Reviews: Metal Gear Solid 2 Sons Of Liberty
Too clever by half
Metal Gear Solid 2 is, essentially, highly subject to Poes Law. While it is an intentional satire of the nature of video game sequels and the player's relationship to video games, without the outside context of that, the game is not fully functional or coherent. The Big Shell is highly linear, repetitive, and has a lot of backtracking. All of this was intentional, but that does not make it any less of a hassle to go through. The same goes for the bait-and-switch with Snake and Raiden, and the nature of rehashing elements from Metal Gear Solid. To offer a comparison, while Watchmen is deeply entrenched in deconstructing themes from superhero comics, it still functions perfectly well as its own comic and story without having to understand that; MGS 2 feels like it has to remind you all the time ("I feel like a legendary mercenary or something..."). Outside of Solidus Snake, most, if not all of the new characters are fairly unmemorable at best and annoying at worst. Which isn't to say the game is a complete waste. The gameplay is quite improved from its predecessor, and the non-disappearing bodies and improved AI mean you can more easily be punished for being reckless in your stealth. First person aiming adds a lot more depth to how you approach situations, as well. And even if the individual components are disjointed and strange, as a whole, MGS 2's plot and themes are interesting in what it's trying to say and do. In particular, the final chunk of the game after the section with E.E.* is filled with a great combination of Mind Screw, Nightmare Fuel, and fantastic set pieces. If nothing else, the entire game was worth it for that section. In the end, Metal Gear Solid 2 can be seen as an example that even though a piece of media, even video games, makes for a great analysis or social experiment, it doesn't necessarily make it a great game.
Story aside, this is a fun game to play
MGS2 takes the controls of MGS1 and adds to them, vastly improving the gameplay (camera still sucks, though, and is monstrously bad without the radar). You can shoot in 1st person, hang from railings, swim through flooded corridors, hold up guards, press your back against walls and jump out to take potshots. Your inventory is varied, but most of it alerts guards and therefore goes unused. Once you learn them, the controls are generally intuitive, one or two exceptions aside (swordplay controls, cocking your rifle versus firing it, etc.). AI is more complex but still has its oddities. Guards do sensible things when they spot you, and are sometimes indecently skilled in flushing you out of hiding. Then they do nothing when one of their number vanishes, even if they investigate it. They're still curiously myopic, too. However, there's no denying most of the fun is in how you deal with the guards and their surroundings, since there are dozens of options here, and each area usually throws a gimmick at you that promises more challenges and more ways to be cruel or sneaky. Level design tends to the narrow and enclosed, and few areas are gigantic, so the game seems to fly by unless you get engrossed in guard torture or distracted by the breakable scenery (pretty and impressive, but ultimately superfluous). Unfortunately, the game makes you backtrack early on in the Plant chapter, and overall seems pretty short despite how huge the Big Shell and Arsenal Gear should be. While the Plant's level design and artwork is still good, it simply lacks the atmosphere and awesome grittiness of the Tanker section. Sadly, the gameplay feels like a sideshow to the cutscenes (and codec calls, irritatingly), which is a shame because the plot can be best summed up as "Kojima's progressive mental breakdown". It's not incomprehensible, per se, but what starts out as a promisingly atmospheric MGS sequel quickly delves into characters playing Top Trumps Gambits at each other, an unenjoyable and groan-worthy conspiracy, overdone Fourth Wall Breaking, a flood of cutscenes, and basically Kojima using pretentious philosophy and the interface to mock, confuse, and show off at you, generally pretending to get you questioning reality rather than the writer's sanity. The supernatural elements don't help, either. Overall, worth getting. Just skip the cutscenes.
