Review: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty by Raymond Benson

Metal Gear Solid 2In a labyrinthine superstructure in New York Harbor known as the Big Shell, enemies, allies, secret agents, and double-dealers converge: Russian commandos, a blood-thirsty vampiric assassin, a long-legged, leather-clad, rifle-bearing beauty named Fortune, a deformed, finely manicured bomber called Fatman, and a mysterious Mister X. Somewhere in the maze, as well, is the president himself-his biometrics coded to a bomb that can take out Manhattan, his loyalties unknown.”
-– Taken from the back cover of the book.

Let me begin by saying that I wanted to love this book. I love the game, I love the characters, I love reading; it seemed a natural fit. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. What I ended up reading was an “okay” version of a story that I know could have been much better.

I had expected that the book would be an immersive experience in the Metal Gear universe, where plot events and characters from “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty” would be explained in all the ways they couldn’t be in their original medium. I wanted Benson to describe the way Solid Snake’s heartbeat slowed when he smoked a cig, or what it felt like to hold C4 or fire a SOCOM with a silencer on it. He didn’t really give me that.

My first thought, when I began reading, was that “Sons of Liberty” read like poorly edited, bare-bones Metal Gear fan fiction. At one point I even thought that reading the hint book for the video game would be more entertaining.

The writing style is about Middle-Grade to Young Adult, which did nothing to add to the experience. Since the book contains adult themes, and adults are the target audience, when Benson literally spells out the pronunciation of “Raiden”, which I believe is a pretty straight-forward name, it feels a little condescending. If I was seven, and new to vowel convergence, that might have been helpful, but as I am not, it did nothing but make me raise an eyebrow and say aloud: “Seriously?”

This story introduces Solid Snake as a ‘…eh’-inducing character and presents Raiden as David Bowie with a shoulder-caressing mane of hair. I would be hard pressed to prove that the whole thing isn't fan fiction; that perhaps someone drew Raymond Benson’s name out of a hat and said - "We’ll give him the script from the game and publish whatever he writes."

The editing throughout the first 7 chapters is pretty terrible. If, however, you trudge through to chapter 8, which doesn’t take long with the short chapter length, and it’s there that the action and plot begin connecting, and the main characters become a little more likable. There is conflict aplenty between Otacon and someone from his past; between Raiden and Rose; between the good guys and the bad guys and everyone else who shows up.

Weapons, sensors, and machinery are all described simply, often with names alone – SOCOM, C4, and others - when more detail could have made certain scenes all the more intense and suspenseful. Questions are constantly raised and eventually answered, and there are definable story and character arcs, for the most part.

Foreshadowing, however clumsily executed, hints toward end events, and the story finally starts to draw you in. With the appearance of Dead Cell, the Sons of Liberty, and the many sub-plots that link together, the complicated series of events unfolds quickly.

Unfortunately, knowing the plot and understanding it are two completely different things. More than once, I questioned if Benson himself had a real grasp of what was going on, or if he was just miming dialogue from the game and inserting adverbs.

In the end, past its faults, “Sons of Liberty” is a book with an awesome premise, and writing that gets far better toward the end - if you can stand to read that far. I especially enjoyed the final chapters, but finished reading with a sense of regret that a book based on such ground-breaking content, was not given the overall literary execution it deserved.

Buy, Borrow, or Pass? Borrow

If you don’t have the time or desire to play through the game, this book is a good alternative. If you’re a fan of the series or have already played through the game, you can probably stand to miss it.

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty by Raymond Benson
Publisher: Del Rey; Original edition (November 24, 2009)
ISBN-10: 0345503430
ISBN-13: 978-0345503435
Genre: Science Fiction, Action/Adventure

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