Substance over style.
Around this time last year, the Playstation 2 was literally overflowing with incredible
software. Grand Theft Auto 3,
and Metal Gear Solid 2 all
came out within the same month. Having been blessed and cursed with the task to
review all three, I pretty much gave up sleeping, talking, sunlight, physical
movement, eating and drinking. Er, maybe not drinking. Oh, sweet, sweet red wine.
stress and hangovers aside, it was a great time covering such highly anticipated
goodies. But doing it all again a year later is a decidedly different experience,
because this time we all knew what was coming. Having canceled every major plan
that didn’t involve a television and a console, I knew that once again I’d be
tasked with covering the newest
Grand Theft Auto, the latest
Tony Hawk, and now the anticipated update to MGS 2.
One thing is much different this time around, though. Much to the dismay of
Sony fanboys, Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance isn’t yet out for the Playstation
2. Xbox owners get the first crack at this update, with the added bonus of getting
to enjoy what was one of last season’s best games for the first time, plus a
slew of extras.
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.
The other change is a result of the system switch. Unfortunately, Xbox owners
hoping for a supremely updated look shouldn’t expect much, as the game looks
largely the same, and in some instances, looks worse. There is some very noticeable
slowdown on the tanker level when you’re outside in the rain, which seems to
be either an optimization flaw or just some kind of trouble in the port, and
a few other cases where the framerate takes a hit. At any rate, it’s not a deal
breaker, and for the most part the game still looks great. Character movement
is incredibly lifelike and the details are all still here and impressive. But
side by side with last year’s PS2 version shows no improvement.
The sound does, though, thanks to a stirring musical score and 5.1 digital
optimization. Crank this thing through a surround sound system and you’ll find
rich, realistic effects. If ever there was a game that felt like a movie, this
was and is it.
if this was just a port, I’d basically be able to end the review there and still
recommend the title. But this is an update, so on to the extras!
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.
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
The last new addition is 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 system. The bonuses are impressive but
do not replace the captivating, cinematic experience of the original game.
MGS 2: Substance presents a grading nightmare. Xbox owners who never
played MGS 2 should pick it up without hesitation, as it’s still a monumental
achievement as an engrossing, satisfying game. However, it’s also much the same,
albeit chock full of extras, and is graded down only due to the passage of time
and the lack of the serious presentation overhaul we were all hoping for.
Those who have played MGS 2 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.