“Snake… what took you so long?”
“The following is a guest post by the Black Humor Mage.”
All right NPC’s, it’s been a long time since I’ve done a review for this blog. There are a lot of new faces here, so many of you probably don’t even know who I am. All you have to know is that I am a huge Metal Gear Solid fan, and that picking my favorite game out of the series is extremely hard because I love each one for different reasons. However, I still review each game as objectively as possible. And in case you don’t know: the Metal Gear Solid series is a stealth-action series where you play as special operations soldiers. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty carried the torch from the last game.
Now that you know this, it is time for me to come clean: I have not played the original Metal Gear Solid 2 on the PlayStation 2. The fact of the matter is that I picked up the HD collection back in 2011 for the Xbox 360. Yes, it’s sacrilege, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it is not important. Unless you’re a purist, the HD Edition is essentially the same as the original. It’s the same experience, but in high-definition. And if it helps, I also have the HD collection for PlayStation 3, so I did keep the series in the family.
So let’s put that behind us and get into the review!
This review will serve more as a review for the original version. I want to review the game in the context of the PlayStation 2 era. I don’t remember a whole lot from that era, but I have played many other PS2 games that I can compare it to. So, let’s go back to the early 2000’s: everyone was still itching for more Metal Gear Solid after the first one blew our un-evolved minds. The first game was like receiving the Monolith, advancing our primitive species to reach new heights. Then the PS2 comes along with bigger, better, faster, stronger and harder hardware. With the graphics jump from the PSOne to the PS2, there was so much opportunity for last-gen games to show off.
There really is a huge difference between the graphics of the PSOne and the PS2. I don’t think there has ever been a more noticeable difference between the 3D generations, and there probably won’t ever be another leap like it again. And with the first Metal Gear Solid being such a cinematic experience, it’s easy to see how a graphics upgrade would only enhance it. In Metal Gear Solid, you could not even see the main protagonist’s (Solid Snake) face in-game. Now in Metal Gear Solid 2 you can finally see Snake’s handsome face. And really, isn’t that what everyone wants?
It was supposed to be Hideo Kojima’s last Metal Gear game, but I guess he didn’t stick that promise since he directed four more. The man just loves to give the people what they want (sometimes). When news broke that he was making another game, I can only imagine how excited people must have been. Or I could watch a pixelated video on YouTube:
However, once Metal Gear Solid 2 was released it became controversial among fans for changing the playable protagonist Solid Snake to a completely new character: Raiden.
I’m not too sure why fans hate Raiden so strongly, but I have the feeling it’s because of how stark the comparison is to Solid Snake. I’ve heard the usual remarks like “Raiden is lame” or “Raiden looks like girl.” Yeah, Solid Snake is the ultimate gruff action hero who could do anything, but that shouldn’t stop you from giving Raiden a chance.
Metal Gear Solid established Snake as the guy that could get any job done. He was wise, selfless, and took down a tank by himself. Could Raiden be all of this and more? Well, the story certainly shows Raiden accomplishing feats of his own, but he is not Snake. The story makes sure to let the player know that Raiden is his own person, and not some shade of Snake. And this is the most important thing to take away: Snake is his own person with his own accomplishments and so is Raiden. This makes sense when you consider the theme of identity that runs through Metal Gear Solid 2.
This game may have been a disappointment around the time period it was released. However, it’s a game that grew on people over time because of its story and themes. At the time, the graphics and gameplay were still solid, but it is a bummer that you don’t play as Snake for like 90% of the game. Everything about this game is better in hindsight for fans. The first time I played through it, I could see where everyone’s disappointment came from, but I enjoyed it anyway. And let me tell you why in…
The 8-Bit Review
It’s funny that it got the same score for visuals as the last one. Even though this one looks much better than the first one, Metal Gear Solid looked amazing for a PSOne game. And Metal Gear Solid 2 looks amazing for a PS2 game. The detailed environments, rain/fire effects, and well-designed character models make it cool to even just watch. There are two sections that the game takes place in: the USS Discovery and the Big Shell. The Discovery is a huge ship with Marines on board. This part of the game created an amazing atmosphere. It’s night-time in the city, and there is a huge rain storm watering down the ship. The sleek and futuristic design of the environment is grounded in some realism. Inside the ship you will find hallways, locker rooms, boiler rooms, etc. It’s these cramped and interconnected spaces that make it perfect for Snake to sneak through. It feels so natural, a true return to form while feeling fresh.
The second section: the Big Shell looks a little bland to me at some points, and this setting is most of the game, so that could be a problem. It might have to do with the fact that it takes place during the day and that the shell is orange. I am not a fan of orange, but the Shell’s layout itself is well-designed. It’s by the ocean too, but the ocean is not one of the best looking features of this game either.
