Review by bluej33

Reviewed: 08/03/09

Even Raiden's whining doesn't suppress the pure fun you'll have with Metal Gear Solid 2.

You know what I hate? I hate trying to write introductions for games that everybody already knows way too much about. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty is one such game. And that's my introduction.

Metal Gear Solid 2 is a game that suffers from growing pains. It's an undeniably fun, exciting action game, and it's significantly better than its predecessor. But at the same time, Sons of Liberty gets a little bit caught between two extremes: that of stealth, epitomized in the first game, and that of action, epitomized in the fourth.

Let me explain: with Sons of Liberty, Kojima adds to the series a slew of new actions and controls that are most definitely for the better. Snake in Metal Gear Solid 1 felt stiff and unwieldy, and during the sneaking sequences the game felt more like a simple puzzle title than anything else. But with Metal Gear Solid 2, Raiden has at his disposal a plethora of interesting, variable techniques that make playing so much more fun. He can climb onto objects, shoot from around corners, hang on to railings, and fire a gun with some degree of accuracy (that last one can't really be said for the first Metal Gear Solid).

So, fundamentally, Metal Gear Solid 2 is a more fun game than its predecessor just because Raiden really feels like a sneaky, athletic agent. Kojima has made it easier to sneak around enemies, but at the same time the first person shooting view also makes it so much easier to take out enemies instead. So to keep Sons of Liberty from becoming a full-fledged action game, he retains the top-down viewpoint of the first Metal Gear Solid. Having to switch to first person view to take a shot is clunky enough to make it worthwhile to opt for stealth wherever feasible. In so doing, Kojima has opened up a ton of gameplay opportunities while still urging players to take the stealth route.

While some people, myself included, might be a little turned off by the relative ease with which you can mow down pretty much everybody in your way, Sons of Liberty very much feels like a natural progression for the series. Metal Gear Solid 1 was a somewhat archaic, stiff action game; Metal Gear Solid 2, on the other hand, is anything but. Essentially, what impresses me about Sons of Liberty is the fact that its gameplay is a drastic improvement over that of its predecessor, and yet it still retains the “feel” of Metal Gear Solid 1 that this is a game fundamentally about stealth.

The fundamental gameplay of Sons of Liberty may have taken a turn for the better, but in many important ways it feels like Metal Gear Solid Redux. That is to say, there's this very intense feeling of nostalgia as you play your way through the game, and it's not a good kind of nostalgia. There are plot elements like a Ninja, a father-son relationship, and some character parallels that are lamely explained in the finale. But other elements of the game can't be justified this way: a Stinger fight against an aircraft; an underwater infiltration; a corridor with dead bodies, smeared blood, and a ninja not far ahead; electrified floor panels. In a sentence: Metal Gear Solid 1 just doesn't feel as fresh or creative as its predecessor, and sometimes it feels like the creative genius that is Kojima is – gasp – running out of “ideas”.

Which is a perfect lead-in to a discussion of my biggest problem with Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty: Hideo Kojima. The game itself is solid, maybe even great. And the plot, while a bit messy, is nonetheless nominally interesting, full of triple- and quadruple- and quintuple-agents. But just like the first Metal Gear Solid game, Sons of Liberty suffers from a queer juxtaposition of decent plot and horrendously heavy-handed storytelling.

For starters, Kojima is a trailblazer in the field of annoying characters: enter Raiden and Rosemary. I hate them both oh so much. (Though, to Kojima's credit, Snake becomes even more lovable in this game than he was in the last.) Also to his credit, I'll grudgingly admit that in terms of writing, Sons of Liberty is more levelheaded and intelligent.

I guess the real problem is Kojima's ego. Even more than in the first Metal Gear Solid, here he sees himself as a visionary and an activist, courageously encouraging the player to define himself by his own experiences. His “though-provoking” conflict between necessary bad guys and well intentioned bad guys feels stale and predictable, and his tirade against censorship feels irrelevant. And his cut scenes are full of anti-war messages – when they're over, it's back to snapping guards' necks and stuffing their bodies in lockers.

He takes himself so seriously, in fact, that he feels the need to justify every in-game restriction with some sort of plot development. For example: “Switch to the Codec, so we're not overheard” should read “Switch to the Codec, so we don't have to keep animating this cut scene”.

So while I hate Kojima more than any other person in the video game industry, I still heartily recommend Metal Gear Solid 2. It's an excellent sequel to the first Metal Gear Solid, improving upon the original in several ways while still preserving the essence of the series. And as long as you play it for that reason, you're sure to have a great time with Sons of Liberty.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (US, 11/12/01)

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