Dated Review - Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

Dated Review - Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

After I previously spilled ink on Metal Gear Solid, I gained a new appreciation for the amount of work Hideo Kojima has done to make stealth action a viable genre. Without the big H, there is no stealth action genre. People can live without Splinter Cell and Thief, but what about Assassin's Creed? Dishonored? How about a modern idea of how stealth action is supposed to work?

Didn't think so.

Metal Gear Solid 2 is available as a dual pack with Metal Gear Solid 3 in a HD collection. Normally I'd be lazy and roll the two together, but the two titles are different enough that I feel they deserve separate reviews.

Set after the events of the first Metal Gear Solid title, Metal Gear Solid 2 has us believe it'll be more of the same as we board a boat as Solid Snake and conduct the same range of stealthy sneaky-stabs as in the first one. Albiet with a control overhaul and a graphics overhaul. That is, until you get to the end of the first mission set and find yourself playing as blond-haired action hero Raiden (named after a god of thunder, which is suprisingly irrelevant). Apparently this was a big reveal back in the day, which is genuinely surprising to me as to this point Solid Snake had been the main character for one whole game.

There are some similar plot threads between the first game and the second. There's a large complex that has been taken over by villains (this time it's the "Sons of Liberty" as opposed to FOXHOUND) of various talents. Instead of some random base in the North Atlantic, instead it's a large environmental protection facility called "Big Shell". The goals are the same - stop the baddies, save the stakeholders and protect the structure. Of course as with the first, nothing is as it seems and again the same natural progression of stakes takes place.

So far, so similar. There's even some similar creepy moments written into Metal Gear Solid 2 that probably wouldn't have made it in a newer title. And one particular moment where the main character gets urinated on. Video games are art.

Despite this, Kojima's creative writing is on display again. Mostly. The first villain is a fat man on rollerskates who is a demolitions expert called "Fat Man". Not particularly inventive, but they can't all be winners. However, from a starting point of "evil people have attacked something and held it hostage", the story naturally gathers depth and intrigue as you progress. It's still the gold standard in story up to this point (MGS2 was released in 2001) and even as a space man of the year 2018, I cannot say that I have experienced many narrative exeperiences that have been written or presented in a more compelling way.

As noted above, not every component of MGS2's story is diamond quality. Snake returns from the first game and the first part of MGS2 as "Snake Pliskin", which is so obvious it strikes the player in the nose seven or eight times and is nowhere near the slam dunk Kojima thinks it is. However the final act of Metal Gear Solid gets to be quite the right hand-turn and a dramatic alteration which makes the final part of the game a truly unique experience, even with the background reference of the first Metal Gear Solid fresh in my mind.

With all that being said, I don't consider MGS2's story to be as good as the first title, due to having previous reference material and also being very close to the first title - at least initially. Metal Gear Solid 2 also feels much broader in its focus - and it opens up significantly more than the first Metal Gear title. However there is effort here to introduce new characters, maintain continuity from the first game by bringing back a select cast of old characters and keep an overarching narrative alive from the first game. This is not an easy task in writing, no matter who you are and it's handled relatively well by Kojima and crew.

So, marginally, it's not as good as Metal Gear Solid in the story department - what about the gameplay?

Short answer? No, the controls are a major issue again.

Long answer? Well it depends how much you enjoyed the awkward shift between first and third person. Metal Gear Solid built the box, but Metal Gear Solid 2 is still figuring out how to add the finishing touches to the box. The controls are dreadfully awkward and difficult to use effectively. Eventually when your brain mentally shifts gear they become more useable, but we're a long way from the modern, clean controls of proper third person video games.

To start with, there's a new wall-cover mechanic which seems to never work when you want it to and glues you to the wall when you don't want that to happen. The controls for aiming out of cover are so poor I didn't use them at all, unless I was desperate and there was no other way to progress. Plenty of times I would muck up a shot or alert a guard due to not pressing the right combination of buttons, adding to my frustration.

The inelegant controls and the subsequent errors you make are compounded by the difficulty of the game's normal encounters with enemies.

Whereas the normal encounters in Metal Gear Solid were easy, the ones in Metal Gear Solid 2 are hellish - with almost no room for mistakes. Enemies spot you relatively quickly and your only silenced weapon only works with a headshot. So it's very simple to screw up, get spotted and then get swarmed with unending waves of goons that know exactly where you are. Eventually, goons start showing up with riot shields and heavy weapons - and at that point it's just easier to reset the game.

It's not all bad news though. There are several sequences where violence is instead wholesale replaced with espionage. There's more of an emphasis on using disguises and the cardboard box, previously used for fast travel between areas, now works as a mobile hiding place that foolish enemies don't check. There's something magical about killing a guard, getting spotted, bolting around the corner and hiding under box that enemies forget to check - which happens more often than you think.

Metal Gear Solid also introduces more ways to interact with enemies. The action of incapacitating a foe is done with the press of a button, you can hold enemies up for items before knocking them out and you can dispose of enemies by putting them in lockers, hiding them behind objects and otherwise being creative - like Rembrandt, but with unconscious enemies.

However, whilst the normal encounters are nighmarish in difficulty, the boss encounters are much easier than their Metal Gear Solid counterparts. Not that this makes them bad by any stretch. There's still the same creative flair at play here. One boss you can't actually defeat, which is either a nice touch or infuriating, another boss has you use the third party shooting controls, which is also either a nice touch or infuriating. One boss is a fighter jet, which is about all I can say about that. Overall, I thought Metal Gear Solid's boss fights to be better and more memorable due to their creativity, but with the trade-off that they were harder.

The one thing that I did not mention in the previous review for Metal Gear Solid are the visuals. Mostly because I knew I would harp on about their sharp polygonal properties. But complaining about first generation 3D graphics on a console that was revolutionary for its time is like kicking a small child in the face and then making fun of him for feeling pain - it's not really fair. The high definition visuals in Metal Gear Solid 2 are crisp and easy on the eye. And still has that delightful early noughties color palette and brightness where everything is easy to see.

In conclusion, I consider Metal Gear Solid to be a brilliant title that is a seminal moment in stealth action. I consider Metal Gear Solid 2 to be a continuation of that. In the same way that Portal 2 is not as good as Portal, Metal Gear Solid 2 has that same issue. In isolation, it's an above average title. But it does not have the same quality. I don't consider it an important title, but I would still recommend it for the game's story elements.

Catch you next time,
Vulkan

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Rowan Naveau

About Rowan Naveau

I'm Rowan (Vulkan) - and this is my blog. Here you'll find a stream of consciousness about video games, wargaming and just about everything else.