Why Metal Gear Solid 2 Means So Much To Me

Why Metal Gear Solid 2 Means So Much To Me
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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.


  • I think this is why MGS has never clicked with me at all. I simply don’t have time and patience to spend enough time playing the games. My backlog is filled with games that are a lot more rewarding and less obtuse.

  • Hrm… I finished High School last year and only just landed a job yesterday. This story is relevant to my existance.

  • I agree with in this article in regards to MGS controls- their complexity is rewarding on a personal level. I equate it to unlocking items in a Metroidvania type game- its empowering and leads to more of the game being opened up (both in terms of geography and mechanics) but there are two key differences. One, its is not the avatar which gains this empowerment within the game; it is you, the player who learns it in real life. This leads on to the second point which is that you *learn* how to manipulate the controls with out the game heavy-handedly teaching you (which makes it oh-so more satisfying). Words cannot explain my delight when I discovered how to choke someone or loot a body in MGS 2 (my first MGS game too).

    TL;DR- Good game, good article.

  • Serrels – What’s your most memorable moment in mgs2?

    It might not apply to you if you haven’t played the first, but mine would be the moment you spot the shadow of Raven from mgs 1 on the wall. It brought back all those feelings I had when I encounted him in mgs 1, and left me asking questions like why, how can he be alive still! Only to round the corner and see a toy with a torch across from it, making the shadow look large as life against the wall, before shooting it for scaring me so lol.

  • MGS2 is such an oddball of a game. I’m a massive MGS fan, and while MGS2 is my least favourite of the series, it is by far the most iconic for what it does a video game.

    I hate to use the term ‘art’ when referring to games but MGS2 is the closest a video game can get to ‘video games as art’. It boldly challenges not only the 30+ year established conventions of what a video game is and what it can do, but also tackles some pretty deep themes in a way that is unique as a piece of interactive entertainment.

  • MGS2 was the first Metal Gear I played and I had the same thing as you Mark, I enjoyed it until I got to about the 3rd cutscene and just stopped. After giving it a second chance I fell in love with it all, watched every cutscene and listened to every codec call. It became such a fantastic experience once I let myself get into it. although I didnt play it when I was unemployed I can relate to you as I was unemployed for about 6 months myself about 4 years ago, but I filled the void with MGS3.

  • A great read Mark. Thanks for sharing.

    I feel there is sort of this expectation for graduates to be out and working shortly after they leave their studies. I do believe this is inaccurate – many of my friends and myself were unemployed and doing nothing for a while after we had graduated.

    Same scenario for me, ‘cept my game was Dragon Age!

  • I bought this game last year, played it for a while, got up to the bit where Raiden is supposed to go around diffusing bombs, went onto other games (as is my style – I usually rotate a lot), came back to it a few months back and the controls are almost inpenetrable, playing it (and actually succeeding with it) will be some kind of project I reckon.

  • I bought it on the Xbox when it came out, having never owned a Playstation but having enjoyed the first one (of the modern era) on the PC.

    By the time this game was released on Xbox, the first Splinter Cell had been released and at the time the two games were the only games of this type availiable.

    I just couldn’t get into MGS2 by that point- Splinter Cell had better graphics, controls, a less obserd story-line, an AI that didn’t seem ridiculous… it just smashed it in every way possible.

    I still don’t understand why people like this game so much.

  • <3 this article Mark, MGS2 was a game I had saved up all my pennies for when I found out it was coming.. I was addicted the moment I started playing the original MGS, and MGS2 only expanded on that addiction.. I remember playing it through a similar amount of times as yourself, almost got all the dog tags but not quite.. one of my favourite bosses was Vamp.. oh and the beautiful score. and the Solidus battle was sooo hard but so rewarding. aah I have the serene smile of a nostalgic gamer creeping across my face – thank you for the trip down memory lane Mark 🙂

  • I think GTA Vice City got me through my brief period of post-uni unemployment.

    I bought MGS2: Substance but never really got into it. I had watched my brother play the PSOne game and thought it looked cool but because I had never really followed the series I had no idea what was going on so I gave up partway through Raiden’s section.

    I really should give it another chance, maybe I will with the HD re-release.

