Metal Gear Solid 2 Gameplay and Anniversary

Two years ago I started blogging on this site, and my first post was about Metal Gear Solid 2, since it was April 29. Get it? In honor of both, here’s a walkthrough of the entire game via Tactical Dinner Roll. (Includes all cutscenes and codec conversations)

Tactical Dinner Roll was kind enough to split the gameplay up into 23 parts in a playlist. Most of the clips are less than 20 minutes long, so it’s all digestible. Better than the hours long let’s plays, filled with commentary and editorializing. Nice touch too to have all the boss battles labeled.

A good thing about these walkthroughs is that you can see how others play old and familiar games. You would think that especially in such a small game (compared to today’s games) there’s only so many ways to play it,. And you know them all. A reasonable assumption. But I’m always surprised by somebody’s innovation or little trick I didn’t catch before.

Metal Gear Solid 2 Posts

This wasn’t intended to be a Metal Gear fan blog, but since it is one of my favorite series I ended up posting a lot about it. For those interested here’s a list of the posts I wrote that are specific about MGS2:

For the record, I have yet to get the Virtually Impossible achievement on the PS3 port. I also have not reviewed Kangaroo Notebook. But there are a few more anniversaries for the game coming up, so I can manage them. Certainly by the 20th anniversary.

Thanks for everyone who has read my blog and given me feedback in the last two years. Here’s to many more.

I have something special planned for tomorrow (you do know what day it is tomorrow, right?)

One year later: Kangaroo Notebook and Metal Gear Solid 2

This is the first year anniversary of Usualjay Plays Games. If you look over the archives you’ll probably note a dearth of updates over the last seven months or so. Lots of drafts and post stubs but nothing that ended up worthy of being added to the ether of the internet. C’est la vie. But I had the one year birthday of this blog planned out in advance. So in honor of the Metal Gear Solid 2 meta that caused me to start this in the first place, I started reading the book that purportedly served as one of the inspirations for the game: Kangaroo Notebook, the last novel by surrealist Japanese author Kobo Abe.

I knew from what I had read about the game’s development that only some imagery from the 1993 book made it into the final game; particularly the vampire stuff. In fact there’s another work – City of Glass by Paul Auster – which had even more direct impact on the fluff of the game (setting, character names, etc). But I’ve been curious to see what’s in the novel that may have gotten Hideo Kojima’s creative gears turning for Meta Gear Solid 2. Sons of Liberty did end up as one of the most ambitiously bizarre games made in the last 15 years. It’s kind of a mystery, really. One would think, given the runaway success of the first game in 1998, that MGS2 should have been a fairly straight forward example of cash-in mega sequel. In terms of hype, sales, and money it certainly was. But, that story. Controversial back then and something of a punchline today (Trolljima), it gave us the infamous character swap, featured a dense and at times incoherent narrative, and nearly all of its connecting arc points with the first game were either cursory or unsatisfying, to say the least. It was compounded by the fact that the gameplay itself was superb, and it was a technical achievement for its time, just it’s all wrapped up and weaved into a profoundly weird story. You couldn’t have one without the other. It all leaves you with a slightly uncomfortable feeling of “what the hell..” which, ironically, is the last line of dialogue in the game. Any hints to what shaped the creative process behind the story would be nice.

Hence, a Kangaroo Notebook reading.

I’m not that familiar with Japanese literature, I think I’ve read only two or three Japanese books before and they certainly were not in Mr. Abe’s wheelhouse. So this is something of a new critical literacy exercise for me. That said, I’m only about 30 pages into it so far and it does give one a similar feeling to that breathless, down-the-rabbit-hole sensation that permeates Metal Gear Solid 2. The antagonist wakes up one day to radishes growing on his shins, and when he seeks help from a dermatologist, he ends up on a gurney rolling down the street, his destination subtlety marked down as “hell.” It’s a breezy read thus far and I hope to finish it this weekend, at which point I’ll share some thoughts.

With regard to the actual game, my PS3 has been in mothballs for some months now, but it may be time to get it hooked up to a TV again and give Sons of Liberty another playthrough. With a respectful nod to confirmation bias, I’ll be looking for any narrative similarities between the book and the game.

