This review originally appeared in E106, January 2001.
For the first 13-odd minutes of MGS2, you don’t get to use the DualShock2. You can zoom in on the cut-scenes by pressing R1 and move the camera around with the right analogue stick but you have no real involvement – you’re just a passenger.
Unsurprisingly, then, Sons of Liberty begins as it intends to go on, displaying the kind of reliance on cut-scenes that is only rivalled – though certainly not beaten – by its 32bit predecessor. If you didn’t enjoy them in Metal Gear Solid you’re not likely to tolerate them here, either, particularly when their intrusion appears more determined second time around. Yet that doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate their quality – MGS2 offers some of the most convincing cinematic sequences seen in a videogame, a reflection of Hideo Kojima’s undeniable flair for capturing action on camera.
When the moment eventually comes, the action is comfortingly familiar. There are a couple of new elements (hanging off ledges, looking around corners and evasive somersaults, for instance) as well as revised aspects (swimming, shooting in firstperson mode), but on the whole your character does everything MGS1 veterans would expect. And a little bit more. As with Halo, the attraction is in finding these out yourself and in Edge’s experience ignoring most of the game’s hints (the many patronising Codec messages from your commanding officer) and relying on your intelligence instead makes this a significantly better game.
MGS2 is all about detail – from the persuasive nature of the game’s physical modelling (early examples include shooting leaves off plants, magazines off racks or bottles from behind the bar) to the various in-jokes (the Vulcan Raven toy or boxes full of ZOE copies lying around the place) or the way the team has yet again fully exploited the capabilities of the controller (pressure-sensitive functionality is the main difference here – holding/choking soldiers, speed of leaning round a corner, ‘easing off’ the trigger, etc) the level of attention that has gone into this is staggering. For the most part it’s as consistent an environment (graphically and psychologically) as that of, say, Halo or GoldenEye (or indeed, MGS1), and one that is supported by an immensely atmospheric audio score (both FX and, particularly, music).
This detail carries through to other areas. The developer has clearly really considered the dynamic of the gameplay, adding subtle sub-levels of stealth complexity or designing the environment to cover all conceivable camera angle eventualities so as to make navigation through them as painless as possible. There are issues – disorientation can occur at times from camera shifts and control can occasionally feel a little clumsy – although anyone playing MGS2 correctly shouldn’t find these too obstructive.
And this is crucial. There is little to no point trying to rush through this game – you’ll not only die frequently but also miss out on rewards (neutralised guards tend not to ‘hand out’ items if you’re continually restarting sections) – you might as well play Tetris without bothering to rotate the blocks. Edge has long maintained that playing MGS1 requires a different approach to the other, longer established genres and, expectedly, this is no different. The pace is forcibly slowed down and it’s as much about observation as it is operation – scanning new rooms for potential traps and camera placements, learning guards’ patrols before sneaking in, snapping a few necks and dragging the corpses out of sight.
Love them or loathe them, it’s about cut-scenes, too. It’s the overall experience, rather than the game’s various components, that counts. Admittedly, at times MGS2 feels as though it would be much happier being a film, yet that doesn’t stop it being a remarkably rewarding stealth-based videogame for the most part. And a decidedly distinctive affair to boot.