Review by King Broccoli
"It's not my fault Australia is in the southern hemisphere!"
Thank god for people like Hideo Kojima! There are plenty of game developers out there, most of whom are probably just lounging around their offices, regurgitating each others ideas, and releasing the twelfth sequel to their karting franchise (you know, the one that features cute little characters with big heads). It's the efforts of the Kojimas of the world that make gaming the enjoyable pastime that it is. Often delivering us titles that have moving, involving gameplay and also have a message for the people at the same time, he has shown us his ''genius'' once again through Metal Gear Solid 2. The pressure on following up a classic such as the original MGS would be enough to turn most people crazy, but a developing team has long since emerged from their working space with minds intact, and with them has come a new benchmark for action games.
Beginning our adventure on a windswept tanker, off the shore of your average large American city, we're thrown straight into the soggy boots of Solid Snake. Acting perfectly as a refresher course in all things Metal Gear, Snake's exploits are merely a precursor to the main body of the game. He's sent running around the gigantic hulk of a ship, we're introduced to character and story elements, and everybody goes home satisfied. If you're silly enough to admit to never playing the original MGS, then you're going to miss out on this part of the game on your first play. You'll probably be better off for this as well; you're thrown right into the thick of things on this tanker, right from the start, and a few advanced techniques are taught to the player here. The tanker section is little more than a chance for the player to catch back up with their favourite spy again.
Your stay in Snake-ville is likely to be short-lived though, as the REAL beginning of the game spews forth a new protagonist. Still to this day you can hear MGS purists moaning, sobbing, and burning their Hideo Kojima t-shirts right off their backs! Raiden is the name of this precocious newcomer, a rookie, pulled straight out of his VR-training and placed smack bang in the middle of an emergency! In the same spot as the tanker once stood there is new a huge rig, and it is here that the U.S President and a bunch of other high[-ranking officials are kept. Raiden is sent in to liberate the oppressed and remove the terrorist threat, but common-sense dictates that there are larger and far more insidious plots at hand, and Raiden is going to have to deal with them as well!
Ring Announcer: ''And lining up on one side is our hero Raiden! He's flanked by the good old Colonel, his lover Rose, and a couple of old friends with their own agenda! On the other side is your usual band of freaks with freaky superhuman powers, headed by the third snake, Solidus, and that nasty old man Revolver Ocelot! Let the battle begin!''
It's as if the old Metal Gear Solid has been stored in Cardboard Box A and moved to new premises. Once again you find yourself in control of a character who is thrust into a situation he knows nothing about, and is expected to take care of things all on his own (not forgetting the constant interruptions on CODEC from the supporting cast). But of course we can't stop the comparison there. Even though it probably had to be done for the sake of story, the game is rife with people, places and events that are strikingly similar to the game's predecessor. It's often a nice thing to be able to say ''well blow me down with a vacuum cleaner, this part reminds me of that ladder I had to climb at the start of Metal Gear Solid 1!'' but it also wouldn't hurt to have some entirely new scenarios at your disposal. Even casting a suspicious eye up to the interruption made by our ring announcer will reveal how our cast is still basically comprised of the same old rabble. Hideo might have a damn good reason for keeping this identical formula, but by the time it's revealed on your first play through the damage is done.
Somehow, despite a lack of completely new ideas (but at least he's only pillaging the old stuff from himself!) Metal Gear Solid 2 is a fantastic game, and amongst the the top echelon of Playstation 2 titles. Perhaps the main thing that makes the game such an impressive play is the actual step up to the 128-Bit machine and the opportunities the machine has presented to Hideo. Metal Gear Solid may have been good, damn good too, but I doubt it ever captured the COMPLETE vision of its creator. This second instalment might not do this either, but it must come pretty gee-whiz close to doing it. Every second person on the streets is probably saying it, but the attention to detail is second to none. The actual gaming environment may not be the largest, but the kind of stuff that you can pull off within it can send a shiver down your spine. Sure, you could rush through the game, save the day AND impress everybody with your ''I can run straight through and not give a damn!'' attitude, but you'll be missing the MAGIC!
When it came to utilising the environment in days gone by, the best you could generally do was hide around a corner. What the man in charge wanted this time around was an immersive environment, and he bloody well got it! Packed with little nooks and crannies to hang from, hide in and crouch inside of; escaping detection has never offered so much creativity! But the real points are scored when it comes to your enemies; they'll do anything it takes to bring your skinny little rear-end down! Whether they're following your wet footprints or trail of blood, checking up on fallen comrades and radioing in backup, or just shooting the bejeezus out of you; you're in for the fight of your life if you want to survive. Sure, you can pull little tricks such as shooting out their radios...but then they'll just run off and call their nearest buddy for assistance! The dopey traits of old are no longer a factor, and it makes for a much more interesting game throughout.
