It’s 2002. I, a walking doughnut, roll into my local games shop to commence my weekly ritual of staring at all of the games for four hours. CB Games is a humble mom and pop place; there’s this unmistakable odour that isn’t really anything but also a thousand things. The even smellier area downstairs offers more grotty films than my prepubescent self would even know what to do with, so upstairs holds all of the attraction.
I’ve only just recently been given a PS2 for Christmas, my copy of Jax and Daxter effectively worn away in the console. My other game, Ready 2 Rumble Boxing: Round 2, struggled to survive my young and awful ways, its disc now an abstract painting full of scratches and stains.
I’m in the mood to buy something, the wage from my paperboy job burning a hole in my pocket. It was a fine job; I occasionally stole the free DVDs that came with The Daily Mail and ended up developing thighs the size of submarines. But I was in it for the money, money that I wanted to spend on games.
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And then I saw it, just about the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, with its gorgeous box art and strange word formation, had to be mine, so I took it to the counter and paid, the guy serving clearly not caring that my first pube had yet to bloom.
So I took the game home and it blew my mind. And I didn’t understand a single thing.
Up to this point, I had been playing it safe with games typically associated with kids: platformers and FIFA. I had never really ventured out of my comfort zone, apart from that one PS1 game with the spider that I will never be able to shake from my waking dreams.
Metal Gear Solid 2 was a revelation, offering a level of violence that I had never experienced before – the first encounter with Vamp might have been the catalyst for my horror movie addiction. But I wasn’t just sticking around for the blood, bullets, and boobs – it was its many dizzying layers that was the source of my love for the game, helping me to overlook some stiff controls and unceremonious exposition dumps all over the place.
From the opening level on the tanker, it was clear that Sons of Liberty wasn’t like anything else I had played before. It was so much more. Limb-specific injuries to enemies and holding them up for intel and items, hiding in lockers, knocking on walls to create distractions, and many more mechanics that made it such a leap from jumping from A to B in the colourful, forgiving favourites of my youth.
The rabbit hole of weirdness went down deep, too, with so many little secrets that could only have been coded in by a mad genius. A startling amount of different codec conversations, taking shots of soldiers in their underwear, and kissing posters of Japanese models in lockers before calling Otacon to hear his disgust are just a taste of what lied beneath the surface of the experience. Sons of Liberty’s attention to detail is second to none, something which became synonymous with Hideo Kojima’s work as time went on and more Metal Gear Solid games were released. But none of my memories were quite as potent as the first time Solid Snake appeared on that tanker and looked to the skies.
If you were to ask me now to summarise the plot of Sons of Liberty, I would probably still struggle. Kojima’s a wildcard of a game designer, bucking trends and coming up with new ideas all the time. But he certainly knows how to convolute a narrative. Instead of acting as a deterrent, though, the melodrama pulled me in closer and its prophetic warnings about technology seem to only become more timely as the years pass. As a youngster, though, it was just a bright and loud circus that I was simply glad to be a part of. It certainly didn’t help that I hadn’t played its predecessor; I did eventually pick up what must have been the only copy of The Twin Snakes on the Isle of Wight several years later, though.
For all the flak Raiden receives -some of which he deserves- my young self couldn’t help but be drawn to him and his androgynous plight. Everybody has felt like an imposter at some stage in their lives, like they just aren’t good enough. Raiden was introduced to be the more relatable protagonist to Snake’s calm and collected Kurt Russell homage, but not everybody connected with him. For me, a pudgy and anxious little boy, it was much easier. But it was even easier to laugh when he slipped on birdshit.
Before Metal Gear Solid 2, my gaming experience had been fairly rote. Collectathons and ball-kicking was just about all I had experienced up to that point, so to see a woman murder a whole squad of soldiers with a railgun, an Orson Welles impersonator skating around and setting bombs, and an entire sequence featuring a cartwheeling naked protagonist were all shocks to the system. Without Metal Gear Solid 2 and all of its intoxicating madness and intricacies, however, I can’t imagine I would have fallen in love with video games quite as hard as I did.
However, it does make me question where the next generation of gamers are going to get their eye-openers from, the games that effectively shape them – in the templated and safe AAA industry of today, Sons of Liberty might not have even been made. There are glimpses of this wild creativity currently in the likes of Nier: Automata, but unless we champion uniqueness in our games, creative and fresh ideas in the industry might succumb to FOXDIE.