|My exploration of the Metal Gear Solid universe comes to a conclusion with MGS2 - Substance on the Xbox|
So what's the deal then? As a newcomer to the Metal Gear universe - one who sorta dug
part three, but was bitterly disappointed
in the first game - did MGS2 win my heart back once and for all? I'm happy to announce, the answer is a resounding yes. From the first shot on, this game fucking floored me in fact.
Opening on a rainy New York night along the Hudson river, you're instantly witness to a fabulous Terminator homage in Snake's grand entrance, one which not only works as a kick arse introduction to the game, but also sets the exceptionally stylish tone for the rest of this grand, epic tale as a whole.
|Technically and artistically, MGS2 is a visual feast|
The music, special effects and pure sense of artistry in this marvellous film-like intro felt light-year's ahead of anything found in the previous game, that's for sure, and immediately sucked me in pretty bloody unconditionally.
A few hours on - and some exceptionally awesome action on board a humongous tanker later - Ocelot's crazy slow-mo gunplay demonstration elevated that initial sense of wonder to all out euphoria. This entire opening level - which culminates in a brand new Metal Gear breaking free from the confines of the lower deck and escaping off into the sea - is probably the coolest damn sequence of the entire saga for me. So much so in fact, that I could inexplicably overlook the horribly dodgy "arm" plot strand, and the reintroduction of the god-awful Liquid (which considering how much I loathed the twunt in MGS1, speaks volumes I assure you).
These opening two hours are just bloody amazing really, and as a game, MGS2 was already off to a mind-blowing start.
Stealth Done Exciting
And it didn't stop there. In particular, I really dig how they added new and interesting twists on the age-old gameplay this time around. Don't get me wrong, MGS2 still focuses on the sneaking and the evading, much like its prequel and sequel, but for me, it pulls it off considerably more successfully here. Rather than just your bog-standard hiding from patrolling guards you see, it throws in these ace and inventive new additions to the formula, subplots and neat gameplay twists which I personally felt the series drastically needed.
|Quietly snapping pics of a new Metal Gear prototype in a packed hangar full of grunts? Much fun|
The bit which sees Snake climbing and tip-toeing around a massive hanger full of marines during a lecture for instance, felt inventive and fresh, with the subsequent sub mission of snapping photos of Metal Gear RAY without being spotted a pleasing diversion that broke up the vanilla stealth stuff particularly well.
The trend continues, though, with the utterly fab bomb defusing mission an hour or two on, adding an awesome sense of exploration to the game, while simultaneously keeping your palms sweaty and your brow moist under that ominous ticking clock of doom. I even dug the heck out of the Ico-inspired escort mission in the second half, one which pleasingly turned the concept on its head by adding a barmy underwater aspect and - gasp - a genuine sense of emotion (which let's be honest, we don't see too much of in games, do we?).
I could go on, 'cos there's tons of these more interesting and unique gameplay sections positively peppered throughout the entire game, all of which kept the experience feeling fresh and innovative for me. Very cool, I must say.
There's numerous other improvements over its predecessor I also have to touch on. The graphics are freakin' amazing for starters, with beautiful animation and stunning detail for a previous-gen title. As a four year old game, I was floored at how well it all still stood up, to be frank.
|Although stealthy at heart - cardboard box included - MGS2 throws in some nice new additions to keep things interesting|
More impactful on the actual gameplay, are the camera angles though. While MGS2 still doesn't have the more conventional third person camera I like in my games - forcing you instead to use the pre-scripted angles which it deems appropriate - unlike the first MGS game, it does a pretty damn decent job this time around. Every corridor, room and exterior in this game is treated like a movie set, with the camera setup in the most visually appropriate place for that specific location. It tends to remain overhead most of the time, but when required it'll move to a lower view, switch horizontally, and often pan with your character as you strafe and avoid enemy fire. It's a lot more cinematic than it was in the first title, and I really sorta dug it.