I'm never doing a Big Boss run
Not that I will for any pre-MGS2 game either Metal Gear Solid 2 is, overall, an average game to me, even in terms of how it works as a sequel to the first game. And by this, I don't mean I find it more of the same, I mean that it's the more interesting kind of average in that it introduces a lot of things, about half of which are good and half of which are bad. To wit, you have new mechanics, which work pretty well. First person aiming is glorious, hanging over and dropping from rails was much needed, the rolling/cartwheeling are excellent escape maneuvers, and tranquilizer guns add a whole new dimension to how the guards work. But on the other hand, the game itself was updated to compensate for these new mechanics (particularly the first person aiming), and the manner in which Kojima updated it is... less than ideal. The biggest problem is the new maps. To make sure you can't just take out every guard on the map with your new aiming, most of the maps are horribly enclosed. It's to the point where you can't see a single enemy at all, so that radar is damn near essential. Oh, but guess what? You have to get to a node to use it. And even if you do get it, there's still little room to maneuver in, so you'll find yourself forced to take a path that runs along some guard's patrol route way more often than in the other games. And even should you know that in advance, there will be all sorts of barriers in your way to make actually shooting the guard as difficult as humanly possible. On the other hand, a few maps have the opposite problem; they're way too exposed and have zero hiding spots, but at least taking out the guards in these maps is somewhat easier. There's no balance here, is what I'm saying. I don't really like the boss fights either; they feel like they were designed for MGS1 controls (probably intentional), but eh, one or two of them are fun. The story is, well, bad in and of itself, but I like what it adds to the series. It poses a lot of interesting philosophical questions, that's for sure. But still, it's very difficult to get emotionally invested in, and at times to even understand what's happening (takes 2 or 3 playthroughs), a lot of the dialogue feels like Kojima ranting at you, and they use codec so much it's almost silly. For me, the game's about on par with MGS1, and deserves at least a look
The greatest trick Kojima ever pulled was... well, not this.
MGS2 isn't a game so much as a clever social experiment and/or troll-tastic meta-joke on video gamers at large, depending on whose side you're on. Well, at least the story elements. I'll get to that later. I always tend to discuss the gameplay first for rather obvious reasons so let's get to it. The gameplay still holds up pretty damn well, improving every facet of the original MGS while adding a plethora of gameplay staples, most notably the ability to go through the entire game without killing anybody (only slightly hampered by the fact that some enemies die anyway, but that's pretty much what you have to do to make the story move along). You feel very much like a right clever bastard when you decide to scale a railing and hang around until the guard passes you by, or when you stuff a Sleeping Beauty (not to be confused with the Beauty and the Beast unit) in a locker. Offers some of the greatest replay value of any game out there, what with the dog tags and Virtual Missions, the latter of which will cause even the most seasoned gamer to pull out some manner of body hair in frustration at certain points. Nothing to complain about here, aside from the realizations of how subsequent series installments improved upon something, but that's not really fair to complain about. The story... well, I'll leave the analyses and whatever to other more... interested... parties, but for my own part I'm split on it. I get what Kojima is trying to do with trope subversion and deconstruction and stuff, but it really doesn't make for much of an enjoyable story in the end. The subplot of "Jack and Rose" actually takes a pretty refreshing viewpoint on "Hollywood romance," but the narmdifferous writing, chemistry, and characterization ensures that it provides even less enjoyment than a Helen Keller/Tommy love story. It's a credit to Kojima that he actually managed to salvage this scuttled ship in later installments. The plot makes more sense after reading some well-written analyses, but that's only a sort of post-finale meta-enjoyment that doesn't vindicate the frustrating lethargy it brings me whenever I replay it. To summarize, gameplay-wise it's a classic. The story... well, it's a love it or hate it situation apparently. I suspect I'll forever be a part of the "hate" demographic, but I can at least respect what it was trying to achieve.
It's up to you
There's something unique about Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. This game is not your typical sequel, not even your typical video game. If a sequel is understood as a work that purposefully follows the conventions of a previous instatlement, then this is a work that knows that it is a sequel, and makes use of the tropes relevant to sequels to deliver a message. Whether it succeeds at it or not is debatable, but the mere fact that it tries already sets it apart from other games. Previous Metal Gear games share story and gameplay elements to different degrees, so Hideo Kojima knew what fans expected with the new release and he deliberatedly subverted many of the tropes found in the series. Most notoriously, the player doesn't control Snake for most of the game; a new character, Raiden, becomes the player's representation; a move that frustrated some fans. This is just one of the many ways that So L doesn't give the player what is wanted; MGS 2 seeks to deny the player the fun he/she wants to have. That doesn't mean it lacks production values; the stylized design Metal Gear is known for is there: The sorroundings have a detailed, realistic feel to them; the characters, designed by MGS household artist Yoji Shinkawa, share that elegant appearance that's unique to him. The graphics showcase the PS2's capabilities perfectly, especially considering the game was released early in the game's lifetime; in fact, more than a decade later, they still look good. The music, this time with a more minimalist, beat-oriented sound, reflects the mood of the different situations well; sound effects are crispy and appropriate. Aesthetically, MGS 2 has a lot of work put into it. But let's go back to what makes MGS 2 special: the way it adresses the player. Many games boast a "profound" or "intelligent" storyline. But few have done anything new or daring to present it. This game tries to affect the player in a different way: pure deconstruction. It analyses and shatters its own traditions to make some points; as a consecuence, the player may not get what was promised, but it is a necessary evil: Kojima sacrificed the players' satisfaction in order to make a statement. The resulting experience can be pretty divisive. Personally, I like it. It's my favorite Metal Gear game. I just recommend to play it, then make your own mind. It's up to you.
