After my quest to start and complete the Metal Gear Solid franchise started a few months ago, I’ve now finished MGS1 (Twin Snakes version), MGS2, and MGS3 (HD Collection). Although I’m currently playing though the series right now, I’ve heard a lot of things about these games back when they were recently released. As a result, I felt like I already knew some stuff about the series even before I started playing the games.
One of the biggest nuggets of information I vividly remember was the public uproar over Raiden’s starring role in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Fans bemoaned the fact that their favorite rugged tough guy Solid Snake was seemingly upstaged by a whiny blonde pretty boy. I also knew that many considered Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater to be far superior to MGS2. But after completing MGS3, I can confidently say that I vastly prefer Raiden’s game over Naked Snake’s game.
However, that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy MGS3. Far from it, in fact. My favorite aspect of any MGS game is the insane political intrigue inherent to the story, and MGS3 continues that tradition in spades. Kojima’s penchant to constantly break the 4th wall is here as well, and those instances are still memorable. But probably the most essential improvement in MGS3 was the camera control. Finally having agency over the camera in a Metal Gear Solid game was one of the most liberating things the game could’ve given to the player. But after saying all that, there were some major issues I had with the overall game.
For starters, the lack of a radar put a damper into the entire experience. In a tactical espionage action game, knowing your surroundings is of the utmost importance. Realizing where the guards are patrolling and where their movement patterns are is essential in trying to remain stealthy. But without a minimap, I felt like I was running into guards corner after corner. I’ll admit I’m probably the worst MGS player ever. Every MGS game I’ve played so far I’ve set the difficulty to very easy because the shooting and the controls are just plain bad. I’m not playing these games to enjoy gameplay anyways; I’m here to witness the crazy story and characters that Kojima has conjured up. But the absence of a radar made MGS3 a more frustrating experience that it needed to be.
The turret sequence at the end of the game was another problem I had. Again, the shooting of the MGS games have never been stellar, so to be put into a turret sequence that drags on for far too long near the ending was a huge bummer. After you’re forced to mow down enemy after enemy, you’re then thrust into an escort mission with EVA. And who doesn’t love escort missions? It’s a relief that this particular section doesn’t last as long as the turret sequence, but the gameplay portions of the ending were the worst parts of the entire game.
But my fundamental problem with MGS3 actually lies in its story, or lack thereof, rather. I went into MGS3 knowing that it was a prequel. And as a prequel, I expected answers to some of the franchise’s biggest questions. Why did Naked Snake/Big Boss turn into such a villainous figure? How did he create Outer Heaven? How did the Les Enfants Terribles project come to be? These are all essential plot points that serve as the connective tissue between Big Boss and Solid Snake, but none of these story beats get answered, let alone addressed. It’s a huge relief playing this game in 2013 where I know there are plenty of other games that will probably answer all of my burning inquiries, but if I was playing this back in 2004, when Kojima was ostensibly done with the Metal Gear Solid series, I would have been upset over the dearth of information.
Besides, I thought the overall narrative of MGS2 was more interesting than MGS3. Although I do admit that Raiden initially comes off as a whiny protagonist, his fascinating character arc more than made up for his inauspicious start. Compound that with his relationship with Solidus Snake, and Raiden and his backstory ends up being one of the strongest pillars of MGS2. Solid Snake’s “absence” from the game was also overblown. Yes, you might not play through the majority of the game as Snake, but similar to my feelings about Phoenix Wright’s portrayal in Apollo Justice, I think Snake’s mentor-like role fit the story extremely well. The plot twist of Big Shell’s true purpose was also a completely unexpected one, and I appreciated how far off the deep end MGS2’s ending goes.
I suppose how a single franchise can create such polarizing opinions is indicative of how great the Metal Gear Solid games actually are. Regardless of my feelings of each individual game, there’s no denying that the series as a whole has me enraptured.