Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
Review by hangedman
"Small problems balanced out by the best video game story yet."
Okay, let's see, it's been quite a while. I'm almost afraid that my opinion will be lost in the sea of the other MGS2 reviews on this site, but I'm willing to take that crap-shoot. Quite simply, MGS2, whether you would like to admit it or not, is a blockbuster game. I am very critical of blockbuster games, as most of the time they are fair, but quite obviously overhyped.
Metal Gear, ironically, never used to be a game like this. the 8 bit versions were very cult-following style games that most people took a shine to. Metal Gear 2 was released for the MSX computer. Talk about a very small niche. Metal Gear Solid came along, and everyone kind of got up and said, ''What the hell? Metal Gear? That old NES game?'' In a sense, it was the biggest revival of a classic game ever (if not necessarily the best).
Metal Gear Solid 2 is less of a jump from obscurity to the prime-time action, it's really more of a sequel to a blockbuster game. However, as a sequel, it does something that few sequels ever do, and that's to do better than the original in every way possible.
''What's so great about it?''
MGS2 plays out extremely well. The game does something that many attempt and never are good at: it uses a 3rd person view for exploration and has the ability to switch to a first-person view at any time. Although you can't move around in first person, it allows for precise aiming. This was something that MGS lacked, and MGS2 improves upon. Consequently, a single shot to the head now requires a better payoff than MGS's triple-shot from a ways away, depending on the auto-aim to do. You can still do that, of course, but the aiming feature rewards you with more ammunition as a result of careful anticipation and determination to shoot someone in the head.
The game is much harded than MGS, but makes it a little bit more interesting. Stealth is a much more crucial element, as guards are more persistant, higher in number, armed with better artillery, and call for backup if they stub their toe. While not a problem if we're talking about the first games, the alarm and evasion sequence is MUCH LONGER in this game. MGS2 has about a 2-minute time from full alert to back-to-normal mode.
The weapons are good and innovative, but pretty much the weapons from MGS. Your SOCOM, Sniper Rifle, Nikita missile launcher, Stinger missiles, and the loud full-auto rifles. Added is a new grenade luncher, which might be up the alleys of some people, and the totally awsomely awesome sword, like the one that Ninja used. So all in all, nothing changed, but more stuff added.
The camera is very responsive and never got in my way. It avoids the Resident Evil problem of showing you running to a certain point, and then the camera cuts to show you running away, which gets confusing. The radar, when it's availible, shows the position of enemy guards and emplacements like the MGS did, and gives you an idea where to look in first-person mode in order to eliminate the threat.
One thing I loved about MGS2 was the boss battles, which coupled with the story were really amazing. Each boss requires a different strategy to defeat, and most allow you to use your weapons to the fullest extent. The bosses have multiple attacks, and although they do come at you in patterns, it's solving those patterns that gets to be fun. One boss places bombs for you to defuse at the same time that you fight him. If you fail to defuse them, boom. Game over. Although some people may dislike this fact, many of the boss battles are a cross between a sadistic mini-game in which you exploit the patterns of your opponent.
Yeah, the AI does the same tricks, but it gives the game an old-school feel in exploiting and memorizing the boss's actions, which I like. The last bosses really are challenging, and they get away with being hard, but not unfair. You can beat anything in the game, but it does take some practice. Fortunately, you're often supplied with both rations and ammunition for simply surviving, which makes sticking in for the long fight rewarding both to you personally and in-game. Most boss fights are an average of 5 minutes, which is extremely long in regards to today's games. The best thing that I can say of them is that they fight like capable opponents.
Another good thing the game does is give you LOTS of equipment. Although some I never used (the night vision goggles come to mind, as the game takes place in the daytime...), it's nice to know that these things are there for anyone that wants to use them or try them out. Choices are good, and even though I never used some items at all, I'm sure some people out there couldn't get enough of them and used them whenever they could.
''I'm tired of hearing positive junk. Bash the gameplay.''
There are a few gigantic problems I had with MGS2, and I'll elaborate.
Because of the nature of the alarm system, most weapons are rendered completely useless. Namely, any weapon that explodes triggers an alarm, so why bother? The grenade launcher, nikita, stinger, PSG-1, C4, claymores, The unsilenced AK, and the M4 are all too loud to use indoors, which is where, oh I dunno, ALL OF THE GAME IS! Not only that, but the silenced SOCOM kills people, which triggers the alarm if guards find the bodies.
Compare this to the silenced M9, which is easily the best weapon in the game because:
1) Guards never are alerted by sleeping bodies.
2) Headshots put down any non-boss for nap time.
3) Naptime lasts for as long as you're in the room.
4) Ammo is plentiful.
5) Guards never hear the gun! If you miss, nothing happens!
What you get is the weapon at the start of the game dominating and being more useful than anything you find after that. Nothing you pick up will ever be as useful as that single gun.
A lot of the other weapons are either useless, or useless outside the context of a certain spot where it's a required piece of equipment. The sniper rifle, Nikita, and Stinger are all weapons that only really work at a point in the game that was designed entirely for their use. After these spots, you can't use the weapons anymore because they alert every guard in the vicinity. Some of the weapons are useless even outside of these places, like the grenade launcher, which has such a bass-ackwards way of not getting to where you want it to that I gave up. Stun grenades and regular grenades really do not work in the context of the game, and you can never seem to toss a grenade more than 6-feet away. Nice.
