Metal Gear laid the foundations of what would be the core tenets for the series – stealth based gameplay, varied boss fights and an arsenal of weapons and items to get Snake out of any situation. Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake would build upon that with several elements that could still be seen in the franchise up until Phantom Pain and placed more focus on telling a story with their characters. Made in response to the now-uncanon NES game Snake’s Revenge, MG2 is fundamentally a better game than Metal Gear, albeit one with some questionable sections that at best add unnecessary time to the game and at worst completely ruins any momentum the game has going.

Like it’s predecessor, MG2 is a 2D stealth action game where you play as Solid Snake who is tasked with infiltrating a military nation (this time Zanzibar Land) who are developing a Metal Gear – a bipedal walking nuclear tank. Initially your task is to rescue Dr. Kio Marv, a scientist who has discovered OILIX which is a miracle substance set to solve the world’s oil crisis who has been kidnapped by Zanzibar Land. Snake, still a part of FOXHOUND, is sent in alone by his colonel Roy Campbell (making his MG debut). His support team includes Holly, a CIA agent who has been infiltrating Zanzibar disguised as a journalist , Master Miller, among others.

Once again you enter Zanzibar Land with only your fists, your wits and a pack of cigs to protect yourself if everything goes wrong, but you will eventually gather up weapons and items galore. Everything from RC Missiles to robot mice can be used as weapons while Snake’s pockets will be filled with a wide variety of gadgets and doodads that will help him infiltrate his way through Zanzibar including your usual items, rations to restore health, night vision goggles, an owl and your trusty cardboard box.

Probably the biggest change to the stealth mechanics is the trusty radar in the top right corner of the screen. This shows a 2D overview of the area Snake is currently sneaking his way through, as well as the eight surrounding areas as well. It also shows the guards and where they are moving. It is an invaluable tool that does mean you might end up spending more time looking at the radar to see if a guard is about to enter your map than at the actual screen. One boss even requires you to attack it with the radar itself (you aim a missile at a screen using the radar).

This is a great change, albeit one that took a little while for me to get used to after coming fresh off of Metal Gear the first where I didn’t have to worry about that too much. Overall though this game isn’t too different in terms of difficulty than the first – once again it’s a case of starting off weak and weaponless but by the end of the game you are a battle hardened tank with an arsenal to match. Instead of saving hostages to increase your rank, Snake will get stronger and have more carrying capacity each time he beats a boss – something that would be brought back in Metal Gear Solid.

Zanzibar Land is split up into three buildings with natural habitats separating them. The outdoor areas tend to be where the most annoying sections of the game take place, specifically the jungle maze where you have to follow a guard for a few minutes and the swamp, where you have to trial and error your way past an invisible path. Neither are too horrible but offer enough annoyance to be a notable low point in the game.

Snake can also crawl in this game which lets him hide underneath desks, beds and in holes in the wall to avoid being caught by guards, adding another element to the stealth gameplay. There’s not too much maneuverability once you are caught though – you can either fight or run, but guards can now chase you through the map until you hit a loading screen at which point you are safe. Patience, therefore, is usually the key to getting through MG2.

The first game had a few sections where you could not progress until you had a certain item, such as having the bomb blast suit to prevent Snake from being blown off the roof of the building. There definitely seems to be more of that in MG2 and it’s sometimes not to the benefit of the game. Some of the item puzzles are fairly novel, especially for the time. There is one where you have to lure a carrier pigeon down towards Snake to get a message from Dr. Marv. The way to do this is to call Master Miller who will give you hints about pigeons and what they eat, you then figure out that one of the three types of rations you carry contains foods that the pigeon will enjoy so you equip it and voila the bird comes to you. Then of course there is the infamous puzzle, also involving a bird, where you pick up an egg, wait for it to hatch into an owl and then equip the owl to trick a guard into thinking his shift is over so he opens the gate for you.

However there is a few occasions where the game will force you to backtrack to an earlier building to get a thing and then right back to where you were – it feels like padding and while it isn’t the longest diversion since the game is only around 3-5 hours long, it still feels like it completely negates any momentum from the earlier scene. MGS does this too and it’s only marginally less annoying in that game.

There are a lot of boss fights in this game and some of them are very memorable – Running Man is an easy boss who simply runs around in a circle and you have to kill him before the gas kills you but if you know the exact positions he runs into you can take him down with claymores, but there are fights with an invisible enemy (which would be re-done in MGS 3) and a fist fight with friend-turned-enemy-but-still-friend Gray Fox in a minefield. Bosses definitely provided more of a challenge than in the first game but most had their little quirks that once you learned them you had basically won the fight already.

Still, I went into MG2 dreading it since I didn’t really enjoy it five years ago. I can now at least recognise that on a mechanics and story level, Metal Gear 2 is a much better game than its predecessor though I still came out of it without any strong opinions on it. I think it is a decent game but one where the interest for me is in how it influenced the game that followed Metal Gear Solid eight years later. This is definitely the mainline MG game I have the least affinity for and it’s not the fault of the game itself and more the fact that I played this for the first time 25 years after it came out. By that point almost all the good ideas in this game had been reused in future games – something I plan on talking about soon. As a result, I think I find this game interesting as a glimpse of what the series would become, as a piece of history more than an actual game. It is a fun game, but not one that I personally plan on going back to.

FINAL SCORE

two and a half stars

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