[Please note that this review contains spoilers about Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid 2.]
Metal Gear Solid 2 was not the "average" sequel. Those who jumped into Solid Snake's next installment were not simply re-introduced: though the game inherited a lot of characteristics from its forerunner in terms of gameplay (stealth action and polished cinematics among other elements), it also introduced a narrative that took the player outside of standard videogame convention by replacing the protagonist soon into the game without any indication: those in Solid Snake's shoes were given the task to be Raiden, a character that seemed sudden in the Metal Gear Solid (MGS) universe.
This role-replacement caused quite a stir with gamers. People expected to be the one lead character they grew to like in MGS. There was no hint prior to the game's release, not even on the box, that Raiden was in the game.
With that said, MGS2 still had the gameplay of the original with the twist that no one expected. Perhaps through this, Hideo Kojima asked the gamer, "Who are you? What are your memories worth?" Whether taken literally (Do you mind not being Solid Snake? Are you going to play again?) or beyond the scope of the game, those questions alone made MGS2 more than just a stealth-tactical game. It became something to talk about and dissect. Something of art, science and even theory.
Whether taken as a simple behind the scenes disc or a deeper look into the game, Konami bridged the release of MGS2 and Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance (stateside on Xbox) with The Document Of Metal Gear Solid 2 (aka Document).
One strength of MGS2 is its rich storyline—a first run through the game lasts about fifteen hours, but by skipping cinematics and select cutscenes, I can complete the game a second time in less than five. Perhaps, then, Document is "MGS2 without the gameplay"—you can step through the game's entire script and view every cutscene. Knowing this, there's a lot to review if you want to nitpick at every plot detail, action sequence or design paper that Kojima and his team conceived.
There's a good bulk of information available: character and level models are available for free-camera viewing; a timeline chronicles the game's production (we find out that MGS2 was proposed not too distant from the release of the first installment). Behind the scenes featurettes also are featured on the disc: various clips illustrate the production, motion capture and a quick look at sound mixing for the cutscenes. For added amusement, one of the clips features Kojima receiving a fax from Sony Computer Entertainment—a congratulatory message that the game has passed Sony technical checks and is ready to go gold.
It is engaging to see how deep the team went for research. Visits to actual locations (New York, a nuclear power facility) and a scenario challenge by the team's military advisor, among other chronicled events, is like watching a film crew doing research. Only here the crew is a group of game developers—the challenge is at least twofold because they are dealing with interactivity in addition to telling a story. Narrative is one thing. Coding is another.
The "Program" portion of Document will not reveal deep trade secrets about Konami or MGS2, but I suppose it is "education" enough for those pursuing game development (or even game developers looking at one approach to a game's construction). The Program section is divided into several sections, ranging from an explanation of the code itself to the graphics optimization and the game's "command language", the scripting language used to work the games cinematics and object behavior.
Speaking of cinematics, all of MGS2's cutscenes are offered in Document, with the absence of sound (subtitles accompany each scene for reference). The main extra here is the ability to move the camera at any given time and also "jog" the cutscene. That is, move it frame by frame using the controller's analog stick. By zooming out of a scene, I could see how they managed to pack so much activity onto the screen while also optimizing on what the viewer didn't see at any given time—in the games first sequence, headlights from traffic only run within the field of view from whatever shot is taking place. Out of frame is an empty, car-less bridge, optimized to keep the realtime cutscene from slowing down to a crawl.
While the models, behind-the-scene featurettes and cutscenes are certainly informative, the true core of Document is the game's full script. Fans who have played through both MGS and MGS2 will find themselves scrolling through, stumbling upon new reinterpretations of the dialogue. For example:
Snake: This is Snake. Do you read me, Otacon?
Otacon: Loud and clear, Snake.
Snake: Kept you waiting huh? (the comment is directed to the player)
I'm at the "sneak point".
The script appears to have differences from the final product as well: When Snake sees Metal Gear RAY for the first time, for instance, the opening title of "METAL GEAR SOLID 2: SONS OF LIBERTY" would have been superimposed over the screen instead of appearing at Snake's jump onto the tanker Discovery. Moreover, Snake's line, "Metal Gear?!" is intended to be the said in the exact same way as it was in the original MGS as well. Kojima wants gamers to feel the déjà vu before throwing them into Raiden's shoes it seems.
Somewhat nostalgic, in terms of gameplay, are the new VR missions (or should we say "exercises" now?) that Metal Gear Substance 2: Substance offers. Taking the same concept from Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions, Document includes 5 of the 250 plus VR Missions in Substance. I would consider this, of course, quite a tease – with only 5 missions offered there is probably so much more that will come as a surprise if you purchase Substance. Still, the challenges offered from five missions cover the spectrum of what's available for Xbox owners and what's to come for PlayStation 2 followers of the MGS series. The first is a simple run and hide "sneak" quest with the fifth and final "variety" VR stage providing a true test of dexterity: protect a downed Meryl from an army of approaching genome guards with a sniper rifle as your only weapon.
While I scanned through the script, background and cinematics, I couldn't help but feel like I was studying a piece of cinema. Of course, MGS2 heavily consisted of cutscenes—almost enough to constitute a movie. That in itself makes the game such a serious work, whether gamers enjoyed it or not. How often does a game become a piece of study after it's played? There are so many layers to MGS2 that it's no wonder many gamers can easily pass through the game's details without a second thought. It's easy to see, after going through Document, that Kojima and team were working on something that was more than just a game but a more ambitious project where the game was just one part of a complex exhibit.
I'm glad that Konami and Kojima decided to go, to a degree, "open source" with their production. MGS2 challenged the standard of storytelling in videogames, creating a sort of discourse among gamers in the process. Kojima produced not just a game but a complex work of interactive art that has spawned not just one but many impressions on how far games can really go.
(Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.)
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