Thunderbolt logo

Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance

Metal Gear

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was possibly one of the most hyped games ever released, even surpassing the anticipation surrounding the first Metal Gear Solid. Gamers were yearning to have another great time playing as Snake, the rugged hero of the Metal Gear series. There was a problem though. You only get to play as Soild Snake for about 1/8 of the game. For the rest of the game you control the newcomer Raiden, who seems almost the complete opposite from Snake’s “bad ass” and calm demeanor.

Two years after Metal Gear Solid 2 debuted, MGS2: Substance was released. It boasts many new modes, including more gameplay involving Snake, plenty of VR missions and a skateboarding mode. The actual game has been left almost exactly as it was two years ago. Are these new modes nothing more than window dressing, or do they actually provide worthwhile entertainment?

Right from the start, you have the option of either playing through Snake’s or Raiden’s portion of the game in any order. First I’ll discuss Snake’s chapter. Our hero is sent to investigate the completion of a Metal Gear on a tanker located in New York City. The Metal Gear is a powerful and mobile weapon capable of wreaking nuclear destruction. Snake’s descent onto the tanker is simply one of the most beautiful and adrenaline-pumping scenes I’ve seen in a game. From there, the storyline gets even better. Better up until a certain point, anyways. Terrorists have taken over the ship and Snake is thrust into the middle of it all. The Snake portion of the game is disappointingly short, but is great till about the last ten minutes of the chapter. Within those ten minutes a series of absurd plot twists occur. The silliness of the plot continues over to Raiden’s chapter.

Two years after Snake’s ordeal on the tanker, a lone operative codenamed Raiden infiltrates a clean-up facility located on the Hudson River in New York City. Terrorists have taken over the plant and are holding the *gasp* president hostage. The fact that dawned across fans was that Raiden is now the main character of the game and Snake is not. Fanboys claimed that this “hidden” antagonist is girly, whiny and most of all, annoying. It is possible to see where they are coming from, but as it stands Raiden is one hell of a character. His past is an enigma, and so are his deepest emotions. The whole purpose behind Raiden was so that gamers could see Snake through the eyes of other people. This is a noble experiment because it is just so interested working alongside the legendary Snake, but perhaps the game would have fared better if you did not get to play as Snake at all. The tanker chapter is nothing but an unfair tease of the tantalizing Solid Snake.

As you progress through Raiden’s chapter the plot becomes more and more of a mess. The game starts off as a militaristic thriller, but it ends as an overblown sci-fi bore. There is a vampire and a Doctor Octopus rip-off in the game, for crying out loud! There are also some serious pacing issues. In one part in the game there is about forty minutes of cutscenes with no gameplay in between. I practically feel asleep during this marathon of boredom and ludicrous plot twists.

While the plot took a definite turn from the worst when compared to it’s predecessors, the game play has been greatly improved. The Metal Gear has always been focused more on stealth rather than Rambo-style high jinks. Ever since Metal Gear Solid and Tenchu came out on the Playstation, stealth has become a more accepting thing in games.

You have a radar device that shows the enemies line of sight and where they are walking. Oddly enough, most of the bad guys only have a view distance of about three meters. It is your job to avoid them or eliminate them with a variety of methods. Is it best to hide in a locker and wait for him to pass, or to simply eliminate the terrorist with a silenced shot to the head?

There are many new ways to evade enemies in MGS2. One of the most entertaining ways to avoid being spotted is to hang from a ledge and shimmy yourself to safety. Sometimes hiding in a locker can mean the difference between life and death. There are even couple new items to that help you distract enemy guards. The classic stealth techniques from MGS have made their way into MGS2. The most interesting off all being the box you can hide in. Moving around in a cardboard box sounds silly, but there is a lot of fun to be had with all the different types of boxes.

While stealth is still the main focus off MGS2, a lot more emphasis has been placed on action. For example, you start off with a tranquilizer gun that makes sneaking by enemies almost unnecessary. It is also possible to hold up an enemy if you sneak up on them, which easily eliminates the threat. The focus on more action is not a bad thing thanks to the masterfully overhauled aiming. In the last Metal Gear Solid aiming was extremely tricky, but now shooting can be done in first-person mode. Precisely aiming can be a breeze, but not accidentally firing when trying to un-equip your gun can occasionally be tough. Since the PS2’s buttons are pressure sensitive, you must gently let go of the fire button in order to not accidentally let off a shot.

