Five by Five – Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake

Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake is part two of what I consider the six ‘core’ Metal Gear games. The bad guys have holed up Zanzibarland with kidnapped scientists, the secrets to near-limitless oil and nuclear power, and (naturally) a new prototype Metal Gear. In response, legendary mercenary Solid Snake is brought out of retirement to put a stop to their schemes. In a parallel that may or may not have been intentional, Hideo Kojima had actually not originally planned on making a sequel to the first Metal Gear, but when he found about the American-made Snake’s Revenge he too was called back into action.

Package Secured

A smarter breed of hired goons – The enemy soldiers display a plethora of improvements compared to the previous game. The patrol routes seem a bit better, and guards are now equipped with a 45-degree field of vision rather than just straight line of sight, as well as the ability to turn their heads side to side as they stand about. Additionally, guards can now follow you anywhere on the same floor, as well as chasing you inside cars, elevators, and rooms. This makes staying hidden more challenging and ultimately more rewarding.

Bigger badder bosses – The bosses are a bit more imaginative this time around, requiring a greater variety of tactics to defeat. They’re still a gaggle of unconnected oddball supersoldiers mostly lacking in personality, but they do have slightly more personality than before. Additionally, tangling with Metal Gear D was a good deal more exciting this time around than in the previous game. Rather than just sitting in a holding bay and shooting stationary lasers, this one stomps around the room shooting machine guns and guided rockets at you such that you could actually imagine it marching across a battlefield to take on a platoon of soldiers. I love boss fights where I’m actually afraid of the boss, and this one succeeds.

Better writing… mostly – The story is still on par with a B-grade action flick, but it’d probably make for one of the better ones. There’s a reasonably interesting cast of characters, and the villainous scheme is a little more complex this time than the old ‘hijack some nuclear weapons and hold the world for ransom’ bit. Like the first one, it’s a far cry from what I’d hold up as good writing, but it’s a step up from part one and, like its predecessor, several steps ahead of the industry for its time.

Knocking on the fourth wall – As has become the standard in the series, Metal Gear always has a little metagame humor. Master Miller occasionally directs advice directly to the player rather than Snake, and later in the story a video game cartridge is actually a key plot item. Some puzzles are also meant to be solved by using the game manual, though one can now find the answers online. Some may find the metagame distracting from the story, but I personally enjoy games that are okay with not taking things too seriously.

Tech support that cares – Support also shows some improvements. Codec messages periodically reflect your current situation instead of just being based on what room you’re in, and your contact list eventually includes experts in various fields to call for specific advice. There’s also some neat new gear to procure. My personal favorite is a camo mat you can toss on most surfaces to make yourself an instant crawlspace. In general I dig when a game gives you some neat toys to play with and actually lets you just use them to get out of trouble instead of tying them to just one puzzle in the game.

Missing in Action

Puzzling, and not in a good way – Unfortunately, there are still some pretty weird and seemingly pointless puzzles in here. There’s a bit in the third act where you have to get a guard to turn off a security fence by convincing him it’s night time, which you do by getting an owl to hoot, which you accquire by going to a random lab with an owl egg and a snake egg, and shortly after you get both the snake will eat all your rations. Seriously.

They just keep coming – Maybe it’s just me, but I found it to be quite a pain to try to hide out after being discovered. Once you kill everyone on-screen (or run far enough away) you have about a second and a half to hide somewhere before someone else comes after you. If you’re just running from screen to screen this means you’ll switch from ‘alert’ to ‘caution’ for a milisecond, then the newly spawned guard will instantly spot you. This is a good bit trickier because while you’re in ‘alert’ or ‘caution’, your radar is jammed and you don’t know where they’re coming from. In later games there’s an option to leave the radar on when you’re spotted, which I wish was a choice here. In this case, the way to get out of trouble is generally to run into the nearest closet and then punch repeatedly so you knock out the guards as soon as they come into the room until the alert wears off. That or run far enough away to escape via loading screen.

Hope you like the scenic route – This may or may not be a negative depending on how much you like crawling all over a big game world, but for me I think there was maybe just a little bit too much backtracking. Zanzibarland is enjoyably enormous and there’s neat stuff to find through exploration, but you have to wander back and forth across nearly the entire game world quite a lot over the course of the game.

Nothing good ever happens in swamps – Whoever designed the swamp section should be thwapped with a rolled-up newspaper. There’s this bit where you have to follow and memorize an invisible ‘safe’ path through an large swamp that takes up several screens. If you go the wrong way you very slowly sink into the muck and can die if you sink too deep, and if you happened to be playing it back in the day before the internet had all the answers you had to figure all this out by pure time-consuming trial and error. And there’s a boss fight on the other end of this swamp who’s more than a little complicated to defeat. And yes, there’s backtracking involved. Bad level designer, bad!

Ditch the SMG, again – This is a small nitpick that may only bug me but the SMG still sucks just as much as in the first game. I’ve always been the sort to prefer an accurate weapon over a powerful one (reasoning that if the bullets will just go where I tell them I won’t need so many), and I just can’t stand that crazy spread of fire. To its credit, though, it comes in handy during one boss fight where the guy’s invisible and you just need to cover a general area with bullets. The rest of the game though, the plain old handgun carried me to victory.

The Final Word

To be honest I’ve got mixed feelings on this one. If you’re a big Metal Gear fan, this game adds some additional flavor to the overall story. Its also given me some insight into Kojima’s mind over the course of the series, namely that the later title Metal Gear Solid is the game he wished he could have made if not for the limits of the technology at the time. If you’re not already hip to the series, I’m not sure this is the game to convert you. The excessive backtracking and some bad puzzles make the game hang at times, though the enjoyment of eluding the new smarter guards did keep me coming back. Not quite as much replay value, but if you want some more insight into the events referenced heavily in MGS1 and sporadically throughout the rest of the series, Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake is where a lot of the story began.

Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake was played on the Playstation 2 as a port of the Sega Master system version, and is also available on mobile phones and the Wii Virtual Console (Japan only). The original is only for sale from collectors, but MGS3:S counts it among the bonus content and can be found for an average of $19.99. Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake hasn’t been rated by the ESRB, but this reviewer’s best guess would be a T for Teen rating for Animated Violence and Smoking. Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake is developed and published by Konami. All copyrights property of their respective owners.

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