Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty


   Reviewing a game like Metal Gear Solid 2 is almost beyond the point; in the first place, virtually everyone who owns a PlayStation 2 and more than a few who don't will already buy it, and in the second place, it's hard to objectively review the game itself in the midst of all the hype and momentum that's built up in the year and a half since it was first shown to the public.

Taking the things I know will cause you pain
I spy for a living and I specialize in revenge

   In that light, it might be best to start with the game's flaws, perceived or otherwise. Though composer Harry Gregson-Williams has received top billing this time around with Hideo Kojima and Yoji Shinkawa, his score is curiously unmemorable; while the first game's ambient score wasn't exactly catchy either, even Metal Gear Solid 2's dramatic cues are forgettable and make little to no impression. The gameplay is as solid and engaging as ever, but players will backtrack and cover the same ground slightly more often than they did in the first game.

   And then, the biggest "flaw" of all: the storyline. It may be difficult at first to get past the drastic change of tone and direction that kicks in about two hours into the game, but if you can keep an open mind, the different style is just as intriguing and compelling as the first game was. If the first game was like playing through a thrilling, all-out action movie, the sequel comes off as something more akin to the Prisoner, with piled-on headfakes, reversals, and misinformation creating a deeply paranoid atmosphere. It's not like Metal Gear Solid, and again, those expecting the same feel will come away disappointed--but those who can appreciate it for what it is will find a lot to love here.

I do these things just so I survive
Can't you see a giant walks among you

   What is like Metal Gear Solid is the gameplay: every bit of the ultra-smooth control and every one of the myriad of moves is available here, with more added. Snake's weaponry still has laser sights, for the most part, but since it now matters which part of the body you shoot the enemy in, more often than not you'll want to use the newly available first-person targetting. While the need to move to first person view every time you get into a firefight can make it difficult to run away, that's just more added incentive not to be seen.

   And not being seen will be difficult, especially with the increased AI and awareness of the guards. When something seems awry this time around, a guard's response may range from a few seconds' worth of suspicion to calling in reinforcements to enact a full sweep of the area, depending on how serious he judges the situation to be. Taking care of guards isn't as simple as the quick, effective elimination of the first game, either: down a guard in any way, or take out his radio, and his squad members will notice the absence just as surely as they'd notice a dead body out in the hall. And once they're alerted to your presence, they're not easy to shake off--they'll follow anything from the blood trails you leave while walking wounded to wet footprints to cold breath.

 I'm biding time until I take you on
It may look to the untrained eye I'm sitting on my arse all day

   To help avoid such detection, Snake also has a few new moves such as hanging from railways and a running roll. While fun to experiment with, these are used infrequently and don't add as much to the experience as the new item-based objectives do. Rarely-used equipment from the first game, such as the camera, and entirely new gadgets, such as the olfactory sensor, have whole mini-missions based around them, which avoids recycling the same tasks and quests that the first game featured. When the game does reuse objectives, it always adds a new spin or twist to make them feel new again.

   Other highlights carrying over from the first game include the excellent voice acting, which is just as sharp and mercifully carries over all major voices from the original. It could have been awkward, having to adjust to listen to all the returning characters speak in different voices, but Konami thankfully was able to bring back all of the actors that made the first game's acting shine. The script is also top-notch once again; even useless and little-explored aspects such as the 300-page summary of the Shadow Moses incident are lovingly and impressively localized.

Dinner parties and champagne
Smoking your cigarettes, drinking your brandy

   In fact, if there's a theme that runs throughout the production of Metal Gear Solid 2, it would be tiny and irrelevant details obsessively rendered. Even moreso than in the first game, the environments feel like a real world that Snake can interact with, not just a collection of objects with preset scripts. Shoot a bottle on a shelf, for instance, and it will explode ... but the shattering carries with it a physics engine that will gently shove other bottles around it; it's possible to knock a bottle off the shelf by careful manipulation of explosions. Or when walking around long enough outside, the seagull droppings will eventually accumulate into patches large enough for you to slip on and fall, becoming momentarily dazed.

   The blood-stoppingly great graphics only serve to heighten this sense of realism by depicting everything as true to life as the technology will allow for the moment. Everything from the fire extinguishers to the ketchup bottles to the tranquilizer darts protruding from the exact place that you shot them has a painstakingly detailed visual to accompany them. The character models during story sequences are fantastically animated; it's almost as easy to read their body language as their subtitles. Factor in the environmental effects such as the pounding rainstorm at the opening of the game or, later, some wonderfully lit open-air environments, and it's almost frightening how much Metal Gear Solid 2 was able to achieve graphically less than two years after the system's launch.

   Though it's debatable whether Metal Gear Solid 2 could possibly have delivered on all the hype it received, and it's uncertain as to how fans of the first game will judge the second, it's clear that Metal Gear Solid 2 stands on its own as one of the PlayStation 2's very top tier games. Worth at the very least a rental by anyone who owns the system, the amount of detail, replay value, and just plain coolness ought to entice them to make it a permanent, often-played part of their library.

Review by Nich Maragos, GIA.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
Developer KCEJ
Publisher Konami
Genre Adventure
Medium DVD-ROM
Platform PlayStation 2
Release Date  11.29.01
"Your Name in MGS2!" campaign reaches 100,000 entries
1,444 screenshots
E3: Solid Snake high-res character art
Metal Gear Solid 2 demo walkthrough
Original Story / Planning / Game Design Hideo Kojima
Character & Mechanic designed by Yoji Shinkawa
Music by Harry Gregson-Williams
Full game credits