On Wednesday afternoon, Konami and famed game designer Hideo Kojima held a press event to publicly unveil what's sure to be one of next year's biggest games on any platform: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. The demonstration was held at the Universal Studios lot inside a moderately-sized auditorium for an audience of about 150 journalists from around the world.
Kojima briefly addressed the audience before showing the promotional footage of Metal Gear Solid 2, which showed off a lot of the game's forthcoming features, alluded to its plot, showed some of its main characters, and kept the audience riveted until it finally erupted in applause once the trailer finally ended. The government-trained specialist Solid Snake returns as the protagonist of Metal Gear Solid 2, and from all the footage that was shown, it's evident that Snake looks and moves more realistically than ever before. He bolts through high-risk areas, dives out of range of enemy fire, lies in ambush around corners, shimmies across precarious catwalks, and more.
But Snake's done most of that already in Metal Gear Solid for the PlayStation - as such, it's not that Metal Gear Solid 2 seems like it'll have a radically different concept than its predecessor. Instead, even as Metal Gear Solid helped set new standards for cinematic quality in games, so too does the sequel stand poised to shatter any previous conventions or expectations for quality of game graphics and gameplay realism. Solid Snake himself looks strikingly realistic in the sequel, and the game's environment is equally impressive; Although it was stated previously that the game would take place in Manhattan, it appears that most of the action actually takes place off the coast of New York, in a gigantic ship that looks like an oil tanker. The outdoor sequences aboard the ship took place in heavy rain at night, and you could see the rain drenching Snake's hair and clothing. Characters casted real-time and dynamic shadows, and in one sequence Snake waited around the corner for a guard whose elongated shadow first gave away his presence.
Another exciting sequence took place in what looked like the ship's bar, as Snake dodged gunfire that tore through liquor bottles nearby, spraying the area with glass and alcohol. Kojima stated that guards in Metal Gear Solid 2 would come in several levels of strengths, and won't all be garden-variety soldiers. In one sequence, Snake was confronted with Genome soldiers wielding riot shields that successfully deflected his bullets. The perspective then switched to the player's first-person view, which showed Snake aiming a few degrees below the shields, firing at the soldiers' legs. In spite of such surprisingly great-looking scenes, Kojima noted after the presentation that he was rather nervous about how the game would be received.
But though everyone was impressed with the preview, fans of Metal Gear Solid seemed especially excited: The game footage showed that, in addition to Snake, Metal Gear characters like the young professor Hal "Otacon" Emmerich and the deadly gunslinger Revolver Ocelot would return with major roles in the sequel. While Kojima understandably didn't want to reveal too much of the game's plot, we were able to extrapolate several details from the footage. Apparently, the blueprints of Metal Gear Rex were eventually leaked out of the deserted Alaskan base in the PlayStation game, and have since become available for sale on the black market. As a result, a number of countries and private organizations have come into possession of their own Metal Gears. To combat this proliferation of Rexes, an unknown organization (presumably FoxHound), developed a Rex-killer, dubbed Metal Gear Ray. This gargantuan can only be described as a metal version of the American Godzilla, as the robot's tail-like appendage and its ability to swim in the open seas can't help but draw comparisons to the oversized iguana.
Metal Gear Ray is supposedly being moved by ship either from or to New York, when a group of special operatives invade the oil tanker. In a matter of seconds, all of the crew and hands on deck are summarily killed. However, one lone figure stands in between the operatives and their goal of kidnapping Metal Gear Ray: Solid Snake. It appears, however, that these mysterious operatives aren't the only people after Ray. Kojima's presentation showed brief clips of boss-like characters, including Revolver Ocelot, in combat with Snake as well as the invading soldiers. These bosses are undoubtedly under the command of Solidus, the third "Snake" brother revealed after the final credits of Metal Gear Solid. In a scene that drew applause from the crowd, a female character and Snake were locked in a Matrix-style gunfight, complete with slow motion and streaking bullets, amidst a pouring rain and gale force winds.
Even more impressive was the fact that the game can be finished without ever killing any of the non-boss enemies, according to Kojima. Making this possible is the addition of a non-lethal tranquilizer gun which immobilizes soldiers for a brief period of time without raising his guard. From what we could tell, the FAMAS rifle and SOCOM pistol have been carried over into Metal Gear Solid 2. A new addition to the arsenal includes the AK-47, which is initially carried by the standard soldiers. Another particularly new gameplay feature is the ability for Snake to surprise his enemies by coming around the corner with gun drawn. Soldiers caught off guard will quickly drop their weapon and raise their hands in a plea of sorts. Kojima said that this, and other forms of enemy AI, are completely dynamic dependant on Snake's relation with the soldiers' position, weapons advantage, and other factors not quite so concrete. And as in games like Half-Life, soldiers will now behave as a group, and will attack and flank you in a coordinated effort. This is in no small part due to the addition of a military advisor to the design team, who lectured the developers on spec ops infiltration, breaching, and clearing techniques. According to Kojima, over 30 percent of the PlayStation 2's emotion engine is being devoted strictly towards this kind of enemy AI. Kojima wouldn't comment on what, if any, kind of the PlayStation 2's networking capabilities the game will take advantage of.
Whereas Metal Gear Solid focused on the theme of self-determination (and to some extent, nuclear proliferation) Kojima said that Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty will raise the alarm about the digitization of society. "What kind of liberty will we have in a completely digital society?" asked Kojima. We'll have to wait for the game's release in the fall of 2001 before we'll have an answer to that question. And for those who are wondering. Yes, the cardboard box makes a return in Metal Gear Solid 2.