Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance Review

Under no circumstances should you miss Metal Gear Solid 2.

Sequels are rarely surprising. Most of the times a video game follow-up gets announced, you know what it’s going to be about. After all, you are already familiar with the main characters, setting and mechanics. Seldom do developers take the plunge and so something completely unexpected, but then again, Hideo Kojima isn’t most developers.

As soon as Metal Gear Solid 2’s introductory scene starts playing, you theorize about what lies ahead. After all, MGS2 surely looks like a traditional Metal Gear Solid. A title in which you assume the role of veteran soldier Solid Snake as he infiltrates in what appears to be an impenetrable fortress. If previous titles are indicative of what this experience is going to be like, he’ll eventually need to unravel a convoluted conspiracy and face a gargantuan Metal Gear. From the moment you insert the disc on the console, everything leads you to believe that this is yet another Metal Gear Solid, when actually, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Metal Gear Solid 2 is composed of two different chapters (the Tanker Chapter and the Plant Chapter) and each of them puts you in the shoes of two different characters. During the first two hours of the game you play as Solid Snake, while the rest of the game has you playing as a new character named Raiden. Although this made most fans quite angry back in the day, I can’t help but to think that this is an audacious move that proves that the Metal Gear Solid series is anything but predictable.

Metal Gear Solid 2 Substance Screenshot (PS2)

The oil tanker is heavily guarded.

The game opens with a flashback in 2007. Snake is walking along the Hudson River on a rainy night when suddenly, he activates his camouflage suit and jumps from the bridge to an oil tanker that’s passing by. There are rumors about a new Metal Gear being transported to another location in the disguised tanker that Snake has just boarded. Apparently, Revolver Ocelot has sold technical details about REX after the Shadow Moses incident which allowed the Marines to create their own prototype. Snake and Otacon, who now belong to an anti-Metal Gear organization called “Philanthropy,” are looking for photographic evidence of this prototype. Their non-profit organization could then use those pictures to put an end to the development of more Metal Gears.

Two years after the Tanker incident, you assume the role of Raiden, a trained soldier who belongs to a reformed version of the legendary FOXHOUND unit. A cleanup facility known as Big Shell has been seized by a group of armed terrorists known as “Sons of Liberty” who are demanding 30 billion dollars. If their demand is not met, they have threatened to blow up Big Shell, which would cause the biggest natural disaster in history. Raiden’s mission is to save the American president (who was on a tour to inspect the facility) and all the people who are kept as hostages in Big Shell.

It’s worth mentioning that even though I provided short summary of both chapters, what I said doesn’t even scratch the surface of Metal Gear Solid 2’s plot. The game explores themes such as censorship, love, existentialism, artificial intelligence and conspiracy theories in a really deep and thought-provoking way. This is accomplished through a complex narrative and unconventional storytelling, so while some players will find the story absorbing, others will find it absolutely incomprehensible.

Metal Gear Solid 2 Substance (PS2)

The inclusion of Raiden as the main protagonist proved to be quite controversial.

The story is complemented by a top-notch presentation and some new gameplay elements. The two protagonists have a wide range of abilities that allow them to sneak around without being seen by the enemy and the inclusion of multiple tactical options is where Metal Gear Solid really shines. The player can walk slowly to avoid making noise, fire from cover, hang over railings, hide in storage lockers, sneak up on enemies to obtain information and so on and so forth.

The rest of the “Tactical Espionage Action” remains pretty much unchanged. Traditional elements such as the radar which displays your surroundings and the mission briefing which is given via Codec are still here. Innovations come in the form of the first-person view which grants you a better look of the action and the “dragging” mechanic which allows you to move fallen enemy soldiers to hide them or get their items. If an enemy sees that one of his comrades is dead though, this will immediately trigger alert mode, so this prevents you from killing enemies pell-mell. Other traditional features that you can also expect are overly long cutscenes, winks to previous titles and a convoluted story that is hard to keep up with.

In terms of content, Substance features some extras that weren’t present in the original release, including an uninspired skateboarding game, a few playable stories titled “Snake Tales,” hundreds of VR missions, a mission pack and multiple difficulty modes. It’s worth mentioning that while some of these bonuses represent a good diversion, they won’t hold your attention for long.

Metal Gear Solid 2 Substance VR Missions (PS2)

Substance features hundreds of Virtual Reality missions.

Sadly, a few lackluster sidemissions aren’t the only problem with Metal Gear Solid 2. A few inconsistencies in terms of difficulty can make the experience mildly frustrating. For example, if you’re spotted by the enemy, an assault squad will be sent to your location and you’ll be attacked mercilessly. Sometimes it’s inevitable to make your way through without being seen and even on lower difficulty settings, enemy soldiers can be brutal.

Despite some minor issues, this is an experience you won’t find anywhere else. Metal Gear Solid 2 is much more than a title that plays with your expectations. It’s a carefully structured game that manages to tell an enthralling (if not overly convoluted) story. To tell such a gripping tale though, the developer uses every single unconventional trick in the book. At times, it may seem like Metal Gear Solid 2 makes fun of you, confuses you or simply doesn’t care what you think. But in the end, the only thing this game wants is to hold your attention long enough for you to see its assured story. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love every minute of it.

Editor’s Note: the version reviewed was part of Metal Gear Solid: The Essential Collection.