Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty Feature Preview

The next chapter of Hideo Kojima's epic video game saga is set to change what people think of the PS2. We got the opportunity to sit down with the game's producer and play the final demo build of Metal Gear Solid 2.


Once you've finished reading our exclusive coverage of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, be sure to watch our video preview, complete with never-before-seen footage. To start watching, click on the image.
Once you've finished reading our exclusive coverage of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, be sure to watch our video preview, complete with never-before-seen footage. To start watching, click on the image.

"Sometimes I can't believe how anal the man is," exclaims Ken Ogasawara, the US producer of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Ogasawara is talking about Hideo Kojima, the creator of the Metal Gear series and the lead designer and director for Metal Gear Solid 2. Of course, Ogasawara's statement isn't meant to be derogatory--he's referring to Kojima's attention to detail. In this industry and period of mediocre games, being referred to as attentive to detail is the highest compliment that can be bestowed onto a designer. It's important to note that Ogasawara has had the final build of the Metal Gear Solid 2 demo in his possession for weeks, and yet he's constantly finding hidden tricks and previously undiscovered details. On the day that we were invited to Konami headquarters to play the Metal Gear Solid 2 demo, Ogasawara unearthed another such detail.

"Sometimes I can't believe how anal the man is."
- Ken Ogasawara on Hideo Kojima's attention to detail

Under Ogasawara's control, Snake effortlessly incapacitates two soldiers standing guard in the crew's lounge of a massive tanker ship. The lounge looks decidedly out of place in this ship, and the rest of the vessel is spartan, with exposed pipes, large metal bolts, and thick watertight doors, all of which make up the majority of the ship. On the other hand, the crew's lounge is decorated with marble floors and glass walls. A large flat-screen plasma television above a number of plush leather sofas adorns one side of the room, with a fully stocked wet bar on the other. To demonstrate the level of interactivity in the game, Ogasawara proceeds to shoot the bottles and glasses that hang alongside the bar, spilling their contents and smaller shards of glass onto the floor below. For fun, he also shoots a small bucket of ice--the ice cubes scatter across the wooden counter. Amazingly, the ice cubes start to melt after a few seconds. The effect is subtle at first, but after staring at the frozen blocks for a while, it becomes apparent that they are indeed shrinking. Even more surprising is that the ice cubes that are alone are melting faster than the ice cubes that are stuck together, mimicking what would happen in real life. "Why does the ice have to melt like that?" Ogasawara asks rhetorically. "There's absolutely no need for that."

Snake is back
Snake is back

And yet, anyone who's played any of Kojima's games, especially his last project, Metal Gear Solid, can attest to and appreciate the level of detail--sometimes seemingly needless details--found in his games. In the original NES and MSX versions of Metal Gear, Solid Snake can change his outward appearance by wearing his enemies' clothes. In Metal Gear Solid, Snake can avoid getting attacked by wolves if he lets a wolf cub relieve itself on him. Small details? Certainly. Needless details? Perhaps. And yet, it's these minor particulars that separate Kojima's games from others. Kojima and his team of about 30 designers at Konami Computer Entertainment of Japan are currently working on the next game in the Metal Gear series. Its existence was first rumored a few weeks before the 2000 E3, and at the first day of the show, it was unveiled to the public in dramatic fashion.

We were recently given the opportunity to play the final demo of what's considered to be the most highly anticipated game on any console this year. We walked away a little flabbergasted, slightly speechless, and quite amazed. Even though we had seen Metal Gear Solid 2 numerous times last year, including at E3, ECTS, and at the Konami media event, the chance to actually play the game was one that had eluded all members of the press--until now. We've got brand-new information on the game's story, gameplay mechanics, and, yes, needless details. We've also illustrated our preview with hundreds of exclusive screenshots, and we'll be updating our gamespace with a new batch every day this week. Read on for more on Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty--the most important game coming out for the PlayStation 2.

