Then Raiden came along.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (PS2, on Xbox as Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance)
Developed by: Konami
Released: November 14th, 2001
Bargain Binned: $4.99 at GameStop, 100 Goozex Points
The game should only be attempted if you're familar with Metal Gear Solid on the PlayStation. If you've never played it, then I weep for you and urge you to track down a stupidly expensive copy. While MGS can be enjoyed without having played the original NES counterparts, I feel that to get the most out of Sons of Liberty, it's paramount to the enjoyment of this one to be familar with its prequel. Or just watch the cutscenes on Youtube or something.
Taking place several years after the events of Metal Gear Solid, we find out that Metal Gears are now being produced by military organisations all over the world. For those of you who don't know, a Metal Gear is a nuclear equipped walking battle tank that needlessly resembles a dinosaur because dinosaur robots are pretty cool. The legendary hero Solid Snake is now a part of an underground activist group known as Philanthropy and he, along with MGS tragicomical figure Otacon are now dedicated to ridding the world of these Metal Gear weapons. It's only fair, considering Snake's spent the best years of his life destroying these things and now everybody decides to have one. The story starts on a Marine tanker where a new type of weapon, an amphibious Metal Gear RAY is being held, and it's Snake's job to expose this new weapon to the public. Things go awry, however, when a group of Russian terrorists invade the tanker with designs on RAY themselves. The "tanker episode" however, is just a small prologue of the game, and the only time you actually play as Solid Snake himself.
The main bulk of the game is set two years after Snake's tanker adventure, and you take on the role of Raiden, a new recruit in Snake's former unit FOXHOUND. Raiden's been sent to a special environmental plant in the middle of the Hudson River in Manhattan, the scene of Snake's last known mission. Here, a terrorist organisation called "Sons Of Liberty" made up of former US government operatives DEAD CELL and a renegade Russian army have holed themselves in to make a sackload of crazy demands and threaten doom, as terrorists often do. The terrorists have hostages, one of whom is the US President himself, and it's up to Raiden to eliminate DEAD CELL and rescue their captives. The biggest twist? The terrorist leader is supposedly none other than the long-thought dead Solid Snake. Duh duh duh duh-duh, DO DO DOOOO!
Many fans hated the fact that you don't get to play Snake for most of the game, and it's an understandable gripe in some respects (when you think about it, we've only spent one game fully playing as Solid Snake in the whole main series, until Guns of the Patriots appears). Solid Snake is the Metal Gear series and people didn't take too kindly to playing somebody else, especially Raiden, who is wet, bitchy, stupid and more interested in arguing with his sappy boring girlfriend than actually completing his mission. Ignore the haters though, Sons of Liberty is still very much Snake's game. Just because you play somebody else, that doesn't stop this title being all about the James Bond of videogames. As Kojima himself said, getting to see him through the eyes of a rookie like Raiden, we get a new sense of perspective on the Solid Snake character. The Raiden fiasco was, in many ways, a very bold and brave move, and for me it definitely paid off. Even with that in mind, Raiden isn't that bad. The story is just as accomplished as the first MGS, with some awesome new characters like Vamp and Solidus Snake, as well as older ones getting developed in great ways, and there's no real reason to complain unless you want to spend the game looking at a grizzled war veteran's backside that desperately.
Sons of Liberty plays somewhat similarly to it's predecessor. This is a stealth game, and the usual routine of sneaking around, crawling through vents and knocking on walls to distract guards remains. Like Snake, Raiden is equipped with a magical radar that detects nearby enemies, allowing you an advantage in how you get around, although in each area of the plant, you have to manually activate the radar by finding a "node." It's a waste of time and a complete pain having to locate the stupid thing, which just seems thrown in to add some novelty. All it adds is irritation.
This game introduced hold ups to the series, and it never gets old being able to sneak behind an enemy and point your gun at them to make them quiver in fear and hold their hands up. It gives you the same sense of power that lonely men must feel when they do the same thing to women in dark alleys. You also get some new abilities like first person shooting modes and the ability to peek round corners.
The boss fights, though not as memorable as the first game's, are still highlights of MGS2, from one-on-one confrontations with the DEAD CELL members to a full on encounter with a harrier jet, there are some great gameplay moments to be found throughout. Breaking up the action is another staple of the Metal Gear series - long winded codec conversations and lengthy cutscenes. The codec is essentially Raiden's radio, if you didn't know, and a whole ton of speech is played over it, which will turn off players who want to do more than just sit and listen. Personally, I'm not even a huge fan of stealth and play for the story, so I don't mind it so much, although Raiden's arguments with his clingy girlfriend really start to grate on you before the game's end.
As far as graphics go, Sons of Liberty was a masterpiece at the turn of the century and holds up even today. My one criticism is that it looks too good sometimes, and in fact is the cause of a whole term I have called "The Sons of Liberty Effect," where everything's been made to look overly shiny and as a result, everything looks like glass and plastic. Aside from everything looking overly polished, however, it's still quite a sight as far as I'm concerned. Sons of Liberty also sports one of the greatest audio tracks of the last generation. The score was composed by Hollywood's Harry Gregson-Williams and his music remains both very apt and incredibly rousing. His rendition of the main theme is a favourite on my playlist, and the themes specific to certain characters just seem to embody them perfectly. The voiceovers are consistently good, with the returning actors of previous characters keeping up the excellent quality seen in the original MGS and newcomers handling their roles with equal camp skill. Even Raiden sounds decent, given his role.
Sons of Liberty is insultingly cheap and is an absolute blast if you can get over the fact that there are so many cutscenes. If watching is just as exciting as playing to you, then for the few dollars you'll throw down, you really can't do much worse. Besides, Raiden is the hottest chick to ever have a penis, so there's always that going for it.
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