The character models and cutscenes look great for an early PS2 game. Just like the last game, the models look exactly like the ones in the cutscenes. Visual consistency is king for graphics of the Metal Gear Solid series.
Metal Gear Solid 2 also ditches the 2D animated codec faces from the last game, and uses the in-game models instead. It loses some of the character that the first one had, but at least the characters look great and match how they look in the cutscenes/in-game too. The way these character models look are impressive. Things such as life-like hair or the movement of fabric were not possible in the PSOne Era. I can tell that Kojima and Co. put everything they had into making it look amazing, and I wish I could’ve seen this at the time it came out so I could have been more impressed.
As far as the HD edition goes, it’s the usual standard: smoother textures and a higher resolution. It does nothing to enhance the graphics, but it does make it better to play on an HD TV because trying to play PS2 games on an HD TV does not look too good.
If you were to ask anyone what they think sneaking should sound like, they would all say a little something like this:
These two songs create an atmosphere of determination, bated breath, and an increased heart rate. The slow bass picking and the orchestral flourishes make for an oh-so-cool groove to sneak around to. The music really drenches the whole game in a stealth atmosphere and seriously enhances the experience. The soundtrack is just as good as the last game. The soundtrack kicks it up a notch too in fast-paced sequences where you have songs like “Yell Dead Cell”:
Just kidding, here’s the real thing:
Along with the amazing soundtrack, the voice acting is as impeccable as the last game. David Hayter and William Martin reprise their roles as Solid Snake and Otacon. These voices are so distinct and interesting, and they do so much to invest the player in the characters. Quinton Flynn plays Raiden, and does a nice job too. His soft voice adds more to the believability that Raiden is young and very inexperienced.
In the gameplay department, many improvements have been made over the previous game. It’s innovative and refreshing, yet still feels intuitive if you played the last game. One new addition is a first-person mode where you can actually aim down your sights and stick up enemy soldiers if you sneak behind them.
You don’t have to just sneak through the entire room without a peep. You can stealthily take take out the whole room without a peep. Another function that is awesome is that once you stick them up you can rob them for all they got. The enemy soldier performs a hilarious animation and then you get items off them for it. It leaves the enemy soldiers incapacitated for a moment, so you are free to shoot, choke, or kick them senseless.
You can also perform an action jump now too. It’s good for evading bullet fire or knocking down enemies. Speaking of which, the Close-Quarters-Combat is fancier than the last game, but the hits you throw don’t always connect to the enemies because it’s easy to misjudge the distance. It can make the game feel a little unresponsive at times.
Another feature to consider is the inclusion of a tranquilizer gun. This gun is a game-changer. It’s easier to do a no-kill run with this gun, and it’s much faster and quieter at taking out enemies if you can land the headshots. Then there’s the new ability to drag unconscious soldiers to hide their bodies with the option to stuff them into lockers. Sure, they’ll wake up in a little bit, but that’s what makes the gameplay more exciting.
With all that being said though, the controls are still a little clunky. The most glaring problem is the fixed camera, which hurts you more than it helps you. The first Metal Gear Solid suffered from this as well. We mastered 2D controls and dived ass-first into 3D controls. A lot of games from this era are clunky in retrospect. So, the clunky controls are a little forgivable, but it doesn’t make it any easier to master. Give this game a little time though, and it’ll feel intuitive soon enough.
The following section contains major spoilers for this game, so if you want to avoid them then Ctrl+f Challenge to skip this segment.
This game is pretty controversial, and not many fans liked the story at the time it came out. The fans seriously hated it. Although they hated it at first, I think it’s something they’ve learned to accept and even like. It’s still a good story. It’s a story that won’t make a whole lot of sense if you haven’t played the first game, though. You start off with the return of Solid Snake and Otacon from the previous game. As it turns out they’re boyfriends now, boyfriends out to rid the world of the nuclear bipedal weapon Metal Gear. Well, they’re not really boyfriends, but the love and respect is there.
This is the premise that the Tanker Incident begins with as Snake sneaks onto the USS Discovery to find evidence that the US Marines have their own Metal Gear. Russian soldiers make their way on to the ship too; most likely to steal the Metal Gear for themselves. Right away, it feels like a natural progression of the story with Snake and Otacon working together to deal with the aftermath of the first game. And the game brings back a few characters from the first while introducing completely new ones. The one new major character introduced at the beginning is Olga Gurlukovich. She is a Russian soldier who is pregnant. You have one boss battle with her, but you don’t find out too much else about her until later on when she becomes the cyborg ninja, a plot device from the last game. Then there’s the return of Revolver Ocelot from the last game.
