Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake (1990)

While I enjoyed Metal Gear, the first entry in the series, Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake impressed me far, far more. Many of the preconceptions I’d gained around the series from cultural osmosis (indulgent credit sequences, in-depth stealth gameplay, extended dialogues touching on issues around politics and war, offbeat humour) weren’t fulfilled by the first game, but they certainly were present here.

In terms of gameplay, the evolution is significant. New elements like the ability to crouch and crawl, enemies having lines of sight more advanced than “I can only see Snake if he’s directly in front of my eyes!”, guards being able to detect noise, guards being able to move across different sub-maps, and a more advanced alert mode are introduced. These add a lot more depth to the game, and resulted in me being a lot more engaged with this game than I was with its predecessor.

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In terms of visuals, there’s no significant upgrade from the last game (the UI is improved, but the assets are much the same). The music, however, is noticeably more advanced. There are a lot more tracks, and they have more instrumentation. Compare the title trick, embedded below

to the much more sparse title track of the first game, embedded below.

Even completely disregarding the substantial differences in length and complexity, the differences in instrumentation and audio quality alone are noticeable. The soundtrack to Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake also uses some motifs, the longer story and more developed cast of characters giving the game a chance to reinforce some of its story ideas musically. I liked the somewhat cheesy music that played whenever Gustava, an ice skater turned bodyguard, and Solid Snake had a conversation.

The relationship between those two characters also showcased another big change from the first game – characters had proper personalities now! Solid Snake wasn’t just an avatar for the player anymore, as he gained individual character traits like his mischevious and flirty sense of humour, his self-proclaimed “love of life”, and earnest desire to help bring about peace. While a few of the scientist characters muddled together in my mind, Gustava, Gray Fox, and Big Boss were all distinct personalities of their own as well.

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Thematically, there’s a lot more going on in this game too. There’s a proper central theme to the game, to my mind the throughline being the question of how to adapt oneself when the balance between war and peace changes. The plot is driven by Big Boss’ belief that soldiers are served best by times of war, and cannot adapt properly to times of peace. He suggests the world at large does not serve soldiers in peacetime well, and that the only way to give soldiers a proper and fulfilling life is to create a state of perpetual war. He attempts to accomplish this through his establishment of Zanzibar Land, a central Asian nation from where he fanned the flames of perpetual conflicts to give his soldiers purpose. Solid Snake fights to bring about peace, but for Big Boss, fighting is peace. He proposes endless warfare as an end unto itself. The game doesn’t end so subversively to suggest Big Boss’ viewpoint is right, but it definitely probes the question, and leaves Solid Snake – and potentially the player – unsettled by Big Boss’ proposal. A system of universal warfare seems horrific and even psychotic, but the points Big Boss raises about “in this world of ours, conflict never ends” are less easy to dismiss, and speak to more universal and relatable concerns around human nature, conflict, war, the place of soldiers in society, and politics.

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Solid Snake seems disgusted by war to a degree, not only in the personal sense (proclaiming “I came to get rid of the nightmares I’ve been having for the past three years”, suggesting post-traumatic stress disorder since the events of the first game) but also in the moral, making particular clear his disgust at the usage of child soldiers by Big Boss (also raised when he learns of how political actions following the success of his mission in the first game led to many children dying, a revelation which deeply disturbs him), when they finally confront each other, in what’s easily the richest part of the game thematically. Not all thematic material is relegated to this endpoint though. The game also delves into Gustava and Gray Fox’s backstories, which both revolve around how each character has attempted to adapt to changing periods of war and peace. The opening sequence of the game tells of how the Cold War has thawed, and how the world at large is attempting to adapt to the new period of peace. The MacGuffin of the game is an environmentally-friendly competitor to fossil fuels, that could revolutionise the world in terms of energy. The way some organisations and people don’t want the world to adapt in such a way drives the conflict behind this plot point. Essentially, the game is a holistic work, where the throughline and thematic concerns pervade entirely throughout. Series director Hideo Kojima created a much more cohesive and fascinating work here than he did with

Not all thematic material is relegated to this endpoint though. The game also delves into Gustava and Gray Fox’s backstories, which both revolve around how each character has attempted to adapt to changing periods of war and peace. The opening sequence of the game tells of how the Cold War has thawed, and how the world at large is attempting to adapt to the new period of peace. The MacGuffin of the game is an environmentally-friendly competitor to fossil fuels, that could revolutionise the world in terms of energy. The way some organisations and people don’t want the world to adapt in such a way drives the conflict behind this plot point. Essentially, the game is a holistic work, where the throughline and thematic concerns pervade entirely throughout. Series director Hideo Kojima created a much more cohesive and fascinating work here than he did with Metal Gear.

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Improving on the first game in every single way, Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake was a very enjoyable experience for me. I give it three stockpiled nukes, and a new species of algae.

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