Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was one of the most anticipated games ever. 1998's Metal Gear Solid blew everyone away with its attention to detail and imaginative world. The sequel, one of the first big PS2 games, would herald Solid Snake's triumphant return. Snake came back...but not for the entire game.
In 2015, we know that Metal Gear designer Hideo Kojima enjoys tricking his audience. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was famously announced as a different game called The Phantom Pain, made by a team called "Moby Dick Studios". Silent Hills was announced via trailer at the end of a short horror demo called P.T. But Kojima's greatest sleight of hand may have happened in 2001, when he made the world's Metal Gear fans play as a new character, Raiden.
Yes, that actually happened.
Development on Metal Gear Solid 2 began not long after Metal Gear Solid shipped, likely because they suspected Metal Gear Solid was going to be a hit. We know the exact timeline, thanks to a translated version of the design document from 2011.
- Late November '98: Analysis of PlayStation 2
- Late December '98: Planning outline finalised
- Early January '99: Begin character and mechanical design work, planning development
- February '99: Announce that MGS2 is under development for PlayStation 2
- March '99: Begin PlayStation 2 basic research (acquire tools)
- May '99: Research trip to America (New York).
- E3June '99: Begin full-scale development
- August '99: Research trip to offshore plant
- Summer '01: Finish development
- Winter '01: Release
It's wild to think there were only three years in-between games, when it took seven for Metal Gear Solid IV: Guns of the Patriots and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. (Technically, PSP's Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker arrived in 2010.)
The hype for Metal Gear Solid 2 began with the game's very memorable E3 2000 trailer, which prompted the audience to literally burst into applause at the end:
This looked lightyears beyond anything else in games, let alone a follow-up to Metal Gear Solid. I remember being obsessed with the atmospheric water and constantly breaking glass. "How can games look better than this?!" Oh, Patrick.
Hype reached a fever pitch when a demo was bundled with Hideo Kojima's mech action game, Zone of the Enders, in March 2011. Many folks, including yours truly, only bought Zone of the Enders because they desperately wanted a taste of whatever Kojima had in store. Fortunately, Zone of the Enders was also pretty great! (Same thing happened with Tobal No. 1 and Final Fantasy VII, remember?)
Both the demo and E3 2000 trailer focused on Snake navigating a ship full of guards in ugly, rainy weather. I must have played the demo a dozen times, looking for new details every time. You know, like watching the ice melt.
(Thanks to Diniz Games for the clip.)
Kojima premiered another trailer at E3 2001. This revealed more of the story, including a few villains, like Vamp. The trailer featured Snake sneaking, hiding, and shooting. You know, the things one expects from a Metal Gear Solid game.
While the game was nearly delayed, Kojima and company managed to finish the game in time for release in November 2001. The reviews of Snake's latest adventure were stellar, encouraging everyone who played games to pick it up.
"It's hard to believe Metal Gear Solid 2 is finally here. And though fans' expectations for this sequel have been set almost impossibly high, both fans and sceptics alike will now discover that Metal Gear Solid 2 indeed lives up to its promises. It's an undeniably impressive game that's just as unforgettable as the original, and it's longer too. Perhaps best of all, Metal Gear Solid 2 stays true to its roots. Though you'll undoubtedly get swept up in the game's plot and be dazzled by its cinematics, it's the incredible story and the tense, enjoyable action at the heart of Metal Gear Solid 2 that make it so extraordinary."
The game opened with same Snake-led section from the demos and trailers, culminating in a spectacular sequence where Revolver Ocelot hijacks Metal Gear Ray and the ship sinks. Snake is believed to have drowned, and the game picks up with someone swimming underwater, reminiscent of the opening to Metal Gear Solid. The first codec even has the person identifying themselves as Snake.
Soon, however, their codename is changed from Snake to Raiden, and as they reach the surface of a location called Big Shell, they finally remove their mask.
"A-ha," players said at the time. "Kojima is fucking with me! Making me play as another character for a little while before eventually returning to Snake."
He was definitely fucking with everyone, but it was even more extreme. You play as Raiden for the remainder of the game, a shocking twist that was never hinted at. Kasavin's review claims something going on but never says what:
"This review will not disclose any specific plot points, since you'll enjoy the game so much more if you experience it all firsthand. As such, if you take just one thing away from this review, then it should be this: Do not let anyone reveal the plot of Metal Gear Solid 2 to you, whether intentionally or inadvertently, before you play the game yourself. In fact, you'd even be better off not reading the manual that comes packaged with the game, as it includes more information than you'd probably like. You'll learn how to play the game in context anyway. If you do happen to hear something about the story, don't worry. Even if someone told you what The Matrix was really about, that still wouldn't replace the experience of watching the movie. It's a similar case with Metal Gear Solid 2, a game that can't suitably be described in words, even if its plot twists can."
