As someone who still sees the original Far Cry as the spearhead of a fabled next generation of gaming, the chatter surrounding each new Metal Gear installment has always been something strange to me. It’s not that I didn’t understand what they were saying. Even though I’m practically newcomer to the franchise, I understood the talk about Raiden, or the complains about feature-length cutscenes or the nanomachines. What always struck me as weird was that all such discussions were created by what is, by all accounts, a stealth game.
This is not to say I was outright jumping on the bandwagon. Flaws aside, I liked those aspects of the series, and found the hour-long videos on the Soviets surprisingly engaging. But deep inside, I wanted something tighter, something more compact. I found it in the second Metal Gear.
Released in 1990 for MSX2 computers and only in Japan, Metal Gear 2 has always been the forgotten game of the series, not getting a Western release until 2006, included in the sought-after Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence. It’s a shame, too, because it’s the purest of the Metal Gear titles, predating the ambitious Solid series yet being so much more than a shooter made into a stealth game due to flickering enemies and lack of scrolling.
In fact, it’s remarkably close to other 16-bit sequels of the era in scope, like Super Metroid and Mega Man X, great games made even better by virtue of a new start on more powerful hardware. It’s the final step in its evolutionary ladder before mutating and taking new roads. The mechanics, the Cold War nostalgia and even the fist fight between two old soldiers so reminiscent of Once Upon a Time in the West were all done and fulfilled here. The enemies are challenging, the art direction awesome and the music in classic Konami style doesn’t let anyone down.
In a sense it seems like I’m wading, as if there were nothing special about it compared to other games in the series, that it’s not unique or interesting. Rather, it’s great because it’s the most concentrated of the titles in the Metal Gear series. It is these elements that were the basis for the Solid games, the base on which an expanded experience was built.
But Metal Gear 2 is tight. The flow and level design are unsurpassed, and every single screen was carefully drawn with a pencil before programming. The dialogue and setting are the grease in one of Konami’s most polished games, and every moment is carefully geared towards making a great experience. You can even tell the paths you must take while infiltrating the base aren’t just at the service of the mechanics of the game; they offer you a contemplatory moment, a brief pause to consider what you are doing and to wonder what Snake is fighting for.
Fortunately for fans everywhere, the publishers saw fit to republish MG2 in the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, giving players a huge return for their money and the definitive version of all games in the franchise. The ports run without issue, and they even ask you to check the manual for codes as you would have done in 1990. The only noticeable change is in the character portraits, turning Mel Gibson into the Snake we know today.