Quintessential MGS - for better or worse
Much like Snake Eater, I like MGS2 a bit more each time I play it. There are plenty of flaws to root through, but none that haven't become a staple of later games. Like it or not, Sons of Liberty was the template for modern Metal Gear. The moralizing, the ADD approach to storytelling, the melodramatic speeches; it's all there. Raiden is designed as a fanservice character to distract from his real role: a cypher, a mirror pointing at the gamer. That Kojima has since retconned Raiden into a Wolverine anti-hero is emblematic for how superficial and silly gamers see themselves. That said, I think the Raiden concept would come across better if he were just some grunt: a cocky Tom Cruise ace who thinks he's hot shit because he got high marks, but is actually in the dark about everything happening around him. The psychological deconstruction of Raiden is the game's strongest point. Less fun is Otacon's frustrated libido and mommy issues. In a game which is primarily a character study, it's a mistake to add bisexual vampires and inbred families. If Kojima was going for diversity, then kudos, but you don't hear too many LGBT advocates holding up Vamp as some fictional pioneer. Same goes for Emma, a fanservice character with a personality grossly out of proportion to that role: she's the dark mirror to Otacon, but we don't take her seriously because she reflexively disagrees with everything Otacon says or does, and is basically a token teenage brat. Seeing Snake take an advisory role is fun, and fleshes him out as a character: He seems to have fallen into Grey Fox's old role as the seasoned mentor. The Tanker and Plant missions are marvels of game design. There are so many tricks to pull on enemies. (Unfortunately, like MGS1 and Snake Eater, there's no way to take advantage of them all without going to Alert mode.) The game mixes it up with interesting bosses and challenges, none of which are too different or challenging and will frustrate players.... though Fatman is a nasty piece of work. I happen to be very fond of the game. It was my first Metal Gear title, and while not as flawless as the first MGS, it keeps to the spirit of classic Metal Gear while attempting to try something new.
A great stealth game worth playing
Metal gear solid 2 is probably the most disliked game of the franchise by fans, and I can't figure why. The gameplay is what you would expect from a metal gear game: infiltrating an area completely filled with ennemy soldiers, slowly working your way from having no weapon but your wit to a collection of rocket launchers and assault rifles stored in hammer space and taking out crazy bosses with them. The AI is very solid, even by modern standard, as the HQ frequently makes sure that all the patrol are safe and dispatching assault teams when you are spotted.The game is split in two areas: the tanker and the big shell, an offshore plant. Both are claustrophobic areas that really help you get in the mindset of being alone in hostile area. Be aware though that the PC controls are horribly ported. For example, you aim with WASD and move with the directional pad. It takes a while to get used to it although it's workable. The story is probably why everybody has a problem with this game. Yes, legendary badass solid snake is replaced by a whiny androgynous dork halfway into the game. Yes, the plot gets pretty confusing, especially toward the end. Despite this, I found myself liking Raiden a lot because he is so lame. I tought the contrast between the skilled soldier and infiltrator and the unlikable twat very interesting. The story to gameplay ratio is a problem, but then, it's metal gear, what did you expect? You will probably want to replay this game a few times, to understand the story better and because the gameplay is so solid. There's a wide variety of tactics you can use and the increased difficulty are dependent on playing well, rather than trial and error. The only thing you should know about the higher difficulty level is that there is one obnoxiously hard thing you need to do near the end that I won't spoil, but found incredibly annoying. Overall, this games holds up against modern game. The graphics are very good for its era, the gameplay is excellent and the story is solid, overall. A must try if you own a PS 2 or PS 3, and pc owner should also give it a try despite the controls.
A good conclusion
As a game, this is great. Excellent character development and storytelling, and we get to see Snake through someone else'e eyes. The whole theme of questioning reality fits perfectly with what must be going through the player's head. And, really, the And The Adventure Continues nature of the ending (once it's deciphered) arguably makes for a better conclusion than Metal Gear Solid 4 Guns Of The Patriots.