Full title: "Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty"

Playstation 2 action game developed by Konami and directed by Hideo Kojima. Although a single-level demo has been available for a very long time indeed, this game has still not been released. At first the delays were for fine tuning, but the events of September 11th are rumoured to have prompted some changes later in the game.

Initially touted as the Great White Hope of the PS2 (a role that has to some extent shifted to GT3), MGS2 is looking increasingly unimpressive from a technical perspective. The gameplay should make up for this however, if the same exceptional attention to detail has been lavished on it as the original.

Some observations (bearing in mind I haven't played the game or its predecessors anything like enough to critique it in depth.)

The first thing that strikes you about MGS2 is how movie-like it is in presentation. The production values (with the exception of some of the voice acting) are unprecedented in video game history. The defining aspects of the game seem to be to make it as sumptuous-looking as possible (all the in-game cinematics are rendered in realtime, but because of the insane fill-rate of the PS2 they look awesome- the motion capture and sound design compensating for the slightly-noticable variable framerate).

The game's presentation can't really be judged in pure technical terms- yes, OK, the PS2 can't handle as many polygons and as detailed textures as its rivals but then practically no game I've seen on another format (as of 6.4.2002) comes even close to this level of artistry.

The other thing that you notice is that in spite of this gloss, it is still very unapologetically a game: the game mechanics often veer into abstraction, the characters are exaggerated, and the plot makes no sense whatsoever. It seems obvious that all this is intentional, but the game does walk a fine line between 'old-skool' values and self-parody in places. It's also extremely linear, of course.

The final thing to note is that the game really is astonishingly long-winded. The first mission (played as Solid Snake) comprises of about twenty minutes of gameplay (although I'd imagine you could rush through it in much less) and well over an hour of cutscenes. It is simply excessive. The attention to detail is to be praised, but it can feel like informational overload, especially during sections where you're just being presented massive tracts of exposition with scant interactivity.

Still, all things considered it is a great addition to the PS2's library, and the fact that you can pick up the machine with the game bundled in for about £200 goes some way to explaining why Xbox sales are faltering.

*SPOILER* *Warning, this tells the Entire Plot of both Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid 2*

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty is the newest incarnation of the Metal Gear series that was created, produced, and directed by Hideo Kojima. The game opens 2 years after the previous Metal Gear Solid with Solid Snake, the hero of the first MGS. During the first MGS, Solid Snake was sent into Alaska by FOXHOUND (a government agency), to infiltrate a development site of the Metal Gear, a bipedal robot armed with nuclear capabilites. While infiltrating "Shadow Moses," Snake finds out that he is merely a clone of the legendary mercenary Big Boss and that another clone, Liquid Snake has taken control of Metal Gear. After destroying Liquid and the Metal Gear, Solid escapes Shadow Moses to go into retirement.

Between the two years that has passed between the first and second, the United States Marines developed a new type of Metal Gear, Metal Gear RAY, which happens to be amphibious. After catching wind of this, Snake boards the USS Liberty in New York harbor, which contains RAY. While boarding however, a Russian army also infiltrates the ship with Revolver Ocelot (MGS veteran) heading the operation. When Snake shows himself to Ocelot, Ocelot's arm animates, revealing the remnants of Liquid. Liquid takes over Ocelot, takes RAY, and destroys the Liberty. Snake escapes.

Two years later, the game opens with Raiden, a white haired rookie who is also sent by FOXHOUND. After the tanker went down, crude oil spilled all over New York Harbor. The government created the Big Shell, a treatment facility. While on a tour, the President gets captured by a terrorist group, thus the reason why Raiden was sent in. After disarming C4 placed on the struts of the Big Shell. Raiden meets with the President. The President reveals that this whole operation is not for the terrorists to capture him. Actually, the Big Shell is a storage facility for the new US Navy-brand Metal Gear Ray. In addition, the Prez reveals information on the Patriots, a shadowy group of 12 men that control every aspect of life in America. They control all information and if they control the information, they control everything. The Prez wanted to become a Patriot, and decided to help the terrorists. The leader of the terrorists, however, is Solidus Snake, the third clone of Big Boss. He wants to "free" the American people by detonating a nuclear device over Manhattan, thus creating an electronic disturbance. From there, he would create a nation free of the Patriots.

The Prez reveals one more thing. There is a new Metal Gear: Metal Gear Arsenal. A floating tank, basically, it houses several RAYs and it would help Solidus with his plans. Raiden now has to get rid of Arsenal before it can knock out Manhattan. Raiden gets the virus that is needed; in Arsenal, it also turns out that his semi-partner Lt. Grade Pliskin, is actually Solid Snake himself. While in Arsenal, Raiden gets 2 pieces of news. Firstly, Raiden's past happens to be one of a child soldier. He was trained by Solidus, but as an adult, he refused to acknowledge it. Secondly, Raiden becomes aware of the S3 program, or Solid Snake Simulation. The S3 was made to create identical clones of Solid Snake to be used on the battle field. The entire Big Shell Operation was used to simulate the Shadow Moses incident, down to the last detail. Raiden was chosen because he refuses to acknowledge his past. As Raiden gets to the top of Arsenal, he meets Solidus, his adoptive father and Ocelot, who is being controlled by Liquid Snake. Ocelot/Liquid, in fact, worked for the Patriots all along and revealed the final piece of the puzzle.

The S3 program does not mean Solid Snake Simulation. It means Simulation for Social Sanity. All of Raiden's mission was a program to control how he felt, thought, and acted. Every emotion was planned out by the Patriots, even though they were real. Ocelot/Liquid escapes in a stolen RAY as Arsenal crashes into Manhattan. In the final showdown, Raiden and Solidus must fight, even though Solidus wanted to free the people and the fight was according to the Patriots' plans. At the end of MGS2, with Solidus defeated, we see Snake comforting Raiden and offering him a new life. Raiden accepts and the game ends.

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!

Final Verdict:

Graphics: 5/5
Sound: 4/5
Gameplay: 5/5
Playability: 5/5
Overall: 4.5/5

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