Despite having been a thing since 1987, with the release of Metal Gear on the MSX Home Computer, whenever you say the words Metal Gear most people will think of Metal Gear Solid, or one of its subsequent games.
And that’s fair; the first three games in the franchise are pretty dated, and haven’t really been given much attention outside of brief references in a few games within the rest of the series. Metal Gear Solid, however, was a game that made a huge impact upon the gaming world upon its release on the Playstation in 1998. Thanks to its unique stealth game-play, its focus on character and story, and some frankly ridiculous moments, it became a stand-out hit, and a sequel was pretty much guaranteed.
That sequel was Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, released three years later on the Playstation 2. As soon as the game was announced there was hype around it. People couldn’t wait to get back to this whacky story and play as Solid Snake, and whilst they certainly got that there were a few caveats attached.
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In the build up to the release, trailers and screenshots of the game showed Solid Snake as the main protagonist, infiltrating a tanker ship, battling soldiers, fighting a Harrier jet on the George Washington Bridge, and even going up against a new cyborg ninja. It looked exciting, and the graphical upgrades certainly sold this a beautiful new, cinematic experience. And when the game came out that was certainly what people got. For the first few hours at least.
You see, Hideo Kojima wanted to do something a little different with this game. He wanted to show Solid Snake to be an even better soldier, to be an astonishing hero worthy of awe, and thought the best way of doing that would to have the player take on the role of another character, watching as they try to keep up with the ultimate hero that is Snake. As such, shortly into the game, following a prologue section set on board a tanker ship, the player switches over from Solid Snake and takes on the role of a new hero, Raiden.
Fans were, at the time, less than pleased with this, and whilst this didn’t really alter the game-play in any great way it did leave people feeling like they were controlling a character that just wasn’t as good. And that’s a fair assessment. Raiden is new, he’s untested out in the real world battlefields, having trained in virtual reality, and is something of a fish-out-of-water as he tries to keep up with the weird villains and the complex plot. Raiden was so disliked by fans of the series that he was used for a brief joke in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, before being given a huge makeover and made into a pretty awesome character in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots.
But back to Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, the story is complex to say the least, but I’ll do my best to summarise. The game begins a few years after the first game, with Solid Snake and Otacon having made it their mission to stop the development of new Metal Gears. As such, Snake infiltrates a tanker ship being used by the US military to transport Metal Gear RAY, their new battle tank. When the tanker is seized by a group of Russian mercenaries being led by Revolver Ocelot, Snake has to fight his way through to the Metal Gear. Unfortunately, Ocelot steals the machine, sinking the tanker and all on board, including Snake.
Two years later players are put in control of Raiden, a member of the FOXHOUND group. He gets sent to Big Shell, an off-shore cleanup facility created to manage the oil spill from the tanker incident. Big Shell has been taken over by the terrorist group the Sons of Liberty, who have taken the visiting US President hostage. During his mission to save the President, Raiden must fight his way through the strange powered members of the group as well as their soldiers, meet a mysterious ally who looks a lot like Solid Snake, and uncovers a global conspiracy of massive proportions.
The game-play managed to retain a lot of what made the previous entry in the series great, with its heavy focus and reliance of stealth. There were a number of upgrades made to this system, including a first-person mode that allowed the player to ‘hold-up’ enemies to get them to surrender supplies and collectable dog-tags. As with the last game, a focus was given to the boss fights, with these moments given particular focus and flair, including a fight where you have to disarm bombs whilst battling a man on roller blades, and a vampire-like boss who can run across water and up walls.
Upon release the game received huge praise, despite the surprise protagonist switch. The game was praised for the innovations to the game-play, as well for its plot that explored complex social and political themes. It has since been labelled “the first postmodern video game“. Sales were also good, with 500,000 copies sold in the first two days of release, and 680,000 by the end of the first week. Thanks to this success the game was later released on the Xbox as Metal Gear Solid 2: Subsistance, an updated version of the game that included 500 stand-alone VR missions, as well as small tweaks to the main game.
Over the years Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty has landed on many top games of all times lists, and has received an HD re-release as part of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection ten years after it was first released, alongside Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. However you felt about the game when it first came out, if you were happy or dissapointed with the introduction of Raiden, the game has more than earned the critical acclaim it has received.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was originally released on 14th November 2001.