Monday 1 April 2013

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

Here's a franchise I've not bothered with - Metal Gear. And what better way to get acquainted with this nest of snakes than with Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, released back in late 2011 for Xboxes and PlayStations?

...actually I suppose the 1998 PlayStation release of Metal Gear Solid would be a better idea, but hey, here's the next best thing - Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, thrown at PlayStation 2 owners in late 2001. I can't wait to save the day as Solid Snake!

As a species we have a loose understanding of what makes a good "game". Case in point, Metal Gear Solid 2 is 4.91 percentage points from being the perfect PlayStation 2 release... if the combined efforts of 68 publications are to be believed. It's a stunning assessment conceived by inexperience and stupidity, but who knows, maybe I've been playing the wrong game!

Casting my mind back to a decade ago, I don't doubt that Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty would a notable PlayStation 2 release when it was new. As an experience it certainly puts some distance between it and many of its PS2 peers, but is it truly a god among men? Well, you don't seem to think so - main protagonist, Raiden, has been hated by the public for eleven years, with Konami even reflecting the distaste in the sequels which followed. You can't exactly ignore the game's main character, so I'd say that's probably a good sign something's wrong.

With a wealth of tedious hobbies including the repetition of dialogue, being oblivious to the situation at hand and the relentless discussions regarