Fission Mailed: Metal Gear Solid 2 Sons of Liberty
Someone should slap Hideo Kojima for producing a game so good and yet so tragically flawed. Metal Gear Solid 2 is a remarkable achievement in immersion; from the moment you step in as Snake everything around you gives off the sensation that yes, it is tangible. And yet, when one looks at the characters that populate this world, the story that gives the world breath one finds a situation so unbelievable that it destroys the realism of the environment. Read on for more on the tragedy of Metal Gear Solid 2, Sons of Liberty.
Before the release of Metal Gear 2 there was a dispute over whether the Playstation 2 could handle the video scenes shown at E3. I am proud to say that the programmers at Konami have done an outstanding job at creating one of the most vivid video games released for either console or computer. For example, during the game’s opening sequence Snake jumps from the Manhattan Bridge as the camera, falling with Snake, smoothly navigates itself through the bridge's supports. Is it the smoothness with which the game engine handles the scene or the beautiful shot as a result that gives this scene its power? Or maybe a third, the viewer is awed at the grandeur of the Manhattan bridge itself, not simply because the graphics are good, but because this digital representation carries the same majesty as a real bridge.
The graphical magic isn't limited merely to architecture either: when the situation calls for rain, it effortlessly bounces off of roofs flowing to the ground, when the main character is walks through the rain water spray rolls off of the cuffs of his suit. Even more remarkably, these effects aren't limited to in game cut scenes; the player will experience this realism throughout the course of the game.
In fact, perhaps the only problem I have with the graphics in the game is with the model for Solid Snake. His eyes have a strange, bug like quality and his face just doesn't look like the Snake I imagined from the first game.
This is not to say that the other character models are not excellent also. Most noteworthy are the marines guarding Metal Gear Ray in the tanker chapter. Not only does the game engine render at least 50 character models effortlessly, each one has a unique and realistic facial structure, giving each discreet marine a look of their own.
In the end, all one can say of the graphics of Metal Gear Solid 2 is, "wow".
The Metal Gear series has defined itself through gameplay. Even the original 8-bit Nintendo game featured interactive elements not found in any other game. In the more recent iterations, the Metal Gear series has attempted to give its characters an experience so close to reality that even a weapon's spent clip can be used to distract guards.
With the latest game, in addition to many of the old classic weapons the character gets an improved sniper rifle, grenade launcher, and tranquilizer gun. To supplement these additions there is an improved first person mode featuring peeking, dodging and aiming capabilities.
My one complaint with the gameplay in MGS2 is that the game seems too easy. The addition of a tranquilizer gun over-simplifies the game; I found myself putting everyone to sleep with my silenced tranquilizer darts, no longer having to worry about missing a shot, alerting guards with my blast, or leaving traces of blood like I did in the first Metal Gear Solid. Although the security team will occasionally detect that a guard is asleep, and thus come to investigate, even these nuisances can be easily avoided with the use of a common household cardboard box. And unlike the regular guards, the security team isn't discriminating about which cardboard box you use.
Then there are the unchallenging bosses. One of my favorite aspects of Metal Gear Solid 1 was that it felt as though each boss match was a battle of wits against a real enemy. Sure the ninja, and especially Psycho Mantis were annoying (and frustrating) but they presented a legitimate barrier in my desire to stop their terrorist group. In MGS2 the bosses go down easier than some of the regular enemies, and no security team comes in afterward to kill you once you're done either. Even the inevitable battle with Metal Gear Ray resembles a battle with a now near-sighted Meta Gear Rex: it has roughly the same weapons, but the grace and aim of a teenager.
However, the AI makes up for a lot of this. My favorite AI moment was when I hid inside of a cubicle, only to watch two guards split up, plan an attack from both exits, and wave each other to signal to execute. The PS2's raw computing power is not wasted on this game.
The sounds in MGS2 reflect the realism of the environment: hallways clank with your footsteps. a bullet to the head lets off one of the more unpleasant sounds in the game.
As for music, I'm still undecided. Most of the game is BGM-less, however in some places ambient electronic music permeates the air. I like the music overall, but in some places I miss the older, classical feel of MGS1.
Not that there aren't any classical compositions. Harry Gregson Williams does a wonderful job composing the main themes for the game. And the jazz song during the ending is just lovely.
Overall, the audio in MGS2 is of the same quality as the surrounding environment (and suits it well). It just took me a while to acclimate to the electronic elements of the score.
If there is one concept that permeates the entire work it is realism. So, why, why God did Hideo Kojima have to provide such an outlandish story.
Like all of the other Metal Gears, first you're on a simple espionage mission, the plot develops, and suddenly the world is in check. I think most gamers expected something similarly eccentric but MGS2 bring the level up a notch. There are AIs and secret government groups and characters have complex and pointless backstories that the player does not care about.
For example, two of the game's bosses, Vamp and Fortune, are agents of a former government Special Forces unit, as well as lovers. Vamp is a bisexual and had actually been seeing Fortune's father who lead Vamp and Fortune’s special forces unit before his murder. Unfortunately, none of these factors develop into any sort of cohesive plot. They are, instead, mentioned in dialog and then promptly forgotten.
Then the player comes to the wacky predicament of Raiden. It is not my place to say whether it was wise to swap control from Snake to Raiden (although I do admire Hideo Kojima for considering the effect of narrative perspective on the video game). However, I can say that the situation Raiden is thrown into seems a little too silly for a game this real.
Where should I start? Instead of the wonderfully witty Mei Ling you get Raiden's annoying girlfriend. You want to save; she wants to question the nature of your relationship. She is well written as an annoying girlfriend, but I would venture to argue that most people are not playing Metal Gear to get in a "conversation" with their girlfriend. From the start you question why she was chosen for this mission (she didn't work there before you set out) and of course, throughout the game the player is thinking "they are going to use her against me". It's a Metal Gear, right? And predictably, she is used against you, but not in a way that really necessitates her working at mission control.
The game would be better off if each character came from an isolated background. There’s only so much melodrama that a player can put up with.
In the end Metal Gear Solid 2, Sons of Liberty is a
Greek tragedy of a game. It starts off strong, does some amazing feats,
and conquers all those around it. However, its strength, the depth of
realism in the game, is what slays the game. The realism of the environment
presents too bold a contrast to the fiction of the story, and ultimately,
the player wants only to run around in the world without a mission, shooting
people in the head.
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