Never enough of a solid thing.
It was a bit odd that Konami released the Xbox version of Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance in advance of the PS2 version, since the original MGS 2 only appeared on the PS2. I suppose they wanted to appease Xbox owners who felt shafted.
At any rate, Konami stayed true to their word by eventually shipping MGS 2: Substance to PS2 owners as well, and while it's not entirely different from the Xbox version, a few tweaks and a return to its original operating system lead to the best MGS 2 we've seen so far. Man, this is getting confusing.
First, the facts. MGS 2: Substance isn't a sequel - it's simply an updated version. It contains the entire Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty game, completely unchanged aside from some slight graphical differences. But it also contains a plethora of VR Missions, 5 new 'Snake Tales' and a bunch of other modes and unlockable joy. Same car model, only now it's a V6.
Rather than go into the story again, go read my
review of Metal Gear Solid 2. Seriously.
I'm not getting into it again. I'm
Back so soon? Then now you should know the basic ideas, if you didn't already.
The story is as good and cheesy and fun and weird as it ever was. This time,
though, you can choose to play either half of the story (the tanker or the big
shell). I'm not sure how many of you are dying to play as Raiden, but it's your
call. And of course you can always just jump in at the beginning and play the
game in its entirety.
As I mentioned, the Sons of Liberty part of Substance is totally identical
- the story hasn't been expanded and there is no new FMV. However, you can now
zoom in and out of FMV sequences, which is sort of neat.
Though the Xbox version suffered from some slight slowdown during the rain sequences, the PS2 version runs flawlessly thanks to the return of the native hardware on which MGS 2 was initially programmed to run. Aside from that, however, the Xbox and the PS2 versions look exactly the same. Character movement is incredibly lifelike and the details are all still here and impressive. But side by side with the original MGS 2 shows no improvement.
The biggest addition is the 350+ VR Missions, which are essentially training
missions set in virtual space. You can play as either Raiden or Snake, the main
difference being the difficulty. Snake's are tougher, which makes sense since
he could kick Raiden's scrawny anime butt any day of the week.
The VR Missions are broken up into a few categories - Sneaking Mode, Weapon Mode, First-Person Mode, and Variety Mode.
The first stresses the stealth aspect that makes up the bulk of MGS gameplay - sneak past guards undetected on a variety of small maps. There are actually two sub modes here - the weaponless Sneaking and the armed Eliminate All. The latter is a bit more fun since you get to take guys out, but the Sneaking mode overall is a little boring.
Weapon mode puts the emphasis on expertise with guns. You'll shoot targets from map to map using the breadth of munitions that the game offers. Again, it's fun, but target practice only goes so far.
First-Person is just that - an exercise in first-person Metal Gear
gameplay. The goals are much the same as the ones found in the other modes,
but all done from first-person. Thankfully, several different control options
make it easier than it sounds, though like MGS in general, the control
takes some getting used to.
Variety mode is only accessed after fully completing the other VR Mission modes. It's here where the designers decided to have some fun, particularly when it comes to size. Sneaking past normal guards is hard enough - try doing it when they're 100 feet tall.
Adding more meat to this rock solid stew are over 150 Alternative Missions,
which include Bomb Disposal, another Elimination mode, a 'Hold Up' mode (no
shooting, just scaring), and a Photograph mode. All are fun and show more creative
spark, throwing you into very bizarre scenarios as the various characters.
Speaking of which, completing the VR Missions and Alternative Missions will open up more characters to use in these modes and a few new ones, though not in the main game. You'll get Snake in a tuxedo or a ninja outfit...or maybe even his old clothes from an earlier Metal Gear. Those of you who miss your Barbie Dream House dress up parties will love it.
Konami must have been listening when everyone starting bitching about not getting to play enough as Snake in Sons of Liberty, because they threw in 5 'Snake Tales'. These pit you, as Snake, in short stories set on levels from the main game. You don't have radar or a Codec, so they're all pretty tough, but very nice for fans of the character. Sadly, no new FMV has been added to flesh out the story; instead, you get short text introductions, then off you go.
One new mode is exclusive to the PS2 version of MGS 2: Substance - a skateboarding game available right from the get-go. The kitsch factor runs high, from the street-style remix of the MGS theme to the familiar orange exteriors of Big Shell, now replete with ramps and half-pipes. It's essentially Konami's Evolution Skateboarding, which was a pretty shoddy game by itself. In this case, it's little more than a cute diversion.
There's also a Boss Survival mode, which only becomes playable after beating the rest of the game. I'm a little bummed this wasn't available from the get go, as it's pretty fun taking on the bosses sans the story.
However, the story is what made MGS 2 such a great game, and though
the literally 500 extra missions offer a fantastic amount of gameplay, they're
missing the charm and immersion of the story. Of course, the story is all accounted
for already, so it's like dumping a ton of icing on an already tasty cake.
Unless, that is, you've eaten it already. If you've played MGS 2, you've already played the best part of Substance and you're not really getting any extra technical oomph out of the PS2. The bonuses are impressive but do not replace the captivating, cinematic experience of the original game.
MGS 2: Substance, for now the second time, presents a grading nightmare. PS2 owners who never played MGS 2 should pick it up without hesitation, as it's still a monumental achievement as an engrossing, satisfying game, and considering all the extras is simply a better product. It's slightly better than the Xbox version, with the emphasis on slightly.
However, those who have played MGS 2 (and that's probably most of you, based on sales figures) should treat this much in the same way as buying a DVD, only to find out a year later that they've released a double-extra-special collector's edition. Konami might be milking this cow for all its worth, but the milk still does a body solid.