Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance review
MGS2: Game or Movie?

The good:

All the great action of the original

The bad:

Nothing new, shoddy conversion, whiny girlfriend (!?)


Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance
Stealth suit... check. Modified M9 pistol... check. Thermal googles... check. Computer hacker communicating with me through an ear implant... yup, it's official. This is a guy thing. I'm sneakin', I'm tranquilizin', I'm snappin' necks and snappin' pictures. I'm da Mac Daddy of ex-marines. This is good. Wait a minute, though. Now all of a sudden I'm a reject from a bad 80's hair band bragging about how much VR training I've had and being nagged at by my clingy girlfriend:
"Do you know what today is?"
"I've been worried about you. You haven't saved in a while." (!?)
"Do you remember when we first met?"

Oh well, at least I still get to snap people's necks... after the cut scenes. And that pretty much sums up my experience with this game so far. The game is good when you get right down to it. It's the "getting down to it" part that's the problem. Seems like just when I really start to get into it, something comes along and throws off my mojo. I have to sit through some long, self-indulgent cut-scene, or listen to a lot of useless details or endless back-story. Sometimes it seems like the developers where so in love with the story that they forgot they were making a game. You know, something you interact with?

Before I get further into my gripe session, let me say that this is a fun and engaging game. So far, none of the following annoyances have been unforgivable in light of the games strengths. Those who can see past its flaws to will be rewarded with a great deal of depth and variety. As usual, stealth plays an integral part of this installment. This takes a lot of getting used to for those players who are used to tearing through games in a homicidal rage. In MGS2. this will get you killed very quickly. But once you calm down, you will find many more options at your disposal. Should you knock the gaurd out with a tranquilizer dart or hold him up and gunpoint? You could use a chaff grenade to interfere with radio communication, but then you might lose the element of surprise. Maybe shooting out the lights would allew you to sneak through unnoticed. Oh, and don't forget to hide the bodies when you're done. Seriously.

These are the things you have to deal with when you're up against really good AI. These enemies are organized. They WILL notice if their buddies die. They WILL radio for help. Their superiors will notice if the radio transmission is suddenly cut off. There is a limit to the realism, but I think that's probably a good thing for gameplay reasons.

The graphics and sound also match this level of detail. After spending some time watching rain crash against the deck of a ship, you can go inside and drip-dry (literally).

Nevertheless, I am disappointed at the game's lack of innovation and refinement. Having found the original Metal Gear Solid an enjoyable but sometimes frustrating experience, I had assumed that the new game would maintain the thrilling combination of stealth and action while refining the controls for a more smooth gaming experience. Well, I was half right.

Take the camera angles for instance. Given the wide variety of angles, it amazes me that so many of them seem just plain wrong. I've only started to get into the game and already I've found several places where I can literally only see ten feet in front of me because the camera is either zoomed in way too close or because I am running towards the camera. Fortunately, the game does offer a first-person view, except that you can't move in this mode. Having to compromise between moving and seeing seems rather silly. To get an idea, try this : walk around an unfamiliar place with your head down. Stop dead every once in a while and look around (notice how people give you strange looks). Then put your head back down and resume walkinq. Congratulations, you have completed step one of your covert-ops training.

The movement of the character also seems stilted. It's in the little things, like how he turns before moving in another direction. I think if my life depended on it I would be able to turn and move at the same time. Also, I find that sometimes when I want to use something or hang from a ledge, I end up pressing my back against it by accident and having to awkwardly turn around. Supposedly, there's a "weak" button that you can use to make snake walk instead of running, but I can't get that to work.

Which brings me to my next gripe, which is that the PC conversion is really shoddy. This seems to be common with console-to-PC ports, and this one is no exception. Most of the options are handled by a seperate program, so you have to quit out of the game to change them. And if you plan to play with a gamepad be prepared for an uphill battle, because there is no way to re-map the buttons using the options program! You have to edit a .ini file by hand to change the configuration. Given the wide variety of PC gamepad layouts, I find this unacceptable.

Once you get over these nagging problems though, this game does have a lot to offer, both in quality and quantity. The PC version is of the "substance" variety which means that its packed with extra goodies (a welcome change after finishing."Shadow of Destiny") thanks to the risky decision by Konami to put it on a DVD.

And I can't stop playing, and that's what it all comes down to. Its a really fun game. Its clear they've put a lot of work into this, but it kinda feels like watching the new Star Wars movies. Yeah, they're great. Lots of fun. But they just don't blow people away like the first Star Wars movie did. I just get the feeling that if they had spent as much time on the interface as they did trying to get Raiden's hair to do that swish thing when he turns his head, that it might have been a better experience.

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