March 12, 2002
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty - Review
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An early area in the ships lounge.
It's been a long time coming, but Konami's masterpiece is now upon us. Having to endure an extra three months wait from the NTSC release has been agonizing, but not without it's rewards. Not only do we get Hideo Kojima's game, but also several extra modes of play, and a bonus DVD which is choc full of extras (more on that later). Anyway, onto the review. Metal Gear Solid was released on the PSOne way back in 1998 and was a massive hit worldwide. The game set new standards for tactical espionage and introduced a stealth element never seen in a video game. To this day the original is still regarded by many as the high point of the 32-bit era. To learn that a sequel was in development came as no surprise, but the number and quality of enhancements over the PSOne game are well beyond expectation.

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One of the impressive cut scenes.
One of the problems with reviewing this game is how much of the Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty storyline should be revealed. It's probably best to keep it as brief as possible as the game is so full of twists and turns that it's better to experience it for yourself. The game begins with Solid Snake (who you play, for those of you who are unaware) trying to infiltrate a tanker loaded with terrorists to discover if the new Metal Gear prototype, Metal Gear RAY, is onboard. Naturally all is not as it seems as several different groups are trying to take control of the ship, and Metal Gear RAY. After the tanker section the game moves onto a massive oil rig where the bulk of the action takes place. As previously mentioned there are plenty of twists and turns in the plot, and I highly recommend that you stay well clear of the bonus disc until you have completed the game as it gives away many secrets.

As a tactical espionage game Metal Gear Solid 2 will have you thinking about your next move all the time. Do you try to sneak past a guard undiscovered, or do you try to take him out and risk being injured yourself, or the guards body being discovered which alerts more guards to your presence? Solid Snake's range of moves on offer is impressive and includes being able to walk, run, duck, jump, climb, punch, kick, swim. On a more advanced level he can now glance around corners, hang from ledges to hide from guards, throw items to distract guards. Also impressive is the way in which you can move to a first person perspective to aim the weapons a lot more accurately.

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C4 explosives hooked up to lasers.
Controlling Solid Snake is a complete joy. The analogue controls move him around accurately with some extremely good collision detection with the world objects. Push up hard on the control and Snake will break into a run, push up gently and he will silently creep past enemies. All the items collected, including weapons, are selectable through the L1/R1 buttons via a rather neat menu system which groups items together such as guns, grenades etc. Despite the wide range of weapons available throughout the game it's often the case that using these will only cause your presence to be detected and a stealthier approach is usually the better option.

Special mention must also be made of the enemy AI in this game. Metal Gear Solid 2 has the most intelligent enemies ever seen. Open a locker with a swimsuit poster and, like most men, the guard will stop to have a look. Perhaps the few moments for you to sneak up behind and take them out. The guards also swarm together and will race from one area to another if you are discovered.

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In the background - Metal Gear RAY.
It is, however, the smaller touches that make this game so spectacular. If, for instance, Solid Snake runs over some bird droppings outside he will slip over and land on his back. Open a locker and you will see posters, usually of some gorgeous swimsuit babes, although there are a couple of odd ones (including Hideo Kojima I believe). Another neat touch is the way in which the traps are solved. Think there's a laser trip wire? Simply shoot the fire hydrant and the gas will show the laser beams, and a way through them. Oh, and just wait until you see the guard bopping away to some music on his walkman. It's absolutely tremendous.

While Metal Gear Solid 2 is a brilliant game, it's not without one pretty big annoyance, the number of cut-scenes and Codec messages which must be endured. While the cut scenes are usually exceptionally well done there can simply be too many of them. It's not uncommon to have to sit through 10-15 minutes of cut scenes before a few minutes of gameplay and then more cut scenes. Even worse are the Codec messages as there is nothing much to look at on screen except the two faces. These Codecs are quite frequent, often only minutes apart, and can become a little annoying. Why can't Snake still run around while listening to incoming messages in the earpiece rather then having to look at the screen? Following on from this another annoyance is the dialogue which at times, especially between Jack and Rose, can be painful when you want to get on with the action.

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Use the machine gun, or hide?
Graphically, Konami have developed an engine that is unsurpassed on the PS2 to date. Sure there are games with better texturing, and possibly better character animations, but as a total package this game has absolutely no slowdown, plenty of intricate details, superb animation and some terrific lighting. The detail on Solid Snake is stunning with his hair band flapping in the wind, various weapons being equipped and a wide variety of animations for the moves. The developers actually spent some time on a variety of locations, including New York and a cargo ship, in order to reproduce a realistic look for each location in the game, and the accuracy is remarkable. Even the colour schemes are the same as real-world locations.

The cut scenes through the game are a mixture of pre-rendered and real-time graphics and while the quality is noticeable between the two it's insignificant. As such a large component to the game, the developers have obviously spent a lot of time on these cut scenes with plenty of detail, atmosphere and style. The artwork of the characters, and their 3D modelling, is second to none. Special mention must also be made of the gorgeous visual effects throughout the game with small touches such as water bubbles, fires, and explosions all wonderfully realised.

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Solid Snake hiding in a locker.
To round off the solid gameplay and graphics the developers have also ensured that the game has some wonderful sound. To begin with many of the cut scenes are encoded in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, although it's only a small number of the main scens. The music is very atmospheric and emotive, but it also changes according to the action on screen. If you are spotted by a guard your radar disappears and the music moves up-tempo slightly for an increased adrenaline rusgh. The numerous sound effects including the rain, guards shouting and explosions are also impressive while each weapon includes a different, and very realistic, sound. Fortunately for English gamers the voice acting in Metal Gear Solid 2 is quite exceptional. Beside the odd occasion of a strange statement or bad tone the voice acting overall is more then adequate.

Although we have had to wait an extra three months in PAL territories for this game, Konami haven't been just wasting time. Indeed the game includes a magnificent bonus disc full of extra materials. Starting from the top the DVD includes a detailed documentary with interviews with the key development team personnel. This documentary is as good as, if not better, then most dedicated movie documentaries. The DVD also includes the preview trailers for Metal Gear Solid on PSOne, as well as all the trailers for the sequel, including two "never before seen" internal demos. The disc also includes original artwork and concept sketches, production notes, previews for other Konami games, and more. This is the kind of thing I want to see more of. It's gives a great insight into workings of the game. Did you realise that the characters Jack and Rose were actually inspired by the movie Titanic? Now you do.

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You can now peek around corners.
Metal Gear Solid 2 delivers all it promised, and then some. Not only does the game have one of the most interesting storylines ever seen in a video game but it has more twists and turns then a major motion picture. The game looks and sounds stunning with plenty of attention being paid to the smaller details that so many video games seem to lack today. How often can you slip over on bird droppings, or shoot open magazines to look at the centerfolds? Not too often, that's for sure. This is one game that every single Playstation 2 owner should own. Yes, you can complete the game in less than 15 hours, but you should be going through the game a second, third, and even fourth time just to explore the levels in detail and experiment with the many items collected. Metal Gear Solid 2 is a stunner. Get it now.

GRAPHICSQuite simply MGS2 has the best graphics engine yet seen on PS2.
SOUNDStunning music backs the great sound effects and dramatic speech.
GAMEPLAYPerhaps too many cut scenes and Codecs, but the game is gripping.
VALUEAround 12 hours to complete but twice that again if you fully explore.
OVERALLDon't be an idiot and ignore this title. This is simply the best game on PS2 to date, and will be for some time to come. This game is worth every single cent you spend. Let's hope MGS3 isn't kept for PS3.

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