Speaking of alert, the alert mode really seems more of a nuisance than anything. Guards will radio for backup, if you kill the backup, more comes. Kill those, and yet more Russian guards. Over and over. The most effective way to get away is to hide in a locker, which if you enter is never searched. The only way that I was ever discovered in a locker is when a guard saw me close the door with me in it. Any other situation, I got away. It would have been nice if a few of the guards actually died without spawning more guards, but I guess that's just me.
Finally, the coolest weapon in the game, the Katana, is only found at the very end, where the only use for it is in the last boss fight, where it's cumbersome, and a massive battle with a bunch of guards where you're better off using an automatic weapon (the only time in the game where it is actually useful). In essence, the sword would have been a great alternative to the M9 as a stealth weapon, and it never was.
Also more irritating is that the sword is used by the RIGHT analog stick, in tandem with the left to do different attacks. No dice. It ends up being pretty irritating, and leads to you wiggling it when close to someone. There's really no incentive to get good with it either, seeing as how little you use it at the end of the game outside of a boss-fight. The one cool and useful weapon... isn't.
For as much crap as I give it though, the gameplay is actually fun to play, even with the M9 only, and even when you are getting shot and attempting to aim at the same time. For me personally, I didn't buy the game for the gameplay, as I expected it to be exactly the same as MGS. Fortunately for me, my expectations were exceeded, but not by a flawless product of gameplay.
The backbone of MGS2 is it's incredible story, but the game to back it up is actually a pretty decent one to be honest. The first-person aiming mode is a useful innovation to Metal Gear's unique genre, and the boss battles truly are great.
Gameplay: 8 / 10
Good and innovative, but certain things feel a little off-balance.
''I like the story! MORE.''
Let's not kid ourselves. Metal Gear Solid was huge in terms of being a game, not because of the length it took to beat it, but because of the absolutely massive script. More of the game was dialog on the codec than it was Snake capering around. Metal Gear Solid 2 follows the same formula. This was the reason that I was interested in obtaining MGS2, not because it was a great-playing game (which it did turn out to be), but because of the story.
And let me tell you, what a story it is. It's not a hollywood cinematic masterpiece, but more of a thinking person's action movie. The admirable thing about MGS2 is that the voice acting is always crystal clear, delivered well, and the script is written with NO Japanese to English translation errors or awkwardly worded sentences. No more metal gear 1 ''I FEEL ASLEEP!'' from a napping guard.
One thing that I found refreshing that many people disliked is that Snake is not a main character in this game. You play as snake for probably about a 16th of the game, and then you switch over to a character named Jack, codename Raiden. Raiden seems a lot less interesting than Snake at first, and every time you call to save, the saver happens to be your girlfriend, Rose. A lot of the game is a dialog between Rose and Jack, which although really has little to do with ''Tactical Espionage'', gives both characters a level of depth.
The trend of developing all the characters is a theme that gets a lot of attention in MGS2, as every character that lives for longer than a cutscene becomes a major character. Every person to be introduced has a unique personality, and has a lot of interaction with the story. The character designs are amazing, and coupled with the personality that the character shows helps create entities within the game that are extremely lifelike and human, even if on the somewhat X-man mutant side in terms of abilities.
We have a lot of characters, and a these characters reveal loads to the story. One of the great things about MGS2 is that everyone seems to know something different than the other characters. Even the words of an otherwise believable source might seem a little bit suspect when you hear otherwise from anybody else, leading to an inevitable distrust of a character even though they haven't directly facilitated it. In other words, until the credits, you don't know what's going on. Plot twist after plot twist, but the well-thought-out kind, thankfully. No ''This is all a dream, Raiden!'' crap, or the kind like, ''Everything you know is a memory implant.'' The plot churns in MGS2 are understandable, follow the story well, and add new dimensions to what you already know or don't know about the story. Truly amazing, really.
I think my favorite aspect of the plot is the fact that it makes ''bad guys'' just as humanistic as the good guys. Until the final hours of the game, where more depth is added to Raiden's character, most bad guys have the same level of character depth. Each person that you come across seems to be working for their own agenda, and in fact they are. Some bad guys have causes that are as relatable to yours, if not more so. I actually found myself thinking along the lines of a philosophical context in some conversations than I did about the next plot twist. Instead of the typical, ''We're going to hold the world at ransom'' stuff you've seen a hundred million times over on this planet, the causes that the ''bad guys'' are adhering to seem genuine and intellectually sound. Simply put: you're just a puppet, and you find out your opponents are up to bigger things.
Compared to the first MGS, the plot of MGS2 is loads more deep. If you were displeased with the action-movie level of depth of the first game, which is understandable despite the level of depth that it showed, the second one is much more developed and will probably strike a chord somewhere with you. This game's story takes a while to comprehend after it all plays out in order to really figure out what happened, and even then leaves a few loose ends. Even the loose ends are thought-out, and don't feel like they're just leading to an inevitable sequel.
