Title :Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
Platforms :Sony PlayStation 2
Publisher :Konami
ESRB Rating :Mature
Game Rating :9.6
Review by :Ken Gagne

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, from Konami, for Sony PlayStation 2. 

Everything you've heard is true. 

If you need further detail, read on. 

The game's story is much too surprising and detailed to describe at length without ruining it for readers. Suffice to say, the bipedal tank known as Metal Gear has resurfaced in the weapons market, and it's up to covert super-soldier Solid Snake to uncover the plots and powers behind this nuclear threat. His infiltration involves acquisition of a veritable arsenal of weaponry and high-tech gadgetry, from thermal goggles to Nikita missiles, as he discovers that old foes and new opponents are collaborating in a scheme where not everything is what it appears. 

Anyone who didn't play the original Metal Gear Solid (MGS), other than deserving to be stripped of the title "gamer", missed a great game and a deep story. The sequel summarizes this background with nearly 500 pages of optional in-game text. Then it's once more unto the breach. 

Snake's controls take some learning, though the resultant versatility is worthwhile. His initial repertoire of sneaking, crawling, snapping necks, and using bodies as shields has been expanded to include hanging from railings, frisking guards, and more. Unlike the first MGS, the sequel does not come with a training mode, and proper instruction is not provided to players until two hours into the actual game. Though it's smoothly worked into the game's pacing, it makes for a difficult introduction for new gamers. 

Despite Snake's deadly dexterity, discretion is a more important skill to practice. Guards will call for reinforcements at the sight of wet footprints or a trail of blood, and will become suspicious if a missing guard doesn't answer his radio. Bodies can be dragged out of sight or hidden in lockers, but these desperate measures take time. A low body count will ultimately result in greater success. 

It will take even veteran gamers awhile to live up to Snake's legacy. Though the game has five difficulty settings, even "Easy" is anything but. When in hostile enemy territory, sloppy players can expect no mercy from knife-wielding Rumanians, sniper sentries, electrified floor plating, or booby-trapped C4 explosives. 

Not every moment is spent dodging bullets. Cinematic moments of plot development regularly occur in which background is supplied, secrets revealed, and new characters introduced. Normally, such passive watching is the antithesis of gameplay, but not here; never has material been of such gripping quality to justify constant gameplay interruption. More than a few jaws will hit the ground as more and more lies and half-truths are uncovered. Still, a better ratio of cinema to gameplay couldn't have hurt. 

This movie-like experience is due in no small part to the game's audio. In many games, the soundtrack is nothing more than background fluff for amazing graphics; in MGS2, the aural component is nothing less than a masterpiece composed by Harry Gregson-Williams (The Rock, Armageddon). Even more contributive to the dramatic feel is the perfect voice acting of every line of dialogue. A supporting cast is constantly available by radio, offering directions and tips. The first MGS contained more spoken words than the entire first Star Wars trilogy; the sequel sounds like a good competitor. 

Lest you think MGS2 is a perfect slice of (Outer) Heaven, it does have some imperfect aspects. The inventory lacks as many useful items and weapons as the first Metal Gear Solid boasted, restricting the sequel's items to fewer and less useful equipment. The game's story also dissolves somewhat in the last hour, leaving many things unresolved. 

Despite those moments, director Hideo Kojima has a masterpiece on his hands, with little reason for gamers not to have it in theirs. Something more important than the fate of the free world is at stake here — that's Snake's responsibility. Gamers, your mission: acquire first-hand proof of the Metal Gear Solid 2 as the Game of the Year.

This article is copyright (c) 2001, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 26-Nov-01