The Least Understood Character in Metal Gear Solid

And perhaps, one of the least understood characters ever in video games. Yesterday I saw someone post in a yet another Metal Gear Solid fan group:

“Does anybody else think Raiden was a horrible mistake?”

To which he received 20+ so comments, mostly in agreement to varying degrees. I decided not to chime in as I did last time there was an inquisitive post about some aspect of MGS2. The thing that bothered me the most about the discussion was not that people hate Raiden still; it’s that they apparently didn’t get the point behind why he was introduced.  I want to address two of the common explanations that were brought up in that that discussion:

  1. Raiden was created because of teenage girls!
    This is a reference to an interview that Hideo Kojima gave when asked about the development of Metal Gear Solid 2. After the success of Metal Gear Solid, Konami conducted a survey of potential players that included a number of women of various ages. Kojima said he and the design team were discouraged to find out overwhelmingly negative feedback for “old man” characters like Solid Snake. So he and his art director went about trying to figure out how they might design a character that appealed to a wider audience, including those erstwhile teenage girls who said they would never buy a “stupid” game like Metal Gear Solid featuring a “stupid” old man. 

    However, to say that Raiden was created because of teenage girls is lot like looking at the finger pointing at the moon.  There’s always a degree of creative calibration that occurs at the beginning of any project. We know from Kojima’s original game design document that Sons of Liberty was designed specifically with new players in mind (hence why they conducted the survey in question in the first place).  As for the now infamous character switch:

    “We will have players control a different character from Snake, so that they can enjoy the game’s story even if they have not played the original game. They will be able to empathize with this character regardless of the fact that they are new to the series.”

    Later on in the document, there’s direct reference to acquiring women players through the Raiden character, but this is declared to be a sub-target.  Thus Raiden wasn’t created “because of” teenage girls, rather he was introduced for the sake of new players, and it was hoped he would appeal to the young female demographic.

  2. Raiden is supposed to be The Player 
    This one is a little more forgivable because it’s not obviously wrong. In fact for a long time this was my interpretation of the Raiden character. It seemed the most plausible explanation for him, but there were two things in the narrative that always bothered me both of which occur during the game’s denouement.  The first is the Metal Gear Ray fight, which will always stop when Raiden gives up after destroying a certain amount of Rays. No matter how well you are doing.  The second, more problematic action is at the end when he tosses away his dog tags (which bear the name and info entered by the player in the beginning of the Plant chapter, which can be anything of course but I wonder how many people didn’t enter in their real name and vitals). 

    The symbolism here, of course, is not that Raiden is the player and vice versa. Rather these actions show that Raiden is not merely the player’s avatar. As a character he was attempting to relive the events of Shadow Moses (aka Metal Gear Solid 1) as much as the Player (you) is attempting to recapture the glory of the first game by playing the sequel.  Note too that when Snake asks him about the tags, we’re told quite literally that Raiden is not the player: he doesn’t recognize the name on the tags at all, implying that he’s not aware of his avatar status.

The rub there is that Raiden was ultimately supposed to be a sympathetic character, and he ended up being one of the more hated characters in the series. If you look at him objectively it’s hard not to feel sorry for him in Metal Gear Solid 2. He’s dressed up as Snake, put in a deadly situation that is roughly equivalent to the circumstances that Snake faced, and has no real power over his destiny until the very end of the game. Hence his declaration “I’ll choose my own name” as he tosses the dog tags. Sadly it didn’t matter to many fans of the franchise, since he was going to be Raiden from then on – for better or for worse.

And that’s to say nothing about Rose.

Now, to address the original question: was Raiden a horrible mistake? I don’t think so. If the game had totally flopped and irreparably damaged the franchise, then yes.  But as we know MGS2 sold as well as MGS1, and here we are in 2015 and Metal Gear Solid V is easily the most anticipated game of the year. There’s also the aspect to consider that we’re still talking about this matter a decade and a half later. The kind of long lasting interest, negative or otherwise, counts for something. Even Kojima himself indicated that he didn’t expect Sons of Liberty to last long in the scheme of things. But despite his own prediction he still managed to leave his mark on recent video game history with the switcheroo.

