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Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake – Bigger Tensions, Bigger Thrills

Once you’ve played Metal Gear 2, you crave ever bigger tensions, ever bigger thrills.

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The original Metal Gear holds up well all things considered, but it does have its rougher edges. Especially compared to the Metal Gear Solid games, Operation Intrude N313 is bound to alienate some modern audiences. The story is respectable for its era but sparse & simple for its franchise. The controls get the job done, but they naturally lack the mechanical flexibility & depth found in later titles. A lack of in-game guidance means it’s not always clear what you should do next or where to even go. You’re expected to explore thoroughly, yet most players will crack under the cryptic pressure and just consult a guide the moment Outer Heaven presents one too many dead-ends. Metal Gear was very much a step forward for 8-bit gaming, but there was still potential left untapped–potential Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake would bring to fruition in 1990.

Metal Gear 2 Solid Snake close-up - image courtesy of DeviantArt (nolanb13)

As Metal Gear was the first title Hideo Kojima directed for Konami, the experience wasn’t without its share of hardships. A lack of respect from higher-ups and his own inexperience in the industry made MG’s development an uphill battle. While the final product is truly a great game in its own right, Kojima understandably felt there was more he could have done. In an interview with Steven Kent from Gamers Today, Kojima reflected on how his own inexperience at the time affected development: 

I wasn’t 100% satisfied with what I was able to create. I was only a rookie in the industry back then, and the programmers and sound designer were more experienced than I was. I’m not sure that I was able to utilize them to the fullest extent.

Comparing Metal Gear to the rest of Hideo Kojima’s ludography, it’s not hard to see where this sentiment is coming from. Through titles like Snatcher, the Metal Gear Solid sub-series, and Death Stranding, Kojima has positioned himself as a creator who values themes and presentation more so than his contemporaries — all while still using gameplay as a means to engage audiences on a deeper level. Which isn’t to say that the original Metal Gear fails in this regard. Between an in-game hint system that actively undermines the player and the mere premise of being an “escape game,” Kojima flipped the script for what was expected from an action title. But any piece of art that’s the first of its kind is going to inherently leave room for improvements. 35 years ago, there simply were no games like Metal Gear

Solid Snake in Snake's Revenge - image courtesy of Twitter (VGArtAndTidbits)

Despite all this, Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake was born not just out of Kojima’s desire to improve upon Metal Gear, but also pure chance. Following Metal Gear’s success on the MSX2, Konami had their Nintendo team work on an NES/Famicom port of the original and an original sequel titled Snake’s Revenge. The latter was actually the first Metal Gear sequel ever released, beating Solid Snake to the punch by roughly three months. Since Kojima was part of Konami’s MSX division, however, he had no sway on how the Nintendo titles played out and was kept separate from both development cycles. 

It wouldn’t be until Kojima happened upon a former employee where he’d actually start thinking about what a Metal Gear sequel could and should be

Then one day I met someone on the train who worked in the Famicom department. He used to work for me and was now working on the sequel. He said: ‘I don’t think this is a true sequel. I think you should make the true sequel.’ So on my way home I began to think about what that might look like.” 

Solid Snake from Metal Gear NES - image courtesy of NESfiles

Beyond just encouragement from a former staff member, the Nintendo Entertainment System Metal Gear’s lack of quality might very well be another reason Kojima pushed to develop “the true sequel.” Kojima has never been shy about his feelings on the NES port in interviews, describing the game as not “up to my standards” and even telling Steven Kent that “the fun stealth element was not there,” the crux of Metal Gear’s development to begin with. As it stands, Solid Snake served as an opportunity for Kojima to salvage and define Metal Gear’s legacy on his own terms. Which it did in spades–there’s a reason Metal Gear Solid lifts so many of its main beats from MG2.

Solid Snake maintains the “escape game” feel from Metal Gear while bringing in stronger “war game” elements Konami had wanted originally. The story sports richer themes and the memorable character writing that’s gone on to define Kojima’s scripts. Well-paced cutscenes help break up the gameplay and raise the stakes the deeper in you get. Metal Gear 2 takes everything that works about the original and developers an even more satisfying gameplay experience. It’s really a best of both worlds scenario. 

