Review by Tarrun

"Hideo Kojima Takes Stealth Gameplay To A Whole New Level."

Ever since Metal Gear Solid was released, rumors spread about whether or not a sequel was going to follow. What on earth did that final message after the credits mean; was it foreshadowing about what was to happen in the next title or was it just a unique way to end the game? No one could be sure, that is until news of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was released, and fans of the series rejoiced over the chance to once again be placed in the shoes of Solid Snake to fight bad guys, and of course, a Metal Gear. After patiently waiting for the release date with almost no information about the game, Sons of Liberty was finally released, except there was a major twist: Solid Snake was not the main character. How could this be?

The biggest joke about Snake not being the main character was that the demo for the game featured you playing as the man himself, Solid Snake; even the back cover of the game has screenshots with Snake in some situation, it never dawned on anyone that Hideo Kojima would be pulling a prank on them. While Kojima's deviousness annoyed some people, I thought it was absolutely hilarious; although I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't disappointed not to be playing as Snake throughout the game, but I'll get into the details of all that later – right now it's time for the storyline, and boy, it's something…

You remember the Shadow Moses event, right? Well, it seems that Snake took Grey Fox's words, “Fighting was the only thing I was good at, but at least I always fought for what I believed in”, to heart, because he's quit being a government agent and joined an anti-Metal Gear organization called Philanthropy. After receiving information about a new Metal Gear being brought to America, Snake heads out to investigate and photograph the Metal Gear to prove its existence, and eventually finds himself on board the massive oil tanker by which the Metal Gear is being transported. Well, for lack of spoilers, a team of Russian mercenaries crash the party and kill all of the good, upstanding Marines, some more stuff happens with some familiar characters, and the tanker sinks, with Snake presumably still inside.

Because of the oil that spilled during that incident, a huge cleaning facility called Big Shell was set up in the middle of the Hudson. But wait, how could oil have spilled if there was a Metal Gear in the tanker's holds instead of the black gold? That's only the first of many mysteries. Anyway, during a government funded tour, a terrorist group known as Dead Cell attacked the facility, taking everyone, including the President of The United States, hostage. Besides having a group of mercenaries with them, one of the members of Dead Cell is an explosives expert, and rigs the entire facility with bombs. To handle the situation, an agent with the code name “Raiden”, along with a team of Marines, is sent in to rescue the president and the other hostages, diffuse the bombs, and eliminate the terrorist threat. The only X-Factor is that Raiden keeps catching glimpses of another agent whose always two steps ahead of him, an agent with a blue bandanna…

Yeah, its Snake; except Raiden doesn't know this, and Snake confuses him further by taking on the role of an injured Marine named Plisken, and supports Raiden via Codec and later on in battle.

Just remember, if you thought that the story in the original Metal Gear Solid was confusing, it's going to take a lot to keep up with the constant plot twists and conspiracies that fill up the story in Sons of Liberty.

As for the rest of the game, let me start of by saying that I usually don't give much thought to graphics, except when I'm writing a review, in which case I'll write a paragraph or so about them. However, when I first saw screenshots for Sons of Liberty, my jaw dropped. The scenes were so realistic, so clean, so perfect – I had honestly never seen graphics that stunning in a game before, so imagine my shock when I learned that those shots were taken from gameplay, not cutscenes. Almost every minuscule detail has a lot of effort put into it, whether it's a watermelon in the galley or the way blood splatters against a wall when you kill an enemy. And speaking of enemies, the character designs in Sons of Liberty are nothing short of fantastic; animations like Snake's bandanna waving in the air or the hand-to-hand combat are flawless, and each character is unique and interesting.

Also, water plays a part in Sons of Liberty, and not just because there's a swimming portion in the game. In the Tanker episode, it's an absolute downpour, and water is splashing everywhere, with puddles forming in the enclosed area and Snake's footprints showing up, which can attract enemies. But that's not all, because in the Plant chapter, there are a number of flying camera/guns that you can shoot down, and the debris that forms when you blow it up will actually fall four or five stories down and splash in the water below; I was shocked when I first noticed, how much work could one team put into something like this?

