Review by darkknight109
"Some new stuff, some cool stuff, some bad stuff... but just overall not as good as the original"
Metal Gear Solid was a series I didn't get into until recently, long after its popularity had already exploded and turned MGS into a gaming megalith. On the one hand, it sucks missing the boat, but on the other, it also allows me a look at the series from eyes relatively untarnished by the opinions of others, since I wasn't paying attention to the series when it was being hyped and people were cheering (or jeering) the various new additions to the series. My first entry to the series was not actually Metal Gear Solid for the Playstation, but MGS: The Twin Snakes for the Gamecube. Thus, I was already fairly familiar with a lot of the new mechanics introduced in MGS2, but I'll touch on them in my review as best I can.
So, how does Snake's second 3D stealth foray fare? Well... it's different than MGS in a lot of ways, some of them good, some of them bad. The first very blatant change that was received rather badly by the MGS community at large was the addition of a second hero, Raiden, whom you play as for roughly 2/3 of the game. I'll get into the nitty-gritty of that in the story section but suffice to say, I'd have much preferred this to be a snake-only game.
The graphics in MGS2 are quite impressive for the PS2. The game runs quite smoothly and the characters are surprisingly well-detailed. The backgrounds are fairly drab but, then again, they're supposed to be and it's not like they're lacking in detail. One nice point is that the characters in the codec conversations are now full 3D models instead of just 2D artwork and their expressions actively change throughout the conversation. The game still doesn't quite reach the heights of generation's top-achievers, but is still a very pretty game to look at graphically.
Much like the original game, MGS2 features a very subdued, non-intrusive set of background music scores that subtly enhance the atmosphere of your stealth-based missions. If spotted, the music swaps to something more upbeat, highlighting your need for escape. The soundtrack is not really something MGS has been noted for, but the music fits its purpose perfectly and I feel that a stronger, more noticeable soundtrack would more likely have detracted from the gameplay, rather than enhanced it.
The voice acting is up to MGS's usual stellar standard. Old favourites like Snake, Otacon and the Colonel return to reprise their rolls and are joined by newcomers like Raiden, Rose and Emma. In spite of the fact that some of the characters have rather irritating personalities (more on that below) the voice work is nothing short of stellar and in a game as heavily centred around story as MGS, that really counts for a lot.
The gameplay of MGS2 is much like MGS, so I'll try and focus more on what has changed (which, regrettably, is more bad than good) rather than harp on points people already know about. MGS was a masterful entry into the sparsely-populated game genre of stealth shooter and it pulled off the role magnificently, for the most part. The story was fantastic, the enemies were difficult, the AI was smart and allowed you to do plenty of cool things to throw your enemies off track and the game placed a real emphasis on stealth and staying out of combat. All too often I find that stealth-shooters have hardly any stealth in them and, by the end of the game, are virtually indistinguishable from your standard FPS. MGS kept the focus on staying out of sight wonderfully almost straight to the end of the game.
Does MGS2 do the same? Not exactly. It's not quite as bad as most other stealth games, but it does seem to stray from its sneaky roots quite a bit. The addition of a first person mode makes it disgustingly easy to kill off guards in your way. Compounding the situation, you start Snake's mission with an M9, a tranquilizer handgun that is basically a silenced SOCOM that has the added bonus of not creating bodies that need to be disposed of. Raiden gets the same gun fairly early in his mission too. Very handy to the point of being almost unfair. The game seems to realise this as pieces of cover are often few and far between and even the guard patrols are fairly sparse. Unlike the first game, where you often had to watch a room carefully and pick your moments to move between the patrols, this game often lets you get away with simply running straight through a room, as the guards are spaced so far apart that they may as well not even be there.
