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Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty in a Nutshell

Metal Gear Solid 2 seems to be one of the more unpopular games in the Metal Gear franchise for various reasons (most of them named "Raiden"), but I always thought it was great.  In fact, was the game that single-handedly sold me on a Playstation 2 back in the early 2000s, and to this day it remains my most-played game in the franchise by a wide margin.  The reasons for this are many, but suffice to say that I consider it the pinnacle of the franchise, both in terms of design and in the quality of its writing.  Its sequels got bogged down in pointless plot twists and stretched the suspension of disbelief far beyond farcical, but MGS2 retained what drew me into the series in the first place - it's over-the-top and clearly rooted in its video game origins, but its story retained a sense of plausibility to it as well that made it feel like there really was a lot at stake.


The game picks up four years after the original Metal Gear Solid, where it's discussed in dialog that Snake and Otacon have joined an organization called "Philanthropy" devoted to stopping the proliferation of Metal Gears throughout the globe.  This comes in light of the fact that Metal Gear REX's design specs were leaked after the Shadow Moses incident, leading to them falling into the hands of countless rogue states and terrorist cells, which in turn led to the United States military developing their own new and improved models to combat the old ones, effectively starting a new type of arms race.  Snake's mission is to infiltrate a Marine tanker and get photos of their new prototype, Metal Gear RAY, in order to expose its existence to the world.

Before he can get started, however, the tanker is overtaken by a terrorist group run by Sergei Gurlukovich, apparently working in league with Snake's old foe Revolver Ocelot (who now has Liquid Snake's arm to replace the hand Grey Fox lopped off).  They quickly take control of the ship, making Snake's life more difficult as he now has to contend with heavily-armed soldiers and even engage Gurlukovich's daughter Olga in a boss battle whilst the Marines remain unaware below-deck.

Regardless, Snake makes his way below deck, stays out of sight while the commandant (Scott Dolph) gives a speech about RAY, and manages to secure the photos he needs and upload them to Otacon.  But before he can make his escape, Ocelot and Gurlukovich show up and attempt to take control of RAY.  However, Ocelot apparently has his own plans in mind, betraying Gurlukovich, hijacking RAY and sinking the tanker around him, resulting in Gurlukovich's death and leaving Snake's fate looking grim...

We then cut ahead to two years later, where another act of terrorism has taken place.  A masked figure makes his way into a facility called the "Big Shell", apparently build to contain the oil spill created by the sinking tanker, and receives his orders from Colonel Campbell:  Defeat the rogue military unit "Dead Cell" and rescue the president and his VIPs who were taken hostage.

Spoony: Dead Cell consists of only three members - Fortune, Vamp and Fatman - but design documents for the game show that two more were planned.  The first was a martial arts expert called "Chinaman" (elements of whom later got combined with Vamp) and a former SS general named "Old Boy" (elements of whom were later reused for "The End" in MGS3).  This was one of many changes necessitated by the game's somewhat rushed production!

Dead Cell is also said to be under the command of Solid Snake, which leads the player to think that, assuming he survived the tanker disaster, he may have just gone rogue in the intervening years.  At first, anyway; it doesn't take long before that thought quickly gets dispelled.  But we'll get to that in due course.

In any case, our masked protagonist infiltrates the Big Shell, sneaks his way to the elevator of Strut A, and goes up, unmasking upon the way and revealing the game's most controversial addition: Raiden.  An androgynous character who has no direct connection to Solid Snake whatsoever and is implied to have seen little real combat, instead being trained almost entirely in virtual reality.  And yes, he is the main character for the remainder of the game.  And yes, the other member of his CODEC support team is his fiancee, Rose.  And yes, they do banter quite a lot about their personal lives throughout the game!

