Review by kristina kim

"Refined, unique, entertaining, yet intrinsically flawed"

Metal Gear Solid 2 was one of the most anticipated games for the Playstation 2, and it’s first real killer app. It was not only a game that would give PS2 owners some bragging rights, but it was also the continuation of a series that started on the beloved Nintendo and continued on the even more beloved Playstation. MGS2 is not all it’s cracked up to be, however, and several glaring flaws that are intrinsic to it’s design keep it from joining ranks with the gaming’s finest.

There are few games that are as polished graphically as Metal Gear Solid 2. While it isn’t the most impressive game on the PS2, the graphics engine is an incredibly detailed, solid effort that simply hasn’t been matched. The frame-rate stays at a razor-sharp 60 FPS and never wavers. Every character in the game, whether it be the main player or hapless enemy sentries, are meticulously detailed on every level, large and small. You can actually see the full array of equipment on each soldier, from their radios to their weapons, and they actually use them in real-time. The motion captured animation is an unsurpassed effort. The game contrasts dark, grungy interiors reminiscent of the first game with bright, open, and soft exteriors. The textures are highly detailed and clear, and the polygons themselves have been rendered in an extremely clean and clear fashion with almost no noticeable aliasing or glitching. MGS2 separates itself from other stealth-action games by encapsulating one critical element that others lack: personality. Simply put, there’s no other game that matches MGS2 on a purely artistic level, even if they have surpassed it’s technical limitations. It’s the little things, really, such as how Snake’s headband from the first game flutters in the wind with even the smallest movement;

The music is done by Harry Gregson-Williams, famous for composing scores for big-budget action films. The music is intense in all the right spots, especially during cutscenes, but during the majority of the game, it’s subdued and serves nothing more than ambience. Trigger an alert against guards, however, and the theme becomes a fast-paced beat. The sound effects are just as effective as they were in MGS, and in fact many of them have been reused, although they sound much sharper; what’s broken doesn’t need fixing, however, so they’re just as good now as they were 5 years ago.

If you’ve played the first MGS, then you’re more than able to cope with MGS’s stealth action. Metal Gear Solid 2 has the perfect blend of realism and imagination. One or two gunshots will normally kill you in a more realistic stealth action game, but in MGS2 you can withstand a barrage of gunfire. Rations instantly recharge your health and are actually quite plentiful, even if there are only a limited amount you can carry. Weapons have limited ammo and must be reloaded, but there’s never a point in the game during the normal difficulty settings where you’ll be low on ammunition, unless you go on a reckless kill-crazy spree. The game is challenging and forgiving in all the right areas, which puts it miles above other stealth action games that are more frustrating than they are fairly challenging. There are some surprise deaths in the game, many of which are bound to catch you off guard, but the game’s balanced checkpoint system allows you to continue extremely close to any mishaps. To fire weapons, you will constantly need to switch between a first and third-person perspective. The caveat is that you can’t aim precisely in third-person, but you can’t move in first-person. It’s confusing and rather annoying to have to cope with at first, but eventually it becomes second nature. It would have been interesting to be able to play the game solely from the first person, even purely as an option, simply because it’s both entirely possible and rather interesting. It would also make MGS 2 the best first-person shooter ever.

The environments are more interactive this time around and the player can also perform a larger variety of techniques as well. The startling amount of freedom given to gamers is quite welcome, but a bit of imagination is required at the same time. Again, because of the intelligently designed selective realism of MGS 2, the open-ended gameplay isn’t quite as esoteric as other games. Shoot a fire extinguisher, and it will erupt a thick cloud of gas, which can distract guards and even reveal laser traps. Need a way to sneak into somewhere? Multiple options lay open you to; you can distract guards by knocking on walls, throwing empty machine gun magazines, or even detonate explosives. Even if you face points in the game where you simply can’t figure out what to do next, you can always radio your friends for helpful suggestions. Simply put: everything you need to learn how to play and succeed MGS2 is right in the game; it’s one of the few games where if you’re stumped by a puzzle you don’t need to go looking for a guide.

The majority of the gameplay centers around sneaking around levels avoiding detection by enemy sentries as well as cameras. Curiously enough, guards can only see a short distance in front of them, and are usually oblivious of anything right outside their viewing limit. You’re equipped with a radar that allows you to see the movements of guards as well as their viewing distance. While it’s an absurd concept, it works. Beware though, as the guard’s sight may be limited, but their hearing is not. The tiniest sounds, such as walking across metal grating or sneezing from staying out in the rain too long, and the guards become agitated. Furthermore, when guards enter attack mode, they can see well beyond their original viewing limit to anything with their line-of-sight. The AI of the guards has been significantly improved since the last game. For those unfamiliar with the first MGS, one of the most laughable moments was shooting a guard in the back of the head with a silenced weapon, to which his only response would be “is someone there?”. Not so in MGS2. Guards are much smarter, much more aggressive, and most importantly, less predictable. They might shoot you right on the spot, but they can also radio for back up. Trigger an alert, and hordes of guards come swarming. If you manage to defeat or avoid them, they become even more focused on their surroundings. MGS 2’s enemy AI is a much more refined effort, without rendering the game completely unplayable.