The original Metal Gear’s charm and sense of style are still present, but with even more gameplay variety and stronger set pieces to play through. Zanzibar Land’s level design makes use of tight level geometry that regularly presents better stealth opportunities than were available on Outer Heaven. Enemies are smarter and make use of a sophisticated alert system to hunt Snake down like a dog. The gameplay loop is simply more fun thanks to some smart design changes rounded out by plenty of polish. Items don’t respawn every time you enter a screen anymore. Resource management actually matters now, and you’re expected to ration rations and use ammo sparingly early on. 

Solid Snake in Metal Gear 2 from Metal Gear Solid - image courtesy of Twitter (MetalGearDmodel)

Character progression is no longer tied to an arbitrary ranking system. Instead, your health and ammo capacity increase after each boss battle. This lends progression a better sense of pace as Snake’s “levels” are now tied to the story rather than easy-to-miss prisoners. On one hand, the fact Metal Gear tied progression to exploration meant you absolutely had to learn Outer Heaven’s layout. On the other hand, searching for secrets because you need to rather than because you can results in a very different game-feel that presents regular frustrations. Even if you know where to go, Metal Gear will force you to backtrack if your rank isn’t high enough. Solid Snake removes prisoners from the equation altogether while placing an emphasis on focused exploration. Backtracking still plays a role, but in a Metroidvania-esque way that recontextualizes familiar settings. 

Core gameplay mechanics go out of their way to take reality into consideration, as well. In a 1993 issue of Beep! Mega Drive (translation by Tumblr user Arc Hound), Hideo Kojima revealed the extensive amount of research that went into getting Solid Snake’s game feel just right, 

Since one of our goals for Solid Snake was to pursue realism, we spent the days and nights gathering as many reference materials we could think of as possible such as movies, books and model guns . . . We secluded ourselves to a mountain in order to play a survival game using infrared guns. Thus, our work became a hobby and our geeky daily life became a simulation of the game.

Metal Gear 2 Making Noise - image courtesy of Tumblr

The benefit to this hands-on style of research can be seen both mechanically through how Snake controls and in regards to enemy behavior. Soldiers see further ahead and turn their heads to quickly scout an area without moving. They’ll respond to all sorts of noise — from gunshots, the echo from walking on loud terrain like grates, or the sound of an elevator button being pressed. You can even knock on walls to bait guards into leaving their post and investigating. When caught, enemies will follow you between screens and onto elevators. It’s not enough to exit an area, you legitimately need to escape by stealth or fight your way to a hiding spot. Metal Gear 2 is a game of hide & seek that can turn into a high-stakes manhunt on a dime. 

The controls more or less function how they did in the original Metal Gear, albeit with some additions. Snake is still only be able to move in four directions, but he can now crawl his way across screens. Crawling’s implementation was based on the dev team’s own actions getting reference materials, “The crawling characters that appear in the game were even roughly designed after staff members who were acting out the poses.” One press of the button makes Snake kneel while a second press will make him go prone. Crawling gives you a way to quietly stealth around loud surfaces, squeeze into tight corners, or just duck out of someone’s line-of-sight. It’s a simple mechanic in the grand scheme of things, but one that grants gameplay greater depth.

Metal Gear 2 - Solid Snake Crawling and Kneeling - image by Renan Fontes

Solid Snake’s development was clearly a labor of love from the team, so much so that “all of the equipment that belonged to the developers were photographed and used for the packaging and manual.” Even Metal Gear 2’s minutiae was born from a sincere passion for what was being created. Considering the fact that equipment is only ever seen in the menu and manual, this is a level of detail that wasn’t necessary but makes the experience more immersive and endearing. Even if Snake is just holding a few blue pixels in-game, there are enough visual cues to help you understand he’s holding the very real Beretta 92FS.

Metal Gear 2’s weapons are a lot of fun to play around with, in large part thanks to an inspired tool kit. If Kojima’s comments are to be believed, every major item had a real-life counterpart that was used during the research phase. There are an assortment of firearms, explosives, and creative gadgets that lend you more than enough variety in the moment-to-moment gameplay. And likely because the dev team actually played together physically, there are plenty of ways to use each piece of gear. 

