Last Christmas, I was pleasantly surprised with a copy of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection for PlayStation 3, a series I’d wanted to revisit for some time. It is both unfortunate and brilliant to not be able to play your PlayStation 2 games on the PS3, since it becomes incentive to purchase these packs and play your favorite games in high definition. Having owned Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection HD, I personally think these have value. Hopefully I feel the same way when I revisit two more favorite games of mine, Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3, in HD next month. I also just realized Sony is releasing PS2 titles on the PlayStation Store for a $10 price, although not remastered, it means you can now play the 2006 cult hit God Hand without tracking a copy down!
The Metal Gear Solid package includes two PS2 games, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, first released in 2001 and 2004 respectively, and then updated (respectively) as Substance (2003) and Subsistence (2005), which are the versions appearing in this HD set. Also included is the 2010 PlayStation Portable game Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, which continues the Snake Eater story, but I have not spent much time with it. Side note: the HD collection is also available on the Xbox 360.
Metal Gear Solid 2 HD is the first time I have completely played the game from start to finish since November 2001. As a teenager then, never had a game disappointed me more. What I wanted was the further adventures of the anti-hero Solid Snake. Snake has his ability and curse to be a soldier going for him. His military prowess, his stamina, his determination, and his cold, arguably pragmatic approach to life were noticed by players, which says a lot because the point of Metal Gear is to avoid the enemies, rather than fight them, on the screen and reach the objective. It was through creator Hideo Kojima’s not so secret love of storytelling and film did we watch the characters of Metal Gear Solid gab away about ideals and their roles on the world stage and almost start picking sides as to who might have a point and who is dreaming. The thought of experiencing this a second time, on a more powerful system no less, was too good to be true.
Instead, the sequel divided players as we excitedly snuck around in a tanker operated by the U.S. Marine Corps and then watched as Revolver Ocelot (and his grafted arm played by the deceased Liquid Snake…) destroyed it, leaving Snake as a scapegoat close to drowning in the Hudson River.
It was realized then that Snake aboard this tanker was the prologue. Then, we met him.
A rather effeminate man in a tight sneaking suit with a teenager’s voice is swimming to the docking area of a facility called Big Shell. A familiar voice, belonging to Colonel Roy Campbell, the Codec handler of MGS, referred to this person as “Snake,” but no way did this “Snake” sound like voice actor David Hayter. This was apparently his first time on the field, and so his codename would have to change. We came to know him as “Raiden.” You may suspect that this is where I trash the character and argue that he is a stain to this series, yet time itself and I would tell you that this is not necessarily the case.
As I played through MGS2 in 2012, some of why I wasn’t too pleased with the game had begun to familiarize itself. It is lazy in design, for starters. The Big Shell plant does not stand out in any way and is representative of the common “corridor” complaint often seen in first-person shooters. Each Strut was a rearranged version of the last one and is not particularly interesting to explore. Despite its bland look, the areas fit the then new mechanics of Metal Gear well enough. The second is the dialogue and the cutscenes. It is rather tiring by now to make any sort of comment on the length of every scene in these games, but it isn’t how long they go on as much as how well they’re paced, which is not very well. The smallest action by the player leads to a long cutscene where nothing particularly exciting is happening and does not advance its plot while we listen to a speech about the ideals of life and death in the name of being a warrior. This leads into the biggest offender of Metal Gear Solid 2 for me: Its cast of characters aren’t at all interesting, compelling, or engaging.
Raiden works because he serves as a surrogate for the player, who is constantly fed ideals and schemes to interpret and what it means to play a role in this modern world. Its villains spew them out, each with a personal stake in the overall objective, which is then given up in the name of a shadowy organization called the Patriots. As far as I realize, the Patriots act as puppeteers for American events and history, all of which sound nutty but plays a crucial role in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Raiden communicates with Colonel Campbell, and Raiden’s girlfriend Rosemary who pesters him about April 30th and its significance and why Raiden is the way that he is. The “Sons of Liberty” themselves provide no memorable fights at all, except perhaps for Vamp, who incorporates flamenco as part of his combat training. Fatman is a man who enjoys explosives, cocktails and roller-skates and his only interesting attribute is being named after the bomb detonated over Nagasaki. Fortune, daughter of the commander who drowned on the tanker Snake infiltrated, seeks to take revenge on Snake. She lives a life wondering why she can’t die, delivering hammed up speeches about wanting to be relieved from this world. Her voice actor’s performance is monotonous and empty, which makes it incredibly hard to feel for Fortune’s misfortune. Worse off is that you never even get to fight her, instead forced to survive her blasts from her giant energy rifle.
The most interesting plot comes from Revolver Ocelot, who is cursed with the spirit of Liquid Snake (which expands in MGS4) by living in his new arm. He serves as the wrench in the gears to this Patriots plot, turning the Sons of Liberty on its head and. Ocelot (and Liquid Snake) is the twist in this soap opera players expect in this series, successfully leaving us desiring more explanation (again, covered in MGS4). His cohort Solidus Snake is also fleshed out well as the game’s primary antagonist. He represents the series at its most political, an ex-President of the United States looking to set Manhattan free in perhaps the same way Tyler Durden intended to set people free at the end of Fight Club. The unfortunate part of this is I had to research these stories again, which is a testament to how complex these twists get for better or worse.
The third act of the game is the most memorable, above all. Campbell and Rosemary grow insane (“I need scissors! 61!”), Raiden runs around in the nude, we fight dozens of Metal Gear Ray robots, and have a one-on-one duel with the main antagonist Solidus Snake, and we learn the lesson that we must believe and think freely and combat censorship (I think). This is why the ending that did not completely work for me in 2001 worked for me in 2012 in an age of combating internet censorship and the change in societal norms with the advent of social media and linking. Raiden throwing away his dog tags communicates this well. It’s not that they all have a direct relationship with Metal Gear, it just impressively feels more relevant ten years later.
I am glad to have played Metal Gear Solid 2 this time.