The Story Thus Far

Kojima doesn't want you to play Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty until you complete its predecessor. After all, many people have played Metal Gear Solid, the 1998 smash hit for the PlayStation--however, few people have finished the game. Fewer still have grasped the turn of events that transpired shortly before and after the final credits rolled across the screen. The game involved a group of rogue soldiers who had broken away from the international special operative organization known as Foxhound and had taken over a nuclear weapons storage facility on Shadow Moses, a desolate island on the Alaskan Fox Archipelago. Hidden at this remote base is Metal Gear Rex, a massive walking tank capable of launching nuclear warheads, totally undetected, at any city in the world. Desperate for options, the US military calls upon ex-Foxhound member Solid Snake to enter the base and eliminate the terrorists who are holding the Metal Gear and the base occupants hostage.

The face of the new enemy
The face of the new enemy

Throughout the course of the game, Solid Snake battles a number of memorable characters until he finally runs into the mastermind behind the entire Shadow Moses fiasco, his twin brother Liquid Snake. The final battle between Solid and Liquid lasts nearly 20 minutes, culminating in a high-speed chase/shootout that ends only when their jeeps collide at the service entrance of the nuclear weapons disposal facility. After the dust clears, Solid finds himself pinned beneath his jeep, while Liquid, broken and bleeding with a FAMAS rifle in hand, slowly makes his way to his brother's body with the intent of putting an end to his life and bringing a conclusion to his delusional jealousy. Both Liquid and Solid were test-tube babies, created in a laboratory from the DNA of Foxhound founder Big Boss. Liquid was always believed to be the inferior of the two siblings, and he has held a deep hatred for his brother and his supposed superiority. It's here that details about the game's story become confused, and they begin to make sense only when the events of Metal Gear Solid 2 begin to unfold. Looking back at Metal Gear Solid now, the final moments are becoming a little more clear.

Snake in classic form
Snake in classic form

As Liquid brings the barrel of his assault rifle level with Snake's head, his body suddenly begins to go through spasms, which are subtle at first, but quickly turn into violent convulsions--the effects of Foxdie. Foxdie was the drug designed by Dr. Naomi Hunter, a Foxhound medical chief who was part of the support team aiding Solid Snake in his mission. During Solid Snake's briefing, Naomi injected him with a nano-machine solution designed to help Snake's body cope with the extreme temperatures of the Alaskan winter. Snake, however, didn't know that the injection contained trace elements of Foxdie, a drug that, when activated, produces symptoms similar to a heart attack's. Snake's commanders knew that it was all but impossible for a single man to successfully breach and wipe out all the resistance on the base at Shadow Moses Island. Instead, Naomi was given the order to inject Snake with the Foxdie serum so that he would in effect be acting as the carrier of this deadly disease. Upon being exposed to Snake, the rogue members of Foxhound and key personnel of the base would die of heart attacks, thus bringing the hostage situation on Shadow Moses Island to a swift, albeit twisted, end. Thus, Naomi's plans seem to be working as intended. Everyone Snake has come in contact with suddenly suffers from a mysterious heart attack: Decoy Octopus, disguised as DARPA chief Donald Anderson, was the first to die. Kenneth Baker, the president of ArmsTech, was the second to feel the fatal effects of Snake's contagion. Even Frank Jaeger, the cyborg ninja who went by the code name of Gray Fox, seemed to convulse in uncontrollable pain every time he came close to Snake. Liquid Snake was the last person to die from exposure to Foxdie, and as Metal Gear Solid came to a close, it was believed that Solid Snake would also perish from the toxic agent.

"This is Snake"

But as Solid Snake waits for the drug to take its effect, nothing happens. Even though he was injected with the Foxdie, his life has somehow been spared. Naomi, refusing to explain why he's still alive, pleads with Snake to live every day as if it were his last. Exhausted, Snake accepts Naomi's ambiguous fortune and rides out into the sunset. As the credits roll across the screen, you can hear someone talking on a telephone--it's Revolver Ocelot, the only rogue member of Foxhound who wasn't killed by Solid Snake. The voice on the other line is muted, which makes Ocelot's conversation with the mysterious person all the more perplexing. A few nuggets of information are revealed during their discourse, including the ironic fact that Solid Snake, not Liquid Snake, was in fact the inferior of the two brothers. Another was that the two brothers had yet another identical sibling known only as Solidus, who also just happens to be the president of the United States. It's here that the game ends, leaving fans of the series with a gigantic cliffhanger that won't be resolved until the release of Metal Gear Solid 2 later this year.

