Review by Kane

"Die hard with a mullet"

Solid Snake is not human. Oh no. After defeating Outer Heaven in South Africa, dismantling Big Boss’ new organization in Zanzibar and annihilating the Fox Hound squad led by Liquid Snake (sic) in Alaska, you’d think he’d just give up on stealth missions, retire to the wilderness and take care of his only love: his dogs. But no. There’s no doubt that this genetically superior being -although this doesn’t prevent him from sporting a ridiculous mullet- likes to involve us in gripping stories tainted by average controls.

Metal Gear Solid… People can say what they want, but the game will go down in history thanks to the effect it produced on the players the first time they played it. A glorified movie indeed, but a pretty damn good movie with a few outstanding scenes that one can’t forget so easily. Even I understood all the hype, for once. How could you forget the memorable battle with the Gray Fox? The classic confrontation between Snake and Psycho Mantis? But buying a Playstation 2 for Metal Gear Solid 2? Foolish. It is certainly NOT the best game ever, although it comes rather close, since it takes the best elements of its predecessor and tries to get rid of its weaknesses.

In a certain way, MGS2 is strongly linked with the previous episode, as show the 450+ page essays (written in a brilliant English) on the story of the first game included in an extra menu. Sons of Liberty does an outstanding job at describing the context of events. Not surprising is the fact that Snake finds himself once again involved in an international conspiracy so complex that it easily puts to shame the plot of any first rate movie out there. The only thing films have over MGS2 is that they don’t rely so heavily on the codec gimmick, which is sometimes annoying, even though it’s been one of the series’ trademarks since the beginning.

The story itself is good, despite the fact that the younger players will obviously have trouble understanding all the intricacies of the plot, as it deals heavily with the themes of appearance versus reality and identity. It does make perfect sense however, and although one could regret its outrageous complexity at times, it’s undeniable that the storyline is both exciting and surprising. Its apparent silliness only becomes annoying if you’re looking at it in a realistic way, but Metal Gear, much like Kojima's other works, has never been a realistic series in the first place. The bosses are all extremely impressive and have distinct personalities, with Fortune winning the award of the most interesting Metal Gear character ever. Without spoiling anything, it’s important to mention that for the first time, Snake is not really alone in the field anymore. Don’t bother asking, I won’t say more.

Okay, you win. You don’t get to play as Snake past the prologue, and even though he’s very present in the story, he’s now some kind of father figure for the new hero, Raiden. Even more than the first opus, MGS2 is a way for Kojima to directly give the reader -through the voice of the hero- a lesson about modern technologies: sadly, this seems to be at the expense of the later developments of the plot, since the ending is extremely disappointing. What could have been a fantastic effect of double speech ends up being just an above average story which, instead of explaining the reasons behind the Shadow Moses incident, makes the whole affair even more confusing.

Listening to the fans’ requests, the development team concentrated the largest part of their work on the controls and on expanding Snake’s palette of moves. That’s a relief, because Sons of Liberty is definitely more axed toward stealth than its big brother. And yes indeed, it does play better than its relatives. No more frustrating “Snake? SNAAAKKKKEEE!?!” because the protagonist deliberately took the decision to crawl under enemies or arbitrary shift to corner view mode. Although the incredible number of moves that compose SS’ arsenal will make your first steps slightly difficult, there is no major problem with the controls anymore, at least in the 3rd person view.

Although MGS2 didn’t introduce the first person view to the series, it surely takes the concept further. Much further. You can now use it with all the weapons, and it’s technically possible to finish the game by using this visual mode exclusively, that is to say that this title is now a strange hybrid between action game and first person shooter. This is a more than welcome addition, but it would have been commendable to better the controls for this particular view. Perhaps it’s another occurrence of Kojima’s extreme love for accuracy, but it’s sometimes quite difficult to shoot down moving targets. This is probably Metal Gear Solid 2’s most critical flaw, yet it’s a minor one.

Strangle an enemy and hide his body in a locker, or –supreme joy!- use him as a human shield! Shoot the guards’ radio to prevent them to call reinforcements! The number of actions Snake can perform is so great that for the first time in a videogame, you truly feel like you’re a one-man army (no, not –that- Rambo) trying to defeat a group of terrorists.

But what makes Metal Gear Solid 2 really special is the sense of accuracy the game displays. Punch that female dog on the poster in one of the lockers too ferociously and the door will eventually fall on your poor head. Prevent the enemy form shooting the only light bulb in the room, otherwise you’ll be left in the dark. These small details make a huge difference in terms of realism, and contribute to the total immersion of the player. Forget Goldeneye. Forget Headhunter. Nothing even comes close to this masterpiece.

While MGS 2 uses the same graphical style as its Playstation counterpart, cleverly taking advantage of the blur effects to hide the visual imperfections, it looks much more detailed than its predecessor. The awesome rain effect that’s already renowned because of the largely distributed demo is just a glimpse of what the game has to offer. A large part of the game takes place in an open area, therefore the colors are naturally more vivid than in the previous game. All the textures on the characters and backgrounds are simply the best known to man and even surpass the level of what you can see in aesthetic masterpieces such as Devil May Cry and Final Fantasy X. There are still a few jaggies here and there, but they’re virtually unnoticeable thanks to the non-stop action and don’t detract from the incredible atmosphere. The final area is particularly original and disturbing, adding something really new to the otherwise austere universe of the game.

The animation is perfect. The developers did an insane motion capture work, so that not only Snake, but also the other characters move as if they were human beings. The guards have very natural expressions, and seeing them yawning or stretching is always hilarious. The best occasion to observe their reactions is when they enter the clearing mode. When one of them spots you, you often have the opportunity to hide somewhere while he’s calling for backup. He and his partners will however search the whole area carefully and may catch you. When this happens, a small window on top of the screen allows you to see their actions in real time from different angles. It’s not just a gadget showcasing the capacities of the Playstation 2 though: this visual excellence serves the gameplay.

The soundtrack simply blows anything that has been done recently out of the water. The music is powerful and its intensity perfectly matches every single scene in the game: Fortune’s theme, for instance, is simply beautiful. To be honest, the tunes are so brilliant that you never realize they’re playing, but playing on mute automatically reveals the importance of this element for the game’s atmosphere. None of them is particularly surprising, but they form an extremely solid and meticulously timed set that would make any blockbuster movie jealous.

MGS had impeccable voices. You know it. Predictably, its sequel perpetuates the trend. Konami managed to get all the voice actors back, and they did an awesome job. You’ll see what I mean when you hear the Russian soldiers mutter a few words -with a heavy accent- to each other. Similarly, the realism the sound effects is striking, from the clinging of the grenades against the floor to the flapping of the helicopters, from the sound of the windows shattering under the impact of bullets to the frighteningly mechanical sounds generated by Metal Gear Ray, the new prototype.

As expected, the game is rather short: approximately 14 hours. Contrary to its older brother though, Sons of Liberty is very fun to replay thanks to the numerous extras embodied by the guard’s dog tags: by acquiring them, you can add more bonus elements to the game. Brilliant. The fact that the game is slightly less linear and more challenging overall is also worth noticing. Remember to enjoy the game and test the guards’ A.I. instead of breezing through it to unfold the chapters of the story rapidly. There’s much more to MGS2 than what meets the eye at first sight.

Got a PS2? Then get MGS2 as soon as possible, because otherwise you’ll be missing on the best game on the system, and one of the rare games with a coherent balance between action and storytelling. No, neither am I being unprofessional nor have I been hit by a rock. It’s -that- good and you should definitely give it a try.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 11/22/01, Updated 02/02/03

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