One of my biggest peeves with MGS1 if you remember - which sorta summed up the entire experience as a whole for me - was the inability to see the end of a corridor or a room as you ran through it. That's just fucking ludicrous to me - how can you even begin to play a game of this ilk with that horrible sense of claustrophobia and absolutely zero draw distance? So it made me smile to see in just the first two minutes of MGS2 alone, a guard tip-toe around the bend of a distant corridor in plain site, while I subsequently fired off a headshot before he ever knew I was there...just like I should always have been able to do. Metal Gear was starting to click for me.
|The Xbox pad makes all this stuff way more fun than it's been in the past|
I won't lie to you though, another large part of my satisfaction with this game lies in the fact that I was able to play it on the Xbox for a change. I always loved that pad more than any other, and Metal Gear's previously fiddly, somewhat cumbersome control scheme and annoying aiming system translated to the Microsoft pad waaaay more successfully than in any of the previous PS2 and Gamecube titles. Firing off headshots in first person mode felt a comparative breeze for the first time, and the pressure sensitive nature of the buttons (which in-game equates to squeezing a trigger) seemed to work far more accurately too.
Plus, dude, just the bog-standard slow-walking and sneaking around stuff works so much better on those analogue sticks, making MGS2 the first game in the series which I genuinely felt I could play as intended. I was stealthing it up a storm and tranquilizing dudes with ease...juxtaposed hugely next to the excruciating opening hour of agony I endured with Subsistence on the PS2.
It's funny to think that a series so many associate with the Playstation brand, has actually been out on all these other systems really, isn't it? I played MGS1 on the Gamecube as mentioned, and am now enjoying its sequel on Xbox. Let's not forget, both titles ended up on PC too. I must say, with MGS grand daddy Hideo Kojima openly pursuing a Wii game in the future also, one has to hope Sony can at least keep his MGS4 exclusive to the Playstation 3 if nothing else, as it's their primary ace in the hole at this point.
|The cinematics are long, aplenty and in terms of action, almost perfect|
If Microsoft were smart however, as their only MGS game to date, they would get this one up and running on 360 backwards compat ASAP; give those Japanese gamers their first taste of high-def Metal Gear right here, right now. Minor framerate probs in its cut-scenes aside, this is one glorious looking game, and I'd love to see it in all its high rez cinematic glory.
Speaking of those cut-scenes, I had a hard time keeping my mouth off the ground throughout most of 'em. Whether it be Snake's bungee jump off the George Washington bridge, Solidus' spark-tinged skid into battle, or just a simple static shot of two lonely souls starring off into the sunset, the cinematics in this game regularly made me super hard. Much like MGS3's similarly inspired shots of artistic bliss, these are all done live, in-engine too, making the entire thing even more gobsmackingly incredible to behold.
Jar Jar Raiden
|With the player controlling Raiden, Snake becomes more of a mentor this time around. Fanboys no likey|
As I've touched upon in the past, I'd had little to no history with these games up until recently. In researching this write-up though, MGS2's past somewhat surprised me. Seems it was one massively hyped and long awaited release back in 2002, one that immediately won hearts and minds from millions when it originally exploded onto the PS2, but time never treated it well. If your average internet message board is anything to go by, many seemingly look back on it with anger and disappointment, as the sort of weak link of the trilogy.
A large part of the hatred seems to stem from the character of Raiden; he's utterly loathed by all accounts. It's quite simple really, the fans wanted more Snake, and yet somewhat amusingly, picked this game up only to find Snake's opening segment on the tanker little more than an extended intro, shortly giving way to a brand new adventure with the aforementioned androgynous pretty boy Raiden. As a result, he seems to have felt the brunt of that same anger The Arbiter did from Halo fans. A shame really, 'cos I kinda like the guy.
Raiden that is, not The Arb.
|Raiden takes a ton of shit - from both critics and fans - but I love the guy for this alone|
To watch, he's no Solid Snake, I'll give ya that. The character of Raiden is essentially Anakin Skywalker here; a dark and interesting character on paper, unfortunately brought to life by the worst (voice) actor ever, while being in simultaneous desperate need of a new character model to boot. With a Hayden Christensen calibre performance and a conspicuous lack of that more vicious edge Snake is so keen to demonstrate, Raiden feels poorly realised on the "big screen" and never really done justice. The story could have elevated itself up several notches with a darker and more aggressive take on the dude, that's for sure.