If anything can be regretted from Sons of Liberty’s outcome, it’s that in terms of creative narrative artistry Kojima was never as ambitious as he was with this game. Part of that probably has to do with the fact that he intended it to be his final Metal Gear Solid game. The next game in the series, Snake Eater was made largely in response to the fan base insisting that he remain.  In this game he was definitely more interested in the practical aspects of outdoor level design than making the narrative kosher with the rest of his established mythology. There was nothing new or exciting revealed in the origin story, other than the novelty of playing as the original antagonist of the series.  And let’s not kid ourselves either: you don’t take your story 50 years into the past and avoid any protagonist from your first two games just as a creative experiment. He needed a break from Solid Snake and Raiden that much was clear. Guns of the Patriots, the direct sequel to Sons of Liberty, was also an impressive technical achievement, but you don’t have to reach too far to see that its narrative exists solely to tie up loose ends from Metal Gear Solid 2. It says nothing new about anything, tightens up logical inconsistencies in the MGS1-MGS2-MGS3 story arch, and serves as the mere exclamation point to the series. It’s a proper but breathless whirlwind tour through all the loose plot threads, knitting them up neatly in a respectable send off for Solid Snake and Big Boss – the two foes that started it all.

It would be too ironic if I ended a post about Raiden by talking about Snake, so I will say that at least Raiden got to star in Metal Gear Rising. I wonder if that game will ever get a sequel.  He does have his own war to fight, after all.

The Details of Metal Gear Solid 2

I’m sitting at 50.6% complete on the Missions mode, having cleared  100% of all the Raiden missions, 67% of Snake, and 50% of Plisken. There are still two characters to unlock (MGS1 Snake is one) and I’ve clocked in just about 20 hours. Essentially the VR Missions and the Alternative Missions amount to another game’s worth of content (maybe more) if you’re taking playtime into account. I’ve seen play throughs where somebody managed to clear everything in about 8 hours and I’m sure there was some rehearsing on their part beforehand. I’m still impressed that Konami would spend the time and effort to add this much content to the game after it had been released. In today’s world it would pass as DLC, as I suppose.  And it would be tough to stand for what are essentially the same 20 or so maps that are just slightly tweaked. For all the impressive variety that the Virtual Missions and the Alternative Missions offer, at hour 20 I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m feeling a little burnt out by the monotony of the repeated levels.  By the way, whoever designed the Grenade level 5 for Snake and Plisken is a sadist, along with whoever designed Variety Level 4 for Snake. This is where I happen to be currently stuck with both characters. And it got me to thinking about one of the enduring qualities of the Metal Gear Solid series: the attention to detail, particularly with regard to the weapons. Since I’m stuck on Grenades and Sniping, I wanted to take a peek into the history of the RBG6 grenade launcher and the series’ iconic PSG1 sniper rifle.

The RGB6 is a Croatian copy of the South African Milkor MGL (Multiple Grenade Launcher). The company’s marketing literature is informative of the deadly nature of the weapon (six shots in three seconds?), and its unique selling points over some of its older predecessors (the US made M-79 bloop gun is referenced, this was a single shot weapon). There’s not a lot of information about the RGB6 that I could find outside of the Metal Gear wiki (kudos to whoever put that together) and a rather thin Wikipedia entry. And of course Milkor.net.  It’s kind of an odd weapon to be included in Metal Gear Solid 2, and something I never realized until now but it’s actually the only appearance it ever makes in the franchise. It’s utility is quite limited in the game and to be honest I’ve rarely ever used it in game unless just screwing around. This may also explain why I have such a difficult time with it in VR. Grenade level 5 requires you to take out 10 targets in 3 minutes time. Not bad but they’re also not stationary. Using the regular grenades is really not going to get you anywhere, so using the launcher is the only viable option.  For Plisken, the  targets fade in and out as they go around the maze. My biggest complaint here is that there is virtually no splash damage from these grenades: you essentially have to bullseye a target in order to destroy it, and in MGS2 there’s no reticle or aim sight. You just have to guestimate and hope for the best. I’ve never used a grenade launcher in real life before and there’s a good chance that I never will. But my video game instincts cry foul on this level. Without any kind of appreciable splash damage, what’s the point of explosives?