GameSpot wasn't alone. Here's how IGN's David Smith danced around it:
Of course, it's hard to discuss issues of Metal Gear's plot and character development without spoiling major surprises, but it's possible to make a few points in general terms. To start out, the point that should be kept in mind continually: at its best, this game has as much emotional impact as it ever has visually. It is still an affecting narrative. But it doesn't live up to its best standard all the time, and when it falls, it falls hard, creating the game's most significant problems. The problems I have with the tale being told are two-fold — some of them have to do with exactly what I'm seeing and hearing, and others have to do with the way that is presented. Form and content, in other words, although curiously enough both don't often get it wrong at the same time.
It's hard to imagine how that would play out in 2015. Would reviewers have kept a lid on such a huge twist? How would players have reacted? The Internet existed in 2001, but it wasn't the reactionary, social media-laden landscape it is today.
The website Spong claimed to have details on the "eve of its American release".
"On the eve of its American release, a new rumour has surfaced about the hotly-anticipated Metal Gear Solid 2: The Sons of Liberty. Though this kind of rumour-mongery can be expected of any game so shrouded in mystery, it has emerged that you do not play as Solid Snake for a considerable portion of the stealth thoroughbred. Apparently, a new character called Raiden will become the main playable character for the large part of the game."
One of the forum threads I found came from IGN, titled "We were all cheated — -MGS2 was a marketing lie!!!" It was a mixture of confusion and sadness.
At least we know message boards haven't changed that much.
But why Raiden? Why the whole game? We actually plenty of insight into that.
Metal Gear Solid 2's goal was to attract female players. Per the design document:
We will have the player control a different character from Snake, so that they can enjoy the game's story even if they have not played the previous game. They will be able to empathise with this character regardless of the fact they are new to the series.
With Raiden (someone appealing to women), instead of Snake, as the main character, we will have a character in which women can more easily empathise. He is the antithesis of the older, hard-boiled image of Snake.
In Geoff Keighley's "The Final Hours of Metal Gear Solid 2" feature for GameSpot, Kojima and other developers explained how Raiden came about.
Kojima wanted to keep the conversational CODEC sequences, the spot where much of the storytelling happens in Metal Gear games. (Cut scenes, at that time, tended to be shorter.) It didn't make sense for a veteran like Snake to be spending so much time talking into his ear, so Kojima needed someone new.
Per Keighley's story:
"The issue of likes and dislikes was a major topic of discussion among the core team for Metal Gear Solid 2, most of whom returned from the first game and many of whom have worked with Kojima for nearly a decade. Some liked the idea of Raiden; others were a little taken aback by Kojima's decision to introduce a new playable character. Yoshikazu Matsuhana, the assistant director for the project, who started at Konami as a game tester on Metal Gear: Solid Snake, was one of those who questioned the idea. 'I wasn't sure this weak-looking guy was going to be well received by the fans,' he says. 'But we all trust Mr. Kojima because he has so many hits under his belt. He is basically allowed to do what he wants.'
Matsuhana was right, by the way.
But Kojima clearly didn't care, as evidenced by this telling quote:
"Some members of the team expressed concern that players would want to play Solid Snake throughout the entire sequel, but Kojima says he was determined to bring a secret new character to the game. 'Was I scared that people might not be happy about the new character? Not really,' he says. 'In a sequel you have to meet people's expectations, but you also sort of have to go against them and deceive them I think. This is my Metal Gear, and I can destroy it if I want to.'"
Raiden became somewhat of a punching bag for Kojima in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Though the game is actually a prequel, the character Major Raikov has a strong resemblance to Raiden. You can choose to kill him or let him live.
Prior to the release of Metal Gear Solid IV: Guns of the Patriots, Kojima told 1UP he still loved Raiden, even though he'd proven deeply divisive amongst series fans:
"The thing is, I don't hate him. I fool around with him because I like him very much. Me and my team like him, we spent a lot of time putting him together and we like him. But the fans ended up not liking him, and that I accept. Since I want my fans to enjoy my games, then I myself, who came up with the character said "Why not fool around with him?" I like the precedent of some talent agency, and try to cast him in some cool role in a movie [Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty], but it just didn't work. That's why now I'll make him the clown in the movies."
According to Kojima, Raiden was well-liked in Japan:
"The whole thing with Raiden/Raikoff in MGS3 is that there are actually many people in Japan who like Raiden. There are people who want to play as Snake, but there are also people who want to play as Raiden as well. But I wasn't going to do the same thing as MGS2, where you get to play with Raiden, because I know fans outside do not like him. That's why I basically put Raikoff in the game so you could see Raiden, and also offered the mask, so people who wanted to play as Raiden can have Snake wear the mask."
He teased that "once you finish playing MGS4, you're going to like Raiden".
That's why Raiden soon looked like this:
Yep, pretty badass.
Raiden would even go on to star in the wildly underrated — though technically non-canonical — Metal Gear Solid: Revengence from Platinum Games. Last we saw of Raiden, he'd made up with the love of his life, Rose, and seemed to be happy.