Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty HD Review


Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
Release Date: November 8, 2011

These HD Collections can be a quick reminder of how much you loved a game when it was first released. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater HD is a great example of that, along with the recent God of War Collections. I loved them back then and these recent revisits were a pleasant reminder. However, it can utilize that same quickness to point out how poorly the game has aged in the years since it released. Although it contains aspects that reinstate its memorable status, sadly, over a decade of aging has brought some wrinkles to Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty HD.

With a series so heavily rooted in story telling, MGS2‘s story quality stands on both sides of the fence. In one of gaming’s strongest openings, you start out as Solid Snake aboard a vessel possibly containing Metal Gears. Snake discovers things aren’t as they seem aboard this ship, with fishy business occurring soon after he touches down. After some sneaking and well-placed recon photos of this new type of amphibious Metal Gear, old foes reappear, make everything explode, and leave Snake (along with the rest of the crew) for dead within the tanker at sea.

And this is just the first hour or so.

An incredibly, iconic opening starring Solid Snake.

From here on since Snake is “dead,” Raiden becomes the main star and is moved to an entirely different location, the Big Shell. The Big Shell is an environmental clean-up facility in the middle of the ocean tasked with removing the mess that happened when the ship containing the Metal Gear blew up. However, some hostages are taken, including the president, making Raiden’s mission a rescue mission. In true Metal Gear style, events are not as they seem and the stakes get raised dramatically. What begins as a simple rescue missions gets a whole lot deeper.

I did my best to make that plot as simple as I could, because sometimes it doesn’t make that much sense. I’m not calling you stupid (or myself for that matter), but the storytelling can get so long-winded and convoluted that it can get hard keep track of what is going on. The big picture is usually pretty clear, but the small minutia (especially during the ending parts) can become so unnecessarily difficult to remember and focus on that its existence is puzzling. Secret organizations, protocols, the Patriots, and long ass codec conversations can bog down an overall good, twisty plot. Some of these codec conversations can go on for a several minutes, slowing the overall pace down to a crawl at certain times. Back then, I ate it up, but now, especially after Metal Gear Solid 4‘s focus on actual engaging cutscenes, some of the codec chatter couldn’t get over fast enough.

Although, I would probably consider some of that disdain to Raiden being a complete ponce, especially over the codec. I wasn’t too fond of him back in the day, but after seeing the beyond badass stunts he pulled off in MGS4 and the upcoming MGR: Revengence, whining about his feelings seems about a hundred times more painful to listen to. I appreciate Kojima’s willingness to mess with fans by putting in a new protagonist, but I couldn’t stomach his bitchy blabbering between him and his girlfriend every time I tried to save my game. Actually, to think about it, he makes Snake seem that much cooler (as if that was needed/possible).

“I’ll be awesome in a few games, I swear.”

However, it is human nature to focus on the negative aspects first. In the grand scheme of the entire plot, MGS2 is pretty successful. Cutscenes are always ridiculous (in the best way), characters have that beloved Metal Gear flavor, and the story changes itself up enough with plenty of twists to make the overall plot something to remember. Even without modern facial animation and graphics (although the game looks pretty good), the game’s message is still as strong as ever, a testament to how good the strengths actually are.

Oh and there’s a fat, rollerblading bomber that drinks wine from a curly straw. That should score points with just about anyone.

Sneaking has always been another pivotal bullet point for the franchise. It’s hard to be strictly for or against the sneaking mechanics, as it displays a few reasons that justify a love/hate relationship.

Again, being a human and focusing on the not-so-awesome portion of the sneaking mechanics, the camera leaves something to be desired and that’s putting it nicely. You have almost no camera control in this game, as your perspective is locked to a fixed bird’s eye view of the area. Sadly, flicking the right stick does nothing important and might as well make Raiden flip you the bird.

Stupid camera.

Limiting your view can cause accidental, frustrating alert sequences and they artificially force you to play more cautiously. I know this is a stealth game and caution is a golden rule, but stopping every few feet to go into first-person mode or solely depending on the radar feels like I’m being forced in tedium and not sneaky badassery.

