Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
PlayStation 2 (Konami 2001)
The big G-S-G-S-G
General opinion: Possibly the best PS2 game
Back around the turn of the millennium I was playing almost exclusively RPG's. Then a friend showed me Metal Gear Solid 2 and I thought it looked intriguing enough to try, so I borrowed it. Saying it changed my life would be a little over the top and cliched, but...
What Metal Gear Solid 2 proved to me was that action games as well could be used as an efficient medium for storytelling. Also, its unique gameplay, with its perfect balance of realism and cinematic sci-fi action, proved quite addictive. And although I've played plenty of action games since then, I still rank Metal Gear Solid 2 as one of the best. If not the best.
After the events of Metal Gear Solid, Solid Snake has been working with an independent anti-Metal Gear organisation called Philanthropy. Based on a tip that a new model Metal Gear is being transported aboard an oil tanker for testing, he infiltrates the vessel in hopes of obtaining proof and releasing it to the world. However, the moment he is aboard a troop of apparently Russian mercenaries boards and hijacks the ship...
This, however, turns out to be just a prologue. The main part of the game is set two years later and, much to the shock of old fans, stars a new protagonist, a young special operative with the code name Raiden, out on his first mission. Two years earlier an oil tanker was sunk, supposedly by none other than Solid Snake, in the Hudson just off New York. A large cleanup facility called Big Shell has been erected to process the spilled oil. This facility has now been captured by terrorists calling themselves the 'Sons of Liberty', comprised of former members of Dead Cell, a former government anti-terror training unit, disbanded six months ago. But, as is to be expected in a Metal Gear Solid game, all is not as it seems... The story escalates into a very entertaining sci-fi thriller with tons of cool cutscenes and well written dialogue, which has always been a hallmark of the series.
Gameplay is quite similar to Metal Gear Solid but has been expanded and improved in many ways. Perhaps most important is the ability to aim and shoot in the first-person view. This makes sniping from cover a very efficient technique in many places. The emphasis is, as always, on sneaking past opponents. It should in fact be possible to beat the game without killing a single opponent. Discovery is usually disastrous, and though you can usually fight your way through and find a place to hide until things cool down, I often found it easier to just let them kill me and try again. While the enemy AI has supposedly been improved from the previous game, their field of vision is still very restricted, and displayed on the radar, which makes avoiding enemies unrealistically easy in some places if you keep your eyes on that that radar. But I'm not complaining, as there's plenty of challenge to be found in other places.
Every part of the game is steeped in quality. The graphics were, for the time, very good. Re-playing the game years later I was surprised just how sharp and smooth they still look, even after the advent of HD games. One of the most impressive features is the excellent character animation, created with high-quality motion capture techniques. The soundtrack is excellent. Hollywood composer Harry Gregson-Williams was hired to compose the cutscene music, while the in-game music is by Norihiko Hibino (one of the few issues I have with the game is the fact that Hibino is not credited in the opening titles). Voice acting is once again excellent (for the most part), and there is tons of it.
The game isn't the longest in the series, but still provides a solid 15 hours of gameplay. There's plenty of replay value, too. There are always new tricks to learn, better (or cooler) ways of distracting and avoiding enemies, for instance. There's a good selection of difficulty levels, which is something I appreciate in an action game, and makes the game approachable to newcomers as well. (Knowledge of the events in the previous game is of course beneficial, but this didn't stop me from thoroughly enjoying it first time around even though I hadn't yet played Metal Gear Solid at the time.) The 'Substance' version adds some mini-games, VR missions and other bonus material. Which is cool for people looking for more playtime, but personally I soon get bored if there's no story to keep me hooked.
In my personal opinion Metal Gear Solid 2 is perhaps the best game of the PS2, and perhaps the best game in the series as well. The next title was very entertaining, but never quite captured the same feel, and while Metal Gear Solid 4 was a masterpiece in every respect, Sons of Libery, if nothing else, has nostalgia on its side.
Ben B. Bainton, 30 October 2009