Spoony: I can understand why people reacted negatively to Raiden at first: fans wanted to see more of Solid Snake after the first MGS game built him up as such an interesting and complex character, and were even led to believe that Snake would be in the starring role again thanks to some some misleading trailers in which he was in Raiden's place in many of the in-game cutscenes (intended to keep Raiden's presence a secret until the game actually launched).   But the amount of backlash he continues to get always felt unwarranted to me; he's a pretty interesting and complex character in his own right, bringing a bit more of a human element to the franchise.  If Snake was an action hero on par with John Rambo or Dutch Schaefer, then Raiden was more of a John McClane - a more flawed and down-to-earth protagonist who just happens to find himself at the center of a lot of bizarre drama.  A different kind of hero, but no less good. Hell, even Kojima himself has defended Raiden's inclusion on several occasions, even going so far as to say he was his favorite part of MGS2 (though given how much of a mockery was made of him in later games, I can't help but question that statement's authenticity...).

Regardless, Raiden makes his way across the Big Shell, witnessing a one-sided battle between the Navy and Dead Cell's fortune.  As per her namesake, bullets seem to swerve harmlessly around her and grenades fail to detonate in her presence, making her completely untouchable.  She also wields a railgun, which she uses to wipe out her attackers  in short order.  He then encounters another unit which quickly gets wiped out by Vamp, who shows superhuman agility and senses, an affinity for blood and deadly precision with knives.

Spoony: That seems to imply that "Vamp" is short for "Vampire", but conversations reveal that it's a reference to the slang term for an attractive woman who manipulates men.  Which in turn is a reference to him being Scott Dolph's former lover.  Okay then!

The lone survivor of Vamp's attack is very obviously Solid Snake Iroquois Pliskin, a Lieutanant who seems to know more than he lets on about the terrorists.  He stays behind at first, but quickly catches up as soon as Raiden reaches his first objective: Rescuing bomb disposal expert Peter Stillman, who briefs them on disabling the bombs Fatman has set up around the Big Shell.

Raiden also encounters Olga, who is apparently working alongside Dead Cell.  However, she escapes from him before he can question her in any great detail, leaping over a rail and disappearing.

The bomb disposal mission turns out to be a trap though, as once the last bomb is disabled, an even larger bomb set at the bottom of Shell 1 clicks on, forcing Raiden to rush all the way across the facility and disable it on a very short timer.  He then confronts Fortune on his way to stop Fatman from setting up more bombs, and true to her appearance earlier, can't even land a single hit on her - bullets swerve around her, grenades fail to detonate, and even approaching to take her out in hand-to-hand is fruitless as she'll just shoot you and blast you back across the room.  The game even teases you by giving her a very short life meter and having her be injured by falling shrapnel mid-fight, which only serves as a subtle hint that you can do nothing to harm her yourself and you just have to wait it out.

Once all that's done, Raiden takes another shot at her in a cutscene, but the bullet once again swerves, hitting Vamp right between the eyes and seemingly killing him.  But matching his vampire theme, he simply regenerates in moments and is good to go again.  Okay then.

We then get a boss fight with Fatman, who has to be one of the sillier Metal Gear villains to this point.  He flies around his arena on rollerskates, setting down bombs and talking in a really goofy accent, forcing you to juggle between disabling his bombs and sneaking in hits on him.  This gets especially tough on Extreme mode where he moves very quickly and you're just barely given enough time to disarm each of his bombs, so you have to move fast and pay close attention to where he sets them down if you want to have any chance of winning.  Once he finally goes down, he arms one last bomb, forcing you into one last frantic search for its location before his threat is finally over.

With that finally done, we encounter another familiar sight from the first game: Another cyborg ninja character, this time identifying himself as "Mr. X" (but seemingly making a point of repeating several of Grey Fox's lines).  Pretty strange, but he does also provide Raiden with the location of the President and his staff, even giving him a terrorist's uniform so he can covertly infiltrate their ranks.

Raiden does just that, entering the Shell 1 Core and seeking out the president's aide, Richard Ames.  Ames reveals that the Big Shell is just a front for a new Metal Gear development project, and that the terrorists' leader calls himself "Solid Snake" and is working alongside Revolver Ocelot.  He also implies that the President may be a traitor, working alongside the terrorists in their true goal: To detonate a nuclear weapon in the atmosphere above New York, disabling all of its electronics via EMP and turning it into some kind of independent republic.

Ocelot apparently sees them in conversation and comes to the room to investigate, exposing Raiden.  Ames then seemingly has a heart attack in a method suspiciously similar to the FOXDIE victims in the first game.  Huh.  Then they pile on another scene that mirrors the first game as Mr. X appears to attack Ocelot, though the latter manages to avoid losing another hand this time as Raiden escapes in the confusion.

Spoony: And yes, these similarities are all intentional.  And not in the pandery George Lucas way either.  I'll explain when we get there.

Raiden makes his way to the connecting bridge between the two halves of the Shell, where Pliskin finally comes clean and reveals himself as Solid Snake, expositing that the terrorist behind the Big Shell siege is actually a second brother of his, Solidus Snake.  He's apparently following in his father's footsteps as Liquid did and attempting to create a new Outer Heaven as an act of rebellion against the forces that be.  Before we can get too deep into it, however, Solidus arrives in a fighter jet and engages Raiden in battle.  Otacon and Snake, armed only with a helicopter, serve as support, tossing down boxes of ammo to keep the player supplied as you take on the jet with Stinger missiles.

Spoony: And here's where I have to give MGS2 some points.  Unlike MGS4, the protagonist isn't constantly being upstaged by the secondary characters in the story.  Yes, they do contribute to the plot in major ways both on and off-camera, but the game does make a point of ensuring that Raiden is the true star of the story.  ...Maybe not what the fans wanted, I'll grant you, but it's certainly what Kojima wanted at the time.  Besides, it is a lot of fun seeing Snake in action from a different character's perspective, especially when we come to the big twist a bit later in.

Solidus is soon defeated, losing an eye as his jet goes down.  With the chopper temporarily out of commission from the fight, Snake and Otacon are forced to land and patch it up for a while as Raiden moves on to the Shell 2 Core to rescue President Johnson.  A task that proves difficult when the president gets freaked out and seemingly keeps trying to run in front of your Nikita Missiles as you attempt to destroy the control box for the electrified floor in front of the room he's in.  Blarg.

Once we finally get in, it's exposition dump time again. It turns out that the President is the pawn of a secret Illuminati-esque organization called the Patriots, who rule the country from the shadows.  The new Metal Gear they're building beneath the Big Shell is in fact "Arsenal Gear", a means by which the Patriots will assume control of all electronic communications to enact mass censorship and control on a worldwide scale.   Oh, and as an ultimate bit of irony, the "Anti Metal Gear Weapon" RAY is being mass-produced and used to safeguard this new, ultimate Metal Gear.

Solidus (aka former president George Sears) grew dissatisfied with being controlled by the Patriots, hence his rebellion and his plan to turn New York into a new Outer Heaven to wage war against them.  However, their plan cannot come to fruition without Johnson's exclusive access to America's nuclear arsenal, which he seems reluctant to go along with as he orders Raiden to kill him.  Raiden hesitates, though, which gives Ocelot a chance to shoot him instead, effectively revealing that Ocelot is not in league with Solidus either...

Spoony: Implying that he's been in league with the Patriots all along, but as we see in MGS4, that's not the case either.  What a... twist?

With that, Solidus' plans are more or less foiled, but we have a new mission: To stop Arsenal Gear before the Patriots can enact their plan.  Unfortunately it's run by an advanced AI named "GW" and the only one who can stop it is one of its designers: Emma Emmerich, sister of Otacon, who is being held hostage in the now-flooded Shell 2 core.  Aye.

