Review by Siegfried
"Les Enfants Terribles vs. The Patriots"
Rain pouring down, cars driving at a frightful speed in spite of the slippery bridge…It's one of those days where all you can think about is to return home and take a nice nap while thunder and lightning lets loose around you. Your decision is already taken; you just don't feel like doing something else…
One man still finds the weather suitable to be taking a stroll though. Cigarette in mouth, he takes all his time and it seems he is unaware of what is going is on around him. Suddenly, without any warning, he starts to run, jumps off the bridge in a stylish fashion and aims for a boat, which, at that precise moment, was smoothly passing under the bridge.
The instant he reaches it, the Stealth Suit is used to grant him invisibility. He doesn't want to be seen, he doesn't want anybody to realize there is an intruder on the boat.
Hence begins Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, perhaps the most anticipated title in gaming history. Benefiting from a high-quality upbeat track composed by Hollywood icon, Harry Gregson-Williams (The Rock) the introduction is mind-blowing and brilliantly sets the premise for the game. Just watching it and listening to the breathtaking track, you instantly think you are in for something memorable.
Unfortunately, the game may either be endlessly charming or it will just be a major disappointment. As a Metal Gear Solid fan, I was at first deceived with this sequel. However, this didn't prevent me from enjoying Sons of Liberty. To say that this is trash would be a lie. Sons of Liberty is good, but it however fails to be on par with its outstanding prequel although the potential to do so certainly exists. There’s also the fact that the game set nice, unique ideas, but never actually got around to fully implementing them. Because of this, the game has a somewhat bland aftertaste, as one realizes something is somewhat amiss – the rushed features.
Even then, comparisons with the prequel aren't really necessary to find that Sons of Liberty is plagued with serious flaws, some of which are totally unacceptable. However, credit must be given to Hideo Kojima and his team. In spite of the flaws, their talent, dedication and hard work managed to make the game still intense and certainly one of the best games on the PS2 thus far, easily annihilating every other game belonging to the genre (which Metal Gear coincidentally created).
There was potential to make something eerily unique, something that would probably have brought a major revolution in one of the most breath-taking categories of games ever created. Metal Gear Solid, on the PlayStation, already did that. Sons of Liberty, while having everything needed to make as much an impact as the prequel, however fails due to hesitant scripts, poor character development and a limited use of a mind-numbing game engine. How ironic really.
The most screwed-up part would certainly be the story. Sons of Liberty is plagued with clichés that hurt the numerous good parts. For one, the new villains are, for the most, mainly stereotypes of all those boring Hollywood characters. Getting Gregson-Williams to compose the score was a wise idea. Unfortunately, it seems Kojima also took this opportunity to search for all the poor villains normally found in lame movies and put them together in the game.
Vamp is the first character that springs to mind. He is a blood-sucking vampire that will just never die. Such an idea looks great at first; it isn't when you're playing the game. And I'm not even going to lose my time nitpicking on the other characters. Olga and Fortune put apart, the others just don't deserve to be in this game. Fortune gets away with murder in that her personality, style and behavior closely resemble that of Vulcan Raven. Olga is one of those ambiguous characters; whatever she does, you'll grow to like, admire and respect her. And there’s also the fact that she’s obviously be designed to replace Meryl from MGS1 in a certain way.
Fortunately, Revolver Ocelot (you read well!) is back from the prequel. Sure, that may not be enough, but he's as charismatic as ever, with the same actor lending him that quivering voice. Put beside Solid Snake, he should succeed in making you forget about the other half-assed characters.
But wait…Solid Snake is present only during the first part of the game, which is damn short. During the second part, Snake gives way to Raiden, a rookie. You are thus left to control this chap until the end of the game. Raiden will be the one who will save the planet from the threat of the Metal Gears.
Now, I don't mind changes; replacing Solid Snake could have been a great idea. I mean; the guy's been fighting against Gears for more than 10 years now. He needs a break and wise changes usually pay off. Unfortunately, Raiden does very little to make you like him. On the contrary, he is just a bag of clichés that will annoy you to no end.
The most distinct part is his high-pitched voice. It is irritating and it doesn't suit him at all. It is very obvious care was taken to accentuate the fact that Raiden is a rookie, but that part was overdone. It's so overdone you'll want to kill him yourself by the end of the game. However, chances are that you'll be more obsessed with the idea of killing Rose, Raiden's pseudo girlfriend, though.
Kojima deemed fit to add a love story as a background to Raiden. Such a thing already existed in the prequel; Solid and Meryl were charming and Solid's fear of emotions conveyed some drama across. The same cannot be said about Raiden and Rose. The dialogues they share are redundant and predictable. In addition, Rose deems fit to call you at any instant and to converse mainly about their unfathomable love affair.
