I’ve had a rocky history with the Metal Gear games (as you can see here). The first one I played was Metal Gear Solid 3 back around 2008. I enjoyed it at the time though the convoluted story and long cutscenes annoyed me. I went to Metal Gear Solid 4 after that and similarly had a good time, but once again found the cutscenes annoying. I went back and played the original Metal Gear Solid and had a decent enough time. But by the time I got to Metal Gear Solid 2, my tolerance for Kojima’s long cutscenes and endless monologues had hit a breaking point. Faced with the annoying nerd (node?) Raiden, I quit and never finished the game.
I wanted to love the series for its lofty narrative and thematic goals and comic-book-like, intricate universe. Since then I had attempted to get into the series multiple times but found myself stymied by those damn cutscenes. Eventually, I grew to loathe Hideo Kojima, the series’ writer and director, and Metal Gear Solid. I’d see post after post online from regular fans and respected game journalists alike saying that the Metal Gear Solid games were the pinnacle of video game storytelling. I loved the attention and detail put into the game design but I found the story, plot, and dialogue interminable, and the praise I saw frequently thrown on them only increased my hatred. I’ve bought multiple copies of every game, in collections, digitally, used, trying to see what everyone else saw in them, and still I found myself unable to tolerate them. I so desperately wanted to like these games but there was this barrier that kept me from ever fully enjoying the series.
With the announcement that Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain were coming to PC, I once again got that itch to play Metal Gear Solid. I wanted to love these games so bad and board that wonderful express known as The Hype Train and get psyched for The Phantom Pain like everybody else. Since I had played the original Metal Gear Solid last year (and enjoyed it well enough), I figured I’d start up Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. It was the only core game I had been unable to finish and many saw it as the series’ high point. So, I refreshed myself on what happened in Metal Gear 1, 2, and Metal Gear Solid, popped in the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection and started up Metal Gear Solid 2.
And I really quite enjoyed it.
Now, to preface this, in between playing Metal Gear Solid last year and playing Sons of Liberty this year, I found myself getting into anime more. Not a lot, but, thanks to a roommate, I found some shows and movies that I felt avoided a lot of the samey-samey tropes that a lot of anime falls into while retaining the distinct tones and styles of anime. I think getting more accustomed to anime and Japanese storytelling and style really helped in appreciating Kojima’s own style.
Okay, with that out of the way: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty is pretty friggin’ great.
Unfortunately, before starting, I already knew all the big twists and surprises. Since this was the one main game I could never force myself to finish before, I had already looked up to see what happens in it. But if I hadn’t known what happens, I’m sure the twists at the end of the game would have blown my God damn mind. The S3 twist is absolutely brilliant. I’m not going to spoil it here but the way Kojima parallels the players experience with Raiden’s is terrific. The player is as caught up in the events of the game as Raiden is and the reveal of that and what it means is fantastic.
There are so many interesting ideas at play here. Kojima is clearly a well-read, intelligent man. Sons of Liberty deals with simulation, virtual reality, information in the digital age, the self, memory, culture, history, genetics, lineage, fathers and sons, soldiers, duty, responsibility, political collusion, death, grief, survivor’s guilt, and more in really interesting and nuanced ways, a lot of it being tied right into the play through the aforementioned S3 twist.
This is a damn smart game.
That said, not all of it is presented well. Kojima loves his cutscenes and his monologues, and not all of his dialogue is top-tier (the nerd/node bit being the most obvious target). Sometimes it works, but sometimes a single cutscene will last 45 minutes as everybody explains what the hell’s been happening. The more expository a cutscene gets, the more his characters can end up sounding like each other because they all end up monologuing so they can explain their motivation, or somebody else’s conspiracy, or how some nanomachines gobbledygook works.
Which is a shame because one of Kojima’s strong suits is his characters. The series is populated with a lot of characters and most of them feel so distinct and unique. Sometimes (most of the time) they’re absolutely bonkers (a vampire!) but that’s where their charm lies.
In fact, a lot of this game’s (and series’) charm lies in how gleefully wacky it is. Vampires! A fat demolitions expert on roller skates! A lady who magically repels bullets! A cowboy! A Kurt-Russell-circa-1985 knockoff! An international political conspiracy! A double agent within that conspiracy! A triple agent! An agent with an arm that takes over his brain! Mechs! The first time I played the series I found all of the wackiness off-putting but this time I let myself roll with it and found it all wonderfully entertaining. Something I noticed I had to get used to in anime, I found I had to do here: being okay with sudden tonal shifts. We can be talking about the horrors of civilian casualties one moment and then the next a cyborg ninja will pop up. It’s something that I, as somebody who has stuck mainly to Western media, had to grow used to, but once I did, my enjoyment significantly increased.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty: it’s great. It plays great, the attention to detail in-game is unparalleled, the story is gleefully weird and simultaneously very smart. I am officially on the Metal Gear Solid bandwagon now. I’m digging through lore and discussing the series’ future on Reddit. I am ready for Ground Zeroes to come out on PC. I am on board the Phantom Pain hype train and ready to leave the station.
But, God damn, that node/nerd part is stupid.