In Snake we trust.
Trust is a funny thing. People spend a great deal of their lives establishing and nurturing trusting relationships, but regardless of how strong the bond, you never really know for sure if you're going to be backstabbed. It makes for a lively existence, but getting caught in a web of deceit and misinformation can turn even the most passive Buddhist into a hate-mongering cynic.
Hideo Kojima must have had more run-ins with mistrust than anyone on the planet. His outstanding series of Metal Gear games, dating back to the original Metal Gear on the NES and culminating in 1998's monster Metal Gear Solid for the PSX, chronicles the lives and actions of a wide assortment of shady military characters, counter-intelligence operatives and crooked government rats. No one is who he or she claims to be. Guess Kojima-san could use a talk with good old Dr. Phil.
And after completing the compelling Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, I could use a visit to the doc myself, because my mind has been blown away. The hype surrounding this game is unprecedented; if you were at E3 two years ago, you couldn't fail to notice the consistently large crowds squatting in front of the Konami booth just to catch a glimpse of the trailer.
They had good reason to squat, as the final product lives up to the mania. Though not without a few missteps, it takes the cinematic concepts offered by its predecessor to the next-level with great gameplay, an intricate story and an unprecedented level of artistic quality.
You reprise your role as Solid Snake, ex-Foxhound operative now working to stop the production of Metal Gear machines by the military. With the help of your old buddy Otacon, you begin your mission aboard a military tanker housing Metal Gear RAY, an anti-Metal Gear machine. But like all things touched by Snake, the plans go a little...awry.
I should note here that trying to discuss the story of Metal Gear Solid 2 is a nightmare for a reviewer. The plot is incredibly complex, with more twists and turns than a season of Winston Cup racing. It's a cardinal sin to give away any valuable piece of plot, as part of the enjoyment of this game is watching things unfold and being blindsided by the plethora of squirrely deceptions. Suffice to say that nothing is as it seems, and right when you think you know what's going on, you don't.
The game plays much like Metal Gear Solid. As a tactical espionage game, MGS 2 lets you sneak, scurry, crawl, and occasionally blast your way past countless baddies. The same mechanics are here - flatten up against a wall, crawl underneath a table, or lurk about in the shadows to avoid detection while systematically making your way through the labyrinth of environments.
A new move has been added: the duck and roll, which comes in handy when you need to get moving quickly or to bowl over a group of pesky guards. You can also hang off railings to keep from being seen. Part of me would have liked to see more complex melee moves, but when you take the already complicated control in mind, it would only make things harder.
Indeed, the control might be the game's worst enemy. Performing an action like hiding at a corner, jumping out, pulling your weapon, aiming for a good spot and firing at a bad guy is not a simple task. Those of you unfamiliar with the series will have a tough time getting it down since the game has a steep learning curve. Seasoned MGS gamers (and I'm sure most of you are) will have a better go at it, but may be disappointed that you still can't move around while in first-person mode.
I've thought about this a lot, though, and frankly I can't figure out how they could make it all easier. MGS lets you do things other games do not, so the tougher control is sort of inevitable.
To make things easier are a wide assortment of kick ass spy gear, from the classic binoculars and 'boxes' to the awesome thermal goggles. And yes, you can still puff on some smokes to see those hidden laser triggers.
The weaponry is as vicious as ever. In addition to the M9 tranquilizer dart gun and USP counter-terrorist pistol, you can find burlier firepower like a grenade launcher and the famed Nikita rockets. If you play your cards right, you'll rarely find yourself without a sick way to dispatch your enemies.
Sometimes, though, it pays to be a nice spy. MGS 2 features 'Dog Tags', which can found on most soldiers and bosses. You can get these tags by holding up bad guys like a criminal. Get enough and you'll unlock some cool items. It adds to the replay nicely.
This brings us to a pivotal issue...is the game long enough? Some, including myself, found Metal Gear Solid to be too short; I beat it in about 7 hours. Thankfully, this time around will take you about twice that long, and that's if you don't spend much time exploring every nook and cranny. By all means this is a bigger game, and by the time you finish you don't really have that feeling that things could go on much longer.
But another problem from the past does rear its head, which is the fact that the game employs so much FMV as to render parts of the game...boring. Again, the plot is terrific, but having to sit still for 7 minutes while staring at the Codec screen literally watching two people talk can be draining. At times, you stop caring about the plot and want to just jump back into the gameplay.
One sequence is particularly irritating. A few hours into the game, you have to literally re-learn the basic controls, despite the fact that you've obviously demonstrated basic ability by getting that far to begin with. It makes sense in the story, but it's no fun as a gamer to have to sit through what amounts to a reiteration of the manual after you've already proven you can handle things.
To be fair, the plot/gameplay balance doesn't always feel out of whack. It's a tricky conundrum, since the cinematic qualities of MGS 2 are so overwhelming and well produced.
When I say well produced, I mean it. The graphics in MGS 2 are nothing short of astounding. The character models are awesome, the lighting effects are spot-on and the water effect (especially the rain) puts other games to shame. The coolest part is that most of the cut scenes are in-engine, so what you play is what you watch. And in both cases, it's a helluva sight.
Things sound good, too. The voice acting is largely excellent, save for a few lame voices here and there. Other sound effects are believable and work fine.
Metal Gear Solid 2 is a hard game, due in part to the well-orchestrated AI. Knock a guy out and everything is peachy...unless he's discovered by a comrade, who will promptly wake him up. If you get spotted, you'll actually hear a booming voice ordering more soldiers to your specific area, and yes, they'll show up in force. Assault guards even carry riot shields, though even attempting to blast your way past a gaggle of them is a bad idea.
There are a multitude of nuances that I simply can't cover, like the great attention to detail (tranquilizer darts will have different rates of going into effect depending on which part of the body you target), the amazing amount of Codec speech or the riveting Boss fights. There's a lot of ground here.
So I leave it to you to make Metal Gear Solid 2 your own discovery. It's a top-notch sequel to a great game and easily earns its spot in any PS2 collection. And you can trust me on that.