I recently downloaded the Metal Gear Solid 2 & 3 collection that has been added to the Xbox Game Pass. My love of these two games stems back over a decade to me being 12 or 13, playing these games religiously and determined to beat them. Picking them up again all these years later I expected to be thrown out by the graphics and controls, but I knew the story would get me back.
The controls did completely throw me. They’re so unique to MGS to me that having not played anything like it for years they don’t feel natural at all. Shooting is done with a face button, not the trigger or bumper buttons like everyone has grown accustomed to. The movement is bizarre, you can run, or you can crawl. There is no crouched movement in either game. You can crouch, but it’s only a static pose. It’s bizarre.
After some teething problems, I was back into the stealth mechanics. What I didn’t remember was being so bad at any kind of fight. There is a real sense of fear here about being caught that just doesn’t exist in the latest game. Metal Gear Solid 5 allowed you to play stealthy, but also gave you the weapons, and more importantly the controls, to take on an army. There is no such capability here. You have a couple of seconds between being spotted and the guards calling in reinforcements. Once that happens, you’re toast unless you get a little bit lucky and can bottleneck the enemies.
Once I got used to the controls, I sped through the “Tanker” mission on MGS2 and then enjoyed the 25-minute-long cut scene between that and the next time I had control of the game. Sometimes I wonder if Hideo Kojima just wanted to make a high budget TV show but couldn’t get funding so turned the huge sprawling story into a game series. There is so much lore and story in this world it rivals any franchise in complexity. It doesn’t always make sense, but there is a core story that is equal parts genius and crazy.
Getting onto the Big Shell and taking over as Draco Malfoy’s hot cousin Raiden, I started to really get that nostalgic hit. The colours and the environment of the Big Shell are burned into my brain from the countless hours I spent trying to figure out where to go. This is a game from a time when googling something was slightly more complicated than pulling out your phone. In fact, I don’t think I even had a mobile capable of that at 12. Polyphonic ring tones were the big thing.
It’s a badge of honour that I completed these two games in my early teens with no help from a guide or a website. It was all me, and that is something I don’t know if I will ever do again. Nowadays if I get lost in a game, I can find out exactly where I need to go within seconds. I remember spending what 2-3 hours was probably trying to find a way to navigate around the map. It probably wasn’t that hard, but it took me time. I learnt the ins and outs of every strut, every bridge, every section had its own secrets and I stumbled around and learnt them all. By the time I got to the later parts of the game I could do anything with Raiden. The thought of going up against any of the boss fights now terrifies me.
To shoot you must hold X, Press RB to manually aim and then let go of X to let the bullet fly. I used to do this with deadly accuracy in seconds. Now I press x, I hold RB and instantly I am panicking aiming around like a madman and almost certainly losing track of where I am aiming. I am sure if I continue playing, I will get back to where I was, but I am not sure I have the patience in the modern gaming world.
My point here, as much as I ever really have a point, is that I don’t know if we will ever experience this type of purely Stealth based game again. The controls feel like they’re intentionally restrictive when it comes to combat, to force you down a path to play a certain way. That kind of thing feels alien in today’s world of player choice and agency.
I am normally all for games giving you choice. Letting you play “Your way” is a pretty standard thing for the big games now, even games like Uncharted and God of War give you the options to be stealthy or to use difference combat styles. Spiderman lets you be stealthy or just dive into a fight. Even Call of Duty and other first-person shooters now encourage you to find your own load out and make it work for you. Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3 have no such options. You’re going to be stealthy or you’re going to be dying a lot.
I wonder what this would look like if it was made today. A game completely dedicated to stealth, and where the combat is so difficult that you actually care about avoiding it aside from horror games. I am sure there is a blind spot and there are games where this happens, for instance Horizon Zero Dawn gave me a sense of fear when sneaking past the larger enemies. Once I was confident though I was running up to their face and slapping down every creature I found.
Will I play through all the two games? Certainly not.
Am I glad I spent the time indulging in the nostalgia of them anyway? Definitely.