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by Konami

mgs2-3-01.jpg (2744 bytes)Since the issue of spoilers is so great for a game of this caliber, I must tell you that when you buy Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (and you know you will, no matter what score I give it) do not, I repeat, do not look in the manual. A crucial plot development is given away. I find it odd that Konami would do so much to keep this game under wraps and then let that slip by, but oh well. One last time: do not look in the manual. Now on to the review.

mgs2-1-01.jpg (2758 bytes)I suppose that disclosing the introduction won’t give away too much, seeing as how most everyone knows the setup. MGS2 starts off on the Hudson River. The weather is horrible. Cars go careening by. A man enters the frame. Smoke floats eloquently away from his cigarette. He takes one last puff, discards the cigarette, and soon after his rain jacket. He breaks into a full sprint down the bridge. Switching on his stealth camo, he leaps off the bridge in a sudden output of energy. He repels down the side landing on the Marine tanker will full force. The stealth camo shorts out. Solid Snake has arrived.

mgs2-11-01.jpg (2829 bytes)For you newbies to the series, Solid Snake is the legendary ex-member of Fox Hound, who four years ago stopped a terrorist group from getting a hold of Metal Gear REX in Alaska on a blustery little island called Shadow Moses. Metal Gear REX was a bipedal tank with nuclear launch capabilities. The terrorists were going to launch a nuke if the remains of Big Boss weren’t handed over to them. Big Boss was Snake’s commander in the first Metal Gear (for the NES), and by all means his father. Solid Snake (as well as Liquid Snake and Solidus Snake) was cloned from Big Boss, made to be the perfect fighting machine. The terrorists wanted the remains to make more super soldiers. In his adventure at Shadow Moses, Snake was deceived, manipulated, and used. Exactly how did it all go down? Go find out for yourself! I say that not only because it is a truly great game, but also because Metal Gear Solid 2 draws a lot of it’s plot from the first installment. To truly understand the plot, and some of the great inside jokes, you must play MGS.

mgs2-15-01.jpg (3008 bytes)OK, so Snake is on this huge Marine tanker. Why? Well the specs of Metal Gear REX have been leaked via the black market all over the world. Clearly this was a potential threat, so our boys in blue took the offensive. They developed Metal Gear RAY, the next generation Metal Gear. Ray was designed to combat and defeat the REX’s of the world. The Marines were basically hoping that if they had the biggest gun, no one else would use theirs.

mgs2-19-01.jpg (3018 bytes)But of course Snake knows that Metal Gears only lead to trouble, so he and Otacon (Another character from MGS1, Otacon was a programmer on Metal Gear REX. Snake and him team up to destroy REX.) Decide to take matters into their own hands. They plan to have Snake infiltrate the tanker and undeniable photographic proof of Metal Gear RAY’s existence, and to spread them all over the Net. At first it seems as this will be a cut and dry mission. The Marines, while still highly skilled fighters, offer little threat to Snake. But things are not always, if ever, what they seem in this game. I’m starting to tip-toe the line between reviewing and spoiling, so as far as the intro goes, I’ll leave you with a quote from Snake:
"It appears that we are not the only ones after Metal Gear tonight."

Now that you know the back story, on the actual review (I promise this time).

mgs2-23-01.jpg (3135 bytes)The gameplay in MGS2 is basically the same as it is in MGS1. This game is all about stealth. You don’t want the enemy to have an inkling that you’re there. Now, a game where you sneak around wouldn’t be very good without enough actions to do your job properly. MGS2 doesn’t disappoint. As I said before, the gameplay is basically Metal Gear Solid’s. I emphasize basically. Think of it as the foundation. MGS provided you with controls to flip a guard, choke a guard, punch and kick a guard, or kill a guard. All this remains. What new embellishments await you? For sneaking you have a few new aces up your sleeve, such as the dive and roll command. If you’ve almost made it out of harms way and it looks as though you’re about to be spotted, you could do worse than pressing X. You’ll gain a bit of momentum, and end up close to the ground to stay out of the line of enemy eyes. Another great addition is peaking around corners. When you snug up to a wall, you have the option of pushing L2 or R2 to make Snake peek in that direction. This is a double sided sword though. You’ll be able to see the enemies better, but they can see your head now too.

mgs2-7-01.jpg (3346 bytes)As for combat the biggest improvement is the first person shooting mode. When you hold down R1 the camera goes to Snakes’ perspective. This opens up a new world for combat. In the last game, you would always hit your target in the chest, taking multiple rounds to bring down. Now, you merely aim for the head and you’re home free. While in first person view mode, you can draw whatever weapon you have equipped by slightly pressing down square. To fire, you depress the button all the way. To disarm yourself, you slowly take pressure off of it. Once again, a great improvement from MGS (If you recall, in MGS the only way to bring your gun down after aiming was to unequip it.).