On the way there we encounter Vamp, who has proven mostly untouchable to this point, but Raiden manages to graze him with a bullet during this meeting.  This reveals his trick - he simply reads a person's muscle movements to predict their movements and react accordingly, something he apparently can't do when targeted from a first-person perspective.  However, that doesn't stop him from leaping about the room, tossing knives at you and even swimming beneath it in a pool of highly-oxygenated liquid that Raiden instantly sinks in.  Okey dokey.

Spoony: Oddly, the Document of Metal Gear Solid 2 disc reveals that this room originally had a much different layout, with no pool that he would leap in and out of.  Presumably he would leap between the rafters and pipes in the room to attack you instead.  But I guess that was one of many things that got changed to accommodate the rushed production of the game.

He also reveals another strange power during this battle - the ability to "Shadow Bind" Raiden by hitting his shadow with a knife, effectively paralyzing him for several seconds.  Snake and Otacon explain this as "hypnosis" through subtle movements and the flash of his knife, but it's still a bit silly.

Spoony:  At least it's got a bit more thought behind it than "Dur hur Nanomachines for the 80 billionth time".  And like I said in my MGS4 nutshell, they really should have stuck with the supernatural theme they were playing up for his character; it certainly would have fit in better with his abilities to walk on water, run up walls and have superhuman senses...

With Vamp seemingly killed we rescue Emma, leading her on an escort mission to the Shell 1 core so we can upload a virus of her design and shut down Arsenal Gear.  However, Vamp is still alive (surprise!) and attacks again, mortally wounding her in the process despite Snake and Raiden's best efforts.  The virus also seems to be ineffective, stalling just before it finishes uploading as Emma expires.  Sad day.

Nevertheless, Snake and Raiden move on to Arsenal Gear's entrance, but find themselves unable to enter.  But then another twist occurs as Mr. X is revealed to be Olga, that they're in league with one another, and both were apparently were working for the Patriots all along.  They then strike Raiden unconscious.  Aye!

Raiden wakes up in a very familiar looking torture room, finally getting some face-to-face time with Solidus and revealing their history together; Solidus was his adopted father of sorts, raising him as a child soldier (memories of which he has repressed to this point).  He then leaves you chained up and exits, with Olga coming in shortly thereafter to free you so you can meet up with Snake again and get your equipment back.  Huh.

Spoony: Yeah, their double-cross was all a ruse so that they could get access to Arsenal Gear and confront Solidus and Ocelot.  Kinda dickish, but it worked!

This is also where things get... strange, with Rose and Colonel Campbell calling you every few seconds to rattle off cryptic lines, with a few referring to previous Metal Gear games (including the non-canon Ghost Babel), a few others breaking the fourth wall, and others still being just plain silly:

...And yes, this is explained.  Just wait a bit.

In any case, we sneak past several guards, meet up with Snake again, and get our equipment back.  He also gives you a High Frequency Blade, which Raiden can wield with enough skill to deflect bullets.  Nice.

After a big shootout/swordfight with a bunch of Arsenal Tengus, we end up in the central elevator and get confronted by Fortune.  Snake stays behind to hold her off whilst Raiden ascends to the top of Arsenal Gear in order to battle an army of mass-produced Metal Gear Rays.  The exact number you have to fight off varies with difficulty (up to 20 on Extreme), but the strategy remains fairly consistent - hit them in the knees with a Stinger missile to stun them, then shoot them in their vulnerable mouth-cannon.  Occasionally you'll have to avoid their laser beams or do a tricky last-second jump out of the way of some homing missiles as well, but that's the gist.  Oh, and don't get too close or they'll just stomp on you for an instant kill.

Eventually their sheer numbers prove too much for Raiden to handle and he collapses, with Snake being captured shortly thereafter because Fortune is, well, still invincible.  And then it's exposition dump time once again!