''What'd ya go and do that for?''
If there was any complaint with the MGS2 story, it might be how some characters are able to suspend certain laws of physics and reality. Example one: Liquid snake, Snake's old nemesis from MGS, now takes over gunslinger Revolver Ocelot every now and then, as Ocelot now has Liquid's arm after he got his cut off. It's like that Simpsons episode where Homer gets a hair transplant from Snake (the criminal guy with the cigarettes in his sleeve) and Snake controls him through the hair. Another example is Vamp, a guy that can survive headshots and walk on water. Although it doesn't disqualify the story, it's a little fishy considering that MGS2, like the first game, hired a military specialist to make sure that all the weapons were accurate. The blend of ultra-technical military reality and the freakshow nature of some characters causes a clash, but not one large enough to make the story seem amateurish by any degree.
Story: 10 / 10
Probably the best and deepest in videogames thus far. Every plot convention is fresh and never feels like other hackneyed game plots.
SOUND AND MUSIC
''Prepare for above-average!''
Well, the sound and music are workable. The sound, good, the music, not my cup of tea. However, the music is well done and seems to fit what's going on. This time around, the MGS2 team decided to hire a guy that did the music to a few Jerry Bruckheimer movies (the Rock, Gone in 60 seconds, etc.). I think it's pretty standard action-movie score fare, but then again, some people will really like it.
The sounds are good. All gun effects are on par with what they should be, explosions are pretty decent, and punches and things cracking are nicely done. It's not realistic by any stretch of the imagination, but then again what is these days in games? It fits. Simply put. The sound and Music fit. I think they could have been done much better, but I am pleased with the final effort, and the fact that they're above average, but not great doesn't detract anything from my Metal Gear Solid 2 experience.
The real amazing thing is within the voices and the voice talents, the codec conversations that you have with other players are incredibly deep and complex. You can continue to call them and quite often they'll have something different to say about stuff. There are very few times when the acting comes across forced or irritating, and I was amazed at how much there was. You listen to the game more than you play it, if you want to hear about the story and the characters. I really hate to hear about people who say ''Oh man that game is so lame all u do is watch it and thats gay I want to shoot people.'' Stick with Quake, kid.
Sure you can skip all conversations and cutscenes, but the voice acting is the best yet within a video game. Truly amazing. Absolutely wonderful.
Yes, there is a ying to the yang of the voice acting (witty, eh?). The Russian soldiers sound REALLY stereotypical, and so does the main Russian character, Olga. It's not a believable Russian accent. Not only that, but every guard says pretty much the same thing. Considering that conversations were scripted about what Otacon says if Snake is staring at a girly magazine, it wouldn't have killed them to have more than one voice actor say ''is anybody there?'' or ''What was that?'' Seriously, I thought these guys were clones, as they all say the same damned thing... in that bad Russian accent.
Overall, Everything besides the voice acting was just a little bit above average, but the voice acting was incredible.
Sound and Music: 7.5 / 10
Always above average, but sometimes stellar and sometimes irritating.
''I... can't believe it's over... already.''
A game like Metal Gear Solid 2, being more radio show / movie than game, might have less replay than other games. You're right. That's not a good thing. Although some bash Metal Gear games because they're so short, I think that they take a long time to get where they're going, and solidly entertain along the way. Most games that are 50+ hours have tons of repetition, and this is something that does obviously not work well into the script.
However, as much as I understand the effects of this kind of game on replay, there wasn't anything else to do after you beat it. No training mode, no extra stuff to play through the game again with, nothing. Even the first metal gear gave you retarded things to play with, like the bandanna and stealth suit, but this game has NOTHING. For giving you the katana so late in the game, I would have liked to play through again with all of my old stuff. NO DICE. NOTHING. I AM HIDEO KOJIMA. MY GAME IS PERFECT AS IS. Well, let's face it kiddos, after you replay a few of your favorite boss fights again, there's little else (read: nothing) you can do that hasn't been done before.
Again, compared to the outstanding parts of this game, the fact that one time through is the only fresh experience, there should have been much more to yield a second replay. NOTHING! As a person that expects some trivial crackerjack prize after beating certain games, this is a real downer to me. GIVE ME SOMETHING!
Replay: 2 / 10
Aside from a few cool parts worth seeing over, there isn't anything else.
''So, what does the game get?''
MSG2 is a great game, an epic game, a well written and well-playing game. However, it is not a perfect game. There's little replay, and some things could have been much better than they were. However, that initial romp through the game is incredible.
However, saying that you were watching the game more than you were playing it IS NOT A VALID ARGUMENT. If you have a short attention span, go elsewhere. This game really has to be paid attention to, and if you can't do it, get off the soapbox. For the patient people, this game will reward you in spades with the excellent plot.
With all the gleaming highs of this game, the only things that really drag it down are the average spots, of which are actually quite negligible in the broad scheme of things. Love this game, but realize that it isn't perfect.
Overall: 9 / 10
It's excellent, but held back from a 10 by some very noticeable problems.
Sure, MGS2 is good, but I still miss SNK.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 01/02/02, Updated 02/18/02
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