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The first Metal Gear for MSX is a landmark title. Many consider it to be the game that popularized the stealth genre. Metal Gear focused on evasion resulting in a unique form of gameplay for its time. With a solid story and innovative concept, Metal Gear proved to be a success and a sequel eventually spawned. Developed and published by Konami, Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake was released for the MSX2 in Japan in 1990. It was designed by series creator Hideo Kojima and is part of the Metal Gear canon as opposed to Metal Gear for the NES and its sequel, Snake’s Revenge. Metal Gear 2 was re-released as additional content along with the first Metal Gear in Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence. For this review, I played the version included in the HD edition of Subsistence for Xbox 360 on a Series X.
This is the first time I played through the game and just like its predecessor, I wasn’t looking forward to it because of my expectation of its dated design leading to frustration. And that’s exactly what I experienced during my time with the first Metal Gear. Frustration. Not because it’s a bad game but because of its dated design. I can appreciate it’s importance to the video game world and I’m happy and proud to say I beat it but I would be lying if I said I didn’t find it frustrating. Nevertheless, I vowed to play through the series in release order so that’s what I’m going to do and that means playing through Metal Gear 2.
To combat a major oil crisis affecting the global economy, scientist Dr. Kio Marv engineers a new species of algae. After unveiling it to the world, he’s kidnapped by soldiers from Zanzibar Land. The player assumes the role of returning protagonist Solid Snake who is tasked by FOXHOUND’s new commander, Roy Campbell, to rescue Dr. Marv. During the mission, Snake encounters both new and returning faces and learns that another Metal Gear project is underway. I think Metal Gear 2 tells another compelling story. There’s twists, there’s turns, there’s drama and I was always eager to see what was going to happen next. Metal Gear 2 feels a little more cinematic than its predecessor mainly because of its movie-like opening or title sequence. I actually thought that was a nice little touch and basically foreshadows the cinematic style the future games are known for.
Metal Gear 2 continues the brand of stealth gameplay established in the first game but with some changes. You can run around and shoot bad guys but it’s typically safer to evade them. That means staying hidden and quiet. Sound plays a much bigger role this time around. Moving around on certain surfaces will result in noise that enemies can hear. Snake can crawl and you’ll often have to crawl under or into things to progress. You can even hide under things like tables. Metal Gear 2 introduces the radar which is one of the best new features. The radar is present on the HUD and shows nearby paths or routes, Snake’s current position and the positions of nearby enemies. The ranking system from the first game does not return, however, Snake’s max health and carrying capacity increase after defeating bosses.
The way stealth works is very similar to that of the first game. However, there are noticeable changes. When you’re spotted, enemies are on alert and will come after you and your radar becomes scrambled. Enemies will arrive from off-screen and you can get overwhelmed pretty quick. Once they lose track of Snake, an evasion timer begins to count down and when the timer reaches zero, they return to their normal patrols. During the evasion period, you should try to remain hidden but you also have the option to blow everyone away. In general, I think the new mechanics make for a cool and fun experience but I would argue Metal Gear 2 is a bit more frustrating than its predecessor.
While you had to be directly in an enemy’s line of sight for them to spot you in Metal Gear, the enemies in Metal Gear 2 can turn their heads which basically means it’s easier for them to spot you. It took me a while to realize that because I was so used to how it worked in the first game. At first, I didn’t understand why I was being spotted so easily sometimes even though I wasn’t in their direct line of sight. In the end, that’s not really a problem. In fact, it’s actually a realistic touch that can make for more tense situations. I just had to get used to it and I found it does make navigation feel a little slower than that of the first game. This, also, is not necessarily a problem. You really have to study enemy patrol patterns to figure out the correct way to proceed through areas undetected.
You know what is annoying? When you enter certain rooms, the radar doesn’t show nearby areas for some reason and as a result, you can’t see if enemies entered the nearby area so you can exit the room and be immediately spotted. That shit can be infuriating. Enemies you killed don’t respawn immediately after you leave an area which is good but foes can patrol through numerous areas so you will have to be mindful of where they are and where they’re going if you’re goal is to remain undetected. Alternatively, you can kill everyone.
