Konami announced today they would be releasing a Metal Gear Solid HD package - featuring Metal Gear Solid 2, 3 and Peace Walker in one package. In the wake of this news I thought I would take the time to talk about why, personally, Metal Gear Solid 2 is one of the most important games I've ever played.
Anyone who has ever been unemployed for a significant period of time understands the feeling - that weird, dull throb of guilt. The sense that out there, somewhere, something important is happening – and you’re not part of it. You’re not part of anything. You’re useless, and you don't have a place in this world.
I graduated university when I was 21. By all measures I did really well. I hadn’t put a foot wrong. I studied hard in high school, finished top of my class. I worked hard at university. I took things seriously. I got good marks.
But then, four months after graduation, I was still unemployed. Living at home with my parents. Back home - miserable - stuck on the periphery of things. At that time all my friends had jobs, or were still studying – everyone seemed to be doing something constructive. But I had nothing. Not really.
All I had was Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons Of Liberty.
Having missed out on the first game, I stumbled across Metal Gear Solid 2 by accident. I clearly remember the day my brother bought it. I remember trying to play it – this impenetrable, impossibly weird mess of convoluted controls, fixed cameras, endless tutorials…
And the cut-scenes. For God’s sake the cut-scenes…
I put it down after five minutes. I was still at university then. I had things to do, places to be - and I couldn’t justify a single solitary second of this ridiculous, unabashedly self-indulgent video game.
Roughly six months later it was boredom – pure and absolute, the kind of boredom that only the unemployed can comprehend - that drew me to the game. I sat, in my brother’s bedroom, possibly in my underpants, as was my style at the time - utterly committed to suffering through this game. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I wanted an excuse to stop watching day-time television. I wanted something.
Again, I was completely puzzled. Metal Gear Solid 2 was clumsy. The control system was such that I felt completely disconnected – it stubbornly refused to respond in the way I expected. I was constantly bumping into guards, getting discovered.
And the pacing felt ludicrous. Anytime I started to actually gain some semblance of enjoyment from the game, I was interrupted by cut-scenes that lasted up to 30 minutes.
Nothing worked the way it was supposed to.
Honestly? I can’t remember the precise moment that I fell in love with Metal Gear Solid 2. But it happened. Somehow it happened.
It didn’t 'click'. Pieces didn’t suddenly slide into place like an impenetrable jigsaw – nothing like that - it was more like muscle memory. As though the hours of struggle I had put in, trying to enjoy the game, eventually paid off and the reward was an ingeniously designed universe with rules that allowed for endless replayability.
Bizarrely, it wasn’t until I was halfway through my second playthrough of Metal Gear Solid 2 that I really started to understand how it functioned as a game – and to this day I find it almost impossible to explain.
But I'll try.
Nowadays gamers can pick up almost any game in the market today and instantly, without thinking, they will be able to play that game. Gears of War, Call of Duty, FIFA – the way in which we control video games is almost second nature to us. It's ubiquitous. Certain buttons do specific things, and that's the way it is. It’s the end point of years of design, but what is lost is the process of learning how to play a game.
Metal Gear Solid 2, and all Metal Gear Solid games for that matter, flaws and all, exist in and of themselves – almost in a vacuum. When you pick up a Metal Gear Solid game every drop of experience you’ve accumulated from trawling through other video games is meaningless. You must relearn. You must start from scratch. You play, like a child, in a world with an unparalleled amount of depth. You are forced to prod, to fail, to repeat, until - finally - you get it.
And then, the world is yours.
In a three month period, unemployed, searching in vain for something meaningful to do, all I had was Metal Gear Solid 2 – and I replayed it endlessly. I finished the main section – featuring Raiden - roughly six times. But I played through the Tanker section – featuring Snake – probably about 20 times from start to finish.
Not once did it feel repetitive. Every playthrough was different. The depth and level of detail was such that I was able to have fresh, engaging experiences each and every single time I played through the game.
It was a world with its own rules. And as idiotic as they felt to begin with – 'why can’t the guard see me', 'why are these controls so stupid' – once I understood, once I could navigate that rule set with agility, I felt like I could achieve anything. Within that rigid, staid ruleset was a strange sense of freedom – and I think that’s why I love Metal Gear Solid so much.
When I graduated university everything felt weird. I was completely unprepared. I felt as though someone had pulled the rug from beneath me. As though I’d spent all these years studying, working hard, achieving goals; goals that, ultimately, turned out to be completely meaningless in the grand scheme I had for myself.
I had no idea how to move forward back then and, even if I did, I had no way of knowing which direction to point myself. I had been thrown headlong into an adult world with no clue how to navigate. I didn’t understand the rules – and the rules seemed stupid regardless.
It’s only now – looking back – that I see the parallels.
It sounds pathologically stupid, but If I could master Metal Gear Solid 2, conquer the controls, endure the cut-scenes, finish Big Boss difficulty - surely I could do anything.
And if I would only take the time to persist – the rewards could be endless.