Wow. It’s been almost eight years since I played and reviewed the original Metal Gear Solid. I’ve accomplished quite a bit in terms of my backlog in those eight years. But still, it’s much too long of a gap if you ask me. Regardless, I’m pleased to announce that I’ve finally had the chance to sit down and experience the legendary Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Legendary is a big word, but it’s one that tends to come up any time a Metal Gear game is mentioned. But whenever the discussion turns to which Metal Gear game stands above all the rest, the general consensus always points to Metal Gear Solid 2. For this reason alone, I’ve been itching to experience the title for myself.
But before I share my thoughts on the game, let’s take a moment to discuss the best way to experience MGS2 today. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was originally released for the Playstation 2 in 2001. An updated version (Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance) was made available a year and a half later for both PS2 and Xbox. Substance contains a number of gameplay tweaks and enhancements. This version also includes various game modes and hundreds of VR and alternative missions for players to experience. More recently, an enhanced version of the game was included as part of the Metal Gear Solid HD collection for both PS3 and Xbox 360. When playing today, the HD version is what I recommend. Not only does the HD version offer widescreen and HD support, but it also includes most of the additional content found in Substance. But this begs the question, which version of Metal Gear Solid HD is better; PS3 or Xbox 360? – Well, that’s a tough one to answer. On the surface, I’d say the PS3 version, with its pressure-sensitive controls is probably the definitive release. But then again, PS3 consoles are almost impossible to find these days and MGS HD is currently unavailable on PS NOW. The Xbox 360 version is compatible with the Xbox One/X/S, however. So, it’s much easier for people to get ahold of the Xbox version. In the end, it really boils down to playing whatever version you can get your hands on. I own the physical PS3 release, so that is the version I played for this review.
All of the Metal Gear games take place in an alternate-history timeline. This game features two separate chapters. The first takes place in the year 2007 (two years after the events of Metal Gear Solid). In this chapter, the player controls Solid Snake as he sneaks aboard a US Marine Corps tanker that is rumored to be transporting a new Metal Gear prototype. However, as it turns out, Snake and his team are not the only ones interested in Metal Gear. Just as Snake begins his mission, the tanker is taken over by a team of Russian mercenaries led by none other than Revolver Ocelot (a major antagonist from the last game). The chapter ends with the tanker sinking and the apparent death of Solid Snake. As a result of the tanker incident, a massive oil spill occurs. To protect the environment, a floating cleanup facility known as “Big Shell” is created near the site of the wreckage.
The second chapter of the game occurs two years after the tanker incident. During a PR tour of the Big Shell facility, the President of the US is taken hostage by a group of terrorists calling themselves The Sons of Liberty. They demand a massive amount of money in exchange for the president’s release. In an effort to rescue the president, an elite unit known as FOXHOUND dispatches one of their newest operatives, Raiden, to infiltrate the Big Shell and locate the President.
Naturally, there’s much more the story than originally meets the eye. But as to avoid spoilers, I won’t provide any additional details.
Some versions of the game let you choose which chapter to play first, others do not. For consistency, I recommend playing the shorter Tanker chapter first as it does an excellent job setting up the events of the (longer and more epic) Platform chapter.
Both parts of the game work essentially the same way. The biggest difference is the character controlled by the player. But both Snake and Raiden are nearly identical in functionality. All of the classic Metal Gear Solid gameplay is intact in this new entry. Players are expected to sneak around and avoid enemy detection. This often means peeking around corners, hiding behind crates, and crawling under tables, etc. In this game it’s also possible to hide in lockers or toss objects across the room/knock on walls to try to divert the enemy’s attention.
While both characters can be armed with lethal weapons, firing a gun is a quick way to let enemies know your position. When you have no choice but to dispose of an enemy, it usually best to try to knock them out with your hands or, better yet, use your trusty tranquilizer gun. Of course, if you leave an unconscious enemy laying in the middle of a hallway, its possible that they will be spotted by a nearby patrol. This also draws unwanted attention. To avoid this, players can drag bodies into another room or stash them in a locker. There’s always a number of ways to tackle any situation, and that’s a big part of the game’s fun.
A lot of the gameplay elements in MGS2 build off of what has been seen in the previous games. It takes many of the concepts found in the other games and adds new options and levels of realism. For example, if you’re on a elevated surface like a bridge or walkway, it’s now possible the flip over the rails and hang off the side to avoid detection. Of course, the player is only so strong and will eventually lose their grip. But, the more the player does this during the course of the game, the better skilled they become at doing it.
There’s other nice little tweaks found in this game that make the whole presentation just that much better. You can target certain portions of the enemy, like their head or legs. Where you shoot them affects their reaction to being attacked. You can also target the radios they wear to prevent them from calling for backup. Oh, and I should also mention a new first-person camera view when aiming your weapon! Nice touches.
