SPOILER ALERT: This review may cover plot points that will spoil MGS2.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty picks up several years after the first MGS. Snake is still retired from FOXHOUND, but he is a part of the anti-Metal Gear proliferation group Philanthropy with Otacon. Snake and Otacon actively collect intel and information on Metal Gears and release them throughout the world to keep the global balance of power even and it’s rumored that they even destroy some Metal Gear models outright. This is where you come in, as Snake in the “Tanker Chapter.” It’s also where the shit hits the fan. Snake’s mission is disrupted by the arrival of Ocelot Revolver, one of the bosses from MGS and a former member of FOXHOUND, only his hand has been re-attached…or has it? He periodically lapses into another voice and mental state where he sounds and acts like Liquid Snake, Solid Snake’s “brother” (they are both clones of Big Boss). As you might be able to guess, the routine mission becomes anything but. Ocelot steals the Metal Gear RAY, destroys the tanker, and sinks Solid Snake to the bottom of the ocean.
The “Plant Chapter” begins with an operative infiltrating aquatically, strangely familiar to Snake’s entrance in MGS. The scuba mask comes off…Who the heck is this guy? Why is Jack, codenamed Raiden, working with the Colonel from MGS? Who is he? What is going on at this water treatment plant where the President of the United States has been kidnapped? MGS2 succeeds on so many levels beyond MGS in its story, it’s hard to even quantify how much better it is. The story is far more epic, the plot twists way stranger, and the final outcome more surprising than ANYONE could have guessed. Many a critic has hated on what seems like a convoluted story, but a little concentration and patience for the long cutscenes reveals a game that does, in fact, make sense. MGS2 surpasses its ancestry in every way on this one.
Of particular note is, and this is way spoilerific, but also way awesome, occurs when the Colonel begins acting VERY erratically. I know about this plot point before I started playing it and it still gave the the proverbial willies. Be sure to watch the clip to get the full effect, but the Colonel, in typical MGS fashion, seriously breaks the fourth wall telling you to turn off the game, referencing the NES Metal Gear games, repeating lines from MGS, showing footage from other games, etc. This is all during a part of the game where Raiden has been stripped of his equipment and clothing, so he’s running around the base buck naked, holding his hands over his crotch. Consequently, he cannot perform any actions which would require him to not be covering his naughty bits.
After playing MGS2, I’ve concluded that third person, top-down cameras are what made the original MGS so damn hard to me. Being able to zoom in and fire in first person mode in MGS2 combined with the other camera tweaks makes for a MUCH smoother experience. Stealth is still absolutely the name of the game in MGS2 and the new camera system does its best to fully revitalize the old stealth system.
The guards are no longer fully restricted to their cones of vision, making them much less stupid. Guards now have radios and, once you are spotted, have to call in for support before the entire facility is on alert. This allows you to be spotted, run up to a guard, knock him out, and prevent his transmission. Unfortunately, if a guard even turns on his radio, knocking him out will still not keep you in the clear. A transmission will come through the walkie-talkie saying “What’s going on? Where are you? Send support to X location” and then the facility will be crawling with guards looking for you. On the plus side, knocking out the guard bought you some time to hide. On the downside…you’re gonna be stuck hiding from guards for somewhere around two to two and a half minutes. I usually spent this time not even paying attention to the game, doing something…anything else. I can understand the realism of an added state of alertness, but it’s still boring. In the end, I forgive them for trying to make it more realistic. I mean…what kind of facility is really gonna just be chill three minutes after some guard got knocked out or killed? It’s a miracle we even get that.
Other sweet guard behaviors: You can leave dirty magazines around to distract them. If they spot one, they’ll just chill out and read the magazine for a bit. Good for sneaking around a guard’s patrol route. Killing a guard is bad news, if another guard spots a guard corpse, he will immediately alert all guards, so what can you do? Kill a guard, stuff him in a locker. Insta-safe. This actually brings me to my next point: you don’t have to kill in MGS2.
For a mission that relied so heavily on stealth, MGS really had a lot of moments where you were forced to kill guards to progress. MGS2 dispenses with that notion by offering Snake and Raiden (more on Raiden later) a tranquilizer pistol and sniper rifle (for the sniping parts). Bosses no longer solely have health meters, they also have stamina meters that can be depleted with tranquilizer darts. It really adds another dimension to the game when you decide to play it as a pacifist (as I did…kind of…more on that later) and I thoroughly enjoyed that. It can also make the game really hard. There’s one particular boss battle where a lack of explosive force or automatic gunfire really handicaps you to the extreme.
As I said before, you have to play about 80% of the game as Raiden. He can do everything Snake can, but he’s just so uncool compared to Snake. If you reference that MGS4 teaser, you’ll spot the white-haired, delicate flower of a protagonist fighting with Snake for the main character role in MGS4. Hideo Kojima readily admits that Raiden was created to be a pretty boy just to appeal to female gamers, which is a bit obnoxious…I do understand his real rationale though, that Snake is a pro and to have to treat Snake as a rookie again wouldn’t make too much sense. I take offense to this many times in sequels where it doesn’t make sense that, say, Samus Aran, all-around bad ass, has forgotten how to use her blaster. It does also allow for a really sweet story that I’m sure Kojima was quite proud of himself for coming up with.
So if Raiden plays the same as Snake, what’s there to complain about? In the last hour of gameplay, you are randomly given a High-Frequency sword to tool around with. Swordsmanship is awkwardly assigned to the right analog stick, which basically results in me getting kicked in the face by anyone with a sword and kicked in the face and shot by anyone with a gun. You can magically block bullets with it, which is nice. You’re also able to flip the sword to use the dull edge to stun enemies, to continue your kill-less streak, but, and I suppose this is realistic, stabs are still killing blows and, worse still, Raiden doesn’t always turn the blade around when he brings it back in the opposite direction, resulting in the disembowelment of enemies on some of his random combo slashes. Imagine how peeved I was to end up with four kills at the end of the game because of this…
Holy cow. MGS and MGS2 are like night and day to each other. While MGS2 is not going to raise many eyebrows nowadays, I think it still looks stupendous. Textures were good, animations weren’t clunky or awkward, characters had moving lips and eyes…It’s really a very pretty game.
No accents on your team in this one, which is sad, but otherwise the sound is great. None of the music really stands out, but none of it annoys me either. I’d call it a success.
MGS2 is another one of those games that you absolutely must play if you consider yourself a connoisseur of video games. I’ve played tons of stealth missions in video games both older and younger than MGS2 and I cannot think of one that comes even close to this in getting it right. Having the option to completely NOT KILL ANYONE really makes MGS2 stand out for me (and becomes rather important for MGS3) for those times where I don’t want to just mindlessly kill and maim everyone I come across. The improvements over MGS push it into absolute must play status and I cannot recommend MGS2 (Substance, the remake of Sons of Liberty with added stuff) enough.
Enjoy this commercial for the Xbox version of MGS2: Substance