Review by Starwind

"Don't buy into the hype; it's great, but not perfect"

This is the game that probably single-handedly convinced people to buy a PS2, after all the amazing trailers, screenshots, and hype put out by video gaming magazines, previews, and Mr. Kojima himself. Phrases such as ''(MGS2) will exceed everyone's expectations'' are pretty convincing, in and of themselves; watching the graphics, rendered in real-time on the PS2 hardware, probably sealed the deal. I was almost about to ditch my now-dead Dreamcast for the PS2 based on Metal Gear Solid 2 alone.

Thankfully, I didn't. Besides the realization of my now-obvious flaw in my reasoning that one game is worth purchasing an entire system for, Metal Gear Solid 2 is as good as they come in presentation, but not much more. Because, with a game of this type (a game simulating a movie, which serves to tell a story which will entertain you), graphics and sound are not the deciding factors, we must consider the experience as a whole. A buddy of mine lent me his PS2 and MGS2 for a week, so I could partake in the glory that might have been the greatest game of all time.

GRAPHICS: I won't devote so much space to this section, we've seen the trailers and screenshots, and we know what the game looks like--incredible. The trailers are especially indicative of the game's graphical prowess; rivaled only by Gran Turismo 3, seeing all the details of the environments around the player move in motion is truly a wonderful experience. Many objects in the game react faithfully to the laws of physics (considering that, in many FPS and action games, objects don't react at all, this is a great accomplishment). I won't even go into detail about the water effects, just watch those to understand the amount of time and energy Mr. Kojima and his team put into Konami's most prized project. (10/10)

SOUND/MUSIC: This is one part of the game that receives dubious honors, in my opinion.
The sound effects are very well-done, sparing no expense at accurately reflecting the environments and the objects with which they interact. Stepping on various types of terrain will produce different sounds at different volumes; firing on different objects in the game will have distinct sounds. My only gripe about the sound effects is the voice acting. The U.S. version of MGS had superb voice acting, but, although many of the same actors return for MGS2, the quality is a notch below the original. Either the acting is too exaggerated, or too bland to convince the player of their emotions. They even sound slightly different from the original, almost as if they weren't the same people. But it's a minor point.

However, the music is a hit-or-miss affair. Although I'm not certain, it is my understanding that Harry Gregson-Williams has composed all the music, save for the ending theme, in MGS2. While a select few of the scores in the game are probably worth buying the soundtrack for these tracks alone (namely, the intro music, the first scene, and a few scattered scenes throughout the game), the grand majority of the music in the game is really feh, almost blah, and just a stone's throw away from turn it down, it's hurting my ears. I'm sorry to say that the boss music for most of the game is badly done, unlike the grandiose scores of the game's predecessor (something I was personally really looking forward to). In my opinion, they should have stuck with the original composer for MGS, rather than enlist Mr. Gregson-Williams' talents. Also, the ending theme (the name of the composer escapes my mind at the moment) is truly out of place. To me, it's worse than the ending theme to MGS, ''The Best is Yet to Come.'' It simply doesn't fit the game (although it fits the final scene it was designed for), and for me, it just didn't work. Despite the quality of the music, one redeeming factor is that, in playing the game, it does change and vary depending on the situation the player is in (in a more sophisticated fashion than MGS). (SFX 9/10, MUSIC 6/10)

CONTROL/GAMEPLAY: MGS players will feel at home with the basics, as the controls are mostly unchanged. Now that the player is allowed more actions, though, they are a bit more convoluted; nothing that a few Codec calls won't solve, though. Much like the first game, you'll be instructed on how to use the buttons.

Having said that, there are only a few gripes I have, that both MGS2 and its predecessor share. For one, the camera is probably more lethal than the now far more intelligent enemies are, as you are still restricted to viewing a small portion of the area around you, unless you keep a constant eye on your radar. Although there is now a ''first-person view'' button to temporarily look ahead, it doesn't help when you're running from guards and trying to ensure that you won't run head-first into one down the hallway ahead. Secondly, pressing your back against the wall and negotiating moving around corners, between guards, and other such maneuvers could have been easier. Anyone who's played Headhunter for the Sega Dreamcast will tell you that MGS needs a change in this regard. Other than these, the controls are well done. (9/10)

PLOT: This is where I'm glad I didn't put down $300 for the PS2 (as of the writing of this review). I can't help but compare this to the plot of the original MGS for the Playstation, but even on its own, the plot of Metal Gear Solid 2 simply isn't up to par. Solid Snake's adventure in Shadow Moses involved an intriguing story with just enough twists to really get the player excited, agitated, and fully immersed in the game.

