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Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (PlayStation 2) artwork

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (PlayStation 2) review


"I find it ironic that Metal Gear Solid is almost singlehandedly responsible for the wave of "stealth espionage action" that still holds sway today. The game's signature sneaking tactics are now commonplace occurrences in a staggering range of games, but Metal Gear Solid always wanted to be, first and foremost, an interactive action movie. I’m convinced the creeping around corners and crawling through ventilation shafts were only there to lend cinematic credence to the thoroughly Hollywood-blockb..."



I find it ironic that Metal Gear Solid is almost singlehandedly responsible for the wave of "stealth espionage action" that still holds sway today. The game's signature sneaking tactics are now commonplace occurrences in a staggering range of games, but Metal Gear Solid always wanted to be, first and foremost, an interactive action movie. I’m convinced the creeping around corners and crawling through ventilation shafts were only there to lend cinematic credence to the thoroughly Hollywood-blockbuster notion that you were a one-man army sent to battle a team of rogue special agents threatening to unleash nuclear apocalypse. Today, Metal Gear Solid the game is outclassed, but Metal Gear Solid the story is still an inimitable ride full of bombastic supervillains, epic set pieces, and wild plot twists.

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty offers a respectable revamping of the original's mechanics, but the real effort seems to have gone into making another experience worthy of the big screen. And it belly flops pretty hard. Don’t get me wrong: fantastic production value fantastic is a give-in. The visuals are superlative, pushing Sony’s hardware to achieve captivating results that lesser developers can’t touch even years later. Harry Gregson-Williams, film composer for action spectacles like The Rock, was brought in to do the score. The action is set off the coast of Manhattan, an island with famous landmarks by the dozen and innocent bystanders by the millions.

Hideo Kojima (the closest thing the videogame industry has to a celebrity producer) and his team are clearly straining for that Hollywood magic, but Sons of Liberty plays out as a grotesque exaggeration of the first MGS, an already exaggerated take on the action film tradition. Plot twists reveal that Kojima may have been hoping for exactly this surreal remake effect, but that doesn't make him a genius: it means he’s the pompous windbag who succeeded in creating a veritable landfill of preposterous action-movie clichés. He has brought to fruition his daft, amateurish vision of what he thinks an intelligent thrill ride should be, and I, for one, am pointing my finger and laughing.

I belabor Sons of Liberty's narrative in such overblown terms because the narrative itself is so overblown, and (as in the first Metal Gear Solid) you will probably spend as much time watching the game as playing it. Although there are clearly cheesy laughs by the dozen, anybody claiming that this game was supposed to be camp has to contend with obnoxiously earnest fifteen-minute environmentalist screeds. I've glanced at many a lengthy message board post heralding Sons of Liberty as "postmodern," "deconstructivist," and other grad school adjectives that should hint at the sort of nonsense with which we are dealing. Just remember that they're talking about a game ostensibly set in present day reality whose villains include (sort of spoilers) a vampire, a military man who may or may not be a malevolent, disembodied digital skull, some goop collecting beneath the White House, and an obese rollerskater.

What about the hero? Well, I haven't mentioned Solid Snake--the badass of the other Metal Gear games, and perhaps the definitive badass of all videogaming--because you spend this game as Raiden, an effeminate young lad with wispy should-length hair (compare with Snake’s manly, unkempt just-barely-a-mullet) who has frequent conversations with his girlfriend in the midst of his world-saving mission. My tolerance for cinematics is high--I’m always annoyed when someone complains, “But you spend more time watching the game than playing it!” And even I think this is a nightmare.

I could go on for another few thousand words. In contrast, there isn't nearly as much to say about Sons of Liberty when you get a chance to actually pick up the controller and play it. It's solid, it's fun, and you can pull some nifty stunts, but these stunts might be the crux of the issue. Instead of ironing out all the kinks in Metal Gear Solid's engine, Konami opted to iron out some of the kinks and throw in several new elaborate abilities. The result is a collection of many great elements and a few antiquated ones that never fully coalesce, a game where you can disable guards' radios so they can't call for backup or shoot a fire hydrant and take cover in the resulting white haze, yet most of the action is handled with a stubborn, awkward combination of 1st and 3rd person maneuvering. You’ll have bouts of frustration with the game’s obdurate obsolescence, but I think the potential for sneaky thrills outweighs the negative issues.

Still, there’s little reason to play Sons of Liberty when you have three Splinter Cell titles available on the same platform (even the watered-down PS2 versions), and there’s no reason to watch Sons of Liberty when you could jump into an empty swimming pool headfirst.

Rating: 6/10

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Community review by careless_whisper (June 22, 2005)

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