The hours of gameplay MGS2 provides are packed tightly into a fairly small area. The structure of the game works its wonders in setting up Raiden as the messenger boy sent to do all of the dirty work. They'll have you zipping all over the place, constantly retracing the ground you've previously covered to meet up with the next guy that wants you dead. Some of you may groan at the thought of having to run around in circles, but the circumstances usually change enough with each plot-twist to keep you interested during all of the grunt work. The usual system involving keycards of varying importance is still implemented here, keeping that all-important door locked until the appropriate time and defining your path more clearly. It's a fairly linear kind of a game, as your orders always come in a specific order; the sense of freedom given to the player by MGS2 stems more from the large number of ways a person can go about their duties.
With all of this business with missile launchers and soliton radars going on, one would think that losing track of plot and character development would be a cinch. Not so, I say! Metal Gear Solid 2 naturally has a ripper of a yarn to spin, and often it can completely dominate proceedings. One thing Hideo still hasn't managed to achieve is a nice balance between action and storytelling. Dealing us cut-scene after cut-scene, we're often told the story rather than being allowed to experience it ourselves. The only real tedium that can be associated with this game is the stuff that comes from watching 25 minutes of video footage without having to press a single button. The same can be said about the characters as well, you'll be right in the middle of defusing a highly volatile situation and all of a sudden your girlfriend is calling you and asking you out to dinner! It can leave the player to deal with some disjointed action, and it can be hard to get them back into the ''immersive experience'' with all of interruptions that they have to suffer through! So we have the usual Metal Gear Solid complaint thrown in here as well - it's just too much like a movie at times!
The action that they do give you makes up quite a bit for the flaws listed above. You'll be running, hiding, sniping, shooting, snapping, crackling, popping, swimming, cooling, searching, crawling and doing a whole lot of other stuff before you see the end. There'll be some sections of the game that don't sit well with your style of sneaking, and there'll be others that rock your world, but no matter what you should be guaranteed to have some kind of fun with the game. And it's impossible to forget the obligatory showdowns that have to occur between Raiden and the head meanies. These skirmishes with the bosses are jam-packed with entertainment value and are highlights of a highlight-laden game. Try not to enjoy the game at your own peril, because it just won't work!
Aren't we lucky, we've got a whole lot of difficulty levels to play through. Ranging from VERY EASY through to EUROPEAN EXTREME (something that those NTSC people might not have, judging by the name), there's enough here to satisfy the most battle-hardened old codger or his polar opposite. The easier difficulty level can be played through with your eyes shut, whilst the harder ones might make you feel as helpless as your covered-cornea counterparts. By simply fiddling with the density and positioning of items and enemies, there has been born a certainty that each and every player will find themselves with a challenge.
Oh yes. I'm starting to hear the comments from you people up the back of the group! ''Your ******* review is longer than the ******* game is, you ******* idiot'', is that what you said? Well that's a very shrewd and well-worded comment you have there! And it could even be true! But don't for a second think that the total lifespan is affected in any way by this. It certainly is a shorter than average game, usually clocked first time around in 10 - 12 hours, but the replay value attached to the game is enormous. You'll just keep coming back to it. You won't know why, but you'll keep coming back anyway! The compelling nature of the gameplay, and the side-quests such as pillaging the dog-tags from the enemy fighters will ensure that the game will get multiple completions from you. It may only be a 10 hour game, but if you multiply that by five, or even ten, and you get a much nicer and more appropriate figure.
The final nail in the coffin of those naysayers we murdered comes in the form of the design elements. The graphics are impressive, a little too impressive! With the stuff everyone expects such as realistic looking people and surroundings, and brilliant little extras such as the visual effects involving the splattering of water and blood, it's hard not to be completely blown away. It's worth just wandering around all of the rooms and checking out the scenery, because the attention to detail seen in the gameplay rears its head here as well. A highly commendable effort in the graphics department!
And one that carries over to the sound section as well! This facet of MGS2 features a sweeping, majestic, eerie soundtrack. Created very professionally by a well-known composer (his name escapes me at this very moment) it's an absolute top-class bunch of tracks, and they happen to meld with the gameplay very well. Then of course we've got the voice acting, and the quality of this is undeniable. Hammy deliveries are rarely found, and details such as accents and speech impediments are pulled off with aplomb. Rather than being pushed into the background, as is the case with many other games, the sound here has grabbed a starring role!
With the flaws that are inherent in the whole Metal Gear Solid franchise, it would be imagined that part two would struggle to live up to the hype. It may not be able to sneak up on us and whack us over the heads like the original did, but this new adaptation of the Solid Snake saga is a fantastic game in its own right. Until you've gone about the business of hoarding a small arsenal of weapons, cardboard boxes and other high-tech gizmos, and stuffing collapsed enemy soldiers into nearby lockers yourself, then it's hard to imagine a game of this scope existing. It really is a breathtaking experience at times. The game certainly has its share of flaws, but it more than accounts for them itself! If you have a Playstation 2 then this is a game that you MUST try, it's not the best, but it is the best at what it does!
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 04/05/02, Updated 04/05/02
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