My excitement with MGS2 was that I'd get to play another game with an equally gratifying plot, but it was subdued by the end of the game (MINOR SPOILER: for those of you who are reading this and have beaten MGS2, I'm NOT talking about the 'event' just after the demo version of MGS2 expires, the one that has almost every magazine and online editorial raging against Hideo Kojima). Towards the end of the original MGS, there were plot twists that might have been confusing at first, but just good enough to take your breath away. For MGS2, Mr. Kojima seems to think that throwing turn after turn after turn will really get players excited; however, it doesn't work when the twists come, one after another, at such a rate that the player isn't allowed enough time to absorb them all. Beyond that, the plot becomes so wraught with changes that the entire point of the game is constantly changed; whereas you thought the enemy had one goal, now they have four or five, and you're not even certain if they've actually won or not, or if you've won come the end of the game.

In film, one aspect of telling a good story is to ensure its audience understands the plot; this is where MGS2 fails. Even after playing through the game twice and understanding more than I had the first time around, I still was left with a taste in my mouth sadly reminiscent of raw sewage. The plot becomes far too strange and detached from the Metal Gear Solid idea that I've come to know (think of Mario suddenly being the last boss in Sonic the Hedgehog).

Totally strange uses of the PS2 hardware abound towards the end (remember when you fight Psycho Mantis in MGS, and the word ''Hideo'' pops up during the fight? That's conservative stuff compared to the deal MGS2 has set up for you). Finally, Mr. Kojima seems to like throwing in morality and ''live-your-life-the-way-you-want-and-follow-your-heart-to-inner-peace'' rhetoric in hopes of coming off as a model for human morality and instilling a warm, fuzzy feeling in your heart. It comes off far too fake in MGS2. The plot needs more context in order to come off the right way, and here it just doesn't cut it. (3/10)

REPLAYABILITY: Aside from the main story, you get a ''Previous Story'' section, an entertaining read about the events that occur after MGS, but before MGS2. There are no VR Missions at all, nor is there any real reason to play the game after beating it, save for the jolly of collecting items throughout the game. I beat the game in just over 10 hours, watching all the cutscenes and even making tons of Codec calls to hear the characters' various comments. True fans should purchase, casual players can rent the game and be fully satisfied. (5/10)

OVERALL: I enjoyed MGS2. I really did. Just playing the game, regardless of the story, is a lot of fun; no one can deny that quality of the game. But it is clear that the point of playing MGS on newer hardware, such as the Playstation, is that you, as a player, can be more involved in the adventures of the protagonist.

Although it is never really explicitly stated, this game has tried to be like a movie since Mr. Kojima realized that the Playstation hardware was capable of more than the aged MSX2 and NES platforms. The Playstation was a means to an end: he used its power to tell the story of Solid Snake. Just because you have this power doesn't mean the game is guaranteed to be great (if that were the case, we'd all still like Mortal Kombat because it's in 3-D). Metal Gear Solid on the PSX was beautifully executed, despite its graphical deficiency in comparison to the then-current N64 and then-up-and-coming Dreamcast.

But what we realize is that the Playstation 2 is simply a tool, much like a camera for a filmmaker. Having the tool does not, in and of itself, make its user an expert, nor does having better tools necessarily bring about a superior end result. Schindler's List was (in my humble opinion) one of the greatest movies ever created, and it was done in virtually all BLACK AND WHITE (that means less than 2% of it was in color). Spielberg could produce a movie with his cousin's VHS camcorder and still win awards. Or he could have his cousin produce the same film with Spielberg's staff and still botch it up.

That said, my point is that just because the graphics are second to none, MGS2 doesn't truly reflect the true potential that the Metal Gear Solid series could have had, if Hideo Kojima hadn't decided to take it in such a strange direction. Maybe it was because Mr. Kojima wasn't the only writer on the staff of MGS2, or because he was pressed for time towards the end (although I believe the plot was fully completed before programmers were even assigned to his team). But the overall feeling I came away with was one of disappointment, for I know that this game could have been legendary, and truly deserving of all the hype that surrounds it. (8/10)

Also try: Headhunter, for the Sega Dreamcast (UK only). Much better plot than MGS2, and killer and innovative gameplay. I'd rate it higher than MGS2 for my money.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 02/25/02, Updated 02/25/02

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