This is sad because Raiden's background story is great. Kojima managed to back him up with something huge, inspired by real life events, that would have made you feel compassion for the rookie. Unfortunately, he (again) overdid it. The fantasy elements thrown in are equally exaggerated. They just fail to add to the plot. The result is a great game story torn to shreds by poor character development (or just poor characters) and some pathetic dialogues.
Even then, something will still make you forget about all these dubious parts later on when you finally beat the game. Metal Gear Solid 2 has the best ending ever. Period. If anything else, the ending is one of the main reasons to play the game over and over again. It beautifully sums up the entire story and depicts something huge for the sequel.
Sons of Liberty has a different game play from its predecessor. What was already heightening has been expanded to grant you with an incredible experience, as far as game play is concerned. Solid Snake himself seems to have been training a lot. He's quicker than ever and he has gained the ability to roll under enemy projectiles. He can also hang from rails, make his enemies shudder by pointing his faithful pistol at them and crying out 'FREEZE', and he controls like a gem.
Raiden shares the same moves, except he can perform a cartwheel that should prove very useful in many a situation. Like Snake could do in the prequel, he can choke unsuspecting guards from behind, drag them to some confined place. He also has the ability to aim at their heads in the first-person view (Snake can do that too now) and moreover, Raiden is somewhat skilled in martial arts. He is assuredly better than Snake in unarmed combat.
The variety of 'missions' you are asked to undertake is also staggering. You will have to disarm bombs, look out for mines, be wary of overly suspicious sentinels, and avoid dozens of guards. The boss battles are simply brilliant. You always have to deal with various things at a time. As an example, Fatman requires you to shoot at him AND locate the bombs he places all over the place AND disarm them within a time limit.
Every single weapon from the prequel is also back and a couple of additions contribute to give Raiden an impressive arsenal. Moreover, he also gets a double-edged sword near the end of the game. Controlling the sword is a marvel and getting used to it is a necessity as it can even be used to repel off bullets, among others.
The enemy's AI has also been increased. It's downright fearsome how they will react to the slightest of noises, how any anomaly will have them running towards your position while calling for reinforcement. If they manage to see you, it's up to you to run and hide somewhere safe or just stand there, whip out your FA-MAS and waste all your ammunition. Of course, you are still bound to die, as the guards will stream in as if the plant consisted essentially of guards.
As usual, even if you do manage to hide, you are doomed to wait until the guards stop searching for you. Even then, accidentally making some noise will still have them swarm towards your exact location and put an end to your adventure. Moreover, you first have to activate notes to display the maps during the Plant chapter when you are controlling Raiden. These nodes are almost always easy to find, but having to sometimes walk around without knowing where you are heading does convey a nice feeling. Or it could just be that I'm a masochist.
Unfortunately, even here, something is amiss. Sons of Liberty is Metal Gear-like only during the first part when you are Solid Snake. Snake has a mere pistol and is forced to make full use of his stealth capabilities. You can't afford to let your 'peers' know you're here as it'd be difficult to fend off the legions of guards that would without doubt hunt you all over the place. The thrill is still here.
In addition, the Tank chapter conveys the same gripping mood found throughout the prequel. Everything occurs in a heartbeat; be overly joyous one second, regret it all your life. It's that sort of thing that made Metal Gear Solid so worthwhile, so beautiful, and so extraordinary.
Everything crumbles during the Plant chapter. The abundance of ammunition, the array of weapons, and Rose's frequent interruptions make for a 'normal', if not sometimes tedious, game. You don't even have to rely on your sneaking skills anymore. Plough your way through; you'll be fine. The Metal Gear feel has vanished to be replaced by a dumb character and a Rose that will never quit annoying you.
It is only during the last thirty minutes of the game that you actually feel your adrenaline start boiling again. Snake and Raiden are left to confront dozens of skilled soldiers, with you controlling Raiden. It's against Metal Gear's intuitive game play, but it's something totally unique. This confrontation is perhaps the finest moment in the game, even beating the hell out of the final bosses. Being surrounded by so many enemies while having to make sure you don't die is unrelenting and is one of the most heart-gripping moments in video gaming.
It's as if Kojima and his crew suddenly called upon all their talent again. It's a pity the game is about to end though. Had they thought like this throughout the whole game (or, at least, throughout the Plant chapter), Sons of Liberty would have been the greatest title of all time. As it stands, it's inferior to its prequel.
The exaggerated character plots and screwed up parts constitute bigger shames as one realizes how Sons of Liberty is a visual masterpiece. Boasting realistic backgrounds, Metal Gear Solid 2 is further proof of the team's designing skills. If it weren't for the pathetic fantasy attempts, you'd think you were actually in the game.
Trivial objects such as bags, bottles, and even fire extinguishers look shockingly real. In addition, the way you are allowed to interact with them adds to this realistic atmosphere. Shoot at the fire extinguisher and watch its contents spray out, at the same time showing you some otherwise concealed laser beams. Shoot at the bottles, and they will shatter as the glass falls onto the floor. Walk on these and hear the noise of your feet crushing the little bits of glass.
