Review by El Greco

"Almost perfect..."

Frequently hailed as the “Greatest Playstation Game Ever” Metal Gear Solid on the PlayStation was a revolution in gaming and left many gamers demanding a sequel, an encore, if you will. They got that encore three years later. In late 2001 Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty finally made its appearance after what was perhaps the biggest hype surrounding the release of a game. It turned out to be one of those love or hate games, so if you ask 10 people for their opinions of the game you'll get 15 different answers.

When the game was first shown to the public at E3 in the spring of 2000 it stunned everybody. We were shown incredible graphics, great music, and a very tiny bit of what promised to be an invigorating story line.

Players of the first game will probably remember the twisting and turning plot that kept them glued to their couches. Needless to say the same type of story is included in Sons of Liberty, perhaps even more so than in our first round. Fans of the first game will undoubtedly get a huge kick out of this game and people new to the series will enjoy it immensely.

The story really is most of the game. During your first time through the game you will probably be spending an equal amount of time watching the game as playing it. You can make the argument that you should be playing a game instead of watching it. But that's the thing; you really won't care about watching this game since it is better than anything in the movies or on TV.

I will admit that some of the story sequences do get a bit lengthy so people who are itching to play the game will just wind up skipping them. But those people will probably learn from their mistakes by being incredibly confused later on. Much of the story is revealed through the Codec where there is just two pictures of the characters and some on-screen text while they talk. Perhaps it isn't the most exciting thing and it may remind you of reading a very good book but as I said before the story is what drives this game and it is very well laid out.

If you're worried about not understanding the story line due to not having played the first game then just ignore your qualms. Sons of Liberty explains most of everything that goes on. Anything that you don't understand is probably because you haven't been paying attention. Believe me, none of the plot points in this game are subtle or confusing. If you've ever been hit in the face with a brick then you know just how subtle this game is.

There are a few points in which the story just becomes silly but it never becomes “stupid” or “idiotic” as some people like to say. It's a poor and unfortunate choice of words.

The entire game is subtitled by default and experienced voice actors act all of it out superbly whether it is in the Codec or in the cinematic scenes. Fans will be happy that David Hayter still does the voice for Solid Snake and there is a whole slew of returning actors from the original game. Some are in their old roles and some are not. For example, Greg Eagles, who did the voice for the DARPA Chief and Grey Fox in Metal Gear Solid, returns in this game to act out the part of Peter Stillman: a retired bomb disposal expert helping with the mission.

This is truly one of the parts that set this game apart from others. The voice acting is top-notch at all times with only a few very minor exceptions. There are times when the acting sounds forced and unemotional but it can be overlooked and I will overlook it for all purposes of this review.

Metal Gear Solid 2 knows that it is a game and it makes it painfully obvious since at parts it seems to not take itself very seriously, unlike other games.

It being a game it does have a certain amount of interactivity to it. Unsurprisingly, Sons of Liberty really does shine here. The gameplay has been completely revamped from the last game. Snake can now shoot in the first person (he still can't move in FPV), he can peek out from corners to spot enemies and maybe toss a grenade or two in their direction, he can hang over railing to get out of site of an enemy or even drop down onto their head. Snake can now pick up and drag bodies of fallen enemies to keep them out of sight, stick them up for ammo and supplies, perform rolling dodges, and even use a guard as a human shield. And you can still use a cardboard box to run around in like you could in the original, to the relief of many fans.

You will find yourself using the first person view shooting more than any other feature in the game. It's a better tactic and more accurate than third person shooting. It does take some getting used to at first since you will want to move around in first person but you cannot do so. You can move around a bit, you can peek to the left or right or peek over something in first person but it is very limited. You will probably be frustrated about this at first but you'll get the hang of it eventually and begin to not care either way.

If for some reason an enemy catches you he will take a few shots at you and then duck behind something to radio for help as the alarms start blaring and the radar that you have become all so accustomed to will become deactivated. Soon enough the area will be swarmed by attack teams. If you don't find a good hiding place you will soon find yourself duking it out with a full attack team and most likely facing a Game Over screen soon after. The game's enemies will take cover, lay down suppressing fire, throw grenades, and track you down if you try to run away.

If your pursuers happen to lose you they will seek you out by performing a “Clearing” in which they search all dark corners, lockers, under tables, behind boxes and just about every conceivable hiding spot. So you will more often than not find yourself getting repeatedly caught by guards. But there is a flaw here… all you have to do is exit the room and return and the guards will be back to normal. The only exception to this is the hardest difficulty mode.