Snake up close
Snake up close

However, some answers will immediately surface when the Metal Gear Solid 2 demo, which will be packed with every copy of Konami's Zone of the Enders, arrives on US shores on March 27. The game opens up with the cutscene that originally debuted at ECTS in London last year. It's a dark and stormy night in New York City, and the evening traffic on the George Washington Bridge is surprisingly light, as cars streak across the rain-soaked pavement and leave trails of yellow and red on their way to and from Manhattan. The camera shows this spectacle from a number of angles, gracefully making its way underneath the bridge to reveal its metal underside and slowly tilting upward to display the masonry and web of cables that hold the structure together. A solitary figure is seen walking alongside the speeding traffic. His face is hidden by a poncho, but a glowing cigarette jutting forth from his mouth betrays his identity: Solid Snake. Snake continues to walk down the bridge for a few more seconds, then seemingly for no reason, he takes one last drag from his cigarette, flicks it to the side, tears off his raincoat, and then breaks into an all-out sprint. The poncho floats down to the water below as Snake's footsteps slam onto the asphalt with more urgency with each stride. In a blink of an eye, Snake engages his light-refractive stealth suit and leaps off the bridge into the darkness below. A subtle outline of a chord becomes visible after his plunge, and the silhouette of a gigantic tanker can be made out below Snake. In a spectacle that reminds us of scenes from both Ghost in the Shell and The Matrix, Snake's movement is slowed to a crawl as the camera pans and rotates around him.

What's an Ocelot?

Ocelots are small, endangered wildcats that live on the shrub-filled lands of southern Texas. Their diet primarily consists of rabbits and small rodents--although they've been known to hunt the occasional snake. And they usually don't grow more than 30 pounds in weight. Their spotted coat provides them with excellent camouflage, especially when hunting at night. For more on the ocelot, click on the image. The first tug from the chord causes Snake's stealth suit to flicker once, briefly exposing his presence. In a graceful act of acrobatics, Snake's suit flickers off and on again when he flips forward and uses his legs to absorb the sideways impact with the ship's superstructure. Snake tumbles backward, releases his chord, and lands on the ship's bow with a heavy thud. The final impact fries his suit for good, as arcs of electricity race across his body and outward onto the deck. Slowly, Snake turns his neck from side to side to ease the pain of the landing. The camera switches to a familiar figure, Revolver Ocelot, sitting in a helicopter with his binoculars trained directly on Snake. Having been expecting his old "friend," Ocelot announces Snake's arrival into a small radio.

Snake rises and looks upward at the bridge from which he perilously leaped only seconds ago, as if realizing the amount of risk involved with his successful but foolish bound. With his full stature now in full view, the game's title fades in above his head momentarily as the operatic music reaches a crescendo. Suddenly, the title disappears, the music stops, and Snake darts to his left to seek cover. He drops to one knee, raises his right hand to his ear, and the sound of pouring rain is broken by the signature double beeping noise of the CODEC: "This is Snake."

New Revelations

Almost every aspect of Metal Gear Solid has been improved upon by the upcoming sequel, including the CODEC, the device Snake uses to communicate with the members of his support team throughout the entire Metal Gear series. As Snake activates his CODEC in the opening sequence, the familiar layout of its interface is quickly drawn onscreen. As the two communication windows expand on either side of the center module, a major update becomes apparent: The facial models of the characters onscreen are rendered in complete 3D. The scan lines and green tint are still there, but the addition of 3D models not only adds an extra visual flair to the game, but it also gives the characters' expressions a much more realistic look than the old, sprite-based CODEC ever did. The characters' lips are perfectly synched with their voices, and emotion is conveyed through numerous facial expressions. You can even see the subtle bows that the characters give each other at the end of a conversation in the Japanese version of the Metal Gear Solid 2 demo--something that will undoubtedly be removed in the US version of the final game.

