Metal Gear Solid 2: Stealth

Let’s talk about gameplay a little. MGS2 is basically a stealth game punctuated by boss fights. I think the first stealth game I was aware of was Thief: The Dark Project, and consequently this is in my mind the canonical stealth game, the one that I think of all others in terms of. Thief was released in 1998, the same year as the first Metal Gear Solid. There had been stealth games before — notably, the original Metal Gear that Metal Gear Solid was based on — but only a few, and they didn’t have as much as an impact as these 3D ones. There still aren’t all that many games based mainly on stealth mechanics, but it seems to be fairly popular as a temporary constraint in platformers and shooters, a way of varying gameplay. Here, of course, that’s reversed: it’s the occasional shooting mission that keeps the sneaking from getting stale.

The point of a stealth game is, of course, not being seen. The designer can enforce this by making the game end (or, more likely, restart from the last checkpoint) as soon as an enemy spots the player character. And indeed, that’s a common approach in those stealth scenes in non-stealth-based games, presumably because it’s simple to implement. But that’s a bit harsh for extended use, so in the MGS games, as in Thief, being spotted simply has negative but not-immediately-fatal consequences. The sentry who saw you sounds an alert, unless you can stop him in time, and suddenly you’re facing more foes than you can easily handle. What happens then varies from game to game. In Thief, it is always at least theoretically possible to defeat all the enemies and wander unhindered until you decide to finish the level. This can break the mood somewhat. MGS does it differently: the enemies are effectively infinite in number, with new troops coming in to replace those killed. The player basically has no choice but to find a place to hide until they decide to stop looking for him, and then resume sneaking. This approach makes for better gameplay, in my opinion, but it’s not without its drawbacks. To support it, there have to be certain places that the guards will never look: inside a locker here, behind a crate there. And once you figure out where they are, you can easily spend most of your time sitting in those spots, waiting for the alert timer to run down. This can also break the mood somewhat.

There’s also something about the MGS approach that I can’t quite articulate, a feeling that I find typical of console games as opposed to PC games. Something about the way that the level of detail in the solution (such as ducking into a closet) is on a much coarser scale than the level of detail in the presentation. I may return to this point as I go through more PS2 games.

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