Reference weapons from Metal Gear 2 manual - image courtesy of Reddit

Snake’s two guns are the most straightforward mechanically. Firing locks Snake into place, so you need to line up your shots appropriately. Where the Handgun only shoots directly in front of you, the Submachine Gun fires a continuous spread of bullets in your immediate perimeter when the Attack Button is held down. While both guns are loud enough to distract guards upon firing, they can be outfitted with optional Silencers that turn them into viable stealth options. Besides Snake’s basic punch, Silencers are your only means of silently fighting enemies. Until you find one, combat is very much a matter of risk versus reward. Do you use your gun and risk alerting guards to your location? Or do you go in for melee and risk getting caught before you can connect? 

Fortunately, there are more than enough ways to make noise and still fight back discreetly. An aiming reticle allows you to precisely toss Grenades from a distance. Plastic Explosives can be placed anywhere and detonated with a punch so long as you stay on-screen. Even if not used lethally, the blast makes for a useful diversion. Land Mines are best planted in tight corridors or on patrol routes. They detonate as soon as they’re walked over, loudly drawing attention to a single spot. Gas Grenades function a bit differently from regular Grenades. Rather than using an aiming reticle, Snake simply throws the grenade in front of him. From there, gas will spread in the thrown direction, killing enemies in a deathly haze. Gas Grenades are great for crowd control, but they naturally don’t work on helmeted guards. 

Solid Snake Mouse - image courtesy of Youtube

Not quite an explosive or a firearm, the Mouse began Metal Gear’s tradition of using unorthodox items in creative ways (think dropping a Playboy on a guard’s patrol route as a distraction). Quite literally a computer mouse, Mice will run around an entire screen in order to potentially distract enemies. Their main benefit is to trick guards into believing that the sound Snake is making is coming from something else. While not super helpful comparatively, the Mouse represents that trademark wackiness Kojima would go on to fill Metal Gear Solid’s tool kits with. 

Snake’s last two weapons are both missiles. The Remote-Controlled Missile returns from the original Metal Gear and operates the same way. Firing the missile locks you in place, but you can control its trajectory with the D-Pad. RC Missiles are a smart way of killing enemies from behind a corner or setting off an explosion on the other side of the screen. The brand new Stinger Missile is by far the most unique weapon in the game. Instead of aiming on-screen, you fire the missile off-screen by aiming on the newly integrated mini-map. 

The Reactive Radar is a 3×3 mini-map that shows you nine rooms at once. The radar sits on the upper right of the screen at all times and displays relevant information in different colors. The actual level design is depicted in black, the out-of-bounds are green, Snake is represented as a red dot, and the enemies are white dots. You can immediately tell how many guards there are, how screens are connected, and where Snake is in proximity to everything else. The mini-map is a reference point that gives you a clear understanding of your surroundings at a glance. In practice, this gives you the advantage when it comes to stealth. You’re given the tools to prepare for each screen accordingly. 

Metal Gear 2 Radar- image courtesy of Metal Gear wiki

It’s important to keep in mind that the mini-map becomes disabled once Snake is seen by an enemy. This works in tandem with Metal Gear 2’s three-tier alert system to build tension during gameplay. Level 1 is the designated Infiltration phase. Guards are not aware of your presence during this time and the Reactive Radar remains active on-screen. Getting spotted triggers Level 3, the Alert phase. Guards will actively seek you out, attack on sight, and call in reinforcements if you try to hold your ground. Without the mini-map, you need to navigate the level design based on pure familiarity. Escaping enemy detection by hiding during Level 3 brings you down to Level 2, Evasion. Although the mini-map remains restricted, a 30-second timer starts clocking down. Once time runs out, enemies call off their search, dropping you back to Level 1 and reactivating the radar.

With the introduction of a mini-map and crawling as a mechanic, Zanzibar Land ends up far more elaborately designed than Outer Heaven in terms of level geometry. There are now a wide variety of stealth options beyond just positioning yourself behind a wall. Snake can crawl underneath tables or trucks, hide inside of boxes or buckets, and sneak into vents that guards will never think to look into. Some rooms are now layered with multiple floors, featuring lower and upper levels on the same screen. You can avoid enemy detection by swapping to another floor or kneeling behind a balcony railing. All the while, the layering allows screens to be denser with enemies and information. A single room in Metal Gear 2 offers more gameplay opportunities than Metal Gear 1 could in three.

