interesting of a character when compared to Snake. They tried to create a deeper backstory near the end with the child-soldier/Solidus reveal but it honestly got a little too confusing. Speaking of confusion, was this mission all a VR simulation? The answer to that question is both yes and no, which is just frustrating. So many people google that question that it has its own dropdown search result:

Google results
The trippy simulation reveal was a little confusing, I was wasn’t the only one a little lost.

The Sons of Liberty story was confusing to me, but only the last two or three hours. I still experienced lengthy monologues from bosses, Codec conversations, and double crosses. On top of that another character soiled themselves in fear (which is apparently a Hideo Kojima signature) so that’s fun. Regardless of the lead protagonist, players still get to sneak around, use cool tech, and occasionally get themselves out of sticky situations.

Streamlining Controls and Action

All of this action felt a lot smoother in Sons of Liberty, especially with the inclusion of more streamlined first-person mode. Although I do wish I had experimented more with knocking radios out using the tighter aiming controls. Raiden (and Snake) also had an amazing addition to their arsenal with the silenced tranquilizer gun, my favorite item in the game by far. Eventually I learned that knocked out enemies would wake up, which threw wrenches in my so-called “plans”.  I ended up putting most enemies to sleep with the tranquilizer and then shooting them in the head with my silenced pistol. Don’t look at me though, Raiden was cold-blooded.

I liked that there wasn’t nearly as much backtracking in this game as there was on Shadow Moses island. The mission felt varied as it took you from disarming bombs, to finding the President, to saving the President, to escorting Emma, to stopping Solidus. It was also a nice changeup from the very dark environment of MGS1 to much brighter and more colorful in Sons of Liberty, at least with the Plant episode. Whereas Metal Gear Solid 1 showed its age in clunky controls and hard to see graphics, its sequel cleared up a lot.

Bummer Boss Fights

Unfortunately, boss fights weren’t as compelling as the first game. I enjoyed the mechanics of the Fatman fight, but a bomb-loving boss sipping on wine while scooting around on rollerskates wasn’t very intimidating. I really liked the fight against Metal Gear Rays, but it became so easy to knock them out that they didn’t seem very threatening at the end of the fight as it became repetitive blowing apart seven or so war machines.

All in all, these boss encounters were also a lot easier than the first game. I found myself knocking them out on the third or fourth try compared to some of the harder ones in MGS1 like Psycho Mantis, Metal Gear Rex and Liquid. There weren’t as many bosses either, which was disappointing. Even though some of them broke my spirit in the first game, I loved the creativity of the original enemies and they were spaced out to bring some much needed variation to the overall experience. I was hoping the bosses would evolve just as much as the graphics and general gameplay.  

Overall Thoughts

Despite the setbacks in my book, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty pushed the series forward in important ways. It’s a crucial piece of the ongoing story and it was absolutely enjoyable. If you got through Metal Gear Solid, you should definitely give Sons of Liberty a shot, if only to see the major evolution in controls and graphics. If you find yourself finishing the game, then perhaps you’ll follow my lead and start the third Metal Gear Solid game that same night.