It really doesn't take much effort to quickly dispose of every guard in the room and, thanks to their incredible short-sightedness (a trait that, regrettably, was not corrected in MGS2), any survivors you happen to miss are unlikely to even notice the bloody corpses strewn about or you pointing a gun at them from three metres away. The game makes a half-hearted attempt to dissuade this type of behaviour by having some soldiers report in every time they pass a specific point in their patrol route, but this is easily circumvented by killing the guard far away from their report-in point and/or dragging the body away from where the search team would notice it. When the search teams come in to inspect why they haven't received a report, they'll beeline for the reporting point, notice the guard is gone, shrug their shoulders and run out of the room. That's it. They don't even send in a replacement and, from that point on, you're basically home free.
Cameras are almost non-existent in MGS2 and the ones that are present are so obviously placed and poorly guarded that, once again, it's faster to just shoot them than bother with evading them. The game takes the emphasis on combat a step further with the introduction of Cyphers, enemy cameras and/or turrets mounted on small, flying platforms. These irritating little constructs appear in the sequences of the game that take place outside and are almost impossible to evade due to a lack of cover. Thus, your only real option is to shoot them down before they can spot you.
Don't get me wrong, there's nothing strictly wrong with the combat and the controls are as crisp and fluid as can be, but I was really hoping for more sneaking about and less shoot-em-up action from an MGS game. The cardboard boxes, the books and the other stealth-related tools were my best friends in MGS and I think I found myself in a cardboard box maybe three times through all of MGS2, and that just strikes me as wrong.
In terms of controls, there isn't a whole lot new here. Snake and Raiden control identical to each other, though Raiden has a fancy flip kick in place of Snake's roll and a slightly different melee style as well. There's now the ability to hang off of ledges and shimmy along them, although this action isn't utilized as well as it could be. Almost every time you could do a grab-and-shimmy, it's just as easy to slide along the edge of a platform.
The game adds a bit of replay value and challenge at the same time with the introduction of dog tags, little trinkets you can gain by holding up guards. This restores some of the stealth to the game, since you have to sneak up on the guard without being noticed, keep him alive and conscious and get close enough to trigger the hold-up sequence. After that, you have to strafe around to the front and get him to shake his dog tags loose so you can pick them up. Collecting dog tags yields a number of in-game rewards that I won't spoil for you here.
Other than that, the core gameplay mechanics remain relatively true to MGS. The cardboard box, the various methods of making noise, the porno magazines, etc., all return basically unchanged from their predecessor. The new gameplay changes, while not exactly in the spirit of MGS, do not really detract from the fun-factor of the game and you'll still be entertained up to the end of the game. They're just very different from the direction MGS took.
The story in MGS is enthralling and nothing short of excellent. It keeps you hooked and will constantly get you playing for hours at a time to find out the next plot development, much like the original game. The overly long codec conversations have been toned down, (but not completely eliminated... the last codec conversation/cutscene takes roughly 20-30 minutes by my estimation), from MGS, which is nice. However, a few thorny issues raise their heads and prevent this from being a perfect 10.
The first very obvious one is the main character himself. I have heard that Hideo Kojima wanted a new, relatively inexperienced hero for MGS2 so he could put Snake in the position of mentor and make the player really in awe of him. However, the idea backfires rather resoundingly. All the incredible antics Snake pulled off in MGS1 are duplicated by Raiden in MGS2 and Snake is actually reduced to the role of friendly advice-giver for much of the game. We never really get to see the side of Snake that I assume Kojima wanted us to see, which is really quite a shame...
And what about the new character himself? Well, I liked Snake in MGS, but I was perfectly open to having a new face in the spotlight for a change of pace. Unfortunately, Raiden not only replaces one of the most popular characters in modern gaming, but is also completely unlikeable, along with most of his supporting staff. He is fresh-faced and naïve, but seems to get angry at all the wrong moments. When any person with half a brain would realise the importance of what they're trying to do, Raiden is busy questioning the ethics of his orders, which gets annoying after a while. Raiden comes off as a very badly clichéd character many times in the game. Snake had his own characterization which, while not totally original, was at least not as overdone as Raiden's long silver-haired, effeminate pretty-boy with a dark and mysterious past.
