Review by EOrizzonte

"Metal Gear meets The Matrix in Hideo Kojima's most recent effort to create the perfect interactive movie"

Metal Gear Solid 2 is no ordinary game. It is the main reason why so many people purchased a PlayStation 2 when there was almost no game worth the expense, and it was eagerly awaited for almost two years. Now the game is finally out, and it has a lot to live up to - apart from the unbelievable hype surrounding it, it is still the sequel to what is considered one, if not THE best, PlayStation game ever created, Hideo Kojima's undiscussed masterpiece - Metal Gear Solid.

Since the day the game was announced for PS2, rumours have been spreading like crazy, and when a demo was released bundled with Konami's Zone of the Enders, thousands of fans spent endless hours on it, perfectioning their skills and registering their records on Konami's Web site. Not only that - circa 300 fans' names where chosen to be inserted in the game and become part of what is probably the game's greatest challenge. As you can easily understand, MGS2 - Sons of Liberty was a legend much before it was a completed game. Game footages at various electronic entertainment expos contributed to keep people eagerly waiting for the final release, until, after two final months of total silence to complete the game, Konami finally released their new jewel. But was it worth the wait? Is it really what we were expecting? Is MGS2 the perfect game people never doubted it would be? Let's find out together.

Graphically, MGS2 shines. Polygonal models are some of the best that have ever been seen in a game, and their animation is near perfect. Facial expressions are also very impressive - characters really look alive, and their feelings are perfectly reproduced on their faces according to the situation and the dialogues. Moreover, the environments have been improved as well - they're much more detailed and colourful than they were in the prequel. The monotonous gray-and-blue can still be found in certain parts, but get outside the main building and you'll see beautiful tones of yellow, orange, and even red at sunset. Attention to detail is stunning - everything looks tremendously REAL, and best of all, you can interact with almost everything you can see. Shoot a seagull, and it will fly away, or die on the spot. Watch seagulls fly in first-person view, and their droppings will fall on the camera. When you get out of the water, you'll see it dripping down the screen. Shoot a bottle in a kitchen, and it will broke, distracting nearby guards. Shoot a fire extinguisher, and it will spray its content around. Nearly everything you can see is not a mere part of the scenario, but it can affect gameplay in many ways. It's not just a waste of polygons as it may seem to be at first.
Still on graphics, you should really stop to admire some textures. Have a look at the many posters pinned on walls and lockers here and there, and you'll agree that no other game has ever shown such definition in a texture. Texture definition also contributes to shape unbelievable solid elements, thanks to polygons so well-polished they can hardly be noticed at times. And if you try pressing one of the shoulder buttons during cutscenes, the camera will zoom in, revealing even more details. Being the sequel to a graphical wonder, MGS2 is really amazing to watch, even if the game's engine is as old as the PS2. Konami knows how to use the PS2's Emotion Engine, and this game proves it.

Sound is very important in this game, and as you may have expected, it's almost as good as the graphics. The opening theme alone is worth the money you'll spend to buy the game, and you'll want to watch the opening scene over and over again just to listen to it. All the musics in MGS2 are great to listen to, and they fit the various situations perfectly.
Sound effects are just as good, and just like the graphics, they're very detailed and contribute to create the right atmosphere. From the weapon's noises to the footsteps sound on the floor, to the silly effects scattered here and there (try touching posters, or walking on birds' poop), nothing sounds strange or inappropriate. Playing the game with the volume turned to zero just spoils all the fun, and to further testify the importance of sound, the game features the Dolby 5.1 sound option.

Now, let's examine the last type of sounds in MGS2 - speeches. Remember the cheesy, bad-acted speeches that made the Resident Evil series famous? Well, forget them. MGS2 features hours and hours of realistic speech - you can contact anyone at anytime, and they'll always have something different to say - not to mention the screams, moans and snores from the guards. The game's DVD is packed-full of dialogues and phrases, and you're always assured to listen to something new everytime you play through the game.

Here's where things get a little more complicated. If you know Metal Gear Solid, you already know what the game is all about: complete missions in a military base, going from point A to point B, and try not to be spotted by sentries or cameras. If someone spots you, lots of guards will come after you, seeking nothing else than your destruction. You have a radar to detect their position and their field of view, but avoiding them is a whole different matter. In this sequel, you can perform a wide variety of actions to sneak past guards - you can put them to sleep with your M9, or put a porno magazine on the floor, or hang from rails and make your way past them, or hide into a cardboard box, or knock on the wall to make them abandon their position, or throw something so that the noise attracts them, or shoot bottles or lights or extinguishers, or hide inside a locker... you only have to choose the one you prefer, and that's not so easy at times. Be careful though, 'cause guards can detect your presence in a wide arrange of modes, too. If you come from a wet place, you'll leave footprints on the floor. If you're bleeding, they can spot the bloodstains on the floor. If you stay too long in a cold place, you'll start sneezing. If you walk on a metallic floor, you'll make noise. If you're hiding in a box, but the box is not meant to be in that area, the guards will get suspicious. And if they finally spot you, they'll contact their comrades through the radio, and soon the area will be crawling with guards. You can shoot the radio to prevent this from happening, but if the guard had already started calling for help, an investigation team will be sent. Also, if more than one sentry is in the area, they may find the dead body you left behind and push the alarm button. To avoid this, you can hide bodies in lockers or in dark corners. And finally, you can run away and hide - and try not to slip on seagulls' guano! Almost everything is possible, so you can never afford getting clumsy. One mistake is enough to put an untimely end your mission.

