Years Later, 'Metal Gear' is Still Solid

Back in its heyday, "Metal Gear Solid" was the series for gritty, pulse-pounding, stealth action. If you wanted a change of pace from the frenzied, shoot-everything-that-moves first-person shooter genre, then you could always turn to a "Metal Gear Solid" game for a slower, craftier, but ultimately thrilling experience: crawling through air ducts to snipe unsuspecting guards, stuffing bodies in lockers, shooting cameras to slip through corridors undetected, and so on. It all made James Bond seem practically boorish.

I replayed "Metal Gear Solid 2" during J-Term in hopes of reliving my first secret agent experience. After all, when I played the game as a kid, I remember doing all of the following:

1. sneaking down corridors with super-stealth skills

2. creeping up and snapping necks of unsuspecting guards like toothpicks

3. keeping a very stoic, hardcore expression on my face at all times, just so any passerby watching me play would know that I was saving the world and it was SERIOUS BUSINESS


Well, since I’ve picked up the games again, the experience seems to have changed. This time around, I instead did this:

1. tiptoed down corridors like a preteen trying to sneak out of the house, checking over my shoulder every five seconds just in case Mommy had woken up

2. attempted to snap the necks of unsuspecting guards, but usually got spotted by said guards, sending me crying down a corridor amidst a stream of enemy gunfire while I scrambled to find a place to hide from the scary bullies

3. yelped at an agonizingly high pitch whenever something startled me (roughly every three minutes), causing my mom to ask “Are you okay, honey?” in her ‘Concerned Mother Tone’

I … really wish I knew what happened. Was I that much better at gaming when I was eleven? Has my time at Harvard spent slaving over papers and problem sets weakened my gaming skills? Or did I just ask my older brother to beat all the hard parts of the game for me while I sat beside him and pretended it was really me being awesome?

In any case, despite my tendency to play in an overly cautious (read: “girly”) fashion, I loved playing through "Metal Gear Solid 2" again.

You play most of the game as Raiden, a young man who you’re supposed to believe is an expertly-trained, battle-ready soldier, despite the fact that his long, flowing locks of blonde hair would make Reese Witherspoon jealous. Also, he radios his girlfriend on a regular basis during the mission with complaints like—I am not making this up—“I’m scared of the night.” And this Raiden guy is in charge of rescuing the president.

The plot that follows starts out straightforward enough, but about halfway through it becomes something only a nerd could love. It has so many absurd plot twists and sci-fi hijinks thrown in that it all starts to make about as much sense as nailing Jell-O to a tree. This alone wouldn’t be so bothersome if it weren’t for all the time spent on the extraordinarily lengthy cutscenes. When I was little, I thought all the brooding gravity in the dialogue meant the game was deep. This time around I was able to laugh at some of the game’s overseriousness and appreciate it the same way I’d enjoy a cheesy B-movie—but all this does interrupt the flow of the gameplay.

Fortunately, even ten years after its original release, "Metal Gear"’s streamlined gameplay more than makes up for its melodrama. Lengthy sneaking segments are interspersed with over a half-dozen boss battles. The sneaking segments are cleverly designed, forcing you to combine careful planning with trigger-finger reflexes. It’s certainly possible to go through the game with guns-a-blazing recklessness, but the game will make that route very challenging—you’d be amazed how many reinforcements the bad guys have lying around—and the real thrill comes from outfoxing the enemies and taking them by surprise. The boss battles deserve special mention: no two bosses are alike, forcing you to utilize a whole range of gadgets and skills to ensure your victory. You’ll find yourself shooting missiles at jetplanes, defusing C4 bombs, swinging swords around (holy anachronism!), and, of course, exchanging lots of gunfire.

Even after spending a whole week getting C4’d, AK-47’d, and otherwise gunned down while trudging through the game’s increasingly absurd plot, when I finally vanquished the last boss I couldn’t help but tell my epic war stories to anyone who’d listen. Unfortunately, there are no purple hearts or medals of honor for thwarting video game enemies. But I think my listeners would’ve given me such awards if they’d had the chance—if only to shut me up for a few minutes.

—Columnist Julia E. Hansbrough can be reached at