Metal Gear 2 Trap room - image courtesy of Youtube

To say nothing of the game’s trap density. Outer Heaven relied mainly on security cameras, infrared lasers, watch dogs, and the occasional pit trap. Zanzibar Land scraps dogs from the equation (for the better given they were the first game’s clumsiest traps) while refining trap design on a whole. Security cameras tend to be situated in much tighter corridors and often in proximity to guards or other traps. Infrared sensors regularly switch positions on the fly, a trick MG1 only attempted once or twice. Pit traps aren’t as prominent anymore, but newly implemented tripwires make noise whenever bumped into and threaten to slow you down until broken. Bulldozers patrol late-game hallways and crush everything in their path, Snake included. Noise detectors emit red lines that, if stepped in, alert guards to your presence. Traps keep your attention on gameplay and remind you that anything can change in a moment’s notice.

It’s easy to take for granted just how solid the original Metal Gear’s presentation is, but Solid Snake is one of the most impressive-looking and sounding 8-bit games, period. Different actions all have their own sound effects and the soundtrack is frankly phenomenal thanks to a wide musical range. “Zanzibar Breeze”, “Front Line”, and “Imminent” are all stealth themes of varying energy — going from an opening that conveys Snake’s confidence and determination to foreboding tracks better suited towards Zanzibar Land’s inherent danger. “Tears”, “Night Fall”, and “Wavelet” are all softer, more introspective tracks that play during cutscenes. “Tears” in particular scores some of the story’s saddest moments. While not as bombastic as “Escape” from the first game, “Spiral” is an ominous final boss song that conveys just how helpless you are in the eye of the greatest soldier who ever lived. 

Metal Gear 2 - Solid Snake defeats two guards and smokes - image courtesy of Gifer

Zanzibar Land’s attention to detail and spritework are simply on another level. Visual flairs help flesh out different settings to make them all the more immersive. The color palette is diverse to begin with, which helps each individual section of Zanzibar stand out better than Outer Heaven could, but it’s the little things that bring everything together. Different floors and walls have their own textures. The concrete and dirt patches outside look nothing like the brick flooring inside. Even then, the bricks in the bathroom aren’t laid the same way they are in offices or hallways. 

Trees are bunched together in a sea of green and brown, casting shadows where they stand and giving the impression that they’re taller than they actually appear. Enemy barracks are in worse condition than any of the main buildings, pristine architecture replaced with dilapidated walls and roofs. Monitors and PC towers sit comfortably on top of office tables. Swamp water bubbles as you trudge your way through the murk. Windows have a glossy sheen to them, the trash room floor is covered in grime, and the titular Metal Gear is so meticulously crafted that it wouldn’t look out of place in a 16-bit title. Solid Snake knows how to set a mood and keep you invested in the game’s world. 

Zanzibar Land is a much larger setting than Outer Heaven, both in terms of actual level design and scope. Several rooms exist just for the sake of creating a coherent environment. There’s a central map room in the first building that serves no gameplay purpose but does make sense as something guards would reference in-universe. Hallways stretch for as long as makes sense, sometimes connecting half a dozen screens into one room. Elevators are a whole experience in and of themselves. You need to call the elevator, wait for it to arrive on your floor, and then ride it up. Some rides are dozens of floors long, for no reason other than to stay true to the setting. Metal Gear 2’s level design errs on being excessive, but it’s all in service of creating a genuine sense of scale. 

Metal Gear 2 Level variety - image by Renan Fontes

Zanzibar’s scope also benefits from environmental variety on a level that puts most of the Metal Gear Solid games to shame. The main buildings range from heavily fortified military complexes to simple offices and facilities with relaxing amenities like a sauna. Snake has to navigate his way through sewers, a thirty-story tower, and a golden wheatfield by the barracks. A thick jungle sits outside the base, splitting off into a marsh maze and a makeshift desert filled with imported sand. Backtracking doesn’t feel like a chore when the critical path is so varied. Metal Gear 2’s strong puzzle design likewise helps in this regard. 

There are a good mix of mechanical and cerebral challenges paced throughout. A few set pieces are too obtuse for their own good, like deciphering the tap code for a codec frequency or finding the path in the swamp maze, but most are well done and stand out as particularly strong puzzles for an 8-bit title. They also do a great job at intuitively teaching you how to play the game without holding your hand with excessive tutorials. Finding Dr. Marv at the start teaches you how to use your mini-map by hiding his location on the radar. By the time you find him, you should be intimately familiar with how the map works. Tracking the Green Beret in the jungle maze tests your ability to study enemy patterns. You need to observe carefully, stay in stealth, and move at just the right instant.