Piggybacking off the camera controls issues, shooting and movement controls share a similar fate. Accuracy and agility of pulling up a gun can be a definite issue because the button placement and sensitivity isn’t there. Shots need to be strategically placed and take time to set up, something the game doesn’t always allow, leaving the door open for some frustration. Moving and shooting is kind of possible, but extremely awkward. When in the overhead view, you can’t always see who you are shooting or where he is aiming, making that option nearly useless. Chances are if you are in a situation calling for gunplay, you are better are running away and hiding.

Problems with the controls also reveal themselves in general movement. Pressing up against a wall can prove to an uncomfortable endeavor, moving in odd ways and requiring weird stick directions for proper function. I also found myself on belly in a bunch of inopportune moments, forcing an alert or an unwanted action.

Freeze!

These problems point out how the enemy AI was designed. Elite Russian guards or not, these guys rely almost solely on their vision cone on the radar. They are deaf and pretty much blind unless you enter that specific area or knock on a wall (sprinting right behind them is almost always silent). Cranking up the difficulty makes them put their glasses on, but since the camera doesn’t work with you all the time, it just makes the game irritating. Metal Gear Solid 3 and Metal Gear Solid 4 both did fantastic jobs of making their vision and hearing patterns more natural, so this sticks out as cold and calculated.

With all of these complaints, it’s easy to assume that I hate actually playing this game, but I don’t. It’s just far more basic when compared to its sequels and spin-offs. Cracking necks and and outsmarting the patrols has its core thrills, even if it isn’t as deep as games nowadays. I did call the enemies blind, but when you get caught, they are pretty smart and lethal. They’ll search for you relentlessly and will be quick to call in for back up. Messing with the radio guy, using cardboard boxes, collecting dog tags, doing hold ups, and hiding in lockers are just some aspects of Metal Gear that are truly timeless. Remembering how luring guards around with dirty magazines was fun? Yeah, that still holds up.

Basic sneaking such as this holds up.

The campaign should be your main draw, but since this is mostly the Substance re-release version of MGS2, there are plenty of extras that will keep you busy. Virtual Reality missions take some standalone gameplay bits and puts them into their own challenge mode. There are tons of these that test your sneaking and shooting in different ways and can not only make you better at the game, but can drastically extend the hours spent in MGS2. Snake Tales is another mode that feels admittedly rushed due to its oversimplicity, but since you can play a short story as Snake in the Big Shell, I was more forgiving of its shortcomings. The Boss Survival mode is a novel idea (something I’d love in MGS4), but since I don’t like actually fighting these outrageous individuals, I left this mode alone.

There was a time when I thought Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was the one of the most impressive games of all time. Back when I played it in early 2008, I was completely blown away at what it was doing and how it was such a massive step up from the original Metal Gear Solid. Some of that still radiates through and can put some modern games to shame, but unfortunately the age of the controls and nearly impenetrable parts of the story become the rusty spots in this old car. Those with no prior MGS2 experience may have to dig a bit deeper to find what they want and those who’ve had their experience with this game may be a little frustrated by the tinge in their rose colored glasses. I don’t know who wins in this scenario.

Pros:
+Enemy AI is pretty good with some basic stealth
+Fantastic opening
+Holds that Metal Gear ridiculousness quite well
+Story holds up when it isn’t being too complicated
Cons:
-Fixed camera is archaic and limiting
-Controls haven’t aged well
-Story gets too convoluted near the end and Raiden is a total twat
-Sneaking can feel a bit too basic

Final Score: 8/10

Platform Differences:
As for the Collection as a whole, there are actually a lot of differences between the Xbox 360 and PS3. The Xbox 360 ships on two discs, with MGS2 and MGS3 sharing a disc, leaving Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker HD on its own disc. The PS3 version has all three games on a single Blu Ray. Not only that, the Xbox 360 version has a significantly smaller number of achievements, while the PS3 version gets three full trophy lists and three platinum trophies. Normally this isn’t a big deal, but this Collection has some of the greatest trophies I’ve ever gotten, with creative names and requirements that definitely add to the experience.
Also, some of the controls have been switched around on Xbox 360. Since that gamepad doesn’t have pressure-sensitive buttons, some controls had to be moved to compensate.
The differences continue as the PS3 version supports “Transfarring” which lets Peace Walker saves move between PS3 and PSP. Trophies are locked on the PSP version though so don’t expect a flood of the trophies when you Transfar.

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