The new CODEC
The new CODEC

After seeking cover, Snake activates his CODEC and calls Hal "Otacon" Emmerich, the designer of Metal Gear Rex, who Solid rescued from Shadow Moses Island. At this point, Otacon proceeds to brief Snake on his current situation and gives him a quick refresher course on what's transpired since the events of the original Metal Gear Solid. Apparently, after Liquid's death, Revolver Ocelot stole the schematics of Metal Gear Rex and sold them to every country, militia, and dot-com that was willing to fork over the money. In the two years since, there's been a massive proliferation of Metal Gear Rexes all over the world, in effect rendering the Rex obsolete while giving anyone the ability to launch a nuclear strike at anyone else on the planet. To combat this phenomenon, the United States Marines began secretly developing a new Metal Gear that would be superior to the Rex in every way. Dubbed the Metal Gear Ray, this behemoth is shrouded in total secrecy. Little is known about the Ray other than that it has the ability to swim and can make use of a devastating beam weapon. The Metal Gear Ray can best be described as a robotic version of the American Godzilla, as its large hind legs and long sweeping tail can't help but draw comparisons to the oversized lizard.

The Spetsnaz

Snake assumes that the Russians who have taken over the ship are Spetsnaz. Spetsnaz is Russia's own special forces unit. Modeled after Delta Force and SAS models, Spetsnaz is split up in three groups--Alfa, Vityaz, and Vympel--which handle counterterrorism, hostage rescue, and sabotage respectively. After the decline of the Soviet Union in 1991, some members of Spetsnaz embraced subversive politics to make ends meet. For more, click on the coat of arms. Metal Gear Ray is apparently being transported on the very tanker that Snake landed on, and as part of the UN-sanctioned group Philanthropy, it's Snake's duty to gather intelligence on the new walking tank. Otacon explains to Snake that the ship is occupied by Marines, who are in plain clothes, so as not to arouse suspicion from any onlookers on the bridges, riversides, or passing ships. As Snake holds one of the Marines in his binocular crosshairs, a camouflaged figure--suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere--quickly sneaks up behind the US serviceman with a knife in hand. With his left hand, the terrorist quickly grabs the left arm of the Marine and deftly gashes his wrist and slices his throat with an upward swing. The Marine crumples to the ground as a fountain of blood shoots from his mortal wound. Another camouflaged terrorist is seen slowly approaching an unaware Marine from behind. In one motion, he reaches around the Marine's neck and grabs his chin with his left hand while crashing the heel of his boot behind the Marine's knee, fatally exposing his neck to the blade of the terrorist's knife. This scene is repeated all over the ship as the vessel is quickly overrun by professional terrorists who summarily execute any and all opposition. Snake assumes that the newcomers are Russian, probably Spetsnaz. He is sure of their motive, however.

"Looks like we're not the only ones after Metal Gear tonight," exclaims Snake.

It Begins

Even though the game's opening sequence is nearly 10 minutes long, it'll seem like a blink of an eye. Before you even realize it, you'll find yourself in control, as Snake smoothly responds to all your inputs into the unnaturally light controller and translates them into physical actions on the screen. The transition between the cutscene and the point in time where the game puts you in control is so seamless that you'll undoubtedly find yourself staring at the TV monitor for a few more seconds before realizing that Snake--and the entire game--is awaiting your direction.

The rain effect is extremely realistic
The rain effect is extremely realistic

Once the euphoria has subsided, the first thing you'll notice about Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty is the spectacular graphics. The rain that's been pounding down all around you during the opening sequence is so realistic that you'll actually feel physically exhausted after a few minutes of its relentless beating. In fact, once you seek cover inside the ship, don't be surprised if you breathe a small sigh of relief. The downpour comes down in sheets, in droplets of all sizes. Each raindrop splashes onto every object outside the ship--the deck, the soldiers, Snake himself--and explodes in a tiny discharge of even smaller droplets. Go into Snake's first-person view, and you'll find that the rain blurs your vision as it hits your face, leaving an effect like streaking water on a windshield. Take out his gun, and you'll find that the water splashes realistically off his arm and weapon. Water pours off the decks of the ship in waterfalls, and each step taken by Snake or the soldiers causes a splash and ripple on the rain-soaked deck. A subtle reflection can be seen off the ground, and it gets more apparent as you approach one of the ship's many deck lights. At times, wind gusts will blow the rain almost horizontally. Glance off the ship's starboard or port sides, and you'll make out the dark silhouettes of beautifully animated, massive waves, heaving and sighing underneath the storm's anger.


