Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
The first interactive movie?
Early 2002 saw the release of Konami's fourth Metal Gear title, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Picking up where the previous title, Metal Gear Solid, left off, this title challenges what even the most dire Metal Gear Solid fan knows; and it does so with some stunning graphics and involving cutscenes. Unfortuneately, sound hasn't improved as much; not to say that it is bad. However, punches, gunshots and sounds of pain and unconciousness don't sound completely up to scratch; all other sounds and music are fine however, especially voice acting which is great.
The Playstation 2 might have been labelled as an inferior system with blocky graphics and low resolutions - but everyone has been proved wrong with this title. Faces are so incredibly detailed that one can see even the slightest jaw movements, eye blinks and facial expressions. Hair and clothing gets blown about in wind, rain falls on characters without the unrealistic "rain haze" that is so common. Muscles flex when running and jumping, shiny metal reflects and guns look realistic. Popup isn't even an issue, and ambient and environmental effects are beautiful. Many of these effects are enhanced in the cutscenesm, and altogether it creates an immersive atmosphere.
Konami has taken advantage of these new platform to introduce many new features of realism. In the previous title, guards were wily, they would follow footsteps and be attracted by the slightest noise. You won't get away with murder in this title, bodies don't simply fade away as they did in the previous game, they will remain until discovered, and if discovereds the alarm will sound. What's more, is that when an enemy is shot, he bleeds. You may drag a dead body into a secluded corner, or even stuff him in a locker, but if he bleeds on the floor, he will leave a trail... and the guards will follow the trail and find it. This works two ways, you can be shot and your enemies can be shot, and you will both bleed. This means your enemies can follow your blood trail, but you can follow theirs too! Also, not only do you leave footprints, but so do your enemies! Other additions include shadows by which your enemies can spot you by, and you can spot them, the ability to shoot pipes, hence releasing hot steam onto your enemies, and fire extinguishers etc.
The game is, once again, incredibly linear and has no multiplayer option. The game starts like a movie, with a long introduction spanning a good ten minutes, and then you enter play. You must complete rigid objectives in order to progress, and the gameplay is punctuated by more long winded cutscenes that play like movies. It feels alot like an interactive movie, however, this is very much a cult movie. Many people will be irritated by all these long interruptions and absence of action, however this game was never designed for action. Simply look at the subtitle - Tactial Espionage Action. The game was designed, and actually rewards, for skipping encounters and focusing on tactics and strategy. The movies, however, play another part altogether.
The bad guys in this title take a rather different twist from previous ones. Most of them are supernatural or superhuman, but this comes with a perfectly reasonable explanation - in this bleak future the government has genetically engineered these efficient killers. Some will be turned off by this, but if one thinks it over, the very character - Solid Snake - that everyone has come to know and love is not too different, and in fact was genetically engineered himself for the Les Enfant Terribles project. One brilliant aspect of this game is that who is good and bad is no longer clear cut. The black and white has been swirled into a storm of gray, and it is often confusing as to just who is good or bad.
There are two types of people who will play this game - people who hate it and people who love it. There's no in between, eventually you will either be sucked completely into the immersive storyline, hanging on every word, or you will reject it for its overly long complexities and ludicrousness. It seems to me, that die hard fans of the older games will find it easier to become the former person, as the storyline constantly challenges what the player knows about the Metal Gear universe and leaves them wanting for more. Those that only have a glancing knowledge, or none at all, of the Metal Geat universe may find the themes and ideas they are presenting to be too out there and simply be turned off.
For those that become immersed, however, the storyline is captivating and it has a quuer replay value. It is quite easy to play the game several times just to get another chance at uncovering information you may have missed before; and the dog tag feature adds another level of replayability. If your character walks up behind a guard without him noticing, and brandishes his weapon he will shout freeze, causing the guard to raise his hands. From here it is possible, while difficult, to acquire the guard's dog tags, and once a certain amount have been collected bonuses such as the Stealth Suit and Unlimited Ammo become available (and if all dog tags are collected, a special code is given and can be used online to access exclusive wallpapers and other computer goodies).
As a cheap novelty, Konami has included several bonus features such as Boss Survival, Casting Theatre and European Extreme. Boss Survival pits either Snake or Raiden, a new character, against the bosses of the game in chronological order, without breaks or chances to heal, Cating Theatre allows the player to take key scenes and switch the characters around and European Extreme adds an extra level of difficulty by denying the player items and dog tags found on guards. While these features may be cheap, they do add a little replayability and a bit of a chuckle with the Casting Theatre.
Overall, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty is a brilliant game in the tradition of the Metal Gear series. It adds many twists and intrigue to the standard tactical espionage excitement, and brings another level of immersiveness, almost as if you're playing an interactive movie. This can be frustrating for some, however, so I would only reccommend die hard fans rushing out and buying it, though anyone who is a fan of the genre should give it a go!