As soon as it was announced at E3 in 1999, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was a guaranteed hit for both Konami and the upcoming next-generation system from Sony, Playstation 2. With the success of the original MGS on Playstation, it was a foregone conclusion that MGS2 would be the “killer app” for the Playstation 2. The question on everyone’s mind, including creator Hideo Kojima, was if MGS2 could outdo its exceptional precursor. The answer is an astounding yes with a few problems.

Built upon the foundation of the original, MGS2 is a giant leap forward in interactivity and the ability to immerse you in the game. The environment can be manipulated this time around, even to the point where you can shoot at bottles and they break depending on where you hit them. Solid Snake even has extra tricks up his sleeve this time around. He’s able to hang onto ledges and has a plethora of choices with what to do with guards. He can kill them, he can sneak up behind them and choke them, he can knock them out with tranquilizers and carry them to a locker, etc. It adds to your ability to immerse yourself into the game.

The graphics are amazing.  Although dark and very moody, MGS2 shows off the next generation of graphics along with such games as Gran Turismo 3, Halo and Dead or Alive 3.  The graphic jump from MGS to MGS2 is amazing.  The rain effects are great as raindrops hit the camera and Snake might get the sniffles if he stays out too long and alert a guard to his presence.  Quite a bit of blur effects are used to mask any ill graphical effects, but with the feeling of a Hollywood-epic movie this doesn’t detract from the game as a whole.

The sound is also amazing.  There are a few cutscenes presented here in Dolby Digital 5.1.  The opening must be heard digitally to truly get the feeling that you’re in a movie theater and not playing a game.  I wish Dolby Digital 5.1 had been able to be used more, but I understand the PS2’s limitation with engine-based cutscenes and not being able to deliver a digital signal.  The sound in the game is very important and it is important that you are very stealthy in the game.  You can choose to go through the whole game killing almost no oneā€¦or you can go through and kill everyone, it’s up to you.

The music also deserves mention.  Hollywood composer Harry Gregson-Williams (Enemy of the State) does a great job with the music here.  Never too overbearing, the music sets the mood very well.  The MGS theme seems much better here than it was in the original.  Every time I saw a new movie with the theme song in a preview of the game I got shivers up and down my back.  I can thank Gregson-Williams for that.

Superb Control

Yes, there is a bad side to this game.  The fact is that a few hours into the game a swerve comes up and changes the whole game.  Hideo Kojima put MGS2 into submersion after E3 2001 and it’s obvious why, he didn’t want the swerve to be leaked.  This swerve is only bad to the game players that allow it to be bad.  I thought it was a fresh idea and brought another point of view to the story, which to me expands the whole Metal Gear story as a whole.

The other bad side is that the boss battles are not as innovative or exciting as they were in the original.  Innovation such as the fight with Psycho Mantis in the original are not duplicated or superceded in this game.  Except for a couple of battles, the boss fights don’t even feel like boss fights.  Another problem with the bosses is that you never really end up fighting the people you really want to fight.  I could have been so much more immersed than I was if the boss battles would have stood up to the original.

The ugly part of MGS2 is the ending and some rather odd story tangents.  Although I understood the ending I realize many people do not.  Kojima sends the story into philosophical, political and all together odd places it should not go.  Otacon admitting that he had sex with his stepmother is just one piece of the story that doesn’t belong there.  Neither does the elongated codec messages (should you choose to do so) that lead to hints of homosexual relationships between characters in the game.

The ending battle is truly anti-climactic and possibly closes the book on an important character in the Metal Gear universe.  I say possibly because at the end of all the political and philosophical ideas/theories at the end of the game, we’re left with a sense that there will be a Metal Gear Solid 3.  Kojima has said that he will not lead the team on the next Metal Gear Solid and will probably only work in the initial stages on it.

We waited a while for it, but it was well worth it.