Retrospective – Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was an essential title for PS2 owners upon its release in 2001, and it has recently become a must own title on the PlayStation Vita as well. After many false starts over the years, I’ve finally completed the entire game. So, in keeping with my recent review of the first Metal Gear Solid, it’s time to take on what is easily the most controversial entry in the Metal Gear series.
I played through the Vita version of the game, but I found it largely the same experience as the original PS2 version. Diehard fans may notice some inconsistencies, but as a more casual fan of the series I didn’t find any glaring oversights. The only real difference were the added touch controls, which ended up being a minor annoyance, but I won’t hold them against the title since they’re exclusive to the Vita version.
Like the previous game every codec call and cut scene is completely voice acted, but there’s something different this time around. While most of the actors have returned to reprise their previous roles, the performance is a little lackluster. This could be due to the fact that the cheesy tone is swapped for a much more serious political statement, or it could be the fact that the voice of Raiden (which you hear more than any other) is done terribly. His delivery is weak, even during scenes portraying some pretty dastardly betrayal. The other characters are passable, but a lot of the charm is lost this time around. Of course this leads us into the main issue that many people had with MGS2: you play the majority of the game as Raiden instead of Solid Snake.
As a character, Raiden is a little bit more relatable than Snake, who has years of experience in the field, as well as the confidence to back it up. I can understand why Kojima would want someone more on par with a regular person, but it kind of breaks from the John McClain pastiche that Snake had going. Snakes attitude and demeanor really drove the first game, and he made sitting through long codec conversations entertaining. Raiden, on the other hand, feels weak and scared through most of the game. It can be a good thing to have a weaker protagonist, but it just doesn’t fit with the rest of the Metal Gear cast. These men and women are paragons, war-grizzled veterans, and genetically altered super-soldiers. Snake in particular, while he lacks the power of most of his opponents, is quick-witted, superbly trained, and, most of all, cool. He plays mentor to Raiden, but every time he pops up on the codec you’re reminded of how much cooler the game would have been with Snake as the lead.
The story begins complex, and avalanches into a mess of jargon near the end. It’s hard to follow, but I still got some enjoyment out of it as a whole, despite the incredibly unconvincing relationship that Raiden is supposed to have with Rose. The bosses are interesting, although they aren’t quite as compelling as the previous cast. Luckily, Revolver Ocelot and Liquid are both (partially) present, so the new bad guys built on a great foundation of existing villainy. For the most part, the core plot of Raiden and Snake trying to destroy a big bad super weapon keeps the plot rolling along even when you’re not sure what the heck everyone is talking about.
The mechanics themselves were a big issue for me. In the first game you spent almost all of your time watching your radar because the camera angle made it difficult to see what was ahead of you. Konami kept the same camera angle in this title, but made radar something you have to find and activate at terminals in each area of the game. Essentially this forces you to play nearly blind until you track down the terminal. There are some alternative options, like the AP Sensor that pings when enemies are close, but it doesn’t tell you what direction they’re coming from. While you could view this design decision as an attempt to increase the amount of stealth required, it does so by making the player feel blind, which can be very frustrating.
Beyond that the shooting is still difficult to manage; you can’t move while aiming regardless of whether you’re in first person or third person view. This really slows down the combat, and is another way stealth if forced upon the player. Again, I realize this is a stealth-based game, but the stealth mechanic itself feels like more of a byproduct of frustrating controls instead of a well-executed design choice. The first game mitigated this by making it relatively easy to avoid guards and hide after being spotted, but this time the incredibly long alarm statuses and very attentive guards make it increasingly frustrating.
Overall MGS2 didn’t have the same atmosphere the first game had, but it’s still a solid, if flawed, entry in the franchise. The music and setting draw you in, and there are some really interesting plot twists that keep you glued to the screen. In the end, the mechanical overhaul that was implemented in MGS3 should have been done here first, and it’s a shame that simple things hold this title back from being as fantastic as it could have been.