  • Hrm this story is also really relevant to my current experience. I finished school last year I’m also looking for work and feel exactly the same things you mentioned in the first and third paragraph about feeling guilty and hopeless.

    Even the game experience is similar. Though Its with mass effect 2 Instead. I’d played the first one but found the 2nd one felt so stripped down, I couldn’t enjoy it when I first tried it soit just sat there for months gathering dust. Outta boredom I gave it another shot and it finally clicked. Now mass effect 2 is one of my favorite games ever.

    P.S MGS2 is also just as amazing

  • While I really liked MGS2, it always felt like a slight letdown for me after the stellar MGS on PS1. I think the main issues for me were the boss battles. MGS had some of the greatest bosses ever (my personal favourie was the fight with Psycho Mantis). MGS2 the bosses were all just a little bit meh… not nearly as memorable as those from MGS1.

    On top of that, the Big Shell environment just seemed a bit samey – it all looked more or less the same.

    I still liked the game, but I definitely regard it as the weak link out of MGS 1, 2, 3 and 4.

    • I still think that MGS2 is the weakest of the four – with MGS3 being the best – but I can’t help but love MGS2. I played through so many times, and dominated a short period of my life in the way that very few games have ever done since.

  • I’ve never gotten the Metal Gear series of games.

    They’ve always struck me as incomprehensible, bloated and needlessly self absorbed.

  • MGS3 was my favourite. It was also the first one that I played from start to finish. It had a great plot, yet it was also the funny one out them. There was no Otacon crying over some girl he loves (seriously, that’s all he ever does), but there were some great Codec conversations.

    There was Snake. Hiding, in the bush. A guard walks by. He stops. Oh shit. Is an alert sign going to appear? No? Phew. He’s going to keep on walking. I get back up. Slowly walk up to him. Pow. He’s knocked out. It was so tense, so dramatic, so immersive, it was just plain awesome.

    Then there was the plot. There was Ocelot, a bumbling fool, not really knowing how to fight. I couldn’t help but laugh at how Snake kept on giving him advice on how to fight. There was The End, which was a great boss battle – because it wasn’t even one. I took him out when I had the chance the first time through, and went to school the next day. My friend told me he was having a hard time beating him: I was like: wat? Then I googled it up, turns out there are several ways you can fight him.

    And the end. God that boss fight was annoying. Took me ages to figure out how to fight him. But, for me, The Boss was one of the best boss fights ever. The entire time through, I didn’t want to fight her. IT’S NOT FAIR. Why did they make me do it?

    I digress.

    tl;dr: MGS3 is the best MGS. End of story.

    • Woops. The Sorrow was the annoying boss fight, the one in the river. That was just giant balls of rage.

    • I disagree. MGS is the best MGS game. MGS3 is great, don’t get me wrong. But it didn’t possess and deliver the same emotional punch that MGS did. MGS3 for me is just MGS with more pomp and flair. It’s a beast that learnt from MGS2’s technical failings and MGS’s success. Deep down, when you take off all the sparkly, glittery wrappings to get to the gooey creamy center, it is just MGS.

      • That’s interesting… I found Metal Gear Solid 3 to be the most emotional and effecting by far… though, oddly enough, most recently MGS: Peacewalker approached MGS3-levels of emotional involvement for me personally… Totally didn’t expect that a PSP game would ever make me feel that way

  • Hi, Mark. I am a fun of mgs2 too. I learned the news of HD package of mgsX, then I googled it and found you.
    The first time I play mgs2 is about seven years ago when I was in college. A roomate of mine is fun of mgs too, he played mgs1 on PS1 and introduced it to me. I searched and got a PC version PS2. I played, and I fall in love with it. I finished the game through many times, about ten times I think. In fact last night I just played about one hour with a goal to collect enough dogtag to earn the stealth.
    I have thought about why I will like such a game and put so much time in it. I have come to some answers. Amoung all the answers, the reason number one is I am always encouraged to pursuit better performace, achieving new golas. It feels like a football player pursuit better performance in playground, it feels lile the Olympic spirit. The first time I play mgs, I was frustrated by the complicated control system. I kept making mistakes,triggering alarms, chased by enemies without space to hide. But latter I can earn dogtags, beaten down bosses, finish jobs elegantly. I also gain confidence in the process. There are alwangs many methods to fulfill a job in mgs2, time-consuming ones and swift-adventure ones. It feels good to choose the latter way so I am encouraged to try new ways.
    The E-EXtreme mgs2 is really hard, I just can not beat down fatman in time. I watched a lot of video-shows, trying to learn, but I did not finish it. So I am still fighting!
    I agree with your idea about system rules. The rules in mgs are clear. We are allowed to do some “dangerous” things without being found. Understanding the rule can help me doing amazing things, and more quickly as well. The real life is totally different, the rules are hiddened too deep. The Causation-Results relationship sometimes fails, or being delayed.
    Two words I learn from mgs2: challenge and confidence.