Occasionally, you'll have to fight some kind of boss. These battles start out easy, but they get very difficult towards the end, so you'll have to try them over and over to get past them. And, as boss battles weren't enough, you'll sometimes have to cope with traps, such as infrared beams connected to huge amounts of explosives. One wrong move here, and it's Game Over.

So, what's the problem with MGS2? Well, just like in the first game, there are just too many dialogues and cutscenes. The game drags itself along like this: you're assigned an objective via codec/you get to point A to point B/you witness more scenes and more dialogue. Moreover, you'll be frequently called via codec even between one objective and another. At the end of the game, which may take you around 10-15 hours to beat, you'll realize that you spent more time watching than playing. And this is not good. Of course, the game has enough variety to keep you going on experimenting things and finding items, and even discovering all the details that a common eye will easily miss, but in the end, you'll have to admit that MGS2 is not that different from those ''interactive movies'' that PC owners know so well, like The seventh Guest or Phantasmagoria. If you play the game more than once, you're probably going to skip through all codec communications, as they're just too long to be watched twice. Cut scenes are amazing, but you'll never watch them twice during the same game - if you die just after a cutscene, chances are you won't be watching it again until you start a new game.

Moreover, MGS2 features a long sub-quest that just anyone will want to try out, but that not so many will want to complete. Remember the 300 names that were chosen from the visitors of Konami's Web site? Well, each one of them is imprinted on a dog tag hanging from a guard's neck. In order to collect a dog tag, you must point your weapon at the guard from behind, then get in front of the guard and point your weapon at his genitals. This will scare the guard, who'll start shaking and will drop the dog tag. You can't collect dog tags from dead or sleeping guards, so you'll have to sneak-attack EVERY single guard in the game in order to find all the dog tags (which are even more than 300, because some of them have programmers' name imprinted on them). But that's not the whole story - there are some bonus tags that aren't worn by guards, but by special characters you're most likely to meet only once, and even worse, to find all the dog tags you'll have to play the game at EVERY difficulty level! And, since collecting dog tags sees you repeating the same actions over and over, it will get boring after a while. Getting bonus items at the end of the game doesn't justify such an effort.

The last disappointing feature of the game is the final ranking system. At the end of the game, you'll get a rank according to how many times you saved and died, how many times you were spotted by guards, how many dog tags you found, how long it took you to get to the end, and the like. This means that to get the best ranking, you'll have to go through the game several times. Anyway, I'm tired of games whose replay value is founded solely on final rankings. It's not that bad when all you have to do is to play through until you're a good player (and not a PERFECT gamer, mind you), but when you have to play all the difficulty levels in order to find everything, I think it's a bit too much. If a game is durable because it's long and entertaining, that's a good thing, but when a game can be completed in 15 hours and everything else you've got to do is to learn it by heart just to ''prove yourself'', we can't say that game is a great game. That's why a good RPG will always be better than Metal Gear Solid - they don't require you to be a gaming god.

It depends on your patience and on your will to become a gaming legend. If you want to play all difficulty levels, get all the dog tags, get the best ranking, and listen to every possible speech in the game, then you'll be playing for ages. But if all you want to do is to see the end of the game, don't waste your money buying it - rent it instead, and enjoy the two or three days you'll need to finish it at Normal difficulty.

Metal Gear Solid 2 - Sons of Liberty is a good game indeed. Technically superb, and less redundant than its prequel, it'll keep you playing until you get to the end, thanks to a well-polished control system and to a well-written plot. You may love it, you may hate it, and you may just like it. But when you put the hype apart, you can't fail to discover that in the long run, the game is not much more than an ''interactive movie''. It's the best we've seen so far, but it's still far from being a perfect game. Even though everything has been put up to be as playable and entertaining as possible, you'll soon find out that you are more a watcher than a player - something that doesn't happen in most RPGs, regardless of the huge quantity of dialogues. If you play MGS2 with a critical eye, you'll wonder how people can complain about Nintendo's ''short but sweet'' game policy, when the most awaited PS2 game is worth only a few hours of play. Don't be fooled by the hype, and see MGS2 as what it is - one of the best PS2 games, but definitely not the best.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 03/12/02, Updated 03/12/02

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