Perhaps Death Stranding can fill that societal commentary shaped hole that has been lacking in video games as of late, but until then, we can look back on Metal Gear Solid 2. This challenging adventure would actually have more relevance had it come out a year or two ago rather than late 2001. Kojima managed to depict a dystopian world of post-truth politics, an internet filled with trash media and censorship. I am yet to play a game that provides such a bleak yet accurate view of the present. The game provides sincere commentary about human irrationality and choice.
What makes this bizarre is the fact that Metal Gear Solid 2 was not a small indie game. It was one of, if not the, largest releases of 2001. I feel that the sheer cost of producing a AAA game in 2018 discourages any experimental plot elements. There are still games that push the envelope in terms of storytelling and gameplay; however, the majority of them are indie or art games. I think the world is ready for another blockbuster game to completely subvert our expectations.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty made you really think about the world of today. It focused on interconnectedness and how the internet is an incredible yet potentially dangerous tool. It can have disastrous effects when in the hands of the wrong people, even if they do have your best intentions in mind. Metal Gear Solid 2 pulls off some of the wackiest stuff I have ever seen in gaming. For closure it leaves you with a moving speech from everyone’s favorite philosopher, Solid Snake, taking place in the aftermath of a sword fight with the former President of the United States. This concluding speech talks about how your personal experience has more merit than an actual explanation of the game’s events.
Being an intended conclusion to the Metal Gear Solid series, it, for the most part, leaves just about all of its plot up in the air. Answers were only provided when Kojima needed to rationally explain everything in Metal Gear Solid 4. Metal Gear Solid’s sequel builds upon its predecessor’s deep, intricate themes. The sequel not only reiterates it, but it also improves upon practically every element of its predecessor. Everything already existing was refined and new elements were incorporated making it technologically a step above Metal Gear Solid. Current generation games are beginning to show diminishing returns in terms of graphical quality. I believe that it is through gameplay, themes and polish that will truly deliver next-gen experiences.
The game’s bait-and-switch in terms of its plot is genius. Kojima solidified his status as an auteur game developer by making Raiden the player-character, not the iconic Solid Snake. There was specific reasoning for this decision. The game’s plot/critique of the player would fall flat had we control over the veteran spec ops soldier. Understandably, there was initial backlash to this controversial decision. All the promo material, as well as the Tanker chapter, had Snake as the game’s protagonist.
Metal Gear Solid 2 knows that you played its predecessor. More importantly it knows that you have set expectations for its sequel. Kojima plays with these expectations to drive home an experience that is larger than a surface level plot. It highlights the power of video games as a medium. This unique narrative experience is delivered to the player through a series of in-game events. These events are made to bemuse and irk the player. To not only have the courage to attempt this but manage to pull it off is exceptional. By putting the player in an uncomfortable, confusing and vulnerable position, Kojima has essentially thrown out the rule book.
This hostile stance by the game developer bleeds into Metal Gear Solid 2‘s cynical view of the information age. The game displays how just about everyone with an internet connection is inherently responsible for the landfill of websites—a cultural library inundated with clickbait articles, bias, and uniformed opinions. Defying an entire game’s audience is a risk that I do not see many modern big budget games attempt. Metal Gear Solid 2 also deliberately repeats the events of the first game all to aid its meta-narrative; the game deliberately feels repetitive to drive home the simulation plot.
I believe that we are currently moving away from the age of genre pushing, experimental AAA games. BioShock and Spec Ops: The Line both come to mind, but they came out in 2007 and 2012 respectively. Both of these games play with their audiences’ expectations of genre as well as their context. These types of games are needed to move video games forward as a medium. Nowadays, games from massive publishers seem to shy away from stepping outside the box or subverting player expectations. This is in part due to attempts to appeal to the widest possible audience.
But here we are, seventeen years later, and there is still so much to be said for Kojima’s bold design choices. Kojima and his team made bold risks that would clearly receive major backlash yet chose to stick by them regardless. Metal Gear Solid 2 proves that games that operate outside the box can be both commercially and critically successful. Let’s hope Kojima can further innovate video games with Death Stranding. What we have seen so far already looks very promising.