On Tuesday September 1st, the immensely anticipated Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is coming to home systems worldwide. Early reception is beyond positive, which is something you’d expect from a brand of this pedigree, but no amount of praise can hide the game’s dark truth. This is the very last Metal Gear Hideo Kojima will be involved in after his very suspicious separation from Konami, something Polygon has done a great job documenting. Kojima likely isn’t staying away from the industry forever, but whatever he does now can’t be with the series he created and devoutly maintained since 1987. Konami meanwhile will probably keep the series going and constantly fight an uphill battle with a super pissed off fanbase. This isn’t the end Kojima and his time with Metal Gear deserves but it’s sadly the one we got.
August 25th marked the final trailer’s release for Phantom Pain and it was directed by Kojima himself. It of course contains a great amount of stunning footage that simply whets the appetite of hungry gamers. That’s only half of it though. The other half is an emotional supercut of the entire series that plays like Kojima himself saying goodbye. Metal Gear was his first game and it’s unbelievable how he turned it into such a major, cultural icon. Losing the reins likely hurt Kojima on a personal level many creators will (hopefully) never feel. It’s like Nintendo saying, “We don’t want you on Mario anymore Shigeru Miyamoto.” At this point, the trailer was Kojima’s only means of giving his greatest creation any type of farewell on his own terms. It also spurred in me a desire to address my favorite game of the series, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.
Sons of Liberty turns 14 in November and is still considered the series’ best entry, though Phantom Pain could very well top it. It’s an outlier too because its main protagonist isn’t the ever popular Snake in any form, except for the prologue. You mainly play as a former Liberian child soldier named Raiden as he uncovers a massive global conspiracy. Raiden’s inclusion was a deeply guarded secret that people didn’t find out until they actually played Sons of Liberty. Unsurprisingly, this pissed off a lot of players. Raiden didn’t have Solid Snake’s unflappable cool, and it’s jarring to suddenly watch the series most prominent character get pushed to the sidelines. Snake helps Raiden through his story, posing as a SEAL named Iroquois Pliskin, but obviously that’s not the same as controlling him.
Raiden was a very, very divisive character, but it’s a testament to the game’s quality that he was one of the few points of criticism. Nearly every other aspect received heapings of praise. The story, for one, was lauded for its detailed look into many different topics, like child exploitation, social engineering, censorship, artificial intelligence, etc etc. Kojima’s script was heralded as the first and best example of what a postmodern game can look like. Technological advances with the PlayStation 2 brought upon many welcomed upgrades too. Combat was insanely fluid with Raiden and Snake effortlessly moving through their immediate locations. The series trademark stealth features were in full swing, complete with hiding behind walls and shooting around corners, crouching behind objects, non-leathley subduing enemies, and hiding in a cardboard box. You can win without killing a single enemy, as per usual for Metal Gear, though the AI was incredibly designed and made that quite difficult. Lastly, the graphics were beautiful, really pushing the PS2 to its then-limits.
One can’t talk about Sons of Liberty without addressing its awesomely surreal features. Metal Gear as a series is known to be weird and Sons of Liberty is no exception. Bosses include characters like Vamp, a Romanian with vampire-like abilities, a rollerblading C4 bomb loving, obese bald guy named Fat Man, and a clone of major antagonist Big Boss named Solidus Snake. A cyborg ninja named Mr. X assists you on missions and Solid’s twin clone Liquid Snake returns via a hand transplant on a Russian named Revolver Ocelot. The gameplay itself enters bizarre territory near the end too when Raiden discovers what’s really going on behind his mission. Characters begin speaking insane gibberish, footage from the original Metal Gear is shown, as is Metal Gear Solid, and your game screen goes absolutely nuts. At several points the MISSION FAILED screen pops up but it says FISSION MAILED, further pushing the idea the game was completely breaking down (though it actually wasn’t, obviously). There’s also a good stretch of time where Raiden is fully naked and you need to sneak through a base with hands over your genitals. Yep.
Not only is Sons of Liberty my favorite of the bunch, it’s the first one I ever played. Metal Gear was never a brand I was familiar with until a demo disc came included in our copy of Konami’s Zone of the Enders, another awesome game created by Kojima. The demo was the Sons of Liberty prologue were Snake infiltrates a tanker ship to find information on Metal Gear RAY. Considering what happens right after with Raiden, this wasn’t a surprise. The demo really hooked me and my brothers, ultimately succeeding in its mission. We went to our local store and picked up Sons of Liberty once it was available. The ensuring game was a crazy experience for us, and we thoroughly enjoyed every minute. I’ve personally since maintained a love for the series, though I haven’t played the portable games.
Phantom Pain truly marks the end of an era for gaming. Metal Gear will probably live on with more installments but it will never be the same without Kojima around. The past almost 30 years have been special for a lot of people, and Metal Gear easily made Konami one of the industry’s finest developers. Kojima in similar fashion developed a devout fanbase that still demands his recognition no matter what Konami has tried as of late. Sure, the Metal Gear series as a whole can get pretty convoluted (Sons of Liberty definitely included), but it’s always had an aura of greatness. Truly the best way to celebrate the series is to play Phantom Pain and return to the older games that made it so great. Given the opportunity, I would replay Sons of Liberty, and I know many others would do the same.
To order Metal Gear Solid: Phantom Pain, click here.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television editor. Every Saturday afternoon you can read his classic video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.