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Want to develop a sense of empathy? Play Metal Gear Solid 2!

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Having a deep affinity for the Metal Gear games, at this point, sort of puts you in a box. Somehow, in the fifteen years since the original Metal Gear Solid, it’s become a series that can define you as a gamer, and your opinion on it seemingly reveals much about your sensibilities with regards to gaming and perhaps in general.

Okay, maybe I’m reaching a bit by proclaiming the series maintains that much relevance, but I certainly feel a certain anxiety and shame associated with my intense proclivity for the franchise. The original Solid doesn’t hold up by any stretch, the PS2 games are tough to go back to, and it even seems like MGS4 is universally reviled now, despite having been released to abundant critical acclaim just five years ago.

Whatever. I’ve played all of them, even making my way through the original MSX games when they were included in the 2011 HD Collection. But one installment will forever hold a special place in my heart, and that’s Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Called a crushing disappointment by many, and rightfully outshined by its masterful successor, MGS2 isn’t remembered very fondly in the mainstream. But it was the first Metal Gear I played, and it kickstarted my voracious appetite for the franchise.

Let me give you some background: MGS2 came out in 2001, at which point I was nine years old. I acquired the game several months after its release, during somewhat of a transitional time in my life. It sounds strange, and I won’t go into specifics, but suffice it to say that some unfortunate stuff was going on for me at that time. For now, I’ll just chalk it up to the same story that most of us have and say that video games, and particularly this one, with its sophisticated narrative and fleshed-out world, provided an escape unlike anything else during my childhood. I could read a little too deeply into the experience and ponder whether the game’s directives of hiding and observing as an unwelcome outsider may have caused me to relate to the game further… but if I’m being honest it was likely just a fun game with those “mature” themes that kids so desire in their entertainment. Either way, I ate it up, and it’s the first game I can remember playing for hours upon hours at a time and never stopping until I had to. I even remember completely missing a soccer practice because I had just triggered the 20+ minute final cutscene, and there was nothing that would pull me away from it; not even an angry dad actively and aggressively reminding me of the consequences for staying.


I also want to point out, for those concerned that one of my earliest meaningful gaming experiences was with an M-rated, blood-soaked thriller with disturbing psychological aspects, that MGS2 was the first game I can remember that made me feel bad for killing enemies. In case you’re unfamiliar with the series, you can pretty much make it through every game without killing any enemies. The rewards for doing so, if any, are pretty thin, so you don’t have much tangible incentive not to ice every single foe you come across if you’re so inclined. But I think that’s what made me feel so strongly about it: You also don’t have a reason to kill anyone, either. Wasting guys in this game just made me feel like a cold-blooded, ruthless psychopath. So I’m practically living proof that video games can teach children empathy.

By the way, if you’re waiting for my concession that this 12-year-old game doesn’t hold up so well anymore, that I can attribute my enduring affection for it to overly sentimental nostalgia, let me clear the air right now: Not going to happen. The version of the game included in the 2011 Metal Gear Solid HD Collection looks surprisingly stunning, and I maintain that it still plays fine. And I will simply not let go of my belief in its narrative genius. I don’t care what it says about me as a gamer.

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36 comments

  • rob619 - October 8, 2013 11:32 a.m.

    What a great article! I can really relate to this. Metal Gear was the first game which wasnt just meaningless fun, but it also had meaning. At a young age I realised gaming could be more and the narrative that goes with each MetaL Gear title is amazing. Great article one of the best on gamesradar till date
  • Fhiend - October 7, 2013 6:12 p.m.

    MGS2 story is basically about info control and the people who control it. If you can control the flow of info you can control what people do. Raiden's info is being fed to him and he is being controlled by the patriots. Kojima is doing it to the player in MGS2. I got it the first time I played it and thought that was so cool. MGS2 has a great story if you use your brain a bit. I love that game. A classic.
  • Pruman - October 7, 2013 1:57 p.m.

