Written by  :  Anatole (61)
Written on  :  Jul 04, 2002

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Overreaches itself, but still amazes.

The Good

The most hyped game of all time. How does it stack up?

First, of all, it should be said that you will enjoy Metal Gear Solid 2 much better if you've played it's PlayStation prequel, Metal Gear Solid. In addition to featuring very similar gameplay, the storyline is Byzantine enough as it is having what you know of the original plot to fall back on.

Metal Gear Solid 2's strength is in it's gameplay. At first glance, it seems identical to the first MGS. Your job is to carry out your mission using stealth and, if necessary, violence. You duck around corners, avoid guards and cameras, and take down bosses in a variety of ways, usually revolving around a specific weapon and technique.

But once you start to get into the game, you realize just how much deeper it is than it's older brother. Considering that MGS was widely considered the best action game ever on a console, this is high praise indeed.

First of all, the slightly 2-dimensional feel the overhead perspective seemed to lend the original game is all but gone. Guards can now spot you from all angles, and almost all levels have multiple tiers and catwalks to watch as well. Also, the role of the first-person perspective is greatly increased. Snake can now fire his weapons in first-person view instead of in only four directions as in MGS1. This is useful, since the tranquilizer darts you will get take longer to send a guard into sleep if you hit their foot.

The AI is also incredibly improved (but be forewarned: this is only noticeable if you bite the bullet and play on something other than Easy mode). When discovered, guards will try to knock you out and then run a short distance away to radio for backup, so you can't immediately get up and cut them off. Spot a corpse and they don't just glance around and walk on, they sound an intruder alert and call the attack team in to patrol. The snowy footprint gimmick of MGS1 has been expanded into an all-out feature as they can follow blood trails, wet spots, and even the sounds of your footsteps.

Graphically, MGS2 is easily the best looking game ever conceived on the PlayStation2, and might just remain so for the duration of the system's existence. Like the original game, EVERYTHING is rendered, from the empty magazines of your weapons, to the individual ice cubes (which will melt over time) in a tanker minibar, to the eyelids of the characters. Cutscenes, which use the in-game engine, are a sight to behold. The models are almost as well rendered as the characters in the Final Fantasy movie -- give Konami one more generation of hardware and they'll have caught up to Square Movies.

The amount of detail put into this game can't be overstressed; this engine is a masterpiece both graphically and gameplay-wise. It's just fun to be able to cock your gun a short distance behind an enemy terrorist and watch him throw up his hands in surrender.

The voice acting is also top-notch. All of the voices from the original MGS return, and most of the new characters are tolerable at worst.

Playing MGS2 is one of the most fun experiences you can have for any console.

The Bad

Notice I said that PLAYING the game is fun.

Nearly every review for the original Metal Gear Solid game had only two gripes with the game: it was too short, and it had too much movie-watching and not enough game. Konami apparently decided the answer to this was to stuff the game full of MORE fluff and filler.

The characters are actually very cool, from old faces like Revolver Ocelot to new bosses like Fatman and Vamp. I know a lot of idiot fanboys hate Raiden (the young character who you play as instead of Snake for part of the game), but I found his character to be one of the better onces in the game.

When you get down to actual hours played, it's entirely possible to complete both missions in the game (which is broken into two parts: the off shore tanker and the environmental cleanup plant) in about the same time as it would to complete the original MGS. Granted, there aren't any tedious backtracking sessions like the supremely annoying temperature-key task in MGS1, but it's still just not enough.

Even worse is the sheer volume of codec speech. For those of you not familiar with MGS, the Codec is a combination story cipher and hint system that allows you to communicate with your support crew "back home." All you see is two faces and some numbers, while you hear Snake talk. This would be fine, except the game insists on delivering dramatic plot points through the Codec rather than as a movie. Listen up, Konami: There's a reason radio hasn't been a significant art form for fifty years. It just doesn't have the same impact hearing it on the codec. It's incredibly frustrating to watch a video of Snake meeting a new person, who is usually well-rendered, then promptly asking them "Do you have nanomachines?" and then dropping into the boring Codec. Why Konami had to rush this codec gimmick instead of producing well-directed cutscenes for all of this is mystifying.

This would be tolerable if the story was better (I will try not to spoil it). The original MGS had a plot that, while somewhat cheesy, was still enough to keep you going through the entire game. MGS2 starts off strong, and about halfway through the game the twists and turns to the plot start to kick in, and you start to think that it's really going to start cooking.

But as the plot gets thicker, the game gets thinner. Towards the end, Kojima nearly abandons the game format altogether, throwing cutscene after codec conversation at us. As the game winds down, wholly unnecessary plot points (such as the one involving the nanomachines and the AI program) just make the game seem silly. As a movie director...Hideo Kojima makes a damn good game designer.

By the time the near-infinite conclusion rolls around, it's just not fun anymore. The last 90 minutes of "game" are actually just two boss battles, one of them ridiculously tedious (the endless wave of identical RAYs) and the other laughably easy (the terrorist leader). The rest is just lots and lots of movie. I even skipped several scenes to try and get to the rest of the game, something I never did in MGS1.

The ultimate ending is weak.

Besides the poor storyline, there are only two other (minor) flaws to the game:

1. Despite it's increased use, there is still no way to move around in first-person mode. While I understand they weren't trying to make an FPS, it's untenable for furious fights with the enemy, where you have the choice of standing still and taking lots of damage, or wildly shifting from view modes to move and shoot, leaving you very disoriented.

2. Finally, I know Konami made a big deal about hiring movie musician Harry Gregson-Whatsisface to do the score, but nothing of his stands out at all. The only memorable themes in the movie are the re-arrangements of the standard Metal Gear Solid theme.

The Bottom Line

It might sound as if I'm slamming this game; I'm not. It's a blast to play through, even if it does get overly heavy-handed towards the end. And the sheer amount of secrets and Easter Eggs (look for several references to the original MGS, such as the "Limitless" bandanna and Johnny "Cramps" Sasaki) make it worth several runs.

This is a great, tense action game with many memorable moments and killer graphics, hampered only by a poor plot and horrible ending. Still, I would recommend this disc to anyone, and don't in the least regret dropping forty bones on it.