Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance Preview

Xbox owners will soon have the chance to experience Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and play hundreds of additional missions with Substance. We've got new details and media inside.

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Imagine if you could play as Solid Snake throughout the latter half of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Certainly, even though Konami's spectacular sequel to Metal Gear Solid met with both critical acclaim and commercial success, many fans of Hideo Kojima's classic series were understandably disappointed at being forced to play through most of the game with an entirely new character. And even though this character--Raiden--was the functional twin of Solid Snake, to veterans of the series who've been playing Metal Gear games for the last 15 years, it just wasn't the same. Thankfully, those cries of disappointment didn't fall on deaf ears, and at this year's E3 in Los Angeles, Konami announced the development of a brand-new Metal Gear Solid game that would, among other things, let players resume the role of everyone's favorite special operative. That game was Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance, and at the time of its announcement, it was billed as being to MGS2 what VR Missions was to the original Metal Gear Solid. After playing through the latest build of this forthcoming Xbox game, however, we were pleasantly surprised to find that it is much more than that.

Solid Snake, dolled up in his MGS sneak suit, prepares to forever silence a guard on Big Shell.
Solid Snake, dolled up in his MGS sneak suit, prepares to forever silence a guard on Big Shell.

In a nutshell, Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance can best be likened to a collector's edition of Metal Gear Solid 2. In fact, in a recent interview, series creator Hideo Kojima lamented that Substance "is what MGS2 should be." In it, you'll find well over 200 VR missions, 100 alternate missions, and five highly anticipated "Snake tales," which are basically mini-episodes that take place in the levels of Metal Gear Solid 2. Additionally, Substance contains the entire Sons of Liberty episode, as well as all the special features that were included in the Japanese and European releases of that game. That means Xbox owners who missed out on one of last year's greatest PlayStation 2 games will not only finally have the chance to see what all the fuss was about, but they'll also get to fiddle around with the bonus material that the US audience never got, including Europe's extreme difficulty setting and Japan's boss-fight mode.

The game's VR missions are similar in style and structure to those found in the original Metal Gear Solid and its subsequent add-on of sorts, VR Missions (Integral in Japan). Here, you're given numerous objectives that are set in a virtual reality environment and must be accomplished within a certain time limit. Solid Snake and Raiden are part of a covert team of operatives known as Foxhound, and this organization trains its members using these VR scenarios. The 200 VR missions in Substance are split up into the three distinct modes of weapons training, sneaking operations, and a first-person mode. You'll play as either Snake or Raiden in these three sections, and each will test your skills in action and stealth (and sometimes a combination of both) in increasingly difficult missions. The weapons section of VR training, for example, is divided into eight components, each of which revolves around one of the primary weapons from Metal Gear Solid 2. In this mode, you'll primarily be tasked with the precision shooting and destruction of inanimate targets using the H&K Mk 23 pistol, the M4A1 or AKS-47U assault rifles, C4 charges, the grenade launcher, the PSG-1 sniper rifle, the Stinger heat-seeking missile launcher, the Nikita guided-missile launcher, and the high-frequency blade. The targets themselves will vary quite a bit too. Some are simple, diamond-shaped objects that can be destroyed with one shot, while others will be more complex in shape and will award you with more points for shooting them in the center. What's more, if you destroy a string targets within one second of each other, you'll receive a combo bonus that will multiply your point total for as long as you continue to destroy targets in rapid succession.

Substance will let you play as Snake, Raiden, and the elusive Ninja.
Substance will let you play as Snake, Raiden, and the elusive Ninja.

The sneaking missions require you to apply the skills learned in weapons training against actual VR soldiers. For the most part, these missions will require that you either reach the end of a given level undetected by the guards and cameras that are strewn about or incapacitate all the threats in the level before reaching the end. Metal Gear Solid 2 was notable for the fact that it was possible to finish the entire game without killing a single person, and Kojima's pacifism is clearly evident in Substance as well. In sneaking missions that require you to dispatch all the guards, you'll have access to nonlethal weapons like the M9 and PSG-1T tranquilizer guns, as well as the blunt side of the HF blade, so you can take enemies out without actually killing them, if you like. And all you the sadists out there should know that Substance actually gives you a no-kill bonus for completing any VR missions with no loss of life.

