In case you’ve been avoiding the internet for the past couple of weeks, you will likely be aware of the mixed reception to Hideo Kojima’s highly anticipated Death Stranding. I’ve seen the game given scores as high as a perfect 10 all the way down to 3s and 4s, with the different reviews causing schisms amongst video game enthusiasts all over the globe. Some of the more veteran readers of this piece will recall that this is by far not the first time a much hyped Kojima game received a mixed reception as it was certainly something that befell Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.
Before we go any further, I should stress that this article will contain spoilers for Metal Gear Solid 2, so if you haven’t played the game and would like to do so at some point, then by all means go and play it and then come back here to read the rest of the article. I’ll wait…are you back? Good, then let’s continue!
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was the hugely anticipated sequel to the original Metal Gear Solid, and the hype train for it stopped off at every station along the way to its eventual release. I was suitably excited for the game and spent lots of time farting around in the demo for it that I got with an issue of the Official UK PlayStation 2 Magazine (although you could also play the demo if you picked up another Kojima game called Zone of the Enders). Playing as Solid Snake and taking down Russian GRU operatives on a rainy tanker was all kinds of fun, and most of those who sunk some time into the demo left it with an even greater feeling of anticipation for Metal Gear Solid 2’s eventual release.
However, things were not all that they seemed as Kojima was planning a big surprise that would be dropped on players of the game if they eventually decided to part with their cash. For you see that tanker section of the game would still be included, and it would still be an absolute hoot and pretty much everything fans of the first game would have wanted from a sequel, but by the time it was over, the tanker had been sunk and Solid Snake had seemingly sunk along with it to the bottom of the Hudson River, never to be seen again. All of a sudden we were thrust two years into the future to find ourselves in a darkly familiar-styled base setting and with a new character to play as.
The inclusion of Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 2 caused much consternation amongst both writers and fans alike, with the blond-haired, cartwheeling rookie infuriating those who had wanted to play as the much gruffer and cooler Solid Snake. The fact that the game went back to the standard “infiltrate a base full of terrorists” formula of the first game also left a sour taste for some as they’d been hoping that the game would go in a different direction for the sequel. Constant complaints about the number of cutscenes (a complaint that would remain with the series going forward) also reared their ugly heads, and there were also plenty of negative comments with regards to the story, with a lot of people not really getting what was going on.
It wasn’t all negative comments, however, as the game did enjoy some high review scores, and there were plenty of people, myself included, who enjoyed the game and also didn’t mind Raiden. Rather than include Raiden as a way to diminish Solid Snake, Kojima instead brought him in so that we could see Snake from another angle and revel in the purity of his arse-kicking ability. Raiden, like us as players, wants to be Solid Snake, but it is something he can never achieve. He looks to Snake for guidance at the game’s conclusion when he doesn’t know what to do now that the mission is over, and we do similar as we try to mentally digest the twists and turns that have been laid at our door.
Because make no mistake about it, the story in Metal Gear Solid 2 takes one heck of a left turn after a certain point, and it does it in a very creative and creepy way. Playing the game as a young 14-year-old, I was pretty weirded out when the Colonel started talking gobbledygook and the fourth wall began being torn down with reckless abandon. The music, the voice acting and just the general atmosphere of the game completely switched, and I had no comprehension of what was happening. Looking back at it now, I really think that it’s a fantastic twist, and the more I think about what actually happens in Metal Gear Solid 2, the more I ponder as to whether it’s actually happening at all.
If Hideo Kojima came out one day and said “Metal Gear Solid 2 is all a simulation and Raiden is locked in a VR suite and never even went to the Big Shell”, my response would be, “Yup, I’ll buy that as a suitably wacky explanation for everything that goes on”, and I wouldn’t really bat an eyelid because in the bizarre narrative that Kojima embraces, this explanation makes as much sense as any other would. Metal Gear games have always had a sense of craziness about them, but when your boss battles come down to Uncle Fester on rollerblades and an almost literal vampire who can seemingly walk on water, Metal Gear Solid 2 goes full on nuts and straight up embraces the madness.
From a gameplay perspective, Metal Gear Solid 2 introduces the ability to shoot from first-person, as well as the ability to peek around corners and hold up guards for goodies, like dog tags and ammo. The guard A.I. is genuinely impressive as they will work together to take you down and will check areas that you might hide in, such as lockers. There are lots of opportunities to play around with them as well since you can grab hold of them and use them as human shields so that their teammates won’t shoot at you, and at one stage in the game, you can even don a guard uniform yourself and walk amongst them without even being spotted. Being able to aim more accurately improves the combat to a certain degree, but this is still a stealth game first and foremost, so avoiding fights unless you have to and sneaking past danger is still the best course of action.
I personally still think the game looks great, although it was touched up in 2011 for an HD edition, and the soundtrack is an utterly fantastic score from Harry Gregson-Williams that suits all the action perfectly. Yes, the game has quite a lot of cutscenes, but I like them, and I find the story really engrossing, even though I’ll happily accept that it isn’t for everyone. Super Bunnyhop on YouTube has done an excellent video about the game where he explores post-modernism and how some consider Metal Gear Solid 2 to be a post-modern game, and I would strongly encourage anyone who is a fan of the game or just generally interested in what it’s all about to give the video a watch.
I think it’s fair to say that Metal Gear Solid 2 was far better critically received than Death Stranding has been, with a bigger percentage of positive scores and not too many bad ones from the games media. You do still find pockets of MGS fans who don’t like the game and resent Raiden’s existence, but I wouldn’t class myself as one of them. I personally consider Metal Gear Solid 2 to be one of my all-time favourite games, and I also believe that there is more positivity towards it rather than negativity these days. I’d happily recommend it, with the caveat that it can bloody weird at times, so that might possibly affect your enjoyment of it.