  • I thoroughly agree with the first several paragraphs. I bought this for the PS2 in the wake of early growing anticipation for MGS4… and no game in all my gaming years has bugged the living hell out of me as much as MGS2. Games as hate-inducing as that don’t get a second chance.

    (and no amount of dedication to ‘learning’ those controls could get around the godawfulness of the cutscenes.)

  • My favourite game of all time is MGS on PSX – and I encountered the same difficulties getting into it back then when it was genre-busting and completely new. The story, controls, camera angles, everything about it was completely unique and I loved it.
    I bought Zone of the Enders specifically for the MGS2 demo that came with it, and played it waaay more than ZoE. The controls and gameplay were exactly as I remembered them – and now, with the graphics, AI, and interactivity to really open up that skill set, they became something truly magnificent. Slipping back into MGS was as easy for me as breathing.
    I think the best moments of MGS2 are when you enter a new cell and don’t have the map downloaded yet. You creep around looking for it, avoiding guards, aware that at any moment the alarm could go off and you’ll be running completely blind. And then when you DO get the map, the sense of power you feel planning your attacks and taking out guards one by one while the rest get visibly nervous is something I didn’t feel again until … well … subsequent Metal Gear games, I guess. And yep, I remember being scared of that Raven shadow too – laughing at the joke, then shooting the figurine. Then looting the lockers directly behind it.
    MGS is absolutely in a league of it’s own in the stealth genre. I tried playing Splinter Cell when that first came out on Xbox and put it down after two hours simply because it wasn’t as good as MGS. Whilst Kojima definitely needs to have a script editor on board at Konami equipped with a big fat texta, I’ve found the stories of MGS to be relevant, interesting, and topical. The cut scenes may be a little overdone, but that’s just MGS’ style, and I’m ok with it so long as they continue to supplement stellar gameplay.
    Mark, I really hope at some stage you’ve had the chance to either play MGS1, or tracked down a copy of Twin Snakes, because I reckon it’s the best in the series. Maybe that’s because of how much I loved it when it first came out – maybe I’m just an aging gamer who remembers the experience rather than the game, and if I played it now I’d throw down the controller and shake my head at the fifteen year old version of myself, who saved up for a month to buy it on release.
    Somehow, though, I sincerely doubt it.

    • Hey dude – of course. I immediately went back and played MGS1 on the PS1. I also played Twin Snakes on the cube.

      • Of course. I doubt anyone would have your described experience with MGS2 then not go back to where it began.
        Just a fantastic series of games, really, and even if this re-release is a cynical money-spinner, I’m still buying it.
        It’s a shame there’s no sign of Twin Snakes being a part of the collection, although I really didn’t expect it to be. I assume that’s something to do with Nintendo and Silicon Knights and publishing rights. Still … it’d be a nice way to round out the package.

  • My first experience with MGS was when i was 14, my mother purchursed it for me( as im an only child, i whinged until i got it =P)

    At the time, i didnt understand alot of the themes and issues brought up in the game but i loved it.

    MGS2, I remember buying it from big W the day it came out and to this day it’s my fav game of all time!!
    But, i cant really explain why. Maybe its the fact i spent every single spare second on it or maybe because i enjoyed getting every dogtag and photo.

    Just thinking about it brings back all these wicked memories of sitting on my bed trying to work out the best way around a guard or winning the boss fight.

  • MGS2 is my favourite ps2 game of all. No matter how many times i played it through every time was as enjoyable as the first.

