The Metal Gear Diaries #4: Snake On A Boat

The setup for these posts is simple: I’ve never played a Metal Gear Solid game before, and I want to change that. I’m going to be writing my on-going reactions to the games as I go, and sharing them with the world. The Metal Gear Diaries are somewhere between a full critical essay and twitter gut responses, and will form an honest document of my shock, frustration and surpise at the events of, say it with me now, “Metal Gear?!” They will be packed with spoilers for all Metal Gear games!

Last time, we completed Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes. I played on Very Easy, touristing my way through the game, ingesting the ridiculousness that is the story, and I enjoyed it even more than I expected to. The combination of goofiness and earnestness is exactly what I’m looking for in a good work of genre fiction, and even though it took me forever to play it, I enjoyed it immensely and I’m so glad that I did!

Today, we move on, to the sequel, the Metal Gear game that goes all the way to the white house. I think. Maybe everything I’ve heard about Metal Gear Solid #2 is wrong and you play as Snake the whole time. Maybe this is a double troll.

Knowing what I know about Kojima, I wouldn’t rule it out.

Mission Briefing

By the end of The Twin Snakes, I felt like I understood what Metal Gear Solid was, I understood its rhythms and its designs, and I didn’t think I’d be put off by trying to play it as an actual video game. So this time, I’m selecting normal, and I’m not using a guide. How this will affect my appreciation, I dunno yet, and maybe I’ll have to start again when I realise just how bad at game I truly am. But if nothing else, it will be interesting to try to play the series in such a way as I move forward.

In terms of the information I have going in, I actually know the least about Sons of Liberty. I know you play as Raiden, I know (or I think?) the ending has something to do with AIs ruling the world in the White House and it’s meant to be a ridiculous mindfuck? But the lack of context for any of the information I have about MGS2 is astounding, compared to my knowledge of the settings and characters of 3 and 4.

I couldn’t be more excited! Let’s do this. Come along with me on this journey to save the world from the menace, of Metal Gear…

Invisible Goldeneye

Immediately, Sons of Liberty plants its flag as a more confident game than its predecessor. I’m going from Twin Snakes, and this already feels like an astounding leap so I can’t imagine what this would have been like for Joe ‘I <3 Metal Gear’ Bloggs back in 2001. Specifically I mean the initial cutscene, which sacrifices the immediate exposition dumps that defined the writing in the original for tone-building, beginning with a long voiceless sequence of Snake boarding the Tanker.

It feels like a real leap not just in technical ability, although that is certainly a part of it, but in cinematic craft. Being able to make a scene where a man just walks for two minutes interesting is difficult, and Kojima’s team pull it off with flying colours. It works, so that by the time Otacon does come in to give me my exposition dump, my reaction is pretty much “hell yeah that guy!”

I’m so happy that Sons of Liberty – at least in this introductory segment – centres itself around the banter between Otacon and Snake. It’s so clearly the central relationship of that first game, and it brings a smile to my face to see Otacon doing well for himself, and still working with his best friend in the whole wide world, David "Solid" Snake. But while it was delightful to see the team back together, it was also explicitly fanservice-y in a way I wasn’t expecting. Everything people have told me about Sons of Liberty specifically positions it as a middle finger to the fanbase, but presumably that comes later, and this is setting people up for a fall?

That’s possibly the thing I’m most interested to discover about this game – why do people hate it? I know why people love it, and I expect to fall into that camp, but I don’t want to write off those who find it a dishonest or shitty sequel as approaching the series in the wrong way. I want to understand without dismissing, because I know that perspective is common enough as to have some validity, right? We’ll see.

Anyway one more thing I just want to note: “every dotcom has their own Metal Gear” is the best line in anything ever and also wtf and also lol and also let’s do this.

Let’s play some damn Metal Gear.

Snake On A Boat

Here’s what I have learned from playing an hour and a half of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty™on normal without a guide: Metal Gear is not an easy game.

I’ve stuck with it, though! Now that I’ve learned the moment to moment rhythm of the game, the need to search every nook and cranny before moving on, the general progression of the items, the gadgets that need to be found, I’m feeling good about things. The fact that enemies don’t stay tranq’d for long is frustrating, but I’ve been able to keep my ammo up from the drops littered around environments, and when I’ve come under alert, running away has saved my skin without too much trouble.

Much like Twin Snakes had the illusion of size and scope more than it had both of those things, as works of Game Design, both games have the illusion of unapproachability. They start you out with nothing, and throw you into an environment littered with enemies who have the ability to kill you strikingly fast. But there are tools with which you may easily get by – you just have to trust that the game will give them to you.

And it’s that trust that I struggle with. The uncertainty, the inability to just let things be and focus on the moment. It’s just how my brain works, it’s why I horde ammo and items and refuse to actually engage with the design as a human being who isn’t consistently terrified that the rug’s about to be pulled out from under them. Now, there’s an entire book to unpack inside my brain with that reaction, but the point is more, I’m forcing myself to ignore that, and trust that I’m going to be okay.

Which I have been! I’ve struggled at spots, and essentially progressed at a snail’s pace due to my necessary relying on stealth, but the moments where the confusion clicks into understanding have been immensely satisfying, and I’m ultimately glad that I’m engaging with them myself rather than minimizing the difficulty those provide to get to the next story beat.

As an example: I spent a long time running around, unable to work out where to progress. I’d found so much USP ammo, but there was no sign of a USP – and eventually I reached the gate in the engine room which required a gun to defuse explosives. All the level design was funnelling me towards this gate, and there didn’t seem to be any other way to go. I searched the ship for a while, criss-crossing back and forth, until I realised that a Staircase which was blocked on the port-side entrance was completely open on the starboard side, and I headed up to the bridge.

I love the Tanker as a piece of environment design. It’s just the right size to experiment, to give a sense of scale, to let you feel lost without letting you get lost. Plus, the more branching nature makes it an more effective introduction than the docks of Shadow Moses, it feels like a confined space with which to learn your tools – the Guards not staying down cementing this as a purpose, so that by the time I’m able to pass through that gate, I’ve learned every basic about how to approach encounters.

In this sense, it is one of the most effective tutorials I’ve ever played.

Russian Buzz Cuts

A short couple things for this diary entry.

1: Snake being able to sense Russians by the cut of the commander’s hair was hi-larious.

Snake: “Russians.”
Me: “Snake, you can’t tell just by a haircut, c’mon.”
Snake: “No Marine barber cut that hair.”

I love when a game goes out of its way to let me know that it knows it’s being ridiculous.

2: The Olga boss fight was great! Playing it in a world where cover shooters are the norm coloured my experience, which is funny because this game came out in 2001. But it feels like a deconstruction of the idea of cover shooters, a protracted fight which is all about the idea of cover within a space, and the way that changes the relationship between these two enemies.

Like, I don’t think I’ve seen a game in which cover shooting is used to change the perspective to stand in the shadow of a spotlight, in order to see who’s standing in front of it.

If this game is just subverting ideas that solidified at least five years after its release then I can see why the people that love it are so damn passionate, because that’s ridiculous.

*

And that’s my initial impressions of Sons of Liberty – I don’t expect other posts to cover this little ground, but I’m glad this first one is substantial, because I think it’s valuable to have a record of my feelings before the big subversion. At the moment, Sons of Liberty is the most fanservice sequel that could ever be fanserviced, featuring video games #1 couple (Snake and Otacon) infiltrating a base and being best buds forever.

Next: we head past the explosive door and make our way into the depths of the Tanker…