Also, the soundtrack in Sons of Liberty has been improved, I especially noticed the boss music and the Metal Gear Solid 2 Theme Song, which plays in the introduction and various excerpts are used during the game. The sound effects are also top notch; random sounds like birds chirping, gunfire, explosions, and footsteps all sound amazing, but music and sounds aren't the only things to mention; the voice acting, as always, is spectacular. While there are points where some of the characters expression doesn't seem to fit their mood, it's rare that it happens and usually isn't noticeable. Besides having David Hayter once again voice Snake, there's a whole new cast of voice actors, including Quinton Flynn, who's voiced characters in Socom II and Shellshock Nam ‘67, and Phil La Marr, known best as Hermes Conrad of Futurama, Marvin of Pulp Fiction, and Duo from The Animatrix.

The graphics, sounds, and plot are amazing, true, but even without them, Sons of Liberty would still be a great game. The gameplay is classic Metal Gear with a plethora of additions that fixed most if not all of the problems I had with the gameplay in Metal Gear Solid. The entire basis of the Metal Gear series is stealth, due to the fact that Hideo Kojima wanted to make a realistic game, and there's no way anyone would survive if they ran into an enemy fortress with a big gun and started shooting everything. And to make sure that you get the idea, you begin the game with either a tranquilizer gun or absolutely nothing against a team of heavily armed soldiers. Usually, you're best option is to simply avoid fighting a bad guy, if there's a way to go around him, by all means take it. Of course, if you have to get your hands dirty, you can always beat your opponents up with an upgraded punch, punch, spin kick or put them in a chokehold and quietly strangle them. And because you can fight in the first person view, you can aim where you punch, the most noticeably being in the crotch, which can knock any guard unconscious in one hit.

Of course, there are plenty of items and features that will aid your surreptitious ways: you can tap walls or throw empty ammunition magazines to call an enemies attention, or elude them by hiding under a cardboard box, which yet again makes an appearance. As a new a feature, you can collect “adult” magazines and place them on the ground; if an enemy sees it, he'll immediately drop down on his hands and knees to get a closer look, those perverts…

But that's not all, for you can use your surroundings to your advantage, shooting a window or leaving footprints will draw attention to guards, and they'll go over to investigate; where you can either bypass the guy and run around him, or you can attack. Another new feature that comes in handy right around here is the ability to hold bad guys hostage at gunpoint. If you can point your gun at them before they see you, Snake/Raiden will say, “Freeze!” and the guy will put his hands up, leaving his life in your hands. Also, if you hold up a guard and point the gun in their face, they'll drop their dog tags, which are collected to get items like stealth camouflage or the infinite ammo bandana.

Another new feature in the game is the ability to hang over ledges, which can be used to cross a broken platform or hiding from enemies. Also, by pressing R and L simultaneously, your character does a pull-up; and completing one hundred pull-ups makes you stronger, allowing you to keep your grip longer. You can also now pull an Otacon and hide inside of lockers, as well as hide enemy bodies inside them; because enemies won't disappear in Sons of Liberty like before, and if another soldier finds his comrade, they'll naturally get suspicious.

The biggest addition to Sons of Liberty, however, has to be the first person shooting. In the original Metal Gear Solid, Snake could only look in first person, where now he can shoot in it also. This comes in handy for killing enemies with headshots, shooting out their radios so they can't call for backup, or shooting pipes so the steam burns the guards, allowing you to make an easy getaway. Simply put, this is the best new feature in the game.

And you're going to need these abilities, because the enemies' AI is a lot higher then it was before, although you won't realize it until someone notices you. If a guy notices something strange like footprints, blood, or if you're too far away for him to make a clear assessment, he'll investigate. After making an ID of who you are, the guard will use his radio to call for backup, in which case your survival chance drops rapidly unless you can escape and find a good hiding place. And don't think that hiding in a different room will do the trick, enemy reinforcements will go through a thorough clearing before you can breath easy again; which includes opening up lockers, looking in grates, and basically checking in every nook and cranny.

