Gaming Retrospective: Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake
Is The Lost Metal Gear Game Worth Returning To?
Gaming Retrospective celebrates the older classics of gaming history while comparing how well they hold up today. You’ll also find suggestions to help you achieve the best possible experience.
With the recent release of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, I decided to dive into the only Metal Gear game I hadn’t finished – Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. Although most gamers were first introduced to the Metal Gear universe with 1998‘s Metal Gear Solid for the Playstation, the series proper started with Metal Gear on the Japanese MSX2 PC in 1987, which received a terribly localized English release in the UK, as well as a slipshod American remake on the NES, which found great success. Due to its success, the American team behind the remake began work on Snake’s Revenge, a sequel to the NES remake. When series creator Hideo Kojima heard that a direct sequel to Metal Gear was being developed (he had created an indirect sequel earlier, an loosely connected visual novel called Snatcher), he quickly sketched plans for a sequel of his own.
Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake follows retired FOXHOUND agent Solid Snake as he infiltrates the oddly named Central Asian country of Zanzibar Land in order to rescue a kidnapped scientist, but quickly finds that the first game’s villain (and main character of several of the later games), Big Boss, is the country’s mysterious leader. The plot isn’t as baroque or cinematic as later entries, but is still surprisingly engaging. There are the requisite double crosses, tragic backstories and grand speeches, and certain moments have a real emotional impact.
The story isn’t the only thing that’s been improved. Metal Gear 1 is satisfying, but clearly primitive in light of the franchise’s later games. In the first game, guards could only see in a straight line, alarms ended if you step off the screen and the only sounds guards could react to were unsilenced gunshots. Even though it’s almost 25 years old, Metal Gear 2 feels smooth and satisfyingly complex even today. In fact, the most striking thing about returning to Metal Gear 2 is how similar it is to the first Metal Gear Solid, to the point that many fans consider the later game a partial remake of the earlier. You’ll track enemies on a radar, crawl through vents, scale a spiral staircase under heavy fire, contact undercover allies by following them into the bathroom, transform a key by changing its temperature, fight off an ambush in an elevator…a majority of Metal Gear Solid’s scenarios and mechanics are ripped straight from Metal Gear 2, with various elements, like a rudimentary camouflage system, reappearing sporadically throughout the franchise.
If anything, Metal Gear 2‘s mechanics work better in 2D than in 3D. Metal Gear Solid needed a radar that clearly displayed guard’s sight-lines in order to show which areas were safe to run through at any given time. In Metal Gear 2, guards have the familiar cone of vision, but can see from one end of the screen to the other, clearly communicating which areas are safe to sneak through. This frees the radar up to show a full 9-screen radius, allowing guards to patrol across screens without sacrificing the clarity of having the action occur on a single screen. Metal Gear Solid is certainly the better game, but that’s more a matter of production values and level design; in terms of sheer mechanics Metal Gear 2 feels faster and far more fluid.
The only area where Metal Gear 2 shows its age is in its puzzle design and pacing. Metal Gear Solid certainly had some odd, obscure puzzles, but some of the solutions to Metal Gear 2‘s puzzles such as having to break into a facility to steal and hatch an owl egg, are simply nonsensical. Even worse is the amount of backtracking required late game, a problem that the series wouldn’t fully grow out of until 2004‘s Metal Gear Solid 3. Most major battles lead to higher clearance keycards, and in the latter hours you’ll have to commute between multiple buildings in order to open more doors after each boss fight. One major battle even eliminates the fastest way to transfer buildings, forcing you to walk. Another shortcut opens up before things feel too arbitrary, but Metal Gear 2 loses a lot of momentum in the interim.
A lot of Metal Gear 2‘s appeal is in how modern it feels after 24 years. The stealth feels smooth despite its complexity – smoother, perhaps, than MGS1‘s, and the story is filled with all of the plot twists and melodramatic speeches one would expect from the series. It certainly feels dated in a few respects, especially near the end, but Metal Gear 2 is still a fascinating curiosity for any series fan, and a satisfying stealth game for everybody else.
How to play it: While the original MSX PC version of Metal Gear 2 is difficult to find and is only in Japanese, a translated version with new portrait art by series’ illustrator Yoji Shinkawa is included in both the Subsistence and HD versions of the excellent Metal Gear Solid 3. This version also adds a ranking system, an optional easier difficulty mode and special postgame items.