Olga is an unwilling pawn of the Patriots, having been blackmailed into working alongside them as they're holding her child hostage, abd she ends up being executed by Solidus as a result.  Ocelot also reveals himself as another agent of the Patriots, revealing that he manipulated Dead Cell into joining Solidus' rebellion in order to set up events at the Big Shell and make way for the Patriots' true plan all along - a program called "S3" that is essentially a sophisticated form of mind control - by feeding soldiers the right back story and mission parameters, they can effectively create super-soldiers on the level of Solid Snake, but under their complete control.  The subject of this test was none other than Raiden, and the countless similarities to the Shadow Moses incident were all intentional - set up that way by the Patriots in order to create a "simulation" of that event.

Spoony: And that's what I thought was really great about this story - the shoehorned parallels aren't just there to pander to the audience, they serve a legitimate purpose to the story.  It also works from a design standpoint, giving the player enough familiar ground to feel comfortable with this new setting, but also working it into a pretty clever twist.  This really is one of those times where I felt like I was being played for a sap all along; it's certainly much better-handled here than, say, Bioshock...

With all that revealed, Fortune is understandably quite pissed and fires a shot at Ocelot. But in another twist, he deflects the shot in much the same way she had in several prior scenes, and quickly turns and fires a shot of his own, actually managing to hit and mortally wound her.  Once again, this was all set up by the Patriots, who were protecting her the whole time with magnetic shield technology.  Ocelot even sneers at her, saying that it had nothing to do with her "psychic talents".  Ouch.

But one more twist occurs as Ocelot becomes overtaken by his newly-attached arm, assuming the voice and mannerisms of Liquid Snake and vamoosing in the Metal Gear RAY prototype from earlier.  But not before he claims that there can only be "one Big Boss", implying that he's going to hatch another plan to recreate Outer Heaven.  He fires a salvo of missiles at Snake, Raiden and Fortune as a farewell, but the group is saved by Fortune, who deflects them with her psychic abilities, effectively demonstrating that her supernatural "luck" wasn't just the Patriots' doing after all.

We then get an abrupt scene change, with Raiden and Solidus atop Federal Hall in New York, apparently flung there by a run-aground Arsenal Gear.

Spoony:  It's a bit of a jarring transition, but there is an explanation: the scene of Arsenal Gear crashing into New York's harbor was cut from the game because of a certain other *ahem* world-changing event that happened to occur around the time of the game's release.  It can't even be seen on the Document of MGS2 bonus disc, so I guess they either never finished the scene or just decided not to release it to the public in any form.  Probably for the best.

Anyhow, Campbell and Rose call us again, revealing that we were not actually talking to the real people all along, but rather to Arsenal Gear's AI.  It turns out Emma's virus actually worked and their programming was getting corrupted, hence their erratic behavior before.

Spoony: Of course, it doesn't stick since GW is back up and running again by the time MGS4 happens, but.. oh well.

This Campbell and Rose (another AI called JFK, though that's not explicitly mentioned in game) reveal the true intent behind the Big Shell incident.  "S3" does not stand for "Solid Snake Simulation" as Ocelot stated, but rather "Selection for Societal Sanity", and is intended to not only control soldiers in the field, but the entire populace of the planet; by feeding them falsified information, they can effectively manipulate people and keep them under their close control.  Very Orwellian stuff.  And worse, they've actually succeeded for the most part, getting the exact results they wanted from this test run; the only thing they hadn't explicitly planned was the appearance of the actual Solid Snake.

Spoony: You'd think this would set up for a lot of complex moral narrative in MGS4, with most of the people you're fighting being victims of circumstance rather than truly evil, and that would make Snake and Raiden just a little reluctant to slaughter them en masse, but... nope!

Raiden is understandably angry about being used as a pawn, resisting their order to kill Solidus as well, but the Patriots have another ace up their sleeve - namely Olga's child and Rose.  If Raiden fails to follow orders or dies in action, they die as well.

Spoony: A fact which does not in any way influence his actions in MGS4 or Revengeance, where he fights and fights and fights with no regard for his own safety!  Good one, Jack!

