Thanks to a new control scheme, a fantastic story and a host of new features, MGS2 is greater than even its predecessor.
DMLSLAT wrote this review on .
The Bad: Shooting mechanics are still a bit messy; ...okay let's be honest, Raiden doesn't hold a candle to Snake.
Metal Gear Solid 1 on PS1 was a fantastic rebirth of an old franchise from the mind of Hideo Kojima. Despite some awkward mechanics, particularly when shooting, the story felt like a movie and the espionage was unparalleled.
And, just like with a blockbuster movie sequel, Metal Gear Solid 2 got a huge amount of hype on its way to release. Now I can tell you that it most certainly deserved it all, because even though the shooting mechanics are still a bit awkward, MGS2 has just about perfected its formula.
I'm not going to go into too much detail about the story because it's too deep and too good to spoil. Suffice it to say, it takes place during two missions, the Tanker mission and the Plant mission, two years and four years after the first MGS, respectively.
The Tanker mission is about Snake trying to take down more Metal Gears, in the hopes of avoiding a nuclear war. The Metal Gear blueprints have now leaked all over the internet, so lots of countries are getting their hands on them, and things are going downhill.
The Plant mission is about another character codenamed Raiden, who is sent to a similar area by the group Snake used to work with, FOXHOUND. He initially thinks he was sent to save this power plant from a terrorist group called the Sons of Liberty because they're going to destroy it and spread a bunch of chemicals all over the place if their demands aren't met. As it turns out, he is there to stop the Sons of Liberty, but they're planning on using their version of Metal Gear, Arsenal Gear, as a weapon to take over America, cause anarchy and provide their breed of "freedom" to everyone.
I'm not going any further than that, because spoiling it for you just wouldn't be fair. In short, there's a strong driving narrative backing the game and plenty of twists and turns on the way to keep you entranced. Many people say Metal Gear Solid overdoes it on the cutscenes (there are indeed a lot of very long ones), because it's a video game, and if they wanted to see a movie, they'd go to the theater. The reason Metal Gear Solid can get away with it is that its story is better than the average movie story, and the action is just the same... With the added bonus that you're playing it. It feels like a fantastic movie and fantastic game all rolled into one, and you'll be constantly dying to learn more about it and keep pushing through.
I should also point out that there are moments in here that were impressively powerful. The voice acting (some stand-out actors include the voices of Snake, Raiden, Otacon, Vamp, Liquid, and Ocelot) feels movie-worthy, just like the story, so that doesn't hurt, but the death of one of the characters in particular couldn't have been better executed by any movie director, I'm dead serious. It blew me away how powerful it all was.
I'll also say here that the Plant chapter is much longer than the Tanker chapter, which sucks, because I agree with everyone else that Snake is way cooler than Raiden. This decision might've been made because Kojima felt there wasn't much room to develop Snake as a character in this part of the story, or maybe it was to avoid making it feel too similar to the first game... I don't know. Raiden is important to the story (not only in this game, but also in 4), but I guess everyone felt a bit cheated that they didn't get to play as Snake more. It's not that big a deal, because I still had plenty of fun with the game and Raiden's cool in his own way regardless, but it's a bit of a shame. I suppose he does look a bit girly... If only he had his looks from MGS4!
Story and a cool main character aren't enough to make a great game standing alone, of course, but Metal Gear Solid 2 nails all of the rest of the necessary components as well. By today's standards, the graphics aren't anything to write home about, but for a 2001 PS2 game, everything looks very impressive. What really makes it stand out so well in this area, though, is the character movements. Snake and Raiden look like real people moving around no matter what action you're having them do, and that's not something games generally master.
Harry Gregson-Williams did the score for this game. He's done both movies and video games in the past (some other work he's done includes the Shrek movies, Call of Duty, and The Chronicles of Narnia movies), and in this case, it feels like he was doing the score for a movie. I seriously don't expect music this great from the film industry, let alone the game industry. Nothing feels out of place, everything empowers the scene at hand... Absolutely stunning. What could essentially be Metal Gear Solid's new main theme song, as played in the little cutscene before the main menu pops up, is one of the best orchestrated pieces I've ever heard.
The cameras in the first two games stay above everything going on, so in the first game, you can get shot at by people off-screen and be helpless to fight back. MGS2 mostly fixes this problem by means of making the camera at a slightly different tilt, so you can see a lot more. Or maybe it's still there, but it never troubled me in the second one for some reason.
I always said it wasn't the length of the first MGS that was its greatest weakness, it was its controls. 2 improves things drastically, even though the shooting mechanics are still a bit messy.
Sneaking is great, to be sure. Crouching, crawling, putting your back up against a wall, all great. The alert phase stuff hasn't been changed much, if at all, and neither has the health bar and such. If it ain't broke don't fix it, right? Improved a little, but not messed up. Equipping items and all is the same, so no need to worry about that, either. The AI is a bit better, too, because when you kill a guard their boss will radio in asking why they haven't given a status report, and if another guard just kind of sees their friend's corpse, they don't just ignore it. All of this makes things a bit tougher, but it balances out thanks to the improved controls.
The shooting has changed for the better, but not enough to be flawless. You can now move while shooting in third-person view, which is pretty cool, but the targeting system still doesn't work quite right. It gets a bit jumpy and doesn't always lock onto the stuff it's supposed to. Perhaps the best way to go about things now is to shoot in first-person view, another new feature that's really nice. Accuracy is necessary in a few places, so it had to be there anyway, but it's a drastic improvement at the same time. It doesn't target things, for one thing. The big problem is that it's impossible to move while first-person shooting, so if you plan to use it on a boss, you better hurry it up. Still, it's a step in the right direction.
The other weakness, as mentioned above, that people like Jeff Gerstmann complained about in the first MGS was the length of the game. It clocks in at about ten hours, even if you suck at it (like I did at the time), on normal difficulty, regardless of which ending you get (there's only one in MGS2, by the way). That's including the cutscenes. This one is more like twenty. Having twice the amount of content alone has me sold that it's a better game, not to mention the improved sneaking, the improved (if not perfected) shooting, the deeper story, the improved graphics, and the (drastically) improved music, even though the first game's music was great, too.
Bigger. Longer. More powerful. Improved. Better. That's essentialy what MGS2 is in comparison to its prequel. Even though the shooting mechanics aren't quite perfect (using a pressure-sensitive button doesn't help much either) and Raiden isn't as cool as Snake, everything else is as good if not better than what was seen in the last episode of the Metal Gear Solid saga. Therefore, you absolutely must buy (no, these are not games you rent or borrow) and play all of the games in this series to get the full story and appreciate the entire Metal Gear Solid experience.