Review by Denouement

"Peep how we do it, keep it real, it’s penitentiary steel"

Metal Gear Solid was certainly among the most acclaimed games for the Playstation, but even more so, its sequel was put forward as a primary motivator for the hype machine that was the release of the Playstation 2. If there was a single game that compelled many people to pick up the console, it was this -- the triumphant return of Tactical. Espionage. Action..

One is almost tempted to call Metal Gear Solid the first, though we know there were earlier games, for the Nintendo and even for the short-lived MSX. But MGS moved the series from a little-known title to a massive success, and brought fame to Hideo Kojima, the developer of the original MGS and this sequel. There was of course a lot of pressure on him in making this game, both from Konami and from the fans, and Hideo has met their demands -- fans enjoyed the game for the most part, and bought a lot of copies, which pleased Konami. But Hideo has also shown that he has the cojones to make changes even to this legacy, which bodes well for the future of the franchise.

Snake has survived his past adventures and appears to be in very good health, but he is not the main hero of this episode. A new recruit is being sent in to kick ass in his stead -- Jack, called Raiden, a much more youthful yet equally skilled warrior who lacks the cool factor of Snake (as if anyone could match it) but is in fact a much more interesting character. He has a girlfriend, whom we get to meet, and he doesn’t react like a stone when every disaster in the book is hurled at him simultaneously. The bad guys are equally well developed; we comprehend their motivations, though we cannot agree with them or show mercy. Yet while the characters are well-developed, they seem to live in a world where the situation is sure to grow more and more outrageous; the new Metal Gear, called Ray, is more powerful than any before, and seems nearly unbeatable. Until the ultimate resolution, it’s tough to decipher what’s going on. Yet that confusion is itself a powerful tool employed by the game; Raiden and company are just as informed, and you feel that connection. Still, at times the story gets a bit too crazy for its own good…

Here’s my limerick about Metal Gear Solid 2:

There once was an agent named Snake.
Enemy necks he loved to break.
But throw in Hideo
And Konami’s A-O-
-K one silly plot they did make.

In the first draft of that little ditty (yes, I actually worked hard on that, shut up) I used the word “stupid” instead of “silly”. And it would be easy to get the two confused, but this game’s story is far from stupid. The plot does twist and turn like a locomotive careening through the Cumberland Gap, and some of the plot twists are absurd or unbelievable, which lends a certain silliness to the proceedings, but things never become stupid. The demands placed upon a single agent are somewhat difficult to fathom, but this is after all OUR HERO. Your initial reaction upon completing the game might be that it was too far out into the unreal, but after grounding disbelief, you will begin to approach it in a new way. The characters are more drawn out that in the first installment; we know something of Raiden’s past and of his personal life, and by understanding him a little better, if we cannot identify with him, we can at least sympathize. Raiden is more human that Snake ever was -- the seeming demi-god who survived Zanzibar and Alaska is not somebody we can picture as being hurt or afraid. Raiden can bring a full emotional arsenal to bear.

If anything, stealth and the other black arts are even more essential in this game than in the first. You now have more opportunities to be sneaky, first of all. There’s a first person aiming mode in this edition, which lets you make head shots a priority, and you’ve also got some new weapons, for instance a tranquilizer gun. Guards will stay asleep for as long as you’re in the room, and it’s much quieter than opening fire with an automatic rifle. If you do happen to kill someone (you will, trust me) it’s best to hide the corpse away, because if a guard stumbles upon it, say your prayers. Evading the guards once alerted is much more difficult in this game. When the alarm goes off, backup guards will be brought in, armed with powerful weapons and riot shields that make fighting back essentially impossible. The only way to kill is with precision and caution.

The boss battles are where your fighting ability and arsenal will really come into play. These are among the best boss fights I’ve had the pleasure of taking part in -- each seems to drip with suspense and tension. It’s not just fighting the boss and evading his attacks; at times you will be doing other tasks at the same time, like defusing bombs. Practice is really a necessity for beating these guys, as the main technique for defeating them is to exploit patterns in their attacks and movements, but their tough hides make these fights both challenging and entertaining.

Once again, the world of Metal Gear is filled with grays and blacks touched with just a little bit of primary color. The atmosphere is industrial, artificial, foreboding. It is the same feeling you had when first you put the original Metal Gear in your PlayStation -- except this time it is expanded upon by the sinister rain beating down around you. Like so much in this game, the backgrounds aren’t intended to attract, or rather distract, you. They merely serve as the setting for the action of the game, and they could not do better. Locations like hallways and tight compartments are perfect for both firefights and running to hide

The characters look good as well. Snake has never looked better, for his new mullet gives him a little bit of roughneck flair, appropriate to the workmanlike yet never-daunted legend. Raiden is a little more stylish and smooth, with long white hair like something out of Japanese anime. The contrast achieved between the two characters, considering that in dress and equipment they are so similar, is a testament to the detail work done by the character designers. But it is in the villains that Metal Gear’s artists have their chance to truly shine, after the drab uniforms of the heroes; these enemies are truly unique and warrant their own chic looks, and they get them. Nobody is quite as wild looking as Psycho Mantis, but characters like Fortune, with her swell of brownish-blonde hair against dark skin, are truly memorable looking. Everyone moves well too, keeping their superb appearances whether running, shooting, jumping, climbing, or in the case of many Russian guards, just stretching and heaving a big yawn while on the job.

Metal Gear’s sound is perhaps epitomized by the well-known death knell, “Snake? SNAAAAKKKEEEE…….!!!” followed by the classic game over theme. There’s two things to note about this: first, that Metal Gear sounds cool and is memorable, which is nice, but the second is that Metal Gear hoards its audio like people conserved gasoline in 1973. Music is there, but you barely notice it; the orchestration is just an underlying theme, intended not to dominate the action but to accentuate it. Whether you’re hanging from the side of a bridge, hiding in a locker, or engaged in a firefight with enemy soldiers, music provides added tension, as if it was needed in such tight spots, and seems to send blood rushing through your veins. The music doesn’t direct your emotion, for that would be too heavy-handed; instead, it strokes your sentiment to a fever pitch.

While the music underlies the action, sound effects in many cases are the action, and for good reason. Because of the Codec system, there’s a lot of talking and listening to be done. Poor voice acting would make that task a chore for the player, but fortunately, all the familiar voices from MGS return to reprise their roles. Raiden sounds a little girly -- and of course people harp on this -- but how can you complain about that when Otacon, Ocelot, and even the minor guards are all voiced so perfectly? If you take a stealthy route, you’ll be hearing plenty of guard talk; they prattle on like crazy, and you’ll hear them coming as you lie crouched in waiting. If you don’t hear their voices, at least you will pick up their footfalls on the hard deck of a ship -- unless that’s drowned out by the pounding beat of helicopter blades, or the tinkle of shattering glass as it breaks and again as it hits the ground. Everything seems to be reproduced so flawlessly that the experience is utterly real. You are Raiden.

This is a short game, and the only replay value is provided by fairly tedious collection tasks, like picking dog tags off every enemy soldier. Such tasks earn you rewards, but not particularly enticing ones. Still, if you’re willing to pay five dollars to see a two hour movie, surely a twenty hour game is worth much more. Sons of Liberty has all the best features of a film -- visually, it is mesmerizing, the plot is engaging, and you as the consumer of this media are immersed in the experience. Plus, you get to break necks and shoot people. Joy. In the sea of zircons that is the PS2’s library, Metal Gear Solid 2 has the brilliance of a true diamond.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 07/04/03, Updated 07/04/03

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