mgs2-2-01.jpg (3676 bytes)The combat is also genuinely more intense now. Sure, there are some new bad ass weapons (especially the last one you get), but every sequel does that. What MGS2 does differently is in the combat system through a mini-revolution.  Instead of just having to deal with Sentries, once you’re spotted, you’d better run. Unless you can kill/trank the guard before his order goes out, or shoot his radio, you’re in for some trouble. Attack teams come looking for you. Fighting these guys is basically futile, but try it once in a while. It provides a great challenge. Since you can’t fight, you’d better hide. But don’t go under the table or anywhere obvious like that, or they’ll spot you right away. You see, the attack teams clear rooms using tactics S.W.A.T. teams do, so hiding under a cardboard box just won’t cut it anymore. This forces you to be more creative during the heat of battle. Because of that, the fighting in this game is leagues better than the previous one. The enemies last longer, use more strategy, and require creative thought to best. Who could ask for anything more?

mgs2-5-01.jpg (3794 bytes)I can. Not in the normal battles mind you, but in the boss battles. The bosses in this game are decent, but they seem really one dimensional until the end when their motives are discovered. Still, the boss battles are too easy, and too few and far in between. The game has six boss battles, and only three are noteworthy (and one is only interesting because it puts a twist on the fighting).

mgs2-18-01.jpg (4040 bytes)So I’ve covered the main aspects of the gameplay: sneaking and fighting. There’s another area that I wasn’t expecting and MGS2 came through in: variety. I can’t tell you what you’ll be doing, for that may spoil it, but believe me, you just won’t get bored. And that’s probably the main point I want to get across with this review. While playing (especially for the first time), you just don’t get bored. There’s always stuff to do, be it saving the world or collecting dog tags. The game just feels complete. I don’t know how to describe it otherwise. It just has an amazing fun factor. I don’t feel like I was cheated out of my money, and I don’t feel that any of the game was fluff. It feels just right, and it seems very few games can nail that equilibrium.

mgs2-13-01.jpg (4194 bytes)The presentation of this game is also great. I guarantee that you will not find a game with a better overall feel to it. Be it the superb dynamic music, changing with every scenario, or the amazing models, animated with great care, you just won’t find a game that has all these elements in place. I feel I should elaborate on the music. I never felt that the music was out of place. It always fit the mood, which is imperative for a game that is trying to suck you into its’ universe. When the game was idle, the music followed suit. Same thing when I was in panic – the music followed me right into that panic. It felt like a well composed action movie soundtrack (which is to be expected, seeing as Henry Gregson Williams, an accomplished theatrical composer of The Rock and Armageddon fame, did most of the game’s music). Hell, why not put the graphics under the microscope as well? According to Kojima, the games’ graphic system pushes very few polygons for characters when compared to other games. Don’t get me wrong, though. The characters look great. This is mostly thanks to great textures. Leaves look like leaves, posters look like posters, guns look like guns. Usually textures are sloppily implemented and give a hashed look. Not so in MGS2. But what about those polygons saved from simplifying the characters? They were needed to make reflections, environments, and a whole host of gee-whiz effects. What effects do I speak of? When you go under water and re-surface, the water slides down the camera as if it were real. When you’re in first person mode and die, the camera cracks with realistic distortion effects to complete the illusion. My descriptions don’t do this game justice. Download a movie of it now. You’ll get a pretty good idea on how good the overall presentation is.

mgs2-9-01.jpg (4218 bytes)I do have one gripe. Much of the games’ most important scenes are transcribed via Codec (Snake’s communication device). Now, I could understand why when something major happens between Otacon and Snake they would use the Codec (they’re miles apart), but what I don’t get is why people in the same room would use it. They give reasons like it’s too dangerous to talk about sensitive topics when others might hear, but they’re still talking to me on the Codec! Oh well. I’m willing to bet that was an element of running out of development time.

mgs2-8-01.jpg (4454 bytes)I’ve just realized something. If I say any more about the game, I will spoil it. I’ve never come to a point in a review when I knew I could say no more. That’s how little the public knows about MGS2. I have no clue how Konami kept all this under wraps, but I’m not going to be the one who exposes it. I really can’t tell you about all the great stuff in this game, and don’t let anyone else. I can’t tell you about the amazing characters, the overall theme (it’s not exactly what you may think), and how it turns everything you thought you knew about the last Metal Gear on its head. I can’t tell you about the amazing variety of tasks, or about the jaw-dropping plot twists and hilarious inside jokes. Why? Because MGS2 is like a puzzle. You get too many pieces, and you’ve got the thing figured out. The real fun of this game is experiencing it first hand and figuring things out as you go. So I can’t tell you about any of the pieces.

mgs2-17-01.jpg (2393 bytes)What I can tell you is that Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty is without a doubt the best PS2 game I’ve played to date. The vastly improved gameplay, the gripping plot, the masterful graphics and the amazing sound all make this have no equal on Sony’s console. Do yourself a favor and buy it.

David Logan   (01/15/2002)


Ups: Amazing story; great graphics; varied gameplay.

Downs: Bosses are a bit weak.

Platform: PlayStation 2