    This game is like the Scarlett Letter, Fight Club, or Sixth Sense of video games. It makes absolutely no sense the first time you see it. However, if you play it again, and go in knowing what the huge plot twist is, it makes COMPLETE sense, and you can see it coming from a mile away. The only other game that even comes close to that level of mind****ery is Bioshock (maybe Bioshock Infinite too; I haven't played that one yet).
  • francois-dara-santos - October 7, 2013 6:59 a.m.

    i love the franchise!! despite not being able to play "guns of the patriots"... anyway, i think age contributes a great factor on appreciating games. i mean, [i think] playstation (one) games were awesome because we were also young back then (i was also 9 when MGS came out), we were so young that we never cared about reviews, regardless how older gamers thought they sucked, we enjoyed them, and made great memories... i understand why a lot of people thought that MGS2 sucked, it's because for them, the older people, it's the same blueprint as with MGS1 (w/c was explained by ocelot that the whole game was a simulation of shadow moses), i too loved the game despite snake not being the main character.... heck, i never understood the snes titles back then, but i enjoyed them!!
  • superaguriLXVIII-2 - October 7, 2013 5:09 a.m.

    MGS2 better than MGS3
  • larkan - October 6, 2013 9:15 p.m.

    I loved MGS2 and HATED MGS3
  • freeden - October 6, 2013 7:13 p.m.

    I'm so confused by the intro to this article. How is the original MGS regarded as anything but masterful (and yes, it DOES still hold up), and how is the series as a whole not regarded as one of the greatest franchises ever created, period. But I digress. MGS2 possesses good qualities, but I think that you are seeing this through rose colored glasses. Obviously, you're going to have fond memories of this game since it was your first MGS. And even the worst of the series is exceptional. But compared to the rest of the series, MGS2 is the bastard child. While I can appreciate Raiden's story, a tragic one of a child soldier forced into a war he never asked to be apart of and essentially having his life stolen from him, the entirety of the game is almost inconsequential. The biggest shame is the duping of the masses into playing as a poorly designed character in place of the series' hero. It wasn't funny. Getting the game, you have certain expectations, like a game called Metal Gear Solid will have you playing as Solid Snake. Instead, we get Raiden, a character met with such harsh criticism, he needed to be redesigned for MGS4. The game also had a story far too long winded and exaggerated to be taken seriously or hold up against the others. By the time MGS4 came along, MGS2 seemed to only apply in minor bits and pieces: certain characters were still there and there was a certain level of continuity, but other than that, the whole of the story seemed to be inapplicable. But, even as the worst core game in the series, it has some great merits and is a cut above the rest. It's a testament just to how impactful and well designed this series is. I consider MGS4 to be one of the greatest achievements in gaming, and that still stands.
  • RayPaw - October 7, 2013 9:25 a.m.

    "rose colored glasses" — I see what you did there
  • macrm32 - October 6, 2013 4:39 p.m.

    To me, MGS2 felt a bit flat. In a sense, undone, even. MGS1 had basic gameplay mechanics, and worked fine. MGS2 improved on them but, at the same time, left them incomplete. Not being able to roll over something that's not even knee-high? Come on... Then there was the story. That god-awful story that revolves around the concept of a 12-year old saying "hey, wouldn't it be cool if..." and then having the limitless resources to do it. It went beyond believable, to the point where it felt like one big joke. oh, and there was that Vamp fight, too. Worst boss in the entire series, as far as I'm concerned.
  • sleepyMexican45 - November 5, 2013 5:48 a.m.

    The story was so far up it own arse that is stank :/
  • sleepyMexican45 - October 6, 2013 3:28 p.m.

    I wish they'd release Twin Snakes in HD :(
  • MisterGrux - October 6, 2013 3:39 p.m.

    Well, I kind hate the extra cheese they added on top of Twin Snakes. Remove all that excess, which was not only third party, but also very cheesy. So in short: Make MGS1 in crisp HD equal to Twin Snakes = I would be a happy kid.
  • MisterGrux - October 6, 2013 2:55 p.m.