Caliber: 5.45mm
Dry weight: 5.95 pounds
Rate of fire: 735 rds/min
Clip capacity: 30 rounds

The Russian commandos that take over the tanker in the demo are all equipped with the AKS-74U. Developed by the Kalashnikov company, the rifle is a modified version of the popular AK-47. It's light and compact, so it's easy to carry into and out of vehicles and perfect for operating in tight situations. Its modular design can accommodate a silencer, laser scope, and silenced BS-1 grenade launcher. For more on this gun, click on the image.
Everywhere you look, you'll find the same amount of visual detail in all aspects of the game. Snake himself looks markedly different since the last time we saw him. As has been noted several times now, the biggest physical change to Snake is the addition of what looks like a mullet: a hairstyle notably longer in the back than it is in the front. Additionally, Snake is now sporting a heavy five o'clock shadow, a longer bandana that whips around in the wind, and more gear on his person. Snake's character model is truly impressive, as you'll be hard pressed to find any polygon seams anywhere on his body. Also, individual gear components, like the clips strapped to his chest, bounce in accordance with his stride. Snake's facial animations are also quite exquisite, and the PlayStation 2's powerful Emotion Engine lives up to its name by providing our hero with detailed emotions as complex as a scowling frown and as subtle as a squint. The Russian soldiers also display the same amount of visual complexity as Snake does. When not being used, their deadly AKS-74U assault rifles can be found slung across their shoulders, and the clips that line their belts are the same ones they slam into their empty chambers when reloading. When Snake or the soldiers get shot, they'll spray a thin film of blood onto the wall and objects behind them. Likewise, injured soldiers will bleed onto the ground when they're standing still, and their riot shields will get bloodier with every successive blow to Snake's head.

Familiar Surroundings

Once you get over the game's visual splendor, you'll be pleasantly surprised to find that the precise control and functional interface of Metal Gear Solid have remained largely unchanged in the game's sequel. Snake's inventory is still split up into two main parts: items and weapons. The items menu is activated with the L2 button and the weapons menu with the R2 button. While you hold down either of these buttons, you can use the directional pad to cycle through the list of items or weapons on the screen. Once you highlight the desired item or weapon, you can let go of the button to equip it. The L1 and R1 buttons toggle the last item or weapon you equipped. This functionality is identical to the one in Metal Gear Solid--even the subtle sounds of the scrolling menu are taken from the original PlayStation game.

"You'll be pleasantly surprised to find that the precise control and functional interface of Metal Gear Solid have remained largely unchanged in its sequel."

Metal Gear Solid 2 will add numerous other weapons and items to the already impressive inventory list of its predecessor. In the demo alone, you'll find eight unique items, including familiar ones such as rations, diazepam pills, a scope, two boxes, and Snake's lucky cigarettes. However, there are two items that are brand new to the series. The first is the antipersonnel (AP) sensor, which, when selected, vibrates whenever Snake nears an enemy soldier. It's designed to complement your trusty radar, especially when it's being jammed. The second new item is the bandage. Metal Gear Solid 2 will introduce a new convention to the series: bleeding. If Snake gets shot more than once in a short span of time, he will start to bleed. Your health bar will turn yellow, and you'll gradually lose health. If you make Snake stand still, you'll notice a pool of blood around his ankles start to grow. Snake will bleed to death without intervention, which is where the bandages come in. If no bandages are available, however, Snake can still stem the flow of blood by crouching--by doing so, he puts pressure on his wound.

