Review by BloodGod65

Reviewed: 08/02/12

I love what Snake did with his hair... Hey, wait a minute!

The Metal Gear name may once have been relegated to the obscure niche of Japanese PC gaming, but with the release of Metal Gear Solid, the series became a world-wide phenomenon. Hideo Kojima’s unique take on the stealth genre was coupled with a great story of government intrigue and wrapped in a slick cinematic package. The result ultimately redefined the way people look at gaming. Period. Anyone who denies the monumental influence Metal Gear Solid had on the industry has either never played it or is probably an internet troll. It was, in so many ways, genesis for modern gaming as we know it. And that, folks, is why we should all be excited that the sequel has finally arrived.

Let’s get a few things out of the way, though. If you haven’t played the original Metal Gear Solid (shame on you), it is in your best interest to not skip ahead. You certainly can, and the game provides an abbreviated summary of what has happened in the story up to this point, but it comes a little late in the game and doesn’t provide all the details. Really, this is part of an ongoing saga and many of the questions and plot threads from the first game are expanded and built on in Sons of Liberty. I won’t be spoiling much to tell you that many of these go straight through the game and are left unanswered, no doubt until the third entry in the series. To make a long story short, if you haven’t played Metal Gear Solid, do yourself a favor and beat it before jumping to Sons of Liberty. You’ll be glad you did.

Now, on to the plot. But first, another disclaimer. I don’t intend to ruin any story details here, mainly because the game – just like the first – is a rollercoaster ride of plot twists, betrayals, conspiracy, and outright mind-freaks. In fact, here’s the only piece of the story I’m going to give you and even this is only the barest hint of what Sons of Liberty is about.

Since the events of Shadow Moses (which you’ll know nothing about if you didn’t play Metal Gear Solid), the world has become a radically different place. Despite Snake’s best efforts to keep the information contained, Metal Gear was exposed to the world and now every country has its own new-age nuclear weapon. A new arms race has begun.

With that as the base for the game, Hideo Kojima builds a story of epic proportions. Like the previous game, the narrative in Sons of Liberty touches on many mature topics that are foreign to video games; genetics, free will, the futility of war, and the dangers of power are all on the list of topics, along with more familiar video game conventions like government conspiracy and giant robots. As good as it is, Kojima never knows where to draw the line. Sons of Liberty, just like its forebear, has a habit of devolving into soap-box preaching and whiny axe-grinding.

Suffice to say, there’s a lot of talk in Sons of Liberty. In comparison to the first game, more of it is done through in-game cutscenes, but there’s still a heavy reliance on radio conversations. You’ll stare at a bland, text-filled screen for much of the game while reading – or listening to, since everything is fully voiced – exasperatingly long-winded conversations. Once again, the dialog is unnatural and stilted. Kojima has a tendency to forget that he’s not writing exposition, but dialog, and it shows in his work. He also has yet to grow out of his childish tendency to spout off random, useless facts just to show off how well researched he is.

So, just like Metal Gear Solid, the story in Sons of Liberty is a sprawling tale that touches on many of the world’s problems but suffers from awkward presentation. It’s a small issue, and one that doesn’t really get in the way of what Kojima is trying to do, but at times it is hard not to pay more attention to the awkward way he says something rather than what he says.

I do however have one major complaint as far as the story goes. One of the new characters in Sons of Liberty is just outright annoying. Not a problem in and of itself – plenty of Japanese games have annoying characters – but, unfortunately, you’ll be seeing so much of him that it becomes impossible to ignore. How bad is he? Well, he’s an effeminate blonde sissy boy who acts like a total pansy and whines his way through the entire game. He also sounds like a brain-damaged parrot when he talks, often repeating what the previous character just told him. They have a nuclear weapon!, Nuclear weapon? Yes, it will destroy the whole world!, Destroy the whole world? Perhaps while he was being fitted for his much-too revealing bodysuit he should have been given a hearing aid.

In terms of gameplay, Sons of Liberty isn’t much different from Metal Gear Solid, although it has been refined to a degree. Like the previous game, Sons of Liberty is all about stealth. You’ll infiltrate a heavily fortified location and be forced to procure weapons on-site, avoid enemy patrols and traps, and secure your objective. So what’s different?

Well, a lot and not much to be quite honest. The changes Kojima has made are largely minor, and while they don’t make the game feel much different, they do freshen up the gameplay and give players more options. For instance, you can now fire weapons from a first person perspective, rather than the awkward isometric viewpoint of the first game. This allows you to place a shot wherever you want it, and makes the combat much easier. Using the new tranquilizer pistol is also made possible with this viewpoint. You can shoot an enemy with a dart, and it will take them a few seconds to go down – in which time they might trigger an alarm. Shoot them in the head and they’ll drop like a sack of hammers.

Since the game is all about stealth and walking around blasting off rounds with an assault rifle tends to attract the wrong sort of attention, the tranquilizer gun is a great addition. There are even more tools and techniques at your disposal this time around. You can jump over ledges and hang from railings – which is useful because you’ll encounter countless narrow catwalks during the course of the game, and you can now peek out and fire your weapon from cover. The ability to shake dead and unconscious guards is useful since it yields ammo and ration packs, and now you can stash bodies in storage lockers to prevent an alert. You can also hide in storage lockers to avoid detection. And yes, if you find a box you can still crawl around under it. It’s still great fun.

You might think that with these new abilities at your disposal, Sons of Liberty is much easier than Metal Gear Solid. Perish the thought. Far from making the game easier, you’ll actually need them to contend with the improved enemy AI. Not only are they more aware of their surroundings, which makes it harder to sneak past them, but if you’re caught the alerts last longer and are more thorough. However, unlike Metal Gear Solid, alerts now go through a realistic process. Rather than an alert going into effect upon sight, guards now have to use their personal radios to call it in. In that split second, you can shoot the radio to avoid the alert and take care of the guard. But it isn’t as easy as that, since guards make regular reports. If they miss a scheduled report because their radio doesn’t work (or if they happen to be dead) you’ll have to contend with a whole swarm of guards that swoop in to lock down the area. There’s still a bit of weirdness in that guards revert to their standard patterns after an alert, and even if everyone is killed, they just send in more guards to take up the same patrols.

On the whole, though, Sons of Liberty is more realistic, even if that added realism notches the difficulty up a bit. A lot of that, however, is due to the environments. The locations of the game (I’m still not telling, so don’t ask) are even more cramped than those of Metal Gear Solid. You’ll often be running down narrow corridors and rooms filled with equipment. You’ll also have to deal with more guard patrols than before. Still, it’s a good challenge that can be easily overcome with thought and care.

There are, of course, times when fighting is unavoidable. Just like the original, Sons of Liberty has a number of villains with whom you’ll fight over the course of the game. While none of them are as freaky as Psycho Mantis, most of them are memorable and require interesting tactics to beat. Thankfully, they don’t make you endure their deathbed confessions like they did in Metal Gear Solid

There are also some unique gameplay segments, such as an extended sniping sequence and one where you need to dive into a submerged area. Neither of these is especially good. The sniping mechanics haven’t gotten any better since the last game and the diving is disorienting. Thankfully, these are brief and don’t crop up anywhere else.

Like Metal Gear Solid, Sons of Liberty is a technical achievement. While the environments are nothing special – just a whole lot of bland, industrial corridors – the game still looks great. The character models are stunning and fluidly animated. There’s also a lot of minor detail where you normally wouldn’t expect it. Birds fly in the air and if you look up long enough, you just might get bombed by one of them. Bugs fly around light sources, and if you’re shot, blood splatters against the wall. The cutscenes are a blast to watch, and are usually chock full of action.

The game is impressive on the audio front as well. The various sound effects, from gunfire to the different sounds footsteps make on different surfaces, are all excellent. The soundtrack is also very high-quality stuff. On the other hand, I still don’t like the voice acting. While it may just be a side-effect of the goofy writing, they all sound too forced and unnatural. The worst offender is David Hayter, the voice of Snake. Others hail him as excellent, but I find him to be utterly ridiculous.

Another thing Kojima hasn’t changed much is the game’s length. I’ve heard some claims that the game lasts between fifteen and twenty hours, but I got through it in twelve, just like Metal Gear Solid. And, just like the first game, more than half of that time is spent watching cutscenes and listening to Codec conversations. Truth be told, I barely even touched the controller in the last hour and a half of gameplay.

Sons of Liberty is an excellent continuation of the Metal Gear Solid story. While it doesn’t completely eradicate the problems of the first game, namely the poor voice acting and awkward writing, these are still fairly easy to overlook in light of everything else Kojima has going on. Other issues, namely that whiny character you’ll have to endure so much of, could have and should have been avoided altogether. Many will despise this game because you watch it as much as you play it, but as a whole, Sons of Liberty is an experience to take in. If you enjoyed the first, don’t hesitate to play it. If you didn’t like Metal Gear Solid, this is really more of the same. If only every company’s more of the same was this good…

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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

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