Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty Review

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty Screenshot

People compare games and movies. Whether this is fair or not is moot by this point. People do it, and it doesn't look like they're going to stop. The gaming public has decided to view games as an authorative medium in the tradition of cinema. The notion that a designer can be the star of a game has been embraced by gamers, and this is no more evident than with Hideo Kojima, the driving force behind Konamis PlayStation 2 show-stopper, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Kojima has been championed as the visionary creative mind that would be Sony's best defense in the new console war, brandishing a game guaranteed to bring down the house. And bring down the house Metal Gear Solid 2 certainly does, with all the thrills, ambition, and flaws that are vintage Kojima.

The original Metal Gear Solid was an energetic spin on military espionage with impeccable graphic presentation and classic 2D gameplay cleverly veiled behind a 3D visual style. Metal Gear Solid 2 continues this trend, keeping it fresh with numerous gameplay additions and a plot so deliriously bizarre it will knock the socks off players whether they played the original or not. The player begins the game as Solid Snake, ex-Special Forces badboy who learned life lessons while killing terrorists in Metal Gear Solid, as he investigates the hijacking of a military oil tanker off the coast of New York City. The initial gameplay involves sneaking around the ship in an effort to gain evidence on a new type of Metal Gear, a machine capable of launching an undetected nuclear attack from anywhere in the world. This location is not the whole game, but more of an extended prologue leading to the main story which I wouldn't dream of giving away here.

Like the original, the gameplay of Metal Gear Solid 2 is rooted in the classic 2D origins of the series, although it does stray farther away from it than its predecessor did. Snake is viewed primarily from a fixed high angle, making basic navigation fairly simple. Camera views and control orientation changes, however, when the player backs up against a wall or goes into first-person view mode. These modes allow the player to look around corners, aim more efficiently, and do various other fun and useful activities. Although the different control orientations can be confusing, they are rewarding when mastered and result in an experience that is noticeably richer than the first game. There are in fact so many things the player can do it would be silly to go into them all, involving everything from stashing bodies in lockers to distracting guards with adult magazines. Although some of them are more useful than others, they are all fun. The result is a playground of stealth tactics that are entertaining for their own sake. This is helped by the much-improved AI of the enemy soldiers. In the original, soldiers were fairly stupid, but the ones in Metal Gear Solid 2 act as a team, call for back-up when attacked, and even come looking for people who are missing. This would result in an almost totally realistic simulation of a military infiltration scenario, except that, when alerted to your presence, soldiers will regenerate in an area when it's reloaded. This reminds the player that Metal Gear Solid 2 is ultimately designed to maximize the illusion of true behavior in order to creatively hide its arcade-style roots. Not everyone may agree with these aesthetics, but there is no denying the illusion is a powerful one.

Metal Gear Solid 2:  Sons of Liberty Screenshot

Although they don't quite achieve the transcendental beauty of ICO, the graphics in Metal Gear Solid 2 are impressive. Characters are lovingly detailed with realistic movements and expressions, yet do not wholly abandon the gritty comic book style of the original Metal Gear Solid. It cannot be said of many games that characters can be identified purely by body language, but Metal Gear Solid 2 achieves this subtlety. The environments are crafted with equal attention to detail. Whether its torrential rain or a red sun melting into the horizon the world Kojima and his team have designed proves to be one of palpable and powerful atmosphere. As in the original, all cinematics are rendered in real-time and exhibit the same wild combination of anime, Hong Kong and Hollywood style that Kojima is deservedly famous for. If there are weaknesses in the graphics they are the lip-syncing along with a few of the more ambitious facial expressions. To Kojimas credit, I realize real-time lip-syncing is hard to do, but that doesn't change the fact that the lips just don't match up much of the time. Luckily, because of the games stylistic roots in animation this doesn't look as distracting as one might think, although it will no doubt date the game in years to come. Facial expressions are primarily excellent, although there do seem to be a few rough areas where the designers couldn't quite achieve the intended effect -- crying for example.

And then, of course, there's the story. If for nothing else, Hideo Kojima is known for the overstated baroque quality of his storytelling. Those hoping Kojima would finally relax this trend might be in for a disappointment. Metal Gear Solid 2 is, without a doubt, the most euphorically verbose narrative experience currently available on console, surpassing even the staggering excess of the original Metal Gear Solid. Players can look forward to long speeches, teary melodrama, and virtually endless plot-twists guaranteed to leave them in a dizzy confusion. Is this a bad thing? A lot of people think so. I don't. I think there's bad melodrama and good melodrama, and I think Metal Gear Solid 2 is the latter. Its like humor. There's no way to prove that something is funny. It either strikes you in the right way or it doesn't. Metal Gear Solid 2 strikes me in the right way. I love the audacity of its cloying emotion (helped in no small way by unanimously excellent voice-acting), and I enjoy how it unapologetically revels in its indulgences. I also very much enjoy Kojimas political and philosophical agenda, overstated as it might be. Although he doesn't implement them within the structure of the gameplay as much as he could, he touches on elements and ideas I find interesting. Specifically he seems fascinated with violence, media, and the corruption of the United States as a dangerous superpower. Endless self-referential talk about "simulation", "role-playing", and the nature of reality permeate Kojima's vision of war and power in the digital age. While this isnt exactly what Id call profound stuff, the fact that he is thinking about these themes and spattering them all over his game is refreshing in an industry that typically avoids self-critique. I only hope that someday Kojima will do more than simply dwell on these ideas and find a way to implement them that speaks more to the mediums unique abilities.

While debate over Kojimas over-indulgence in terms of content and style is basically a matter of taste, over-indulgence in structure is a different story. This is the one real flaw I think he has. Kojima is so in love with his vision that he cannot sacrifice content for the sake of flow, a creative weakness that results in his infamous affinity for long cut-scenes. While I personally don't mind his cut-scenes through most of the game, towards the end they literally take over, throwing so much information at the player all sense of pacing is lost. Again, this is typical Kojima.

Regardless, my overall feelings about Metal Gear Solid 2 are ones of giddy delight. I purposefully didnt discuss the story much because I think, for all its structural flaws, it provides an experience that is infectiously insane. I doubt this is the sequel Kojima and his co-writers had in mind when they wrote Metal Gear Solid, but that's precisely what gives it its maniac energy. In a very Hitchcockian gesture Kojima structures the entire game around a plot twist no one will see coming and many might not even like. This kind of audience-foiling gutsiness is always a delight in my book, and it proves that Hideo Kojima still knows how to push our buttons and surprise us. For that, I feel his dubious eccentricities are a small price to pay. And besides, the game is fun. Rating: 9.0 out of 10.

According to ESRB, this game contains: Animated Blood, Animated Violence

Parents should be aware that the game is very mature and violent. This can be adjusted, however, but turning off the blood and even by choosing not to kill people during the game. The game has been designed so it is technically possible go through it without killing anyone, so, in some ways, the level of violence depends on the player's actions.

Fans of the original Metal Gear Solid will be thoroughly satisfied with the gameplay in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons Of Liberty. It is deep, challenging, and a significant evolution from the original. They might have mixed reactions to Kojima's latest opus, though. The fairly believable pseudo-science of the original has been left behind in favor of plunging feet-first into logically bereft delirium. Some may not like the central conceit of the plot either, as it defies crucial traditions of the series.

For people who have never played a Hideo Kojima game before or are new to games in general Metal Gear Solid 2 might be a hit or miss. The gameplay is not very intuitive for beginners, and the extensive cut-scenes may turn people off who want more play for their buck. Others may enjoy seeing how ambitious videogame stories can be, provided they warm up to the nuances of the gameplay quickly. story