That brings me to another point, returning to a room after a few minutes you will usually find that the guards that were once dead have re-spawned. This slightly detracts from the atmosphere of the game but the argument can be made that the enemy simply sent in replacements without triggering an alarm.

If you manage to get away or survive your encounter then you will probably be bleeding badly. If this goes untreated Snake will gradually bleed to death or the trail of blood that he leaves could bring his enemies right into him. There are quite a few of these things that make the game all the more real and impressive. Take for example the rain that is immediately present in the game as you start off. The rain will fall normally but if you look carefully you will see that the wind subtly changes the direction and speed of the droplets that are falling. When you go into first person to shoot an enemy, most people actually don't notice this; the rain actually bounces off the barrel of the gun. Furthermore, when you spill some blood on the deck when it is raining the rain will eventually wash it away. They are small things but they certainly give you a kick.

The game may seem frustratingly hard but if you do get a game over you can always continue from the location in which you entered the room. The game is difficult but not frustrating.

You will also encounter quite a number of destructible objects or secrets in the game. There is one room, also featured in the demo that has a mini-bar in it. If you have a good deal of ammo to waste then you can shoot some of the bottles and they will break into shards and the liquid will pour out. You could also try punching the bottles for an extra kick in the knickers. As if that wasn't enough the ice bucket on the bar can be tipped over and ice will come spilling out. If you stand there long enough the ice begins to melt! One player also noted that the larger chunks of ice would melt slower than the smaller chunks.

Snake also has a full arsenal of weapons and gadgets to help him get through the mission. You start out with a simple tranquilizer gun and a pack of cigarettes when the game begins but you will eventually gather assault rifles, grenade launchers, assorted types of grenades, sniper rifles, and a pistol. Along with his cigarettes Snake will be able to collect bandages, food (“Rations” as the game calls it), tranquilizer pills, a camera, mine detectors, and quite a number more. For those of you who like to use “sophisticated words” you will obtain a plethora of items and equipment.

Using these weapons Snake will have to infiltrate and carry out his mission and along the way battle some formidable enemies. In Sons of Liberty there is a returning exhilaration while battling the game's assorted villains. In each of them you will have to be quick, logical, cautious, and find a strategy that will only suit that certain boss, sometimes you will need to find several unique strategies for one boss. There are some similarities to the first game in this respect. I will not reveal what exactly they are due to some extreme plot spoilers but players of the first game will note the similarities here.

In the interludes between the boss battles you will have to perform certain tasks that require stealth, quick thinking, and sometimes a good deal of resourcefulness. For instance, one part of the game will have you disarming bombs that are hidden all around the structure you are in. You have to seek them out, get to them if they are in an awkward place, and then defuse them. Another part will have you providing covering fire for an unarmed ally trying to cross a rickety bridge to safety.

With all of this information in mind let me take the time to say that this game is a good deal longer than the preceding one. While Metal Gear Solid on the PlayStation took around 7 hours to beat on the first time through this game could take you up to 20 hours to finish on your first time through. After that first time though you may find yourself finishing the game in about three or four hours if you skip the story sequences.

That's where the replayability of the game comes in. Sons of Liberty will have you coming through the game time and time again to collect dog tags and get the corresponding rewards or to experience the story all over again or just plain messing around with the game. You will probably spend a good 50 or more hours with this game by the time you are finally done with it. I can speak for myself when I say that I have probably played through this game more times than there are letters in this paragraph.

Along with the astounding gameplay, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty hands to you an astounding soundtrack composed by Harry Gregson Williams (Enemy of the State, Armageddon, Spy Game). You get your first taste of this in the opening title of the game in which you hear the heart-pounding theme of the game accompanied by some impressive visual sequences from the game. The rest of the game is almost magically produced as the game moves from gameplay to an action scene flawlessly along with some great music.

One thing that is a good thing to note at this point is that the main theme of this game is a favorite of many gamers as well as some of the other music tracks in this game. Konami released a soundtrack with all of the music from the game on it so you will probably want to pick that up.

To put it quite simply, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty is probably one of the most astounding games you will ever play. Almost everything in this game is executed flawlessly whether it be the boss battles, gameplay, cinematic sequences, music, the story or anything else you can possibly think of… you will be hard pressed to find a mistake in this game or some minor detail that is wrong. A must play because it is, literally, one of the best and flawless games ever produced, a rare gem.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 07/07/03, Updated 05/26/04

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