Metal Gear Solid 2: Final Thoughts

It’s July 4th, American Independence Day, and high time for me to finish my writeup on fighting the Patriots.

All that remained after last session was two boss fights and a whole lot of exposition. The first boss fight was against a bunch of autonomous Metal Gears, part of the armada guarding Arsenal Gear, the mobile complex housing the Patriots’ computer system, which was advancing on New York City. Since these Metal Gears lack human drivers, I find it impossible to keep thinking of them as anthropomorphic tanks. They’re robots, pure and simple. They’re a variant of Metal Gear Ray, the model seen in chapter 1, which was designed specifically to fight other Metal Gears. This explains why they’re so bad against a single human opponent.

The second fight was a sword duel against Solidus, who was by that point clearly the end boss. I should have picked up on this sooner: Solidus’ true goal was not to destroy the computer, but to seize control of Arsenal Gear for himself. This explains why his lackeys in Dead Cell were trying to stop me from completing their own stated aims. At the end, we find out that he didn’t want Arsenal for its own sake, but as a way to learn the identities of the Patriots: as he points out, part of its function is to find and destroy that information anywhere it exists, so it must have some record of what it’s supposed to destroy.

Some more revelations happen after that, but to me, this is the point where the willing suspension of disbelief reaches its limit. According to Revolver Ocelot, who’s been working for the Patriots all along, Solidus, and everyone else, is just a dupe, acting out their roles in the S3 Program, a project to turn Raiden into a super-soldier like Solid Snake by subjecting him to a scenario similar in many details to the Shadow Moses incedent (the plot of Metal Gear Solid 1). Except that’s a lie too: according to the artificial intelligence program we know by the name “Colonel Campbell”, the real purpose of the S3 Program is social control, and by winning the game you’ve proved that it works. Or something like that. So in a way the Patriots win, but at the same time, you’ve fulfilled your “role” and are suddenly free, or as free as anyone else in the world, and Raiden and Solid Snake have a long talk about the meaning of freedom over a montage of New York street scenes. Perhaps the gradual loss of interactivity over the course of the game is supposed to be part of this theme, but I kind of doubt it. Then, after the credits show, we find out that the twelve people named as the leaders of the Patriots have all been dead for a hundred years.

It’s clear by now that the writers are thinking of this more like an anime than a videogame — specifically, something like Evangelion or Lain that abandons the story in favor of philosophy at the end. I don’t know a lot about how the development of this project went, and can’t really say that there’s a cause-effect relationship here, but there were also some expected boss fights that just didn’t happen. One of the members of Dead Cell is a woman called Fortune who can’t be killed: bullets veer away from her, grenades become duds until she’s out of range. There’s an encounter with her earlier in the game, the sort where you can’t actually do anything effective and just have to avoid getting killed until the timer runs out and the scene ends. Structurally, it seems like a demonstration-of-power encounter, a way to establish her invulnerability so that you’ll be both more prepared and more emotionally engaged when you fight her again later. But that never happens: in the end, she gets killed in a cutscene by Revolver Ocelot, who you never get to fight either.

Other impressions: First, it’s a very slick package. The controls, the music, the way the camera automatically swoops from overhead to horizontal views as appropriate: the production values are very high. Second, there are a lot of pin-up girly posters scattered around on walls and inside lockers, including product placement for FHM, clearly pandering to the core adolescent male audience. I suppose it’s realistic for a game involving soldiers, but they stick out somewhat as photographs in a rendered world. When you have a person who’s actually present standing next to a poster, it’s weird for the poster to look more real.

Finally, there’s the matter of the dog tags. These are the game’s collectible items, used to unlock bonus items. But the process of getting them is fairly involved: you have to “stick up” a soldier by sneaking up behind him with a gun, then search him using the thermal goggles, apparently. This isn’t easily discoverable, and I didn’t read the part in the manual that explains it. My completism is itching, but although I certainly want to try to get some of them, I really don’t think I’ll try to get them all — apparently you have to replay the game on all of the difficulty settings to do so, and I don’t think I’ll be able to maintain that level of interest. It is, after all, primarily a story-game, and I’ve already seen the story. The fact that they put something like the dog tags in a game like this at all is a little strange, if you ask me, but it’s just a standard part of console games. You have to include something to give it “replay value”, even if it’s not something you’d really want to replay. Somehow, PC games have managed to avoid this — maybe because they’ve longer had the possibility of extending the game with add-ons and fan-made levels and other downloadable content. Are the newer consoles abandoning replay enhancers, now that they have the same content-downloading capability as PCs? I don’t know. If they aren’t yet, I expect they will eventually.

1 Comment so far

  1. Matthew Weise on 12 Jul 2010

    Nice write up of MGS2. It’s nice to see someone actually sort of paid attention to the final sections of the game, even if you maintain the implied commentary on agency feels somewhat accidental.

    I remember having a similar reaction to MGS2 the first time I played it (in November 2001). The final, final plot twist–that the S3 plan was about creating the perfect citizen, not the perfect soldier–felt sort of tacked on to me, and at the time I was quite skeptical as to whether the game’s gradual obliteration of player agency (through cut-scenes, etc.) was indeed a conscious expression of this.

    Honestly, to this day, I am not entirely sure how conscious it is, but playing the game again convinced me it works quite well regardless of intent. If you play the game again and read the entire experience in terms of what “Campbell” says about the real S3 plan at the end, a lot of the game’s narrative and gameplay conventions feel like uncanny extension of The Patriots’ thought control… and very seamlessly so.

    Because Kojima so obviously has a fetish for cut-scenes that extends well beyond MGS2 alone, it easy to remain somewhat skeptical as to how intentional his apparent ironic use of them in MGS2 is. I think there is at least a little evidence that his curtailing of player agency according to the “formula” of Metal Gear was intentional, but whether he sees cut-scenes as part of that formula is unclear. In any case, you can argue how intentional it is, but I think really examining the game (and some additional documentation about it, most notable the pitch document that is available online) suggests that expressing themes of totalitarianism via “normal” video game limitings of player agency is at least somewhat intentional.

    Whether you agree with this or not, I’m just happy someone seems to have gotten the ending of the game at all. Most people entirely miss the last twist, probably because you are exhausted by the cut-scene being so long by that point, so it’s nice to see someone who “gets it” in a sense, even if they are less impressed by it than I am.

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