To play, however, it's a different story; Raiden totally shines. In particular, that athletic edge he has over Snake proves immensely entertaining. Boosting over railings, shimmying along platforms, and smacking up guards with those crazy spinning jump-kicks nicked right outta Darth Maul's arsenal, frickin' rocks if you ask me. Also I must say, as a big melee guy when it comes to my videogames, to go tearing up shit in this universe with a sword at last, immediately had me grinning like a mad loon. In fact, playing as Raiden almost felt like I was starting to control and play out some of those crazy fight scenes and cinematic moments normally just relegated to the cut-scenes in other Metal Gear games. That
is the sort of shit I really wanna see more of in this series
For these reasons, I gotta say, Raiden's sort of the star of the show for me, and I genuinely look forward to seeing what they do with him from here on out. It certainly looks like he's getting "darkened" up as he needs to for part four.
How about some negatives then? For one, the storyline in this game does go completely fucking ludicrously complicated towards the end, I must admit. In fact, MGS2 marks the only game of the saga thus far where the emphasis on character, storytelling, and film-like presentation goes a wee bit overboard, with hours upon hours of humongously long monologues firing off every two minutes that more than anything else, just start to become bloody hard to follow. Thrown in with vampires, talking arms, and roller-skating fat dudes err, sipping wine, the MGS universe is certainly at its most preposterous yet.
|Arguably unlike the other two Solid titles, MGS2 is more fun to play, than watch|
More than anything though, it just feels like there's about five different games going on at once here, with tons of differing organisations, protagonists and antagonists all facing off against each other with their own secrets and hidden agendas, all of whom like to detail their plans to you in excruciatingly long detail at the most inopportune of times. To complicate matters, the entire plot takes a twist for the "is this all real or not?" worst in its third act that completely frickin' lost me. I'll admit it, I had to look the sucker up on Wikipedia when it was all over just to get a loose grasp on what actually happened.
I don't mean to shit on the story by any means. Hell, it's refreshing to experience a video game with so much damn thought and detail crammed into its universe. I would argue that Kojima bit off a bit more than he could chew with this game's storyline however. The final hour pretty much went entirely over my head.
From a gameplay perspective, I also have to say, while MGS2 is probably the most fun game to play of the three in my opinion, it occasionally follows its predecessor's example of making you re-tread large parts of the game over and over. It's nowhere near
as annoying as it was in the first game though, and the mere fact Raiden handles rather nippy on his feet means you can kinda whiz through such moments pretty bloody quickly if you know where you're going.
Metal Gear Awesome
All in all then, this might well be my pick of the three. MGS3's plot may be a little more cohesive next to MGS2's alarmingly complicated sense of flat-out confusion, but heck, even in its most convoluted moments it's still hugely entertaining to watch, and more to the point...is the only MGS game for me that's genuinely fun to play
|Battling alongside Snake instead of as him is a blast, and certainly makes for a nice change|
Mowing down guards with a Ninja blade as Raiden, while Solid Snake watches your back, pistol in hand is fucking awesome. As is sniping dudes and blowing drones out of the sky for poor little Emma as she clambers her way across that sun-baked walkway in the distance. Or how about going sword to sword with Solidus amidst the rubble of New York city, in the most epic yet intimate boss battle of the series? Or escaping the confines of your torture chamber onboard Metal Gear, then running around stark naked, balls cupped firmly in hand while crazy Colonel Campbell fires off comedic non-sequiturs in your ear that make ya laugh out loud at the top of your lungs. In a good way.
The game is just choc-full of these awesome, memorable sequences that - unlike the other MGS games - are fully interactive for a change. Wow...I'm starting to realise that I sorta love this game.
And with that, I hereby announce myself as a loud and proud Metal Gear Solid fan. Although MGS3 played its part, it's primarily down to this game at the end of the day though; it's a ludicrously complicated and imaginative adventure, with awesome style, memorable characters, surprisingly enjoyable stealth segments, and some great balls-out action that I'd love to have seen more of in the other Metal Gear games to be honest.
Now just begins the long arse wait for number four I guess...