Reviewed: November 17, 2001
Reviewed by: Mark Smith
Released: November 13, 2002
Almost anyone who owns an original PlayStation knows the name Metal Gear Solid. Heralded as one of the best games ever released for the system, it was indeed an amazing experience, albeit a short one. As much as this game was hyped, it was also equally criticized by gamers and reviewers alike for it’s 3-5 hour average gameplay length. And while it was true you could blaze through this title in a single sitting, people who did missed out on much.
The entire concept of Metal Gear Solid is more of a cinematic experience or interactive motion picture if you will. You become the hero of your own action movie and no one can argue that a 3-5 hour action movie is a pretty good deal.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty has been one of the most anticipated titles in the history of the PS2. People were talking about it while we waiting in line to get our systems; it video preview drew amazing crowds at the 2000 E3 show, and the combo-packaged demo made Zone of Enders one of the best selling (and least played) titles in PS2 history.
Sons of Liberty builds upon its predecessor in both scope and length, but in the end it succumbs to its own grandiose vision and bogs the player down in seemingly endless movies, sacrificing gameplay for the narrative. I’m told by our Japanese cultural attaché that the Japanese gaming public enjoy this style of game, but for the trigger happy domestic gamer, you will find yourself tapping your foot impatiently as com-link conversations and movies drone on and on.
Sons of Liberty puts you in the boots of our favorite commando, Solid Snake, but only for the first third of the game. Those of you that played the demo will have played most of the Solid Snake adventure. Much of this game is played as a new character, which may prove disappointing for those looking for an exclusive Snake experience. Both characters and the gameplay are identical, so it’s only a difference of graphics and voice actor when switching heroes.
The game plays like a typical 3D action game with a few unique innovations. You have some amazing movement controls at your disposal such as hugging a wall then peaking around and firing a quick burst before ducking back. You can grab onto rails and ledges and shimmy sideways. You can even do chin-ups to build up your grip meter so you can hang and shimmy for longer durations. Control is almost perfect and my only complaint is that you must maintain a constant pressure on the stick when hugging a wall. It would have been nice to toggle a wall-hug mode much like the system in Headhunter.
Metal Gear has always relied heavily on stealth tactics and Sons of Liberty is no different. There are way too many enemies to go barging in with guns blazing. You are virtually required to sneak, snipe, and dispatch your enemy silently. Often you will need to conceal or dispose of a body to avoid detection.
The AI of the enemy is considerably advanced and they will detect the slightest suspicious change in a given situation. If a guard is missing from his post reinforcements will be called, a sweep of the area takes place and the guard is replaced. Some guards must check in via radio, so if you drug a guard and he is unable to respond more guards appear.
There are some environmental challenges that offer a unique gaming twist. In one situation you are sneaking through almost the entire length of the ship via a series of cargo holds. Each hold is filled with hundreds of Marines who are all watching a video presentation. You must sneak through these hold timing your movements with the changing slides and concealing yourself behind crates. In one of my most memorable captures I accidentally stood up in front of the slide projector casting a huge shadow on the screen immediately alerting a hundred angry Marines.
As good as the AI is, it fails to achieve total realism. For instance, if you are spotted then run away and hide for long enough everyone goes back to normal duty like you were never spotted. Realistically, they should continue searching until you are found or everyone is dead, and if you require such realism you can up the skill level to the point where if you are detected even once the game is over. For the more casual gamer, you will find the lower difficulty settings more than challenging.
Physics are a major part of this game and they are as perfect as real life. Watch raindrops bounce off of surfaces, watch the wind blow Snakes bandanna and rustle his famous mullet haircut. Shoot glass and watch it crack, shatter, and crumble to the floor. Knock over an ice bucket and watch the cubes melt in real-time. It’s all unnecessary to the game, but very necessary to creating an amazing virtual world that sucks you in and immerses you in the story.
Gameplay becomes more diverse in the second half of the game where you will find yourself spending a good chunk of time disarming strategically placed bombs, avoiding enemy patrols, and fighting some of the coolest bosses in any action game to date. These bosses are not only originally, but highly challenging in that they react and change their tactics based on your actions. Even so, you will eventually learn their basic patterns and figure out the best way to defeat them.
Some examples of boss battles include the mad bomber on inline skates who skates around the Harrier landing pad planting explosives that you must disarm while trying to avoid him running you over. Another boss battle pits you against a Harrier jet as you fight from a burning and twisted section of catwalk. You must dodge machine gun fire and stinger missiles while trying to take out key points on the plane with your rocket launcher.
There is so much detail that serves to enhance the gameplay. If you run around in wet clothes (or even worse – NO clothes) you can actually catch cold then start sneezing making it hard to sneak around. Lights cast shadows that help you spot enemies around corners but also allow them to spot you. You can stash bodies in lockers or hide in them yourself.
It gets even better. How about various boxes that you can hide in. Wet boxes for outside and a variety of dry boxes for certain parts of the level. If you use a machine parts box in the kitchen instead of a food box you will probably alert a guard or two. The galley features hanging pots and pans that clank and rattle around. The storeroom is full of fruit that can get shot up into bite-sized chunks. Put a bullet into a bag of flour and watch Snake start sneezing.
For the perfectionist, there is a series of dog tags that you can collect. These are found all over the game on key individuals. They are very hard to find and you will have to shake down almost every dead or unconscious guard you come across if you want to collect them all. A handy pair of goggles makes spotting these tags a bit easier.