Later puzzles with more unorthodox solutions get you thinking outside the (cardboard) box and engaging with the game world in dynamic ways. By hiding inside a box, Snake can ride on conveyor belts to reach areas of Zanzibar that are otherwise inaccessible. Rations are used as a proper puzzle tool more than once. Chocolate rations can be used to get rid of acid puddles while cheese rations lure poisonous mice out of their alcove. The egg puzzle operates on moon man logic you just don’t see in games anymore. Snake can equip a freshly hatched owl whose hoots actually trick a guard into believing it’s night, causing him to abandon post. Even so nonsensical, the puzzle works thanks to enough in-game hints and some basic process of elimination. The owl must do something, after all. 

Zanzibar Land map - image courtesy of Metal Gear wiki

Figuring out how to reshape Gustava’s Brooch into a key relies on how well you’ve been paying attention to the level design. You’re tasked with a fair bit of backtracking right before the final boss, which can be frustrating if you’ve just been going through the motions. At the same time, that’s exactly what makes the Brooch puzzle rewarding. It’s the backtracking prisoners demanded from Metal Gear, but framed appropriately and tucked away until the finale. From a different perspective, this is your last opportunity to engage with everything Metal Gear 2 has to offer at your own pace and on your own terms. Zanzibar Land is essentially your playground at this point. Solid Snake’s structure is also flexible enough where you can ready the Brooch in advance, circumventing the need to backtrack entirely. 

Like puzzles and traps, bosses are much improved coming off Metal Gear. Metal Gear 2’s boss fights present a respectable balance of reflex-based challenges and puzzle battles. The series’ first ninja, Black Ninja teleports around the screen to launch shurikens at you from a distance. You need to figure out how to use the arena to your advantage while seizing what brief windows you have to deal damage. Running Man is too fast to chase on foot and gas filling the room means you don’t have time to waste. It’s an easy fight with a simple solution considering you should have just unlocked Land Mines, but the time limit creates a tense atmosphere.

The Four Horsemen surround Snake inside of a small elevator, weaving in and out at you from all directions. The battle almost becomes a dance where you need to react to every movement with the right step, shooting whenever you can with whatever you have. Jungle Evil hides himself inside a wheatfield consisting of four screens. You have to anticipate his movements between screens and shoot whenever he rises, almost like a sniper-less prototype for what would become The End’s fight in Metal Gear Solid 3. Night Fright plays with the same concept, but this time the boss is completely invisible. You can only determine his location from the direction of his bullets, making it difficult (but not impossible) to fight back without laying traps. 

Metal Gear D from Solid Snake - image courtesy of tumblr

The final set of bosses pulls out all the stops to close out the game on a high. Dr. Madnar locks Snake in a chokehold that keeps him behind you for the whole fight. You need to intelligently use your weapons to somehow attack from behind. Metal Gear D is one of the easiest bosses in the game, but the sheer spectacle of the battle more than makes up for it. The fight against Gray Fox is a barehanded duel to the death in a minefield, which is epic enough to be the final boss in any other game. The actual final battle leaves you completely defenseless and forces you to improvise your way to victory. You have to avoid Big Boss’ pursuit while exploring each room, avoiding acid, and putting together a weapon out of whatever you can find. 

Metal Gear 2’s bosses are a big step up from the first game in terms of design, but the real appeal is just how memorable their character writing is. Solid Snake begins the series’ tradition of Snake debriefing with his bosses after defeating them. They share their motivations, their backstories, and offer a different perspective on Zanzibar Land’s political situation. 

All of us Resistance fighters… and the children of Outer Heaven… they didn’t care about any of us. There was no escape from the flames… They died like animals in a cage… / He came… and saved us from annihilation. He forgave us for what we’ve done. He gave us a new land to call home… A new family… / Snake, you’ll understand soon… What a wonderful man he is…” 
– Black Ninja, Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake

Gray Fox bleeding - image courtesy of Tumblr

These interactions humanize the antagonists while tying into MG2’s core themes — the complex nature of morality and violence, and the life-altering (and ending) impact warfare has. Snake may be a “hero” for stopping Big Boss, but Outer Heaven’s destruction by NATO left innocents dead and countless men, women, and children without a home. To “save the day” so brazenly required the ruining of lives, all unbeknownst to Snake. Heroism and “doing good” aren’t as one-note as video games make them out to be. War has real consequences. 