But for everything that’s different, there’s also plenty that will be familiar to fans of the series. Radio communications still play a big part in the game. Players are able to contact associates for hints and tips. The radio is also responsible for a big part of the game’s storyline. But don’t worry, there’s PLENTY of cutscenes to enjoy as well.
This brings me to the next thing I want to talk about. The storyline. It’s nothing short of amazing. Both the scenario itself as well as the colorful cast of characters are remarkably done. The storyline is rich and filled with some very thought-provoking topics. This is especially true when you play the game today. It’s insane how relevant much of the game’s content is in today’s modern world. The thing that blows my mind the most is knowing that MGS2 was made all the way back in 2001. Yet, it is set in 2007/2009 and tackles real issues of the day that the developers shouldn’t have been able to comprehend. Things like ideological subversion, “fake news”, and social engineering. All of these come to light in the last act of the game in a very big way.
For this review, I played through the game only one time. (I have a schedule to keep after all). But I can already tell that if you want to experience everything this game has to offer, it warrants at least a second playthrough. Once you’ve completed the game and have a firm grasp on the story, it’s well worth going through it one more time so you can pick up on all the little cues and clues that you missed the first time around. Not only that, but there’s a ton of funny and interesting easter eggs scattered throughout the game for inquisitive players to uncover.
If you finish the game and can’t get enough, assuming you’re playing Substance or HD, there’s literally hundreds of VR missions to tackle. Most of these are short, but if that’s your cup of tea, they can be quite entertaining. There’s also alternate missions to experience that don’t fall into the game’s official canon story. I tinkered with these, but I didn’t feel compelled to to complete them all since they were not relative to the main story. But I’ll never complain about extra content.
Having played the game from start to finish, I can easily see why MGS2 has the reputation that it does. It’s nothing short of amazing. It is easily the best game in the series thus far.
Version Reviewed: PS3 (Metal Gear Solid HD version)
Difficulty: Variable – This game offers a handful of difficulty levels. These can be tweaked even further by deciding weather or not the enemy detecting radar becomes unusable when your character is spotted. For most players, I recommend playing the game in normal mode. If you’re a Metal Gear Solid veteran, you might want to bump it up to Hard.
Story: Simply fantastic. I made a big fuss about the storyline of this game in the body of my review, but let me stress again just how incredible it is. Just wow!
Originality: Even though this game builds heavily off of concepts seen in earlier Metal Gear games, there’s enough new tricks in this entry to keep things feeling fresh and surprising. Again, the storyline introduces concepts into the game that, frankly, I’ve never seen tackled in a video game before.
Soundtrack: The music in this game is appropriate and fitting. There’s not really anything here that you’re likely to hum throughout your day. But it does a fantastic job of capturing the mood.
Fun: It takes a little bit to get the hang of everything, but once you do, this game is a blast. Even when I ended up dying or getting pounded by a boss fight, the gameplay itself was so good that I never felt frustrated or discouraged. The exploration is fun, the enemy chatter is fun, experimenting with various items and weapons is fun. There’s plenty to enjoy in this game.
Graphics: The original release of the game looked amazing when it came out and the HD version looks even better. Of course, by today’s standards the game is starting to show its age a bit. But at the time it was released, it was top of the line.
Playcontrol: If I had any complaints at all with this game, I guess the playcontrol would be it. Occasionally, I found the game controls to be too touchy or sensitive – especially in regards to walking. Aiming sometimes felt a little inaccurate. But once you get a feel for it, it’s not all that difficult. Even with all that said, the playcontrol in this game is leagues better than the previous game in the series.
Downloadable Content: No.
Mature Content: Violence, mature themes.
Value: At the time of this writing, Metal Gear Solid 2 is currently not available digitally due to some licensing issues. However, physical copies of both the PS3 and Xbox 360 version of the HD collection are still easy enough to find on Amazon for around $30.00. This collection contains three games (five if you count Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2 – which are also included) so for $30.00 – this a very reasonable price.
Overall score (1-100): 95 – Easily the best Metal Gear game so far and probably one of the best PS2 games I’ve ever played. If it wasn’t for some minor annoyances with the playcontrol, this game would have received a perfect score from me. Excellent story, amazing atmosphere, and intelligent gameplay design all come together to make this game a real masterpiece. This one is a MUST PLAY.
Original System: Playstation 2
Available today on: PC, PS 4/5, Xbox S/X, Switch, Steam – (Updated as of Fall 2023)
Best Experience: Xbox S/X, PS 4/5 – (Updated as of Fall 2023)
Other Reviews In This Series:
MG Rising: Revengeance
Acid – Acid 2