It’s been a few years since Metal Gear Solid 2 came out, and it’s safe to discuss the now-widespread knowledge about the game without spoiling the overall plot to the few people left in the world who haven’t played it yet. In reality, Metal Gear Solid 2 doesn’t begin until after the first few hours. Up until then, the game is more like Metal Gear Solid 1.5; it shares many elements that are very common with the prequel, including the overall feel of the game as well as superficial aspects such as the game over screen. You once again take up the part of Solid Snake, once again seeking out information of a possible new Metal Gear threat; only this time, you’re only working for numero uno, with Otacon from the first MGS at your side. This brief first portion of the game takes place on a Tanker named the Discovery (a slight aside to one of [producer] Hideo Kojima’s favorite movies, 2001: A Space Odyssey), which is host to almost exactly the same environmental ambience as the first game; the cold, claustrophobic interiors as well as well as the overall industrialized setting will give MGS players déjà vu. During the first few moments of the game, many of the gameplay aspects will be revealed through in-game tutorials that explain better than any manual could how exactly to succeed in MGS2. After a brief boss fight and some rather strange plot twists, the game then moves onto the second chapter of the game, which takes place several years later on a gigantic plant in the middle of the Hudson River.

It is then that the game makes a startling transition. Gone are the cold, dark, mechanical interiors of the Tanker; gone is look and feel of the first game; and gone is Solid Snake! Players will now take control of a young rookie named Raiden who works for Fox Hound, Snake’s ex-unit. Kojima went to exorbitant lengths to keep Raiden a secret from the world, and regardless of the reaction to his character, his unveiling was shocking to all. He’s not the season veteran that Snake is; in fact, he can be categorized as being a hot-shot punk kid who takes the most annoying aspects of several characters from Metal Gear Solid (Snake’s macho overconfidence, Meryl’s gross naiveté, Otacon’s whiny pretentiousness, Naomi’s overt preachiness) and rolls them all into one character – like him or hate him – that you have to endure during the majority of the game. Things take an even bolder turn when you actually meet Solid Snake during the course of the game! The interaction between Raiden and Snake is worth the price of admission alone, if only because Snake shares the same impression many of the players will have – most of the time he just wants to punch him and tell him to shut up and quit whining. This level of characterization is literally mind-blowing – not only because of the quality of the scripting but also because it’s such a bold concept.

Raiden aside, prepare to be tossed left and right again and again as the plot takes turn after hairpin and maddening turn as the game progresses on and on. The plot starts out enjoyable enough, and it fits in well with the quasi-science fiction/Tom Clancy novel mood of the game. Once again you’re dropped into the thick of things with very little knowledge of what’s going on as events and explanations are gradually unfolded before you. As the game moves forward, however, the plot quickly and steadfastly becomes an overcomplicated, convoluted mess, even more so than the first game. You might have to play the game more than once just to grasp everything that flew right over your head the first time. Much like the movie Conspiracy Theory, there’s an excellent set-up, even better build-up, but the ending can’t pay off and it gradually becomes a downhill slide of leaving the player with more questions than answers. The story does have it’s moments though, and the cut-scenes are excellently directed and despite their confusing nature remain entertaining throughout the game. The story would be more forgivable were it not for the sometimes awkward and melodramatic character development. Despite all these qualms about the game’s plot and characters, MGS2 is something that Metal Gear fans and anyone looking for a thrilling story can’t pass up.

So, despite everything that encapsulates Metal Gear Solid 2 – the gameplay, the storyline, the audio and visual – are nothing short of top notch, there is one critical, glaring flaw that ultimately makes even considering playing the game entirely questionable. In short, the game can’t decide what it is. Is it a stealth action game? If so, then it’s core gameplay is woefully underdeveloped as well as being repetitive and redundant. Is it a movie? Then the plot is one of the worst ever seen. The game can’t stand alone on either merit, and although it’s a successful package when it’s put together, it’s only really enjoyable the first time around. Afterwards, the wordy and long cutscenes drag on and on and are better skipped – in which case, the game’s rather shallow gameplay shows it’s true colors.

That’s not to say, however, that Metal Gear Solid is a bad game; it’s just that for an action game, it’s too long and unfocused; and for an RPG, where the focus is the storyline, it’s too short. Metal Gear Solid 2 is definitely worth purchasing as a Greatest Hits installment for only $20, and will probably entertain the majority of gamers for a few days to a week at the most. One last thing: there’s nothing else on the market that even comes close to even resembling Metal Gear Solid 2; for that reason alone it’s worth giving it a shot.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 06/23/03, Updated 06/23/03


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