Pepe, turn the game console off right now


Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (2002)

Memes have a lot to answer for, you know. I admit that I never saw the potential harm they could do, back in the days of the incessant le rage comics and whatever other rubbish Reddit were proud of. And now look – any fool can slap the Impact font onto some non-descript photo or Simpsons scene and think they’ve got a top meme, just waiting to go viral. Your parents are now sharing memes on WhatsApp, for God’s sake. We even have a meme US President.

We should have listened to Metal Gear Solid 2’s warning. Mind you, I’m afraid to say that any morals, true meanings and lessons that the MGS2 story might have tried to deliver were rather lost on me, lost in the mire of all the nonsensical chat going on.

When the first Metal Gear Solid came out, it was an unbelievable feat. It still freaks the nut a bit, playing it 20 whole years later, and marvelling at how good the story and characterisation were and how convincing and well done the voice work was.

MGS2 hype went nuclear, if you like that pun, and on the all powerful new Playstation 2 it was obviously going to be a phenomenon. The graphics were really not that far away from the more powerful GameCube and Dreamcast. Snake even had a face this time, plus a full-on mullet, and a beard. How could it not be great?!

Mind you, that’s just the start of the game. I can barely explain the plot to you, even after watching the zillions of story cutscenes included, but it’s the usual effort – Metal Gear is a walking nuclear tank that topples the delicate nuclear balance of power in favour of terrorists and ne’er-do-wells, so we can’t be having them strutting around, no way. Gotta track it down and destroy it, by first of all playing as Snake on an oil tanker in the stormy sea.

After Snake’s brief part of the story, where he finishes up presumed dead, you play the bulk of the game as Raiden. It’s easy to come out with a comment here that’d later be classed as homophobia, but shall we just say that with his slender, panther-like body; his luxurious, shoulder-length blonde hair that leaves more than one character wondering if it’s real; his well foundationed face; and his lack of distinct gravelly voice, Raiden isn’t quite the Snake-like badass that people were dying to see more of.

The meme theory starts from here, see, with Raiden being referred to as Snake early doors and the whole outset of the mission being exactly the same as the Shadow Moses Saga of MGS1, right down to Colonel Campbell’s initial codecs. As the game progresses, the story is unravelled and the true nature of the hidden villains, The Patriots, is revealed. It was at this point that the plot, already mindbending, started going properly off the rails. And I wasn’t giving up easily, believe me.

I was trying desperately to understand it all, leaning forward right off of my chair and blocking out everything else. I ended up clinging onto the TV, mouth open and sucking the screen like a barnacle, completely airtight. Yet more diatribes about meme theory were shoved down my throat. Incomprehensible line after incomprehensible line coming out without end, like mucus from a runny nose.

I’m sure it all had a wonderful and profound point, possibly before it was mangled by the Japanese-to-English translation, but it’s no use asking me. It sadly reminded me of doing higher level Maths in school, or at least trying to get there, before being confronted with that terrible truth that, for the first time in my heralded school career, I just wasn’t getting it. I’d have to put serious work in just to get even a layman’s understanding. And this left me ashamed.

I don’t mind not understanding all of the mechanics of a game – but when the adults are talking and I’m left just standing there with my mouth open, that hurts. Helpfully, your protagonist tends to stay silent while all of this nuttiness is going on, suggesting that even he hasn’t got a bog’s notion what’s happening and that he too just wants to get back to sneaking, shooting and scavenging.

It’s somewhat telling that there are several times, right in the midst of a cutscene, that one of the characters will tap their ears and the rest of the conversation gets relayed over the far more budget friendly Codec. If that wasn’t a suggestion to the nutty director in charge of the game, Hideo Kojima, that there were far too many unnecessary cutscenes in the game then I don’t know what would be.

That’s all futile thinking from me anyway, since the series only got worse in this respect. Did you know that there’s a 79-minute series of cutscenes in Metal Gear Solid 4, one right after the other? That’s about as long as Toy Story. MGS2 in its entirety clocks in at about five-and-a-half hours worth of cutscenes, and you can fit more than one Oscar Best Picture in there. It’s little wonder that I never have the stomach to replay these games.

As for the gameplay, what exists of it, it’s a refinement of the revolutionary MGS1 stealth setup, and it works quite well: use your radar to manoeuvre your way past the enemy soldiers, avoiding contact with them unless you can trank them from afar. If you’re caught, you better run and hide because even if you blow them away, it’s not like the first game where the bodies disappear and the best they can do is ask who owns these footprints.

No, bodies are now left there to be discovered unless you can stash them. Gunshots heard from far off will also give you away, as will spent magazines left lying around (that’s the non-pornographic kind). The guards are still effectively deaf, dumb and blind, but that’s only on the easier difficulties. Play on the European Extreme difficulty (back to the porn theme again) and… they still probably wouldn’t qualify for a driving licence, but they’ll be all over you and take you out in a second if you let them.

The thing I can never acquaint myself with in later MGS games is the control scheme. The Dualshock is a fine controller, a SNES pad on steroids, but even it can’t cope with the demand of Metal Gear. Even with all of its face buttons, and two analogue sticks, you’re struggling to exercise full control of the delicate nuclear situation.

The face buttons on a PS2 controller are analogue as well, believe it or not, but it’s pretty sensitive. The ‘Shoot’ button is analogue, for instance, which means that you’ll be trying to point your gun at somebody to hold them up, a nifty new feature and a legitimate and useful tactic in the game – only for your thumb to accidentally apply just that bit too much pressure, that extra 0.01%, and suddenly your AK-74 is blaring and the whole Atlantic Ocean and all of its sealife are alerted to your presence. I suppose there’s a bit of realism in that.

Towards the tail end of all this palavar, and in a (in)famous sequence, you end up playing as a naked Raiden, cartwheeling your crown jewels right up into the air as a spate of insane, nonsensical Codec calls come your way and the plot really makes a move on you. Just you try making sense of it – you’ll break your brain in half.

When you’re told to turn the game console off right now, you’re almost on your feet in a panicked hurry doing just that before you hear any more. It’s like when you’d be excused by your mother from the dinner table when the relatives are over and it’s dry vegetables on your plate – you don’t need telling twice.

Pick up the Substance version of MGS2, a re-released special edition available for extremely cheap, and you’ll get plenty of nice goodies such as hundreds of VR missions (good fun but far too many to complete really), Snake Tales (a look at what Snake was doing behind the scenes in Raiden’s chapter, good but lacks something as it’s not voice-acted) and skateboarding.

Yes, that’s right, skateboarding. What did I tell you? In the pursuit of memes and social clout, any ridiculous endeavour will do. It’s not exactly easy to sum Metal Gear Solid 2 up in one poorly cropped image or viral TikTok or unintelligible Tweet or whatever meme format is popular among the kids these days. You’d struggle to contain it all within even a deluxe eight-panel meme comic. If you ever bump into Hideo Kojima on your travels though, maybe you could do me a favour and dump a bucket of icy water over his head.

3 January 2020

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