Review by neonreaper
"The first third of the game is terrific, but then things fall apart..."
Metal Gear Solid 2 needs little introduction, as the long awaited sequel to the original Metal Gear Solid, it starts off pretty well, continuing the legacy of Solid Snake, a hero adept in combat of all types, a master of strategy and battlefield psychology, a pro with the ladies and perhaps most of all, the stealthiest guy in the world. One of gaming's elite iconic characters, people that loved or even simply liked Metal Gear Solid (and indeed, some of us even go back to the Metal Gear NES days) were pretty excited to see where Snake would go now. He heroically snowmobiled off into the sunset last we saw him, but there's no way he would stay out of the action very long.
The game starts off with a solid focus on Snake, walking along a bridge in the rain, and dumping himself over onto a ship in the Hudson River. He's working with Otacon to infiltrate this vessel and uncover the secrets on board. Just then, inexplicably, a Russian attack craft is flying over the Hudson River with no repercussions and a landing party forcibly takes over the boat, and now the situation is more complicated for Snake. It's a great start, and Snake finds himself in peril around every corner. Patrols wander the boat's passages, and Snake needs to cover his tracks now more than ever. Even by using force, Snake needs to blend stealth and trickery into his actions, hiding bodies in lockers or simply dumping them overboard.
How Snake navigates the large boat is up to the player - you can fully investigate it, searching for items and nifty little things tucked away in lockers, under stairwells, and so on. You can take guards out, try to engage them head-on (leading to brutal battles and chases), or simply try to sneak around everything. There is a boss battle on the boat, with some emotional confusion surrounding the boss that you fight and how you choose to defeat her. And there are multiple paths through the boat. If you stumble down a correct path right away, maybe that's enough for you, but a curious player will probably want to figure out where every path on the boat leads. It's a pretty good layout for a boat, well designed and avoids any "what the hell kind of boat is this?" types of sentiments.
My only real complaint through this first section, is that Snake can catch a cold. If he's outside for too long, he catches a cold, and sneezing will draw attention to him if you don't use cold medicine. It seems like a little too much inventory and status management than what is needed. Even being a slowpoke and an explorer, I didn't actually catch a cold, but it was just one more thing I had to worry about than I thought was necessary. If you go inside from the rain, you leave footprints, which guards notice, and things like that are a pretty cool touch. It's a small complaint about the cold medicine, and maybe my only real negative for the first part of the game.
One of the first things I enjoyed in this game was taking a guard out on deck, and then while dragging him, Snake tossed him into the river automatically. I spent a lot of time with this.
Snake then finds perhaps more than what he was looking for, and the game takes a twist. Things get crazy, and we can't wait to see what happens with Snake and the storyline events that have unfolded. This first third of the game perhaps could have used one more boss fight and one less cold medicine mechanic (yeah it's a weak gripe), but it's a terrific game so far.
Sadly, the game designers adopted a "If it ain't broke, break it." mentality for the rest of the game, and our time controlling Snake comes to an end. Enter an immature angsty emo (and whatever annoying term you can thing of) guy, Raiden. Snake is strong, experienced, measured, and while he might have had a couple of cheesy lines here and there, he didn't fall into too many cliched trappings, growling out his lines without being generic. Raiden is a stark contrast, completely unlikeable and borderline intolerable. He seems inspired by a line of horrible JRPG characters, and he's our character for the rest of the game. It sucks, it's such a dropoff in terms of character quality that it pretty much ruins the game.
Raiden's portion of the game takes place on some deep sea platforms, and it's a mixed bag of design. Some areas are terrific fun, either to sneak around or to fight enemies. Others aren't that enjoyable at all, and can be frustrating to move through due to bad design, and sometimes you also have a poor camera placement. I've never really liked some control design decisions in Metal Gear Solid games, but during the Snake portions, it felt very natural and I never really struggled with it. Not so with Raiden, and things like crawl/crouch become a bit of a hassle, as well as the horrible sniping mechanic from MGS1. There's a weapon later in the game that feels like it should have been awesome, but it mostly just sucks and is a major letdown. The map is nice, but you still suffer from the top down camera, and you may put yourself on track to run into an enemy where a first/third person view would help you do this much better. And you can select a first person view, but it's annoying to have to switch to it around every corner. If you've already played through some areas and know where the guards are, this stops being a problem, and these areas are actually a bit more fun. First time through, though, not so much.
Again, it's not all horrible here, as there are some portions that are tricky to work through, but in a good way. Other areas are flat out fun, and really show off the potential quality within the Metal Gear Solid series. Figuring out how to avoid detection, or how to fight out of a situation and then hide, is just a blast when the area design facilitates it.
The bosses during this stretch are usually pretty good, and there are some great, memorable boss fights here. Are all of them top tier? No, but the best MGS fights tend to be some of the best in all of gaming, and some of the final battles are certainly difficult, but not as frustrating as the original Metal Gear Solid's final stretch. I found them to be tough enough to warrant their slots as final enemies, but didn't feel like they were cheap.
Tying things together is a terrible plot that pushed me away. Things are too twisted and convoluted to become invested in, and Raiden is such an unenjoyable mess that you never really want to root for him. You simply feel like there's always some twist around the corner, and there's always some big piece of information that you're not privy to, and the characters are pretty bad, and actively prevents any real emotional connection to the plot. There's a neat piece of resolution in the ending, but they do such a bad job of building up to it that you really have to push yourself to care about it. The rest of the story plays out in the way of just constantly throwing strange ingredients into a pot, and eventually to stop caring what they're trying to make, and in the end they just say "look, we made crazy random ingredient mess soup!". You can understand it and follow it just fine, it's just not very good. There's too much focus on being a bit crazy with twists and turns to really have any effect when the reveals occur, and the reveals aren't that good either. Like I said, in the end it's just "we made a crazy story!" instead of really landing with a nice, solid story that filled in the cracks along the way, or some thrilling adventure through the world of covert ops.
I really liked the first third of this game, and then things went downhill and just kept going, happy to spiral into some pile of uninteresting mess. It's hard to imagine that Hideo Kojima finished this game and thought it was a proper resolution to the Metal Gear series. I do think that if you love the stealth elements of the first Metal Gear Solid, you will at least enjoy this game a little bit, but it can be hard to digest the characters and narratives and story of the last half of the game... not because it's too tough to understand, it's simply not rewarding to follow.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 09/29/08, Updated 09/07/10
Game Release: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (US, 11/12/01)
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