Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance is the update to last year’s excellent Metal Gear Solid 2: Son’s of Liberty on the Playstation 2. This time around it is the X-Box that gets the first treatment of Substance, with the PS2 version coming sometime next year. This is the ultimate version of MGS2 for both those that have played it before and those who have never had the chance to play it yet.

MGS2: Son’s of Liberty is the perfect example of the love it or hate it philosophy. You either love the game or you hate it, there seems to be no in-between. I am on the former end of the spectrum. There are drawn out codec talks, some of the cutscenes can go on for a long time and the ending is full of Hideo Kojima’s philosophical thoughts put into voice, but then again did we expect any different after Metal Gear Solid? The core gameplay itself far outweighs the lesser parts, even though I think the codecs and cutscenes make this title seem cool and exciting. This is a big budget game that is taking the same type of route some of my favorite computer games took, those being Wing Commander III and IV. Those were also very movie intensive, but they were still great games nonetheless.

Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance gives you a lot of options right from the beginning. The whole entire Son’s of Liberty is here, but now you can choose between the Tanker or Plant stages right from the beginning if you want to do them out of order. You can also play through the whole game proper. The things added in Substance has a lot to do with the over 350 VR missions, the 5 Snake Tales missions, unlocking characters and the addition of the European Extreme Difficulty Mode (the hardest mode).

First I will talk about the game proper. I still think Son’s of Liberty is one of the best games ever made. I know many people disagree, but this is just how I feel. Some added extras when beating the game is unlocking a Boss Survival mode, unlocking the Casting Theater, unlocking a Digital Camera for use anywhere, etc. There is even some added extras for those of you who like to get dog tags in the game, including being able to use the stealth ability Snake uses in the beginning movie.

Speaking of the beginning movie, here is where the X-Box version looks slightly below the PS2 version of the original game. The cool fade effects are gone in the X-Box version and in the beginning movie when Snake is walking across the bridge it just looks bad. It is like he is moving in slow motion. Then we get to the outside rain part of the tanker and the game slows down quite a bit. Once you get past this area though the game is smooth sailing. The graphics have gotten an upgrade with anti-aliasing added and everything looks sharper on the X-Box version than the PS2 version (I did a test side-by-side). The sound here is far more excellent than the PS2 version, most likely because you get Dolby Digital 5.1 from the beginning. The sound is just that much better in-game because of the ability to have DD 5.1 while playing (the PS2 was only able to do DD 5.1 in cutscenes). The control takes a bit to get used to. You are offered 4 control types through the options menu. Basic commands are: X to fire, Y is Action (hop up, grabbing, etc.), B is punch/kick, A is crouch, pushing in the left analog stick brings up first-person mode (where you cannot move) and the L and R trigger serve as the items and weapons menus as well as being able to step left or right in first-person mode and peer around corners when your back is against a wall. The back button brings up the codec (where you can save). As I said before there are 4 controller type options available. The only thing I disliked was using the left analog stick to go to first-person mode, but the other types use other buttons for that.

The meat of the extras (or Substance if you will) is the over 350 VR missions. You choose one of the characters (Snake or everyone’s favorite character…trying not to spoil things for people that have not played the game). Everyone’s favorite character has the easier missions, while Snake’s missions are a bit more difficult. The missions are cut up into sections at the beginning: VR Missions and Alternative Missions. Then the VR is split into a few options as well: Sneaking, Weapons and First-Person View. Each of these are a section of missions relating to the subject. It seems like each similar VR mission (i.e. “Sneaking/Sneaking” Mission 1 and “Sneaking/Eliminate All” Mission 1) has the same base map with each character, but the enemies are usually positioned differently or have different search routes. Given how many missions you have finished you are given a percentage completed. At given percentages finished you unlock other characters and other costumes for characters. This is a very cool part of the game even though there is a resemblance in how the stages are built in all the characters missions.

Then there are the Snake Tales, 5 missions relating to Snake on the Plant in the Son’s of Liberty game. The minus here is that you are given the mission in text form because it is obvious that the voice actors never did voices for these parts (the Snake Tales were probably added well after the fact). Snake is put into situations on the Plant and the missions are actually quite long for what I have played of them so far. It is just an added gift to those that buy this game. The only things missing in the X-Box version is the promised Skateboarding option and the ability to play Snake through the whole game (I believe the Snake Tales screens made us believe this was possible as they do happen on the Plant). I have yet to find them, but maybe they are here deep down in the recesses. I hear they may put the skateboarding into the PS2 version, although I think it kind of stinks that it is not in the X-Box version.

Other than the beginning movie and the beginning rain stage, Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance has gotten a facelift from its PS2 version. The characters are sharper and the overall graphics are better here. It does not look like they spruced them up, but they certainly added the anti-alias coat to it. The rain stage is being blamed on two things. The first is that the game was optimized for the PS2 (I think they could have spent time to make it pretty smooth). The second is that the fade effect of the PS2 version (which you can also see in games like Vice City unless you turn it off) is now gone. Overall a great graphical experience. Fully presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 both in cutscenes and in-game, this is a sound tour-de-force. The score was done by Harry Gregson-Williams, a Hollywood composer who did the score for such movies as The Rock and Armaggeddon. The theme song just gets me so pumped up to play the game. I had to pull out my CD of the soundtrack and play it again in my car. The sound is phenomenal now that it is in Dolby Digital 5.1. You can actually hear where the guards are now.

Same great control, although the X-Box controller (the big one, I do not have the S) takes a bit to get used to. I guess my problem comes from the fact of playing the PS2 version for so long. Getting used to the first-person mode via the left analog stick push took some getting used to. Just use the digital pad when you are aiming in first-person mode, it is far more accurate than the analog stick unless you are adept at that. There are 4 controller options you have, so pick the one you like. The vibration is also used well in this game. In the Snake Tales missions you have no radar and only an item that can detect enemies nearby. The closer they get, the harder your vibration becomes. It is kind of like sonar.

Just a fun game to play. Yes, there are movies and long codec conversations, but when you get to play you have the choice of what you want to do. Do you want to break some bottles in the bar area? Go ahead. Do you want to grab each guard and put them in a locker instead of killing them? Go ahead. This game is all about the options. Add in the extras and this game just oozes gameplay from start to finish.

Son’s of Liberty takes roughly 18+ hours to beat itself. Depending on how much you want to do, you can stretch that 18 hours out. Then you have the VR missions and the Snake Tales, which will take you multiple hours to beat as well. Then you have all the modes you unlock (like the Boss Survival mode) that will take up even more of your hours. I dare say this game could take up 50+ hours or maybe even more to fully finish everything. It just oozes value and I still play Son’s of Liberty over and over. I just beat it on the PS2 again about 2 months ago. Now I get to play it on X-Box in Dolby Digital 5.1…woohoo!