part 2 in my series of replaying metal gear solid for no real reason whatsoever. alternative title: “a meditation on a meditation on metal gear solid”
my thoughts on this game are somewhat scattered so I’m gonna lump this into a couple of sub-sections
ON METAFICTION AND “IT’S ALL A GAME”
so the youtube essayist super bunnyhop has a video about MGS2 in which he posits that essentially everything in this game is a VR simulation, that none of it is meant to be taken literally or as things happening in the “real” universe of the game’s mythos
and certainly there’s plenty of evidence to that effect but I a) don’t really buy it, and b) think that such a take sort of elides what the game’s trying to do with the metafictional aspects this time around
basically: what’s important about Raiden as a character is that he’s been crafted into a cipher by his traumatic experience (both as child soldier and as VR grunt) onto which external forces can exert control. one of those forces is literally the player (literalized specifically with the dog tags at the very end). he’s a broken person whose sense of reality has been nearly shattered before the game even starts.
super bunnyhop points to things like the cartoony inexplicable anime-ness of the final sequences (and especially things like snake pointing out his infinite ammo bandana) as proof that the “external world” being shown by the game is as false as the Colonel, but I think the point of this is actually just to demonstrate how destabilized Raiden’s worldview has become.
the game after all is a sort of horrid thought experiment, much like the first game. MGS1 has among its central thesis statements “what does war inflict on soldiers”; MGS2 has as its core theme “how does the war machine build its soldiers”. the reason video game-i-ness becomes frontloaded in this is because it’s a way to force player complicitness and because frontloading the medium itself is a very postmodern way to utilize the medium to its fullest extent. kojima loves that shit.
so then Snake tells Raiden at the end to find something other than “truth” to grapple with, because the Patriots, Solidus, et al have stripped that faculty from him almost entirely.
all of this is sort of peripheral because I think SBH makes/emphasizes this point because he finds the actual plot details ludicrous, so much so that contextualizing them as essentially fiction within the game world makes them easier to swallow. this feels like a cop out to me — it also ignores or downplays a lot of worldbuilding details that are interesting in and of themselves (the fatman/stillman dynamic, for one). but it also tries to pretend that every Metal Gear game doesn’t start absurd on its face, logistically impossible and cornily acted and melodramatic to the extreme.
I compared MGS1 to godzilla and I think the “goofy but earnest” tag holds up here, too; even as it’s finally dealing with really ghastly concepts like child soldiers and systemic social control, MGS2 is silly and weird and leans into its silliness and weirdness in ways that really help balance out the sense of self-seriousness that I’ve seen the games accused of in the past
this game is so fascinating to think about from a technical standpoint. it came out barely a year after the PS2 launch and is clearly trying to push the console to its absolute limits, which both makes it extremely nice to look at even now and also shows many of the flaws
like: the rain effects in the tanker are so weird to look at, textures in general are overly slick/clean, the game’s palette goes for “gritty/realistic” and ends up mostly looking almost entirely brown/grey, there’s a huge amount of slo-mo even in the HD remake that seems almost certain to have been originally used as much to conceal frame-rate hiccups as for dramatic effect
but it is still great to look at, particularly in wider shots or when we’re looking at machines instead of people (I love the design of RAY, it’s unsettlingly animalistic in a way I think they were shooting for but didn’t quite get with REX due to the PSX’s polygonal limits).
hoo boy here’s the thing: I had a great time playing through this game again after so many years, except for the fact that most of the “playing” is fucking awful
especially given how good this game looks even if you look all over the place in First Person Mode, the static camera angles are brutal. they are a frustrating mess in sneaking sessions and they are fucking criminal in the Vamp fight. whenever I was detected I basically let myself get killed immediately because it’s such a fucking pain to navigate the game without the radar. I guess dual-stick free camera wasn’t a thing in 2001 but it’s so, so badly needed here. (I never played MGS3 but understand that this is a thing, or at least was a thing after they rereleased it as subsistence? god I hope so)
the aiming/combat controls are only slightly improved over its predecessor; they work in more deliberate situations but are a nightmare the second things get frantic.
there are so many single-use gadgets that your inventory becomes a total mess to navigate by the end
there are however a lot of wonderful, interesting, alive details in the gameplay mechanics and the enemy AI and so forth — it’s clearly a game into which much love was placed on detail, it’s just so much a product of its awkward time.
so many of them! so sculpted!
(side note: raiden’s one-handed fist-fighting when you’re running around naked is hysterically funny and a nice way to pass time when you’ve fucked up that section and basically just have to watch yourself die)
I NEED SCISSORS! 61!
stepping back to metafiction for a moment, holy shit the Colonel-glitches-out sequence is still an absolutely perfect example of this kind of mind-bending moment. MGS games are so good at this. the music is both fitting with the game’s general score but also off-kilter; the actual codec communications are a great mixture of hilarious, unnerving, and perplexing; what you’re doing while it’s happening (running around heavily-armed guards while naked, occasionally taking a pill to stop yourself from catching a cold) adds a perfect air of desperate gonzo urgency to the whole weird thing
another THIS IS A GAME thing about this game that I love is how the flashbacks to MGS1 are done using that game’s shitty PSX graphics (I think this continues in MGS4); it hits this great, weird note right between jarringly and appropriately nostalgic