Snake starts the game with a modified M92F
Snake starts the game with a modified M92F

Snake's arsenal is also a mix of old and new. You'll start out the game with only a silenced tranquilizer gun that's been converted from a Beretta M92F 9mm pistol. Even though this gun needs to be reloaded after every shot, it's still an extremely effective weapon. The gun makes use of a tranquilizer that can quickly put anyone to sleep in a matter of seconds. The drug takes effect at different speeds, depending on what part of the body it hits. For instance, if Snake shoots a Russian soldier in the leg, it'll take between seven and 10 seconds for the tranquilizer to take effect. Conversely, if a soldier is hit in the head or neck, he'll doze off immediately. Throughout the demo, Snake comes across chaff and stun grenades, both of which are also available in Metal Gear Solid. He'll also be able to pick up a Heckler & Koch USP, a smaller version of the MK 23 SOCOM handgun he donned in the PlayStation game. Interestingly, Snake can take empty clips from his USP and use them to distract enemies. For every 12 shots fired from the USP, Snake will gain one empty clip in his inventory.

You control Snake with the left analog stick. His movement speed is dependent on the pressure that you apply to the controls. If you nudge the stick forward, Snake will move forward slowly and silently. If you press and hold the stick at its extreme position, Snake will break out into a run. Even the pressure-sensitive buttons on the face of the PlayStation 2 controller are used to their maximum potential in the game. For instance, as in Metal Gear Solid, Snake cocks and aims his weapon when you press and hold down the fire button. However, uncocking a gun in the PlayStation game was a difficult task that involved intricate timing and quick reflexes. In Metal Gear Solid 2, Snake can safely put away his gun without firing it by simply releasing pressure from the fire button slowly.

Teaching an Old Snake New Tricks

Once you get accustomed to the already familiar controls, you'll be able to pull off the myriad of moves and abilities that are available to Snake. In all, there are more than 30 different maneuvers that you can perform throughout the demo alone, and more might be added into the final game. Snake's actions are divided into three distinct categories: basic, intermediate, and advanced. Most of the basic moves are taken directly from Metal Gear Solid, while practically all the intermediate and advanced actions are new to the series. Basic moves include walking, running, strangling enemies, throwing enemies, opening doors, and knocking on walls to get the attention of others. More-involved basic moves include the introduction of the peek mode, which is activated by pressing the L2 button when Snake is leaning against the wall. This gives Snake a better view of his surroundings than the standard corner view mode does, but it can potentially expose him to any onlookers.

Snake peeks to get a better view of a camera
Snake peeks to get a better view of a camera

The other addition to the game, and probably the most significant one, is the enhanced first-person view. As in Metal Gear Solid, Snake still can't move in this mode; however, he can now aim and fire with far greater accuracy. In fact, you'll find that you'll do most of your fighting while in the first-person mode, since you can aim not only on a horizontal plane, but also on a vertical one. This is especially useful against Russian soldiers who carry riot shields. Firing directly at them will have no effect, but if you carefully aim below the bottom of the shield, at their knees and feet, you'll be able to dispatch them with ease. While in the first-person mode, Snake can also punch (although doing so is more effective while in the standard third-person perspective) and shimmy along ledges. Of course, you can still use the first-person mode for its original purpose, which is to better survey your immediate surroundings.

Snake hides the body of an unconscious guard
Snake hides the body of an unconscious guard

Snake's intermediate moves are a bit more complicated to execute than his basic actions, but they're that much more useful. For instance, one such move is the ability to drag dead or unconscious bodies. Unlike in Metal Gear Solid, dead bodies in this game don't magically disappear, and if anyone happens upon a dead or sleeping soldier, a general alarm will be raised. Thankfully, the game has a number of hiding places that are large enough to accommodate a limp body. And if no such place can be found, you can always throw bodies off the ship. It's interesting to note that when Snake is dragging a body around, its arms and legs will drag along the ground in a very realistic manner. Additionally, the collision detection in the game is the best we've seen to date. Body parts of unconscious soldiers don't clip through walls; instead, they lean up against any solid object they come in contact with. And speaking of unconscious soldiers, enemies that have been drugged will have four cartoonlike Zs float around their heads. As time passes by, they'll gradually lose a Z until none are left, at which point they'll wake up. The same is true of enemies that have been violently knocked out, but they'll see stars instead of Zs. Other new actions include the following: Snake can duck and roll while running, leap over a rail and hang onto a ledge, and jump around a corner, fire a shot, and duck back behind cover. He can also shake bodies loose of any items or ammo they might have been carrying.