    I played MGS1 ages ago and I truly loved it. For some reason I never came back to the series, that is untill I finally got a Playstation 3 and got the HD collection. MGS2 carries a heavy story that brings alot of depth with it for the overall arching story for the MGS universe. Sure we played as Raiden which for many wasn't really a likeable character and I too was disappointed that Snake left the stage for the rest of the game. BUT Raiden's part in the story and Kojima's plan with Raiden have been done to perfection. Raiden developed and did so in a remarkable way! I came from hating Raiden, to feeling like a fool, being played by Kojima and realizing how essential Raiden is to everything. MGS2 was a great addition to the series in the end and it has a very special place in my heart!
  • gaseoussnake - October 6, 2013 10:22 a.m.

    Ah forgot to work this in... This article is great, good job sir.
  • gaseoussnake - October 6, 2013 10:21 a.m.

    When I got to the big shell in mgs deuce I felt kind of cheated I was a die hard solid snake fan. I still powered through and finished, but it was the only mgs game that I only played through once. All others (except msx games metal gear and snakes revenge) I have played through again and again. I don't know if it was the blonde hair, or the cartwheel jump that I didn't like or if it was the fact that it wasn't snake that bothered me, but I just couldn't enjoy this character. Luckily Kojima with his infinite knowledge knew the formula for making an unpopular character likable and appealing. Hated character + Cybernetic implants+ ninja skills + katana = bad ass mother. haha After mgs4 I told all my friends guys... we may have judged raiden too harshly. Was he really that bad? no. When the hd collection hit stores best believe I was there day 1 to pick up my copy took it home and revisited the bad assnes that is sons of liberty.
  • GoldenEagle1476 - October 6, 2013 10:20 a.m.

    I played it not too long ago and kind of hated it. I thought the story was interesting, the graphics weren't that bad (I played the HD version), and it had some interesting gameplay ideas, but the gameplay itself was horrible. Try as I might, I just couldn't get the hang of the weird controls, and finally gave up. I understand why it was so popular at the time, though.
  • sketchlayerJosh - October 5, 2013 8:40 p.m.

    MGS2 had the same effect for me, and it wasn't just due to the ability to get through the game without killing.What sealed the deal for me was the fact that, if you held a guard up at gunpoint for long enough, they would start shaking with fear. Seeing that level of emotion in an AI enemy, not just standard "kill intruder X", but an actual, HUMAN survival response, made a real impact. It made me think about my actions in the game in a way that few others have done since.
  • Galgomite - October 5, 2013 12:39 p.m.

    It's news to me if everyone hates the MGS titles now. They have a more theatrical/ eastern sensibility than CoD and whatnot, but the solid gameplay and stylish visuals hold up fine for me.
  • TokenGamesRadarFurry - October 5, 2013 2:19 p.m.

    My thoughts exactly. I realize there are people who don't care for long cutscenes and the like, but since when has saying "I love the metal gear series" made people raise their eyebrows?
  • BladedFalcon - October 5, 2013 4:16 p.m.

    I'm gonna go ahead and blame the new generations that have been born after 94 or so. It's an over-generalization of course, but I get the feeling that young people that have been born in that era and since have grown up pretty much taking the internet, and the immediacy it provides for everything, making them want gratification almost instantly and no longer having the patience earlier generations have. So they want their stories succinctly told and clear so they don't have to wrack their brains. It'd certainly explain why the most popular games are now those that are big in action, generally low in story and exposition, and also why most blockbusters in movies tend to be loud, dumb movies like the transformers films. ....Or maybe it has nothing to do with game and people have gotten dumber and more impatient in general *shrugs* But yeah, like any series, the MGS series isn't perfect, but to me it still remains one of the best series overall to date. From MGS 1 to MGS4, every core game is pretty fantastic for many reasons, even if you find the story in some lacking or too convoluted, the gameplay and presentation has always been top notch.

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