The PGS1 on the other has more info readily available on it. A Heckler & Koch sniper rifle, it was supposedly developed in response to 1972 Munich games attacks (anybody have a link for the official story?).  It is reputed to be one of the most accurate rifles in the world but, as pointed out in the various articles I found, it doesn’t enjoy wide usage in the military due to the distance spent rounds are ejected. I’ve never noticed this replicated in the Metal Gear games, so I’ll have to check it out the next time I head into the Big Shell. Perhaps the most interesting tidbit about the rifle is how expensive it is: 15,000 USD at least. Sniper Wolf was apparently into high end hardware. I wish the rifle was more accurate in Variety Level 4. In Snake’s version of this level, you have to defend a motionless Meryl Silverbaugh (it’s Emma for Raiden) from 26 soldiers who steadily advance to her position. So far I’ve managed to take out 18 soldiers before they get too close to her, but it quickly gets hard to manage that many moving targets. I suspect that video game mechanics are overriding the reality of using the gun, but again I’ve never fired a sniper rifle or had to be in any sort of situation shooting multiple targets (under 3 minutes). I hear the third version of this stage is the hardest in the game.

I may be starting to rethink my Platinum quest here…

Of course it’s kind of silly to get too hung up on the details of Metal Gear Solid. But part of the franchise’s enduring legacy – and something to keep in mind if you’re designing games – is how the little things end up being a weighty part of the whole. The details in front of the player’s face can keep them from wondering about some of the creakier parts of the design. For instance, the return of the first game’s main antagonist in the form of a dead arm, a walking battle tank, and most of the other bizarre stuff that crops up in Metal Gear Solid. Not to mention the virtual reality missions that are quite a pain.  Tolkein spoke of his distant mountains, details in the far distance that kept your imagination fired as you read through his works. The converse is true, I think, for MGS. The upfront details are very accurate, creating a believable world that you enter willingly. Things tend to go gonzo fairly quickly, but most likely if you’re already hooked, you’re already hooked.

Metal Gear Solid 2: Virtually Impossible Achievement

Have I mentioned that getting the “Virtually Impossible” trophy in Metal Gear Solid 2 is exactly what the namesake suggests?  After 16 hours and 20 minutes I’m at 41% complete, having cleared all but the Variety levels of Snake’s Virtual Missions. I still need to do all of his Alternative Missions before he’s at 100% complete. As expected, Pliskin was unlocked at 50%; I’m actually looking forward to playing with this skin. The Snake VR missions have been subtlety harder than Raiden’s; though the maps are more or less identical but the small alterations make the difference. I found Weapons Mode to be exceedingly tedious (if you ever find yourself going after this trophy, good luck with Grenades level 5). What was interesting though was how easy the Unarmed missions were. I half suspect these serve as a palette cleanser after the rest of the Weapons levels, which are mostly more obnoxious than they are hard. They’re much easier and flow better. But there’s another explanation too:  I might be much more used to controlling Snake this way. His punch combo, simplistic as it is, is much more elegant than any of his shooting. It just feels right.

It would be interesting to see what the most commonly used attack methods were in Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid 2. I wonder if there’s some moldy, dusty manila folder in a marketing desk drawer somewhere at Konami that contains research into that. I’d have to imagine that it was either unarmed or a pistol. You usually start off unarmed and even when you do acquire weapons; you tend to be rewarded if you play stealthy. This should come as no surprise in a tactical espionage game, by the way. Unless you pick up a suppressor or two, it’s usually unwise to go around shooting guards. Especially in MGS1 it was my preferred method to snap necks or use the silenced Socom. And since the aiming was so difficult in that game – try “locking on” a target off screen for a fifth generation blindfire exercise – it was easier to just sneak up on a hapless victim and perform some quick vertebrae realignment. After MGS2 introduced the M9 and First Person attacks, it was trivially easy to take down guards (non lethally) and move on. Unless you’re screwing around (I liked C4 and claymores myself – another weapons mode I excelled at in VR…) most of these Metal Gear games can be finished with just the handgun.

Yes I can hear your objection: you can’t beat Metal Gear Solid without stinger missiles. But you’re not playing stealth when you confront Metal Gear.

One other random thought: boy were these games not built for first person perspective. Controlling Snake and Raiden entirely in First Person Mode for those VR missions that require it is akin to driving on very icy roads. You kind of skid along and if you over steer with the analog sticks you won’t like the end results.