  • Definitely agree that MGS2 is the weakest of the four, but it’s still an amazing experience. I’d beaten MGS1 about 6 or 7 times before playing it and at the time, despite the whole Raiden thing, I was blown away by it. Dying for the HD remake.

    Re: MGS3 – the sniper battle against The End is my favourite boss battle of all time.

  • This whole article + comments is brilliant.
    As said above, MGS3 is clearly the best and most well crafted of the series, but MGS2 is a really unique experience close to the hearts of just about anyone who plays through the entire game. The first time I played it was on a demo disc which included the tanker (ending just before the hallway shootout and New Metal Gear reveal) and I would have played that a ridiculous amount of times before I even owned the full game.
    I still have vivid memories of alerting the guards on purpose then hiding under a stack of watermelon crates in the food storage room, then shooting them all in the feet just because I could.

    And it also happens to be the most quotable Metal Gear Solid game, IMO:

    “I hear it’s amazing when the famous purple stuffed worm in flap-jaw space with the tuning fork does a raw blink on Hara-Kiri Rock. I need scissors! 61!”

  • Oh, I’d also just like to say that the thing about Liquid Snake living on through his hand that was grafted onto Ocelot to replace the one chopped off in MGS1 was stretching credibility a long, long way, even by MGS standards.

  • Such a cool article!
    I hope I don’t sound like a wanker, but it’s such a shame you didn’t get to play MGS before MGS2.
    I remember playing through that with mates for the first time, and meeting all the characters was insaine. Ocelot, Psycho Mantis, Sniper Wolf fights … droooool.

  • Really good read. Thanks Mark.

    It is a shame that more big budget titles don’t come up with new formulas anymore. I guess it is partly because coding a game for a PS1 was much easier than now days for a PS3. That might also be why MG went to the psp for peace walker.

  • Metal Gear Solid 2 was the first MGS game that I actually finished. I had played my friends copy of MGS on his playstation, but never had one of my own. In college I bought an Xbox and found MGS2 Substance in a bargain bin and bought it without hesitation. I beat it over the next few days and was hooked like a mad man. I got myself a PSX and a copy of MGS as well as VR Training and at that point I was a life-time Metal Gear fan, no doubt in my mind.

    The Metal Gear series never dissappoints me and they never get old for me. I still get on to play Metal Gear Online from time to time (even though I *HATE* the way Konami handled it.) There’s still some great people that play on there, too.

  • MGS is a strange creature. You do have to be willing to suspend disbelief and connect with its style to understand the package. It’s a GAME. It doesn’t try to replicate reality too much and I hope it never does. Just because Splinter Cell is realistic doesn’t make it better (or worse for that matter), it just has a different philosophy. To me, Splinter Cell always struck me as sterile and devoid of character but the Metal Gear series is so entrenched in this otherworldy time and place. It’s clearly a labour of clunky love.

  • I think every metal gear solid fan has a similar story.

    I was some how convinced to purchase mgs3… I hated it, but my own integrity made me see it through to the very end… when the credits were rolling I realised how much I loved this game. I don’t know when it was I fell for the game, but the mgs series since then has been the closest to my heart.

  • I had the same circumstances, Mark, but my experience was with MGS1 on my poor old PlayStation. Only after really having played Crazy Ivan more than once on it, MGS changed everything. The controller rumbling when I was in a box in a truck…Psycho Mantis ready my save games, not to mention switching controller ports to defeat him?
    Hideo blew my mind a few times. That’s why it’s kind of depressing to go back and try to revisit the past…I can’t remember the controls, the graphics bug me now and I keep dying. A lot.

    The revisit to Shadow Moses in MGS4 though? Damn. I was 20-something again.

  • I started my MGS career at a very young age so I really don’t remember a time when I wasn’t familiar with the controls. MGS for me was ALWAYS the best and when MGS2 came out. I’m gonna be honest, I had the brain equivalent of a hard on.
    Also, after years of playing MgS, moving to MGS 4 just felt so natural and intuitive.

    Hehe I feel bad, but anytime I hear someone mention anything bad about MGS I can’t help but be upset about it. Because, I too am in love with MGS, it almost hurts to hear people bad mouth it (not that anyone here has).

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