The inventory system still sucks. Yes, I understand its dated but it hasn’t aged very well. You’ll get your hands on several of the same weapons and items that were in the first game along with some new stuff. And once again, you can only equip one item and one weapon at a time which means you’ll be entering the inventory menu frequently in certain situations. This also means you’ll once again have to remove the gas mask to equip a key card so you can leave the gas rooms. However, gas rooms now drain oxygen before draining through health. You will have to find key cards to open the numerous doors in the environments and access new areas, and now you can acquire master cards that simply combine certain key cards together which is nice.
Many of the same hazards from the first game return including cameras, lasers and traps. You can still sneak around in a cardboard box, use infrared goggles to see lasers, and use the mine detector to see mines in the areas. You can even crawl over them to pick them up. Certain weapons will be required to take down certain bosses and some items will be required in certain situations to progress. For example, there’s different types of rations now which contain different ingredients, ingredients that may be needed to accomplish certain tasks like neutralizing sulfuric acid with chocolate. Things like that are awesome but also not obvious. Just like in the previous game, you should utilize the radio and communicate with the appropriate NPCs who will give you tips and information on how to defeat bosses and progress.
Much like the first game, Metal Gear 2 feels very Metroidvania except with an emphasis on stealth. You’ll navigate around multiple buildings, a jungle, swamp, and desert. The game does encourage exploration and it can be easy to get stuck if you don’t pay attention and communicate with the appropriate NPCs via the radio. Elevators take you to different floors, you’ll get to sneak through ducts, and will have to find and use items to progress. That also means travelling back to previously explored locations to access new areas. And in my experience, Metal Gear 2 features an excessive amount of backtracking. As I mentioned earlier, enemies don’t respawn immediately after you leave an area but they do respawn eventually and frequently having to navigate through the same areas over and over again becomes tedious. Some areas outright suck like the swamp for example. It contains a path you can walk on but you can’t see it and if you navigate off the path for too long, you can sink to your death. It’s not really hard to navigate. It’s just annoying.
Metal Gear 2 does feature some cool and interesting situations and what I’ll call objectives. For the time this released that is. You’ll need to follow a specific enemy without being spotted, capture a pigeon to retrieve a message, and I particularly enjoyed the areas that let you sneak past sleeping enemies, crawling underneath their beds and whatnot. Now some situations are a little more what I’ll call “cryptic” as in you have to do very specific things to proceed. For example, the sulfuric acid and chocolate thing I mentioned earlier and at one point, you’ll have to dispose of a snake in your inventory as it moves over the remains of an egg shell. Again, if you don’t pay attention and use the radio, you can easily get stuck.
After you beat the game, you can see your code name which is based on your actions throughout the playthrough and this what I’ll call ranking system is an incentive to replay through the game. And just like in the first game, to achieve the best code name, you would need to be as stealthy as possible. Beating the game unlocks the Boss Survival mode which is identical to that of the previous game. You select a difficulty and proceed to defeat the bosses as fast as possible in an effort to achieve the best code name.
Visually, Metal Gear 2 does look better than its predecessor. The sprites and assets are more defined, the presentation is more colorful, and while some areas look and feel similar, there are enough visual differences to make each location easily identifiable. The soundtrack consists of some great tunes and I particularly enjoyed the song heard during the opening sequence. A lot of tunes add to the game’s tone and atmosphere and many help elevate tension. On the technical side, I am happy to say I did not encounter any major issues.
Ultimately, I found Metal Gear 2 frustrating. I do think it’s an improvement over its predecessor and was impressive for its time. The story is pretty good, the new features are cool, and the stealth works well. Again, for the time this released. It comes with some quality of life improvements, I like the presentation, and there’s a lot of neat details and touches peppered throughout the game. Playing it now, though, some elements just haven’t aged well. Obviously, the stealth genre has evolved significantly since Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2 and I have no doubt that I’m simply used to more modern stealth games and their mechanics. As a result, Metal Gear 2 feels very much like a product of its time and if you don’t have enough patience, it can be frustrating. A lot of the stuff I took issue with in the first game, whether it was attributed to the dated design or not, is carried over here and the frequent backtracking can be annoying. But in the end, it is a good game and I’m glad I got to experience it. I’m over the hurdle now and am looking forward to playing the sequels.
Despite my frustration with Metal Gear 2, I would recommend it. It expands upon the popular stealth gameplay established in the first game and I do think it’s an overall improvement. It’s a game that requires patience. Like many classic games, not everything about it aged gracefully but if you can get past that, you’ll be in for a good time.