Ocelot really stops the show and steals the Metal Gear Ray, which Snake and the Russians were looking for aboard the ship. It is revealed that Ocelot transplanted Liquid Snake’s arm onto the one he lost in the last game and now Liquid possesses him. It might be the weirdest thing the Metal Gear Solid series has ever done, and that’s saying a lot. It was such a confusing aspect that turned off a lot of fans, myself included. Fortunately, it is resolved a little more tastefully in Metal Gear Solid 4. So, Ocelot steals Metal Gear Ray, betraying the Russians, and blows up the USS Discovery. It’s not clear whether or not Snake makes it out alive.
I still like to think that the prologue is what you would want from a sequel, but the narrative becomes tricky once the prologue with Snake ends. Once you beat the Tanker scene and move onto the Big Shell, you are even further side-swiped. The set up is almost like the last game: a secret agent sneaks his way through the water onto a base where terrorists have taken over the Big Shell, an oil-clean up facility in the middle of the ocean where the USS Discovery sunk two years earlier. The terrorists group, Dead Cell, have a few government employees and the US president hostage. Not only that, they have a new Metal Gear weapon. Sounds like a job for Snake, right? Haha! WRONG! As it turns out, you play as a new character, which is not something I really wanted myself. The new protagonist is a blond pretty boy code-named Raiden. Apparently, he doesn’t smoke.
This is where people’s excitement dwindled to disappointment.
I’ll admit that Raiden is no Snake, but that’s what was intended. I think I would have been even more upset if he was just Snake-Lite. Raiden is his own character. Raiden is inexperienced, kind of annoying, and extremely confused. Essentially, all these attributes represent the player. I see what Kojima wanted to do with Raiden. He wanted the game to be perplexing and mysterious because the protagonist is inexperienced and deliberately kept in the dark. You are learning things along with Raiden, and feel really out of place. I learned to respect Raiden too, and realized he’s kind of cool in his own way.
And Snake isn’t completely left out. In fact, he plays a major role in the whole game. Snake meets Raiden under the guise of Iroquois Pliskin, where he becomes your mentor, your guide, and the only person you can trust in a truly shaky situation. It helps you appreciate Snake a bit more. He’s actually much cooler when you can’t play him for some reason. The guy knows how to put you into your place.
Another aspect that mirrors the last game, besides the general premise of the mission, are the bosses. The first game had distinct bosses like Sniper Wolf, Psycho Mantis or Vulcan Raven who were just as interesting as Snake, and because they didn’t take up too much time from the story, they only left us wanting more. They were realized characters with different quirks that made each one memorable. Metal Gear Solid 2 has the same approach to the bosses, but there are much fewer. And the few that are there aren’t fully realized.
Fat-Man is a little silly, but at least his backstory is interesting as a mad-bomber on roller skates. And then there’s Fortune who is interesting too, but you don’t really have a boss fight with her because she is invincible via an invisible force field that stops anything from hitting her. That leaves only Vamp who is a great, albeit clunky, boss fight and a wild concept: a super-powered bisexual vampire. The last boss, Solidus, is extremely well-done too, and I would say that his boss battle is better than the battle with Liquid Snake from the first Metal Gear Solid. To me, Solidus Snake was just as compelling as Liquid. Although, his build up and presence aren’t all there, the fact that he is a perfect clone of Big Boss AND was the President of the United States is so wild, and something only Kojima would do.
Overall, Metal Gear Solid 2 adds to the long list of great characters from the series, and further develops characters like Otacon when he has to face his step-sister Emma Emmerich for their dark past. She is a shy girl that puts her trust in Raiden. When Emma dies at the hands of Vamp, and Otacon has to reach premature closure with her, it is a continuation of the overarching story that Otacon can’t catch a break with heartache.
Most of the characters here are a fine addition to the series, but there is one person that is a little unbearable at points: Rose. Rose is Raiden’s girlfriend, brought on board to keep track of Raiden’s mission. She is the person Raiden talks to, along with Colonel Campbell from Metal Gear Solid, through the Codec conversations. Who thought this was a good idea? Rose should not be in charge of saving Raiden’s missions. She is constantly worried about him and taking his mind off the mission because she wants Raiden to commit to their relationship. Who guilt trips someone on a covert mission to stop a bunch of terrorists?
Oh, but I guess it doesn’t count because Rose was never real. Well, at least the Rose you were talking to. The Rose and Colonel you were talking to were just A.I. used by The Patriots to test Raiden through a simulation of the Shadow Moses Island mission. At this point, people were probably asking “What the hell are The Patriots?” Yeah, I still don’t know either. The Patriots are the true enemy, not Solidus Snake. The Patriots are an organization that control all government and news. They shape world events, and actually brainwashed Raiden to forget his past. Solidus reveals that Raiden was a child soldier called Jack the Ripper. Solidus is the one who trained Raiden and raised him like a son, but killed his parents. So, they have an epic sword fight on top of the Federal Hall after Ocelot reveals that The Patriots were trying to test Raiden. Solidus’ plans to destroy The Patriots so his legacy could be known are foiled.