But it's the advanced moves that illustrate how much more complex Metal Gear Solid 2 is than its predecessor. The action with the biggest "wow" factor is undoubtedly Snake's ability to take a hostage. In a hairy situation, Snake can place a soldier in a stranglehold and use him as a human shield. Others around Snake will hesitate to shoot, fearing that they'll hit their comrade. Snake can drag his struggling hostage far enough to momentarily escape any danger. Other advanced techniques include your ability to stick up enemies by sneaking up on them and threatening them for any items they're carrying by pointing your gun at their head or groin.

Other Additions

It's a good thing that Snake has a wide assortment of moves at his disposal, because the Russians on the tanker, and all the enemies in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, are markedly tougher than their PlayStation counterparts. These soldiers don't act individually anymore--they act in groups of twos and threes. Soldiers will perform real-life breach and bang maneuvers that SWAT teams use, they'll cover each other's backs, they'll fire in bursts, and once they acquire their target--which is you--they'll always keep their guns trained on you, even when they have to reload. Kojima said that members of his team have been briefed by a military advisor, and they've spent countless hours watching footage of SWAT teams and counterterrorist organizations operating. Certain elements of the game have also been made more challenging without seeming overly difficult. "We have tried to make the game broader by adding more difficulty levels," explains Kojima. "Some of this, as seen in the demo, is as simple as adding more life and being able to carry more ammo, while in more subtle ways, we have tweaked the AI and enemy number and placement." The most obvious of these changes is the enhanced enemy AI and the improved radar. The first thing an enemy will do when it spots Snake will be to radio its location to others in the vicinity. The radar no longer goes into alert mode by itself--the enemy has to successfully radio its team members so that it can raise the general alarm. This brings up an interesting new gameplay technique in Metal Gear Solid 2: Snake can actually shoot the radio from an enemy's hand before he is able to call others. He can also use a chaff grenade to scramble the radio's signal. When either of these delicate maneuvers is performed, you'll be able to engage your enemy without alerting others.

Enemies now act as a team
Enemies now act as a team

Of course, with practice, this would make the game way too easy. To compensate for this, Metal Gear Solid 2 features new radar functionality. Once an alarm is raised, your radar will go into alert mode and become inactive. If you manage to escape the soldiers' field of vision for five seconds after you're last spotted, the radar drops into evasion mode. In this mode, the soldiers are still actively hunting you down, and your radar remains inactive for roughly 10 to 15 seconds. If you manage to successfully remain hidden, the radar enters the new caution mode. This mode lasts for nearly a minute, but your radar will return to its full functionality. However, for the duration of that minute, the soldiers are on heightened alert, and they adjust their patrol routes accordingly. Finally, after a minute passes by, your radar will return to normal, and the soldiers will resume their original positions. "This mode really emphasizes the stealth aspect of the game," states Kojima, "since in real life, an enemy will not stop looking [for you] after a certain amount of time." There appear to be three types of soldiers in the demo--a standard soldier with an AKS-74U and a backpack; a soldier with an AKS-74U and a tactical load bearing vest; and a soldier with a riot shield, pistol, and a tactical load bearing vest--although they all seem to behave exactly the same.

Snake evades patrolling guards
Snake evades patrolling guards

Enemy soldiers will also make use of their surroundings to track you down. For example, you'll often find yourself leaving wet footprints throughout the hallways of the tanker--footprints that betray your presence and location to the guards. Shadows aren't just a visual nicety either. Guards will become alerted if they spot your outstretched shadow on the ground. Conversely, however, you can also use this to your own advantage. You can also use the environment around you to lose any soldiers who might be hunting you down. For example, in addition to hiding in lockers and closets, you can shoot fire extinguishers and steam pipes to momentarily disorient enemy soldiers.

