Returning to Big Shell
*This post contains Metal Gear Solid 2 spoilers*
I bought the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection because I wanted to experience one of my favourite games, MGS 3: Snake Eater, at its absolute best. I saw Peace Walker, a game that I had skipped on the PSP, as an added bonus, with Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, the weakest of the numbered Solids but still a good game, being somewhat of an after-thought. Snake Eater turned out to be as good as I remembered, Peace Walker was a disappointment and Sons of Liberty proved itself wholly undeserving of my initial indifference.
Metal Gear Solid 2 has garnered more than its fair share of criticism over the years, largely focussing on the new and unpopular protagonist, Raiden. A clean-shaven lady-boy who moved like a ballerina and carried more baggage than the most troubled of Final Fantasy heroes, he certainly wasn’t the man we were expecting. We so desperately wanted to reprise our role as Solid Snake, a desire that was fuelled by the awesome tease that was the Tanker prelude, thus Raiden became the focus of fan backlash. Back in 2002, I remember Big Shell feeling more limited and repetitive than Shadow Moses and the dialogue denser and more heavy-handed, with the final hour being especially bad, as every character came down with a bout of verbal diarrhoea, of the techno-babble variety. These issues remain, yet revisiting it last week for the first time in four years, they seemed less problematic, incapable of obscuring the qualities of a game that just may have improved with age.
No matter how hard you squint, Raiden still isn't Snake, but he was never meant to be. Tackling Big Shell as Raiden, we see Snake through the eyes of someone who reveres him, adding substance to his legend and fortifying his position as the (second) greatest soldier who ever lived. I enjoyed appreciating Snake from afar, constantly wondering what super-human feat he might attempt next, while Raiden and I tried our best not to fall in the ocean.
The villains are typical Metal Gear, more memorable than MGS4 but not a patch on the freaks from MGS1 or Snake Eater. Solidus, the third product of the Les Enfant Terrible and the Tito Jackson of the brothers Snake, is an underdeveloped but interesting antagonist. While his methods may be a bit medieval, he is not an entirely unsympathetic figure. There is a nobility of sorts in his vain attempts to stop the mysterious Patriots from gaining absolute control over the masses via Arsenal Gear - basically a massive dial-up modem with machine guns. It's easier to appreciate Revolver Ocelot, with his talkative new arm, Vamp, Olga et al. when you are privy to their backstory as well as their future thanks to the events of Snake Eater, MGS4, Portable Ops and Peace Walker which would arrive in subsequent years. On a number of different occasions, I tried to use this knowledge to warn Solidus about his future as a vacuum-sealed, breathing corpse but he just wouldn’t listen.
Despite being a bare, industrial complex, to my surprise I found that I am actually quite fond of Big Shell. With its orange-brown colour scheme and at-sea sunsets, it is the warmest of the series' locales, a perfect antidote to the dank holds of the tanker and far more agreeable than the inside of Arsenal's colon. The between strut, open-air walkways are my defining memory of MGS2, closely followed by the wholly inappropriate and comically intricate hand shake and bear hug shared between Otacon and Snake, moments after Otacon’s sister has been air-holed by Vamp. Ten years may have passed since my maiden run-through, but I have yet to grow tired of pausing Raiden midway through one of his naked, sideways-split jumps, so that I may giggle at his Barbie doll genitalia.
Unfortunately, the passing of time has done nothing for the finale. It remains a disaster, a badly written love letter to New York complete with smooth jazz, but it didn’t prevent Sons of Liberty from lifting me right out of my gaming rut and straight back into the swing of things. Having accepted its faults, I found a game that is easy to play, familiar and full of memories, yet one that still feels fresh and relevant. Alongside a recent Snake Eater re-run, it was a welcome reminder of how much I enjoy the series and the perfect appetizer before a newly trophied-up main course of Metal Gear Solid 4.