The story on a whole has a dark atmosphere that doesn’t shy away from exploring mature themes. Zanzibar is full of child soldiers. Talking to them reveals a complete adoration for Big Boss, who they see as a father. Snake himself has PTSD following the events of Metal Gear, “I came to get rid of the nightmares I’ve been having for the past three years,” and is betrayed by Schneider, Dr. Madnar, and Gray Fox. Yesterday’s ally becomes today’s opposition. Big Boss isn’t framed like an all-evil villain, but a complicated man whose cruelty speaks to the world’s own indifference and apathy towards the marginalized. 

The story’s actual presentation is all around excellent and feels appropriately modern by today’s standards. It helps that Solid Snake boasts the best cutscene-to-gameplay ratio in the series, even better than the first Metal Gear Solid’s. There’s just enough story to keep you invested without bogging you down in cutscenes. The focus is almost entirely on the gameplay, but never for so long where you might forget what to do or lose the plot’s progression. Like the first game, most cutscenes take place within the transceiver screen. This time around, however, Codec calls better resemble their final form in the original Metal Gear Solid trilogy. 

Snake vs Big Boss - image courtesy of Gyfcat

The conversation screen is now stylized to feature both Snake and his talking partner, which always helps an audience connect with a character. Frequencies are saved in the menu so you no longer need to write them down or simply remember them. There are over half a dozen different characters Snake can interact with, all of which have their own quirks and unique talking points. Johan knows all about Zanzibar’s animal life, Kasler offers extra insight into bosses, and Master Miller spouts off all sorts of trivia. Not too much that’s actually practical in-game, but endearing all the same. Codec calls are an amazing way of fleshing out the whole cast without interrupting the story or gameplay’s natural flow. They’re there for players who want more. 

Big Boss concept art from Metal Gear Solid - image courtesy of metal gear wiki

Helping the cutscene to gameplay ratio is the amount of time it takes for the story to really embrace cutscenes. It’s only in the last hour where they begin to dominate the game, and by that point, the focus on narrative feels earned and natural. Metal Gear 2 takes a “less is more” approach to storytelling, which doesn’t quite reflect the rest of the series, but ultimately works in its favor. Dialogue has a real weight to it, getting to the point and dealing with raw emotion that feels downright theatrical most of the time. The script develops a voice for each of its major players, from Snake’s dorky yet charming bravado to Gray Fox’s bitter and tortured attitude. Even Big Boss, who only appears in the last 10 minutes, feels like a fully three-dimensional character thanks to strong writing. 

The nightmares? They never go away, Snake. Once you’ve been on the battlefield, tasted the exhilaration, the tension… it all becomes part of you. Once you’ve awakened the warrior within… it never sleeps again.
You crave ever bigger tensions, ever bigger thrills.
” 
– Big Boss, Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake

At the end of the day, the script is what sells Solid Snake’s arcs and themes. Life isn’t black and white, and “villains” are rarely ever wholly villainous. Big Boss is a dangerous man who employs children in his service, but Gray Fox offers a sobering perspective on Metal Gear’s chief antagonist. “Big Boss might have been just another CO to you, but he saved my life – twice . . . The first time, I was a half-white living in Vietnam… It was after the war, and half-whites were being sent into forced labor camps. He saved me from that living hell. Just like he saved all the children here.” Big Boss is a man using nuclear weapons to strongarm the world into a forever war, but his actions inspire loyalty all the same. He liberates the oppressed and takes in those who have no place to call home. He answers injustice with justice for those who can’t fight for themselves. 

Soild Snake vs Metal Gear D - image courtesy of tumblr

But war and violence consume you. “War is all we know. We can’t make it in the normal world. We need the battlefield to survive. Big Boss gives us a place to fight. Conflict is in our blood. We can’t deny it.” In a world where men are made to fight, die, and subsequently be forgotten when the fight is done, Big Boss offers perpetual purpose. Yet it’s not without its own losses. In tying himself to Big Boss, Gray Fox never sees a chance for true peace, “Making people happy… making a woman happy… is something I could never do.” Which is the sentiment that inspires Snake to affirm his will to live against Big Boss.