MGS Meets the Twilight Zone

Like the VR missions, the alternate missions in Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance are broken up into three parts: bomb disposal, elimination of all enemies, and, interestingly, holding all enemies up. Unlike the VR missions, however, the alternate missions take place in actual locations from the Big Shell, Arsenal Gear, and tanker locations that were used in MGS2, and not in spartan virtual reality arenas. There around 100 of these missions, and they're much quirkier than the straightforward VR missions. The missions in which you're tasked with holding up all enemies in a given area are a perfect example of this. In these missions, you'll work your way from guard to guard, holding them up one at a time. However, as anyone who's played Metal Gear Solid 2 knows, a significant amount of time is involved in sneaking up to enemies and forcing them to surrender, and this sort of work is best done away from the prying eyes of other sentries. The early missions will include only one or two guards, but as you progress to the later alternate missions, you'll be tasked with holding up upward of a dozen guards in a single area without being detected. At times, you'll even run into the aggressive guards who were particularly difficult to hold up in Metal Gear Solid 2, due to their refusal to buy your bluff. Since you have to show them you mean business buy popping them in the hand or the foot, you'll have to expend more time than usual in forcing these soldiers to surrender.

Snake vs. Meryl? On the tanker's bridge? The Snake tales in Substance will explore all sorts of possibilities.
Snake vs. Meryl? On the tanker's bridge? The Snake tales in Substance will explore all sorts of possibilities.

Even with the hundreds of missions and countless gameplay hours that the VR and alternate missions will give players of Substance, the most appealing portion of this game is, without a doubt, the Snake tales. As mentioned earlier, there will be five of these mini-episodes in all, and in a clear answer to fans' wishes, they'll all involve Solid Snake in various missions throughout Big Shell. Currently, only one of these Snake tales is available for play, as the other four are still undergoing development at KCEJ. The tale in question opened up with a conversation between Colonel Campbell and Solid Snake, who is getting briefed on the hostage situation aboard Big Shell shortly before his insertion onto the massive oil platform. Unfortunately, these dialogue sequences were all in text and contained no new voice acting from Quinton Flynn or David Hayter. Regardless, the colonel informs Snake that Russian terrorists have taken over Big Shell, and they're holding the president of the United States hostage. Snake is told that one of the president's secret service agents, Ames, managed to elide the terrorists and is holed up somewhere on strut F. These Snake tales take some obvious liberties with the MGS fiction. Ames, for example, was a captured hostage in the original game, and it was Raiden who eventually rescued him, not Snake. And interestingly enough, in describing Ames, the colonel tells Snake that he's the husband of Nastasha Romanenko, the weapons expert from the original Metal Gear Solid. These twists on the Metal Gear timeline and plot are certainly interesting, though Kojima is quick to point out that these tales are set in a sort of parallel universe, and they have no impact of the plot of past and future Metal Gear Solid games.

Each of these Snake tales will have numerous objectives that, as you complete them, will lead to additional dialogue that moves the plot along. In the aforementioned tale, for example, Ames will make contact with Snake only after Snake has cleared the entire area of enemies, at which point Ames will emerge from his hiding location and give you your next goal--find and free President Johnson. Naturally, Snake will stumble into some trouble on his way to do so, in effect lengthening the time it will take you to finish that particular tale. Also adding to the challenge of these mini-episodes is the fact that all five Snake tales in Substance disable your radar, making completing your objectives that much more difficult. Without the radar, you won't know the location of enemies, and you won't be able to keep away from their field of vision. What's more, you won't be able to toggle this option on or off--there's just no radar in the Snake tales, period. This might prove a little too challenging for all but the most experienced MGS2 players.

Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance will change the time of day of the VR missions to correspond with your Xbox's internal clock.


Ultimately, the main goal of Substance seems to be twofold. First, it'll give Xbox owners who don't have a PlayStation 2, and thus never got to play Metal Gear Solid 2, a chance to experience that memorable game as its designers originally intended it to be experienced--complete with VR missions and all the bonus material and replay value that they could cram onto a single DVD-9 ROM. Second, it'll give those people who can't get enough of Metal Gear a fix that should last them a long time. After all, perform well in the VR missions, alternate missions, and Snake tales, and you'll be able to unlock different outfits for Snake and Raiden, the humorous camera mode from Integral, and a few other secrets. Interestingly enough, the Xbox build of Substance that we played lacked the "Snakeboarding" levels that were shown at E3. Konami representatives have said that they're still trying to decide whether or not to add that feature to the Xbox version of Substance, though it will be in Substance for the PlayStation 2, which is scheduled to ship next year alongside a PC version.

Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance for the Xbox will be out in the US this November. We'll have more on it as its release date approaches.

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