All the memories come flooding back to Raiden when Solidus reveals their past, and he doesn’t know what’s real anymore. He can’t even know if Rose is real since she was just an A.I. It turns out she is real, but he’s not even sure of their past together. This is where the theme of identity comes in. The game starts off with Raiden ditching the codename Snake, and becoming his own person, and yet he could never truly know who he was. It was a huge plot twist, that was only twisted more when you find out Revolver Ocelot is the real enemy! I won’t even get into that.
Metal Gear Solid 2 really complicated the lore of Metal Gear because now you’ve got an Illuminati type organization pulling the strings to everything. I have to admit, it’s somewhat original for a video game, but because of this, nobody can ever completely understand the Metal Gear lore. Still, the convoluted plot of Metal Gear Solid 2 makes it stand out from the rest of the series. Echoes of the first Metal Gear Solid are present, but with some newer characters that can be a hit or a miss depending on how you feel about it.
What is really solid about this game are its themes that became so prophetic of the information and digital age. Its themes of fake news, corrupt government, and simulation were never more relevant to the United States than now. Whereas the first Metal Gear Solid messed with the hardware of the console, Metal Gear Solid 2 is a game that likes to mess with your head and make you question reality. Raiden has to question his reality, and the events of this game could have been all one big simulation, but the same could be said for real life. Is this the real life? Or is this just fantasy?…
…Caught in a landslide This may be the hardest Metal Gear Solid game. Oh, and believe me, I’ve played them all, pal. The AI is much smarter than the first and your Soliton radar system that laid out the enemies and their lines of sight are now replaced with Nodes (not “nerds”) that must be found in each new area. So you start off each area not knowing where to go or where the enemies are. The Big Shell is huge too, but extremely interconnected with different tiers. Shadow Moses Island from the last game was much more linear. The Big Shell has different struts, and it’s hard to know which one to go to first. There’s tons of backtracking too, which can be a pain sometimes.
The boss fights like Vamp and Fat-Man are difficult because the game essentially times how fast your reflexes are. They are fast-paced, and you are constantly moving. This game is supposed to be stealth-based, and so when this much action comes out of nowhere you have to learn to adapt. And the cumbersome controls and fixed camera, which I mentioned earlier, only make it harder.
The game is a single player experience , and it won’t change very much if you play the game multiple times. There are the collectibles like dog tags as an incentive to unlock features like the stealth camo that turns you invisible like the first game or the infinite ammo bandana. Then there are also the wigs, which umm… I guess they’re cool?
In the HD Edition, there’s also the inclusion of the Snake Tales, which allows to play as Solid Snake in the Big Shell. It’s a nice feature if you wanted play through more of the game as Snake. There is no voice acting though, only long texts of story and dialogue to give you some context as to what Snake is doing.
It’s a cool inclusion, and it seems like they added it to make up for the fact that people wanted to play as Snake through the entire game.
The Snake Tales was originally part of the Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance which added more content to the original game. The HD Edition included some things from Substance, but for some reason it did not add the skateboarding minigames, which would have been cool. Too bad.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty is a sequel done
right differently. It’s a sequel that decided to take a lot of what came before it while adding something completely new. It was self-aware that all the changes would make fans uncomfortable. It’s a game that tried to make you expect the unexpected.
What’s truly unique about this game are its story and themes. The story, as convoluted as it is, makes for a compelling spy-fantasy narrative. A lot of the themes were ahead of its time. It’s a great game, but it went above and beyond when it offered the player existential questions and thoughts on our modern lives.
My favorite monologue Solid Snake has ever given happens right at the end where he explains that life is more than passing on your DNA. The things we create and the emotions we feel are what we pass on, and that what we live for is for us to decide. And I like that even though the game brings up the new problems that we face because of the digital age, it also recognizes that there is so much good that it does to connect us even more and give longevity to our lives. It’s rare that a game leaves us with such a relevant message.
My Personal Grade: 9/10
This a very unique game, and as far as the gameplay and visuals go, it is a step above the first Metal Gear Solid. It may have a been 10/10 for me if the story stuck more to Solid Snake, but the story we got here was still interesting. Who knows? Maybe a second story with Solid Snake right after Metal Gear Solid could have ended up boring? Either way Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty is a fine addition to the series.
Aggregated Score: 8.8
The Black Humor Mage is a dark satirist and founding member of this blog! Every once in a while he’ll slink back out of the shadows for a little leveling up, some talk on his favorite games, and casting Meteo. Never before have writing and offensive magic come together so ardently than in this mysterious mage.
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