Playing the Demo

Meet the Kasatka

Takeoff weight: 6.5 tons
Load capacity: 4.5 tons
Ceiling: 19,600 feet
Max range: 372 miles
Output: 2,600hp

Dubbed "Killer Whale", the Ka-60/62 Kasatka is the only helicopter developed by the Kamov company to utilize a standard rotor configuration. Its twin sliding doors can deploy nine soldiers in under five seconds, and its composite blades can withstand a hit from a 23mm projectile. For more on the Kasatka, click on the image.
The final Metal Gear Solid 2 demo takes place entirely on the aforementioned tanker. It will take first-time players about one hour (two or three tries) to successfully complete it the first time through. However, for the experienced gamer, it shouldn't take that long at all--Ogasawara finished it in less than 15 minutes (while skipping the cinematics, of course). There are about eight individual areas that you can explore in the demo, and they are scattered across three decks on both the port and starboard sides of the vessel. If you manage to reach the bridge of the ship, you'll be treated to another cinematic that shows Snake slowly peering at the dead bodies littering the room. After cautiously making his way to the controls, he looks out the window and has his earlier assumptions proved correct: two Kamov Kasatka helicopters sweep by the ship and unload another group of terrorists in dramatic fashion--they're Russian after all. Snake radios the ships heading back to Otacon, and as he turns to leave, he spots the outline of a woman standing on the deck immediately in front of the bridge. Snake sneaks outside, finds cover, and intently listens to a conversation she's having with what seems to be her commanding officer on a walkie-talkie.

Her name is Olga Gurlukovich, and the person on the other end of the radio is her father, a general who happens to be the same person that Liquid Snake and Revolver Ocelot sought to ally with shortly before the end of the original Metal Gear Solid. Gurlukovich is apparently overseeing the takeover of the tanker, and he debriefs his daughter and then tells her to evacuate the ship immediately, since it's about to be scuttled. During their conversation, Snake overhears Olga referring to a "pilot" who has received the necessary "VR training." He also overhears her questioning whether this pilot is trustworthy or not. Before Olga has a chance to leave the ship, she's confronted by Snake, who is demanding answers and has his gun drawn. Coolly, she raises her hands and does as she's told. She throws her gun into the river and then begins to do the same with her knife. In the blink of an eye, she points the hilt of her dagger at Snake and fires a single shot from a hidden chamber in the knife's handle. The bullet grazes Snake's cheek in another spectacle seemingly ripped straight out of The Matrix, and it gives Olga enough time to draw a hidden weapon and seek cover.

Olga, in the pale moonlight
Olga, in the pale moonlight

At this point, a gun battle between Snake and Olga ensues, and if you defeat her, you finish the demo. We'll let you uncover for yourselves the events that transpire afterward. It's interesting to note that before the screen fades to black, Snake is confronted by a CYPHER unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) before it flies away into the night sky. So? So up until this point, Snake has been fighting Russian soldiers bearing Russian firearms and Russian equipment. The CYPHER is strictly a US military vehicle--what's the US military doing with a rogue group of Russian Spetsnaz?

The demo leaves us with more questions than answers. Is this mysterious VR-trained pilot none other than Solidus? What is Ocelot's role in the overtaking of the tanker? Do other characters from Metal Gear Solid make an appearance in the game? How did Otacon know that Metal Gear Ray was being transported on this ship anyway? Kojima isn't talking. We know there will likely be a massive shocker in store for us, but Konami doesn't want to spoil the surprise, so we'll probably find the answers to these questions the same time you do. Regardless, everyone will have a chance to speculate once the Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty demo ships with Zone of the Enders later in March.

Metal Gear Solid 2 will be the most important game released for the PlayStation 2 this year. Despite its apparent complexity, the game's wide appeal will make up for the shaky debut of Sony's next-generation console--it's the game that the PlayStation 2 needed at launch. Frankly, we're more excited about the demo's release--more excited than we usually get about whole games in general. The hype is certainly substantiated.

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