Far more annoying, however, is Rose, Raiden's girlfriend and your save-game contact for the entirety of Raiden's story. Mei-Ling is replaced by a strong-willed, rather overbearing woman whose antics start as irritating and eventually progress to downright annoying. At the start of the game, you'll get treated to a lovey-dovey, kissy-kissy scene between Raiden and his girlfriend upon saving which is often horribly schlocky and way out of place in the otherwise fairly weighty storyline. However, towards the middle and end of the game, the scenes usually turn into lovers' spats which make you want to reach through the screen and slap Rose, not only because of how stupid half the fights are, but because she happens to be bringing them up when her boyfriend is trying to save the damn world! There is a time and a place for quarrelling in a relationship; when your boyfriend is frantically working to avert a nuclear holocaust, it's probably a good idea to save the romance troubles until he gets back.
The really frustrating part about having Rose as a save operator is that you have to listen to these scenes, some of which are several minutes long, every time you want to save your damn game and it gets really tiresome a few hours in. You start to really miss Mei-Ling and her 30 second motivational platitudes after a while.
Even the colonel, an old favourite of mine from MGS, is quite different in MGS2, mostly because of the dynamic he has with Raiden. In MGS, he and Snake were fairly close and had a good working relationship. However, with MGS2, he is fairly distant, overly hostile and generally harder to sympathise with. Granted, if I was stuck listening to Raiden and Rose's spats, I'd probably be the same way...
Not all the characterization is bad, though. Otacon, who you deal extensively with in Snake's part of the mission, is his usual self, perhaps even better than he was in MGS. In an attempt to make up for Mei-Ling's absence, he will read one of her platitudes every time you save, and then offer up an explanation which is completely and totally wrong, and hilarious at the same time.
The new characters are a mixed bunch. The villains are all suitably impressive and well done and the new allies range all the way from poor to excellent in quality. My only gripe here is that far too often for my liking, characters get killed off with next to no characterization. You can tell that Kojima wants us to feel sorry for them for most of the deaths, but has spent so little time on developing their characters that the player has only a slight connection to them at best. I can think of at least three times where this happens in MGS2.
So I've gone over the characters, but what about the story itself? Well, it begins with Snake and Otacon infiltrating a tanker transporting the latest incarnation of Metal Gear to locations unknown. The story moves along at a good pace and pulls you right in, which is excellent. Like its predecessor, there are plenty of twists and turns in the plot that keep the story fresh. The action and pacing never lets up and the story is flawless save for two rather crucial points: the ending to both Snake's and Raiden's missions.
Snake's mission ends incredibly abruptly right at the climax point that the entire story has been building up to so far. However, without so much as a lick of explanation, you are then suddenly pushed into Raiden's story, leaving you scratching your head and wondering what the hell just happened. It's an extremely jarring transition, and one I think could have been handled a lot better.
The story continues, building and building to another resounding climax... and then abruptly takes a sharp left turn at last hour of the game. The final moments of the game feel almost like an acid trip ending from a 60's movie (think 2001: A Space Odyssey) and a bunch of Dues Ex Machina comes straight out of nowhere and explains away a bunch of the mystery in the game. The whole thing is wrapped up fairly sloppily in my opinion, which is a shame because the rest of the game weaves an exquisite story, only to have it end on a resounding dull thud.
In spite of all the nasty things I've said in this review, MGS2 is still a very solid game and a worthwhile addition to any PS2-owner's library. The flaws, while rather jarring, are few and far between. Average initial playthrough time is 15-20 hours for seasoned gamers, less if you're familiar with MGS2's mechanics, and a host of unlockable content adds another few hours onto gameplay. Pick it up if you're the slightest bit interested in the MGS games (but get MGS or The Twin Snakes first... it helps to have the backstory firmly in your head before starting this game).
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 03/03/08
Game Release: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (US, 11/12/01)
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