Hello all! Sorry to keep you waiting.
This is my first Game of the Week piece in…a long time. Five months, to be precise. I’m starting this up again for a lot of Reasons, the most important of which is, I like doing it. Maybe these are stale, or whatever (there’s like four years of these pieces), but they’re fun to do, I think. So I’m back at it, because why not.
Anyway, enough of that. Last time I wrote one of these, it was about Red Faction, a game in which you overthrow a tyrannical, corrupt corporation. Everyone remembers it for that “Geo-Mod” tech—you can destroy walls in real-time—but I remember it for…well, Geo-Mod, yeah, but also the themes of rebellion.
Today, coming back from an almost total games writing hiatus, I thought I’d talk about Metal Gear Solid 2, a game that has a lot of Things going on.
To get right into it, MGS2 is mostly famous (infamous?) for Raiden, the character you play as for about 90-95% of the game, rather than series mainstay Solid Snake. Raiden is generally known for not being Snake. More specifically, he’s younger, more androgynous, a bit whiny, sometimes annoying.
It’s essentially a bait-and-switch, or at least, that’s what it seemed like at the game’s launch; you play as Solid Snake, Smash Bros. competitor and cardboard enthusiast, for the first hour or so of the game, before switching to the much less growly Raiden. And you never switch back; Snake is a supporting character in a game ostensibly starring Snake—he’s on the cover, and Raiden was even edited out of TV spots for the game.
At the time, gamers cried foul; this weird backlash against Raiden continues even today, whenever MGS2 comes up. Mostly because Raiden suffers from a condition known as “not being Snake.” I myself was part of that crowd upon the game’s release. I mean, I wanted to be Snake; is that not why I bought a Metal Gear game? Why am I this long-haired dude? What’s with this swimming sequence? Why is Raiden naked? How dare they change it!
How dare they change it.
I still think about that attitude, and what a baffling one it is to maintain—that we demand change from our games while simultaneously lamenting it. “Make something new!”, we shout at developers and publishers, only to pout when they actually do. It’s an attitude that states a sequel should be iterative at best, no risk, more of the same please. First one was good, do exactly that again.
But change, and the risk associated with that change, is how games grow, evolve, and in some cases, improve. Without Raiden, without twisting Metal Gear around a bit, what would MGS2 be? “Snake infiltrates a base again, but like a different one?” Through Raiden, we get to view Metal Gear through a different lens, which even by itself makes MGS2 less of an iteration and more of an innovation. To a point, of course; MGS2 knew what to keep and what to change, as any great sequel should. Without taking big risks, after all, we wouldn’t have Breath of the Wild or the new God of War, two other entries in long-running series that subverted expectations to become something more, something new.
MGS2 perhaps didn’t take as big a chance as those games (its biggest risk is changing the main character), but it’s still a risk. And as I grew older, and began to appreciate change, I found it was a risk worth taking. I love that we get to see the insane world of Metal Gear through different eyes, at least for one game. And his interactions with Snake make the game worth it (”Infinite ammo,” Snake says, pointing to his infinite ammo bandanna). And I don’t really need to dive into the entire reality-bending final act of the game; that’s been covered to death.
MGS2, for me, represents a point in my gaming life where it became clear to me that taking a chance always trumps staying the course. After all, it’s better developers try and fail than not try at all. That’s really where innovation comes from—iteration and risk-taking.
Brian writes about games sometimes and has a Twitter you can follow. Go yell at him, and suggest games you’d like to see him write about.