Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (PlayStation 2)

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Written by  :  Cor 13 (174202)
Written on  :  May 14, 2003
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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Enjoyable mess

The Good

Sons of Liberty is a sequel to Metal Gear Solid, a self-proclaimed "tactical espionage action" game that turned out to be a pretentious, yet fun arcade-style title with a polished presentation and varied gameplay. The sequel firmly follows the "more of the same" formula - for good and for bad.

Even though the troubled designer Hideo Kojima was clearly aiming at creating a "movie-game" hybrid here, the game part, without doubt, much better than the movie. It was clearly made by experienced designers who knew what they were doing. Along with the trademark stealth gameplay come many nice gimmicks, small things that make it even more enjoyable. You can hide yourself in lockers, extinguish fire with a spray, knock guards unconscious and then drag their bodies away, crawl, knock on walls to distract guards, etc. The first-person view was a fantastic addition; it made the gameplay much more fluent and less frustrating.

Although 80% of the game is set in one location, you never get bored, because each level offers plenty of diversion. The gameplay style changes very often, and the mini-games that frequently interrupt the sneaking are diverse and entertaining: disarming bombs, sniping control units, directing a missile, swimming, etc.

Certain areas have a feeling of a jump-and-run game, while others almost remind you of a puzzle-solving adventure. A particularly interesting part is where the much-maligned homoerotic protagonist Raiden (taking a cue from ICO) has to guide the obligatory damsel-in-distress through several levels while holding her hand.

Boss battles are quite thrilling, with plenty of over-the-top effects and impossible confrontations typical for anime; cheesy and often predictable, these battles are undeniably fun to experience.

The visuals in Sons of Liberty are fabulous. The game's designers did a commendable job. Every location is carefully crafted, with so many little things people usually don't notice in games. Surely, there are realistic, gameplay-based details like jumping out of water and then leaving wet traces on the floor, but I personally was more enchanted by the "unnecessary" stuff spread all over the game. I really admire such things in games. For example, there is one location with a small area covered by seagull crap (really); if you step on it, your foot will slip and you'll fall down. In another location, there is a toy duck swimming on the water surface. There's no point whatsoever to this duck, but it is great the designers created such little details to add more appeal to the game world.

The Bad

Sons of Liberty is an even more "movie-obsessed" game than its predecessor. For example, the ending is nothing else but a huge cutscene (over one hour long!), with two boss battles thrown in. The problem here is not the cutscene itself: as a matter of fact, the cinematic direction here is very impressive, and the cutscenes are fun to watch no matter what. But the impossibly pretentious writing makes much of the narrative content nearly torturous. It is, in fact, even worse than in the first game.

The incessant Codec conversations are a painful obstacle to enjoyment. Here you are, playing the spy in a cool secret facility, but instead of simply completing one mission and starting another one, you are forced to listen to endless dialogues which are a ridiculous mixture of game instructions for kids, corny "personal" stuff, and the creator's own ideas about world and humanity.

I have nothing against abundance of text and dialogue in games (for example, Planescape: Torment is one of my favorites), but I want them to be good. Unfortunately, it's not the case here. The author's obvious desire to squeeze everything that interests him into one single plot is almost embarrassing to witness. Terribly overblown melodramatic mentor-like tone, needless characters and plot twists, over-abundance of anime stereotypes (including the awful protagonist) make this story a complete mess.

Even in technical terms, Sons of Liberty completely and utterly fails as a movie-game hybrid. What it does is basically slap the movie over the game, without bothering to connect between them. You are unable to control any dialogue, and most truly cinematic events occur without your input. Sons of Liberty is an action game with a convoluted narrative added to it; nothing was done to mediate between the game and the movie.

Gameplay-related problems include an overall arcadish feel of many sequences, and constant annoying remarks about what to do next ("to disarm the bomb, select the spray using your R1 button, then press X"). Several sequences were simply copy-pasted from the previous title. Otherwise, it's the same overscripted console-style action, which can be good or bad depending on your preferences.

The Bottom Line

If you look beyond the messy story and the painful attempts to force a bad movie down the game's throat, you'll discover something that is actually worth playing. But I won't say that Sons of Liberty should be played for gameplay alone. I enjoyed it for what it was: a clumsy, yet somehow charismatic attempt by a designer who had too much to say and thus proved that games should stay games. It's hard to respect this game, but it's also surprisingly hard not to love it for its comical seriousness and the sincere passion of its creators.