Near the end of the game it takes a nasty twist where it favors story over action. You will find yourself sitting through cutscenes and listening to incessant babblings of your girlfriend who just happens to be your mission coordinator. I wanted to smack her when I’m sitting there trying to save the planet and she’s saying things like ‘Jack, tell me about your childhood”, or “Jack, do you remember what day it is today”. I was almost hoping she would turn out to be the enemy so I could kill her in the end.
Sons of Liberty is easily one of the most gorgeous games released to date. The game engine is very advanced and when combined with the amazing talents of the artists who created this game, you have something that looks as close to real life as it gets on your TV.
Subtle details are perhaps this title’s strongest point. The texture work is incredible and doesn’t lose a pixel of detail even when you are nose-to-the-wall. Special effects such as weather are realistically rendered. The rain in this game is like none other whether you see it falling through the sky or splashing on the deck. Enter the interior of the ship and watch the immediate area fill with fog then slowly dissipate. Snake will even leave wet footprints if you forget to shake yourself dry once inside. And if that’s not enough, how about seagulls who drop their “presents” on the catwalk, which cause you to slip and fall if you step in the white goop.
Special effects reach new heights in the end levels where you are inside a virtual reality environment. The use of glowing textures and transparencies make for some incredible levels. Watch in amazement as Jack leaves grid-like footprints as he walks across the floor that slowly fade away.
The character animation is amazingly lifelike down to the subtlest movement. Watch bored guard stretch and yawn or watch Snake sneak, crawl, roll, jump, hang, or roundhouse kick the bad guys. You can shake down the enemy for ammo and other items then drag their corpse off to some dark corner or toss it into the briny deep.
The cutscenes are a mix of 3D graphics and FMV, but perhaps the most amazing thing is that all of the CGI movies are rendered on the fly. You’d swear they were pre-rendered but they’re not. These movies use every Hollywood trick, camera angle, and special effect in the book to create an experience worthy of the big screen.
Other nice touches include a great com-link interface that let you communicate with a variety of people. A handy dialing list keeps track of all your favorite frequencies and you even use this clever device to save your game.
Ultimately, words cannot begin to describe the splendor of this title’s visuals, so make sure to check out the screenshot gallery. Sons of Liberty is a showstopper title and one that will dazzle your friends and have them scrambling for the store to pick up their own copy of the game.
The original Metal Gear Solid was unanimously heralded as having the best voice acting ever heard in any game ever. Sons of Liberty continues this fine tradition or excellence by bringing back the original voice actor for Solid Snake as well as other characters who originally appeared in the first game. The voice actors who assume the roles of the new characters are equally as talented and this game will go down in history as having some of the best acting ever.
Sound effects are perfect down to the subtle hiss of the rain to the clank of a metal bulkhead door, to the report of your AK47. The whirling fan blades of the spy drones, the clanking footsteps on metal catwalks, the metallic thumping of Metal Gear Ray’s footsteps are all unique, perfect, and add to the overall immersion of the experience.
Harry Gregson-Williams did the score for Sons of Liberty and as one of Hollywood’s biggest composers you can expect some larger-than-life music that fits the movie segments perfectly. Music during actual gameplay is surprisingly subdued, if present at all. Sometimes it will peak during tense situations providing just the right amount of emotional response. Sometimes, a lack of music is even more effective, especially during the stealth sections of the game where you need to be concentrating on the sounds of your environment. Don’t be surprised to play large sections of this game with little or no background music.
Sons of Liberty offers support for Dolby Digital 5.1 surround but only in the three major movies. Unfortunately the PS2 isn’t powerful enough to handle real-time surround sound and do everything else this game demands of it. If you have a 5.1 setup and are using the optical cable on your PS2 you will be treated to a true theatrical experience, both visually and audibly.
While Sons of Liberty is considerably longer than its predecessor, it is still a “short” game, especially if you strip out the movies and just add up the time you spend actually playing the game. Of course you can argue that the game is nothing without the story and you would be right, but in my two trips through this titles I finished the game in just under ten hours the first time and seven hours the second.
Admittedly, on my second pass I skipped over a lot of the optional conversation that takes place in the com-link when you can contact everyone and get information on everything. It makes for a great read and fills in lots of story elements the first time you play, but it will have you yawning on future trips.
I will tell you now that you need to play this game at least twice. If you try to get all of the dog tags on your first trip through the game will cease to become fun and you will lose yourself in what becomes a scavenger hunt. Do yourself a favor and play the game as a straight-up adventure. Then when you go back on your quest for tags you will already know the levels and have good tactics for beating bosses, etc.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty dishes up a big serving of good old-fashion espionage and tactical-based combat that favors stealth over fighting. The story is good, yet at times it felt that it was being crammed down my throat. The pacing seemed to be a bit off with plenty of action in the beginning then tons of narrative during the final chapters. The very end of the game dumped an encyclopedia of back-story on you in a very short amount of time.
Aside from the over-abundance of movies and com-link chatter, there is a really great game hidden on this DVD. The freedom to explore and ultimately play this game as you see fit within the confines of the parameters of the script is a great feature that offers excellent replay potential. Whether you choose to replay it now or later is not an issue. You will replay this game sooner or later. Like a fine movie that you might watch once or twice a year, Sons of Liberty will keep you coming back for your Solid Snake (and Jack) action-adventure fix.