I’m hoping I can get this trophy before the Phantom Pain comes out.

Rose vs. Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 2

Recently there was a post in a group I’m a part of that lamented the dialog between Rose and Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 2 as being incredibly annoying. For those of you who don’t know, one of the biggest gripes against Metal Gear Solid 2 is the script. It is chalk full of interactions between the main protagonist of the game (that would be Raiden) and his girlfriend, Rose. Rose takes the place of Mei Ling from this first game, a cute Chinese girl that would quote famous authors and works to Snake and then stretch a little to give him some nuggets of practical advice for playing the game in Metal Gear Solid.  You end up “talking” to these characters a lot because you call them with your radio in order to save your game. Rose was no Mei Ling. She starts off by asking Raiden if he remembers what day it is tomorrow and continues to pester him throughout the rest of the game on a variety of topics, but mainly about their relationship. If it sounds like the game treats their interactions like a forced march through the arguments of a troubled couple, you’d be right. I replied only half-jokingly to the author of that post that you “press X to skip the dialog.” To be honest I’ve heard this complaint so many times over the last 14 years that I don’t mind goading the complainers every once in a while, especially consensus trolls. The author responded to me along the lines of “I know how to skip the dialog smart ass, I just think the Rose/Raiden stuff sucks and why is it in the game?”

Now he had the right to be call me out for being facetious but the truth is it’s hard to take your post seriously when it’s like this: “I fucking hate Rose and everything she talks about omg she sucks! Anybody else feel that way??”  He should have just asked “why is it this way?” to begin with and we could have had a more interesting conversation. But I indulged him anyway with this response:

“The point of Rose and Raiden in MGS2 is to give you a clue that Raiden is a ‘real’ human being and not just a video game avatar. The problem with MGS2 is that it’s buried under layer upon layer of Japanese postmodern subtlety.”

The consensus troll didn’t respond to me but another poster did, saying it “made sense.”  I’ll take a closer look at the codec personalities in a different post but I’ll add a postscript here: MGS2 is very much a postmodernist experiment. This means at the very least you should treat everything you experience in the game with a degree of suspicion. Kind of ironic, considering it’s a game with espionage in the subtitle.

Dreams of Metal Gear Solid 2

Going through the Alternative Missions in the course of my pursuit for the Metal Gear Solid 2 platinum trophy, I was surprised at how weird they feel.  This is partially because MGS2 is a weird a game as they come, so why should the idea of Raiden doing strange stuff like photo shooting be strange to me? This rather old essay of the original Sons of Liberty by Tim Rogers sheds some insight:

“Playing Metal Gear Solid 2, to me, mirrors sleeping — dreaming — in an empty room…

Dreams have terrorists. Dreams have presidents, hostage situations…

Dreams, sometimes, even have terrorist/hostage situations involving vampires.

Dreams mix the real, and the unreal. Dreams mix whatever is in our minds.”

Ignore the empty room analogy along with most the rest of his piece if you choose to read it: Mr. Rogers has a truly dizzying intellect as he darts from idea to idea like a small rodent in search of food or escape. But in the process he did manage to uncover a kernel that gives us a deeper insight into the game. The idea that MGS2 is like a dream – a bad one at that – is intriguing because of how well it manages to replicate that dream-like quality of a jumbled reality, in this case, the reality of the events of the first game. There’s more on that in James Howell’s formal analysis of Metal Gear Solid 2, which is rather long but I do recommend you read if you’re curious about the meaning of  the game’s narrative.

In much the way that (according to Howell) Metal Gear Solid 2 jumbled bits of the Metal Gear Solid to create a familiar yet bizarre experience, the MGS2 Alternative Missions jumble those conventions in the same way but within the MGS2 context. They’re whimsical, ethereal, and have nothing to do with the main game, but they’re strangely refreshing in the way dreams can be. This led me to look for other games where this might be true, and as it luck would have it there’s another old favorite that got the dream treatment in a more literal sense. Doomdream by Ian MacLarty is an interesting case. There’s nothing to do but run around a doom level done up in a washed out palette, inspired by the dreams the developer had after playing Doom all day. Give it a download and try it out (and remember to tip the dev…)