The Great Switcheroo of Metal Gear Solid 2
It’s difficult to be surprised in the video game industry or even the entertainment industry as a whole sometimes. We have such freedom of information and leaks and rumors of various aspects of any popular title run frequent and rampant. It’s a far cry from the days when the internet was still fairly fresh and you couldn’t just look up the dirt sheet on the newest sequel to your favorite franchise. That’s most definitely one of the things that made a game like Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty ridiculously surprising. It was on this day in 2001 that we jumped in expecting another adventure with our favorite spy-soldier Solid Snake, and instead were shocked to find a game that cast him supporting alongside newcomer Raiden.
Series creator and director Hideo Kojima had finished a design document on what was to become Metal Gear Solid 2 in 1999. In his original concepts, Kojima was interested in exploring new gameplay mechanics, such as having to move and hide bodies to stay concealed, using light and shadows as a means of stealth and detection, and creating new multilevel environments that would force players to consider soldiers and their sightlines from multiple floors. Many of these elements would make it as additions to the game as well as a new first and third-person aiming feature for players pick their shots on enemies, particularly in the case of headshots with pretty much any weapon.
In terms of storyline, Kojima wanted to explore the concepts and issues of a world becoming increasingly digital on all fronts, from military to everyday life. He also wanted to play with the trust of gamers in much more deceitful plotline. Where Metal Gear Solid was fairly straightforward with only a couple exceptions, Kojima wanted Metal Gear Solid 2 to be a game that emphasized betrayal and lies to the point where nearly everyone deceives the protagonist at one point or another and the lines of truth become blurred to sheer obscurity.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty begins with Solid Snake hunting a new Metal Gear supposedly being kept on a tanker and guarded by the United States Marine Corps. Along with Hal “Otacon” Emmerich, Snake has taken on a life in a non-government organization that seeks to subvert the terrible technology that caused the Shadow Moses incident in Metal Gear Solid. It isn’t long before the tanker is high-jacked by Russian mercenaries led in part by Snake’s old nemesis, Revolver Ocelot. Ocelot steals the Metal Gear and sinks the tanker with Snake on board, presumably killing him. After that, the story switches to two years later where Raiden infiltrates an oil clean-up facility seized by a terrorist group including the same mercenaries from the tanker. By the time Raiden’s in, they’ve kidnapped the president and intend to kill him and destroy the facility if their demands aren’t met. It’s on Raiden to get inside the facility and stop them.
Interestingly, the decision to switch to Raiden as a protagonist came late in development. Kojima thought it would be interesting to play through a Metal Gear game from a perspective outside of Solid Snake’s own. Moreover, Kojima pondered on how to approach a tutorial when Snake, by all events of Metal Gear Solid, is a veteran at this point and shouldn’t need instruction on how to do his job. However, the decision was truly clenched by a desire to appeal to female players. The story goes that Kojima had overheard female players playtesting the game complain that Snake was too old and rugged for their liking. This led Kojima to answer all of these concerns with a young “rookie” character that could both take instruction sensibly and hopefully appeal to a wider audience.
Metal Gear Solid 2 was considered both a masterpiece of gameplay and extremely divisive in its elements. Raiden was kept a secret all the way up until the American release of the game and drew immediate criticism. Moreover, many thought the constant theme of deception and lies made Metal Gear Solid 2 ridiculously convoluted for an action game. Nonetheless, the game did extremely well and controversy has since faded over Raiden, who would eventually find a stellar place among the regular cast in both Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots and his own spinoff game Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Metal Gear Solid 2 brought a lot of things to the table with the franchise and though they may have been confusing and misleading in their own time, it’s a spread that’s only ripened with age.