There’s also something to be said about how Big Boss’ character encapsulates the never-ending nature of conflict. Even without having Metal Gear Solid 3 for added context, his dialogue in Metal Gear 2 highlights his position as a soldier who truly knows no other way of life. “On the battlefield, you and I are valuable commodities. But back ‘home’, we’re nothing but dead weight . . . You and I are doomed to remain here until we die like dogs on the battlefield.” A lifetime of battle robbed Big Boss of the chance for normalcy Snake yearns for. “It doesn’t matter who wins here. Our fight will continue. The loser will be liberated from the battlefield, and the winner will remain. And the survivor will live out the rest of his days as a soldier.” Every aspect of Big Boss’ ideology is rooted in the belief that there is nothing but war for men like him. For men like Snake.

You care nothing for power, or money, or even sex. The only thing that satisfies your cravings… is WAR! All I’ve done is give you a place for it. I’ve given you a reason to live.
– Big Boss, Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake

Big Boss Metal Gear 2 - image courtesy of metal gear wiki

More than just a CO who’s betrayed you, Big Boss and Snake are ideological foils with entirely different interpretations on what it means to live. For Big Boss, life is the battlefield. For Snake, life is anywhere but, “It doesn’t have to be that way! I’m not like you. I love life!” Both men seek the same thing, but their differing perspectives keeps them ideologically opposed. It’s not the family tragedy Metal Gear Solid tries to sell, but it’s damn good drama all the same. Big Boss isn’t exactly sympathetic, but he presents a nuanced interpretation of his own “villainy” and the nature of violence. His actions, motivations, and ideals are legitimately thought-provoking and rooted in reality, which isn’t something that can be said for other video game villains of his era.

From story to game design, Metal Gear 2 is an enormous improvement over Metal Gear. It’s the kind of leap in design you’d expect between generations, not within three years on the same console. The spike in mechanical & presentational quality from MG1 to Solid Snake feels closer to The Legend of Zelda into A Link to the Past than it does to its own contemporaries like Super Mario Bros. into 2 or 3. The sheer variety of gameplay on tap almost feels unreal. You can approach screens any number of ways, from going in guns blazing, to laying traps, stealthing through quietly, or trying to go fully non-lethal. 

The three-tier alert system is such a small addendum to a system that already worked well, but it takes a great idea and essentially perfects it. The mini-map shows you just enough without completely dominating your gaze in-game. The timer helps build tension, especially in Level 3 when it refuses to count down. It’s a genuine thrill running from guards and using whatever’s available to hide. The level design is so carefully built with stealth in mind, that there’s always a way to get through a screen unseen. At the same time, enemies are intelligently placed and aggressive when on the hunt. You need to be patient, observant, and reactive in the same breath. 

Key Art - image courtesy of Metal Gear wiki

The story is one of the best parts of the game, specifically because it’s not intrusive. Cutscenes come only when the time is right and never outstay their welcome. They leave you wanting more, but not because they’re too short either. There’s little fat in the plot, which isn’t something that can be said for later Metal Gear games. The script isn’t afraid to dive into dark themes in thought-provoking ways while still having a sense of humor about itself. Only a tight story can drop lines like, “You should wait 30 minutes after eating before playing games,” and “In this world of ours, conflict never ends,” and make it feel normal. A little bit of quirky storytelling goes a long way. 

The nightmares have stopped. I’m a free man now.
– Solid Snake, Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake

It’s a testament to Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake’s quality that it can still be called one of Hideo Kojima’s best games over three decades later. Hell, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call it one of the best 8-bit games altogether. More than just Kojima, though, the whole team clearly put their heart and soul into the game’s development. The art direction, sound design, and core mechanics feel rooted in reality in a way few titles can boast. As tense as it is thrilling, Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake is a masterpiece through and through. 

A man with simultaneously too much spare time on his hands and no time at all, Renan loves nothing more than writing about video games. He's always thinking about what re(n)trospective he's going to write next, looking for new series to celebrate.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Viewtiful1DoubleOkamiHand

    September 17, 2022 at 4:15 am

    This is a… overwhelmingly good article O_o
    Thank you.

    • Renan Fontes

      September 17, 2022 at 9:14 am

      This is extremely kind of you to say! Thank you so much for reading 🙂

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