Finally, we come to the final aspect of gameplay, boss fights, which are very reminiscent of the ones in Metal Gear Solid. And while the Metal Gear series as a whole is known for having a fairly realistic setting, the main characters, notably the bad guys, are always a little extravagant, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The bosses are certainly formidable; you fight a variety of characters, including a psychokinetic woman with a huge rail gun, a seemingly superhuman master of knives, and a Harrier jet.

And now, it's time to add my opinion about Raiden; actually, some of the more odd characters in general. First off is Raiden, the hero who takes the place of Solid Snake. Raiden is, to put it lightly, more than just a little effeminate; he's young, white hair, and thin, is inexperienced in real-life combat, and is pretty much the opposite of Snake. Not only that, but his girlfriend, Rose, is also apart of the mission and gives Raiden support via Codec; but all too often you'll find yourself listening to the two of them bicker or attempt to work out their problems during the most bizarre times.

Simply put, Raiden is the anti-Snake, which is more than upsetting; Snake is everything you want in a hero: experienced, austere, and an all around badass, which is different from other games that feature characters that the player can relate with. Raiden is that kind of character, he's often unsure of himself, has problems with relationships, and is constantly making mistakes; pretty much the epitome of your average teenager. But most people who play games play them so that they're the hero, the savior, the best, not to play as themselves in a given situation. Hideo Kojima wanted to have the player see what Snake was like from another perspective, but in turn he contradicts Snake's personality by while trying to recreate the Snake and Meryl team from Metal Gear Solid. The downside is that in the original, Snake knew who Meryl was, and was more willing to accept her as a part of his team; where as he has no idea who Raiden really is, but still decides to trust him.

So that's the main character complication, but there are also some other side-stories that were distracting. For one, there's a detailed history of a few members of Dead Cell, except that it's just too strange, almost as if it was added for the sole purpose of making the player say, “What the hell?” One of the characters, Vamp, happens to be bisexual, not that there's anything wrong with that, but it turns out that his lover is the father of another member of Dead Cell, Fortune. Whether or not there's some kind of thing between the family and Vamp isn't mentioned, but I found it distracting and out of place nonetheless.

Also, there's a story that tells you about Otacon's past, but it just strikes an odd tone. It turns out that Otacon's stepsister Emma has a major grudge against him for deserting her at a young age. Well, Otacon has a brief soliloquy where he reveals just why he left. It seems that he was molested by his mother and couldn't stand living with her, and up and left as a result. Let me just repeat that so it sinks in: He was molested by his mother, please explain to me why that was left in. Couldn't he have said, “Well, I just wanted to pursue my computer career,” or maybe, “I was getting stoned and had to leave because I couldn't pay my dealer and I wanted to protect you.” Isn't that a better idea? I think Kojima was just looking for ways to shock the player, which is normally fine, but this is too out there.

The strange character backgrounds aside, there isn't much to complain about in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. It takes everything that made the original game so amazing and adds a ton of new features and surrounds it in one of the most detailed and realistic graphics I've ever seen. I can't honestly say that I liked it more than I did the original, unfortunately, because the beauty of Metal Gear Solid was that it wasn't lacking in any part of the game, where as Sons of Liberty has parts that are better than it's predecessor, but there are also parts that are definitely worse, the confusing story being the most notable. If you manage to understand the plot, accept Raiden as the main character, and deal with the odd side stories, the game is nearly flawless. I admire Kojima for taking the risk of altering the norm by showing Snake through the eyes of his opposite, although I don't think it worked out quite as well as he hoped it would. Is it worth paying fifty dollars to play? Definitely, but since it's been released for awhile and because Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance is out, you can find the game for almost nothing, maybe ten dollars at most. On the other hand, Substance is only twenty, which is a deal for the extras that it has. If you're unsure about whether you'll enjoy the game, I suggest buying Sons of Liberty used on for about five dollars, but otherwise, go with Substance.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 10/05/04

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