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20 Years Later: Metal Gear Solid 2 is The Most Insanely Ambitious Sequel Ever

Hideo Kojima followed up his smash stealth hit on the PS1 with one of the strangest follow-ups in the history of video games.

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Metal Gear Solid 2

Metal Gear Solid was a revelation when it was released back in 1998. The game that jump-started the stealth genre and introduced us to some of the best (and weirdest) video game villains of all time, Metal Gear Solid took the basic framework of the NES Metal Gear games and blew it up in spectacular fashion. A mere three years later, though, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty would make us rethink the capabilities of the entire medium.

Essentially a piece-by-piece deconstruction of the tropes, motifs, and messages of the first game, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was pretty far from the sequel most folks were imagining, but even that was by design. The easiest way to prove this is by looking at the ad campaign for MGS2. All fans saw were images and videos of Solid Snake sneaking around and seemingly being confronted by the villains who had survived the first game.

It looked like exactly what you would expect from a sequel to a highly successful game—better graphics, some new mechanics, but otherwise more or less the same. When players finally got their hands on Metal Gear Solid 2, though, they were in for quite a few surprises in that regard.

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
Image Credit: Konami

While the opening two hours of MGS2 did indeed feature Solid Snake, after that, our hero disappeared, replaced by a character who was the antithesis of Snake. Young, inexperienced, sort of whiny, and complete with a look that was the opposite of Snake’s, Raiden, proved to be decidedly unpopular with fans of the first game.

Naturally, there was some pretty severe blowback from fans at the time, despite the strong overall quality of the game. However, Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima had not only predicted this controversy, but he had also deliberately aimed for such reactions. In essence, the point of Metal Gear Solid 2 was to comment on the first game through a thoughtful analysis of what violent video games teach us and how digital information is absorbed in general.

Admittedly the depth and scope of this aren’t always successful in Sons of Liberty. With much of the revelations and exposition explaining the point of the game delivered in the back half of the story, and several plot twists immediately contradicting other new bits of information, players can be forgiven for feeling a bit mixed up by the end of the journey.

Metal Gear Solid 2
Image Credit: Konami

Still, for those who follow Kojima down the weird rabbit hole of Metal Gear Solid 2, there are plenty of valuable points and interesting asides to discover and ponder. For instance, MGS2 repeatedly stresses that the future of information will be digital and that if someone could control the flow of that information, they would wield a god-like power over the masses. Hell, that’s the final plan of the villains of the game.

Even the idea of memes is looked at here, and this was long before the term had gained a shred of the online notoriety that it has today. In fact, one of the most notable elements of MGS2 two decades later is how prescient it turned out to be in its predictions. After all, in 2001, it was a lot harder to imagine a world without print newspapers and magazines. Today, though, we’re practically living in that reality, and the dwindling print publications that remain rely heavily on digital information in order to function.

Metal Gear Solid 2 didn’t just comment on these developing elements of our technological society either; it actually figured them into the design and marketing behind the game. As mentioned above, the Raiden switcheroo wasn’t the most popular design choice at the time, but as the years have gone by, players have recognized its clever nuance. After all, they had been purposefully misled by digital information surrounding the game and, as a result, had been fooled.

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
Image Credit: Konami

Further, MGS2 also heavily explored how video games could be used to recruit future generations of soldiers and train them. A late-game plot revelation lays this out in very succinct terms. It is revealed that the similarities to certain facets of the first game are meant to force Raiden to become the perfect soldier and used as a framework for a simulation to train future soldiers.

Of course, all of these lofty ambitions and disparate elements are smashed together and exploded gloriously at the backend of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, but that only makes the game more fun. Between total nonsense codec transmissions, a mountain of exposition, a battle with thirty giant robots, and a swordfight atop an NYC courthouse, this game goes off a cliff in the absolute best way possible in its closing hours.

If anything, this is the lasting impression and legacy that MGS2 has left 20 years later. It’s basically a chaotic hurricane of ideas mashed into a single entity during the finale. Still, as a result, it changed not just how we look at the Metal Gear Solid series but the entire medium of gaming.

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
Image Credit: Konami

As a result, the trajectory of the already ambitious MGS franchise was shifted so considerably that Kojima had to make a prequel game before he was even willing to address the many open plot lines that Metal Gear Solid 2 had created. While not all of these plots were successfully resolved in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Sons of Liberty still had the brass balls to ask them in the first place, and that ought to count for something.

While today MGS2 boasts a mixed legacy of memeable silliness and wildly ambitious storytelling, the tide has turned so that most series fans have come to love the black sheep of the franchise. Like Final Fantasy VIII, Metal Gear Solid 2 might be insanely different from its successful predecessor, but that’s ultimately part of its charm.

Mike Worby is a human who spends way too much of his free time playing, writing and podcasting about pop culture. Through some miracle he's still able to function in society as if he were a regular person, and if there's hope for him, there's hope for everyone.

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