Not enough? Come back later; the floor will be still be littered for glass and you will see only shards of the bottles. You can hide in lockers, punch the locker doors and perform various other actions, some of which are pointless but extremely fun.
The character animations themselves are absolutely brilliant. Fortune's outfit may make you chuckle at first, but once you do know more about her, you'll find that nothing else could have suited her better. Character models are appropriate with Fatman being…fat. Need I even mention Solid Snake? He looks as great as ever, even bearing a moustache during the second half of the game. Give him the right item and the moustache will be gone after a while. True artistry.
Sons of Liberty is a stylish game that makes full use of blurred backgrounds to convey this realistic atmosphere across. The attention to detail is awe-inspiring. Almost every protruding object can be shot and getting to know how to make use of those would be a good idea. Obviously, cut scenes remain the pinnacle of the game's visual feat. Even more obviously, this is quite a necessity as like its prequel, Sons of Liberty relies a lot on those to allow the plot to unfold.
The musical score, composed by Harry Gregson-Williams, is entertaining and perfectly suits the game. The opening theme itself ranks among one of the best tracks ever seen in a video game. The way it sets the game and the action is brilliant and gives Sons of Liberty a stunning introduction. You'll have to look hard to find something better. The remaining themes comprise essentially of melodramatic pieces that should entertain you.
Voice acting remains nice although, unfortunately, one of the main protagonists, Raiden, manages to be totally annoying. Otherwise, the remaining cast enjoys average dubbing. The only characters that really benefit from above average dubbing are Solid Snake, Otacon, Revolver Ocelot and two other characters that will have you jump up in joy once you find out who they are. Coincidentally, all the characters I just listed were already found in the prequel. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.
In spite of this and the poor scripting, Sons of Liberty still manages to transcend most other games, mainly thanks to Kojima's eerie directing skills. The game seems like a movie and, as such, actually feels better than a regular movie. Some scenes alone make this game worth playing at least once such as the first meeting between Solid Snake and the big villain.
Enclosed somewhere in it is also the finest moment in video gaming. The scene where the three main characters (not counting the villains), namely Solid, Raiden and Otacon, are finally seen together is the epitome of cut scenes. The way they all walk forward while exchanging perhaps the best dialogues in the game is further proof, if ever needed, of Kojima's talent. Scenes like this should be seen more often. Unfortunately, it seems only one man can come up with the necessary skill to think of such outrageous quality work.
As far as replay value is concerned, Sons of Liberty has its fair share of secret items to make it worthwhile. The Stealth Suit and the Bandana can still be unlocked to make the game easier. Raiden himself uses wigs to attain new 'powers' and getting those should make the game a breeze. The Dog Tag feature, used to get all of those, can be quite time-consuming and is actually very fun.
You'll also be able to marvel once more at Kojima's cynical sense of humor while playing the game. Scattered throughout it are posters of babes, references to past Metal Gear games and other titles, and various stuff destined to make the game more enjoyable. The search for these is a new experience as it always feels great knowing you saw everything that had to be seen in the game. Finical gamers will perhaps want to really see all there is in the game, which alone suffices to give it an astounding replay value. Add to this the ‘Dog Tag’ feature, which is an extremely exhaustive side-quest throughout the whole game, and there’s no denying it’s futile to claim Metal Gear Solid 2 suffers from a short life span (as opposed to its legendary predecessor!).
Of course, this title is also agonizingly hard on the higher difficulty settings. As an example, Extreme pits you against not less than 12 Metal Gears and it's up to you to make quick work of them. Easter eggs also abound and it is always possible to sit back and turn the game into a fool's gem. The variety of possible actions, whether it be making a sentinel limp on one leg, or equipping the Stealth Suit and goofing around, makes for a witty game. The extras are also enough to cause a drastic change in the game play, as it merely becomes a matter of messing with the guards, performing stupid actions, and acting like a delusional mercenary in general.
Metal Gear Solid 2 manages to remain a great game and the events it portrays do make it very different from others. As much as I was first disappointed with it, subsequent sleepless nights convinced me that the title was worth purchasing and I have played it more times than you could fathom. It is a solid title on its own and the game mechanics are on par with the prequel. Unfortunately, it lacks the mood and unique feel of the predeceddor, and the story is not always very coherent although it is extremely exhaustive and definitely interesting.
I still loathe the Raiden-Rose subplot and find some parts (such as Fortune's 'powers') have me questioning Kojima's sanity, but these have never prevented me from enjoying the game. And after all, isn't this the purpose of games? Aren't games here mainly to let you have fun and forget about all the stress everybody is subjected to in real life? In this aspect, Metal Gear Solid 2 is as good as any other PlayStation 2 out there.
Actually, it's better than most titles that have been released thus far. Indeed, while still plagued with all the flaws I already mentioned, Kojima's work manages to be better than others'. Go figure.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 10/30/02, Updated 07/17/03
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