So reluctantly, Raiden begins his final battle against a demon from his past.

It proves to be a pretty intense fight, with Solidus firing homing missiles at you and jetting around the rooftop, leaving streaks of damaging fire everywhere.  He can also grab and throw you around with his suit's tentacle-arms, which is pretty irritating.  But in a nice eye for detail (something MGS never lacked, even at its lowest points), he has a much harder time drawing a bead on you when you stay on his left side, as that's the eye he lost earlier.

After a pretty brutal sword fight, Solidus is flung off the roof of the building and crashes to the ground, succumbing to his injuries shortly thereafter.  So Big Mama and company can preserve it in plastic wrap and make it a really gross plot point in MGS4.  Did I mention I don't like that game yet?

Spoony: Another event was also planned for this moment, with Raiden cutting the flag down from the Federal Hall flagpole and it falling over Solidus' lifeless body.  I guess they figured that would be a little too cheesy, though.  Not to mention out of place considering the US government is clearly the bad guy in this story...

Regardless, Raiden meets up with Rose again, forgiving her for the role she played in the Patriots' plans (having met with him simply so the Rose AI could manipulate him during his mission) and they decide to start over, with Raiden abandoning his past as a soldier.  Boy, I hope that sticks and isn't completely ruined in the sequels!

We then get some closing narration from Snake, where he states that the human race will probably come to an end one day and that we should all try our best to leave a positive legacy behind for the future.  A message which is not reflected well in all of the human misery present in... okay, okay, enough about the sequels, you get the idea.

Oh, and in a post-credits sequence, it's revealed that the names of the Patriots concealed within GW's programming are those of people who died over a hundred years prior.  Which at first I interpreted as some kind of "Rise of the Machines" scenario with the Arsenal Gear AIs... but it turns out the data was just faked by the real patriots to conceal their true identities.  Which turn out to be a group of rather uninteresting characters introduced in MGS3.  Blargh-a-largh.

Spoony: Well, regardless of how disappointing the sequels were to me, MGS2 was still quite an experience.  It was largely a retread of the first game, yet it managed to have enough twists and turns to keep it fresh, and the sheer gravity of the situation as it went on really reminded me of what really got me into this series in the first place.  And as I said, I really didn't mind Raiden becoming the new face of the franchise.  He wasn't Solid Snake, nor was he intended to be - he was a very different kind of protagonist, bringing a more human element to the story throughout in comparison to the "super soldier" role that Snake filled.  Honestly, my only real complaint with him was his backstory with Solidus, which felt really shoehorned in, not aided by the fact that Solidus himself was just a less interesting retread of Liquid Snake.  I'm sure that was partly intentional due to all the other parallels with the first MGS game's story, but it still didn't make him very compelling as the game's main antagonist.  You really just wanted to see Raiden and Snake join forces to take out Liquid Ocelot and Arsenal Gear instead, but the fact that they left that for a sequel - and then botched it so spectacularly - only makes it hurt all the more.

But to be fair, the franchise's decline very well could have been an intentional act of sabotage.  Kojima has made no secret of the fact that he's wanted to move on from Metal Gear for a long time, repeatedly referring to each new game to come out as "the last one" he would work on, so he could very well have been trying to run the franchise into the ground (to no avail, thanks in large part to Konami's deep pockets continuing to buy the games positive press coverage).  His dissatisfaction was only further exacerbated by the fact that his attempts to start new projects (including a Snatcher revival with Suda51 and, more infamously, the cancelled Silent Hill reboot with Guillermo del Toro) have met with little success due to a complete lack of support from Konami.  It's only now in 2016 that he's finally gotten his wish to break away from Metal Gear and work on new projects, but it came at the cost of walking away from thirty years of history with Konami and joining the Sony camp instead.  I honestly just hope that his new position will allow him to recapture the self-aware, yet captivating, complex and thought-provoking style of his earlier games!