And what happens if the enemy does happen to spot you? Well, it depends. If you are lucky enough you can eliminate him before he radios in his comrades. This is another subtle, yet welcome, change from the last game. Odds are you will not be fast enough to silence him and an attack squad will come to investigate. This is where the game becomes truly great; in tension filled scenes. The guards are usually equipped with machine guns and riot gear, so taking them out can be a problem. Unlike the last game, you cannot just hide in the corner and wait ten seconds for them to give up searching. Getting caught in these situations is intense, but the satisfaction of successfully wasting a small squad of terrorists is truly pleasurable.

The game clocks in at about twelve hours, but if you take away all the cutscenes the actual game time is more like six or seven hours. This is a bit on the short side, but there are plenty of things that add replay value. First and foremost, there are a few varying difficulty levels. Each difficulty level makes playing the game a whole different experience. Also, each time you hold up an enemy with your gun you are given a dog tag. At the end of the game, if you got enough dog tags new items become unlocked. Collecting all the dog tags is a fun challenge to undertake, but the real replay value comes from all the bonus stuff in the “Substance” edition of MGS2.

The VR Missions are the biggest addition to MGS2. You choose either Snake or Raiden and complete hundreds of relatively short levels. The levels are broken up into different categories, such as sneaking, weapons, first person mode, and extra. For the most part, the levels are entertaining, especially the extra mode ones. These levels involve goofy goals such as avoiding a Godzilla-like guard and sniping off enemies before they can eat the curry placed in the middle of the stage. The best part is that if you get a high score on a level you are given a code that you can input on the official Konami website and see how you compare to other players. The only problem with the VR Missions is that the further you progress, the more the levels tend to rehash earlier levels. That coupled with the increasingly frustrating difficulty made me give up after finishing only around forty percent of the missions.

Exclusive to the PS2 version of MGS2: Substance, skateboarding is fun for a little while. You can play as either Snake or Raiden and each of their levels take place on the plant that Raiden’s chapter takes place on. The goals are similar to those of Tony Hawk 1 and 2 in which you have to grind on a certain area, run into different objects, get high scores, etc. The skateboarding is based on the mediocre “Skateboarding Evolution” made by Konami, so the controls are nowhere near as good as Tony Hawk. The Skateboarding is an interesting diversion, but it is nothing more than a short-lived gimmick.

Snake Tales was easily the most disappointing feature in this game. You play as Snake for 5 lengthy missions during the plant chapter, so one would assume that this would mean it is a side story to Raiden’s. In actuality, it is a strange alternate-dimension world where Snake does all the same thing Raiden did, only in a different order. Where a cutscene should take place a script comes up and you have to read it. That just proves how poorly slapped together Snake Tales is. The only bright side to this mode is the challenge. It is so hard that even the most experienced veterans should get a kick out of the difficulty.

When the first version of MGS2 was released back in 2001, it was immediately deemed one of the best looking games on the PS2. A couple of years after its release, the graphics still hold that title. The character models are the most detailed and well animated ever seen in a videogame. Everything from Snake’s 5-o’clock shadow to the characters lips moving in sync to the dialogue has been meticulously detailed.

While the graphics are superb, I did have a problem with the art direction. In Snake’s tank chapter the mood is dark and gritty. It takes place at night during a violent thunderstorm. In Raiden’s plant chapter the plant looks like something out of goofy 60’s science fiction film. Almost everything is bright orange and cheesy looking. Compared to tanker, the plant looks like Disney land. I’m not sure if that’s the kind of mood that should be projected in a mature game like this one.

If there needs to be a game that proves video games are delivering Hollywood-like presentations, MGS2 is this game. Harry Gregson-Williams, the man who composed the scores for The Rock, Enemy of the State and the delightful Winnie the Pooh-The Tigger Movie (such a silly ol’ bear), composed an electrifying score for MGS2. The crown jewel of the soundtrack is the song used in the opening movie. I only wish they used variations of the song more in the game. There’s only one variation during the actual game, but there is a wicked punk rock version of it during the skateboarding mini-game. The rest of the music is pretty good, but I miss the electronic music in the last game.

Voice acting is usually a weak point in most games, but that is most definitely not the case with this one. The same people voice all the returning characters and each one gives a strong performance. A lot of people had problems with the “girly” voice of Raiden but I felt it was pretty good delivery. Everyone sounds girly when compared to Snake anyways.

Does the trade off for better gameplay and weaker plot make MGS2 better than it’s predecessor? I would have to say no, mainly because there is such an emphasis on the plot. The improved gameplay still keeps the game enjoyable, and all the new features on Substance help too. While the new features aren’t the greatest, they still warrant a rental for people who already have the original release of MGS2. If you desperately need a MGS2, then I would suggest picking this one up as long as it isn’t too expensive compared to the original release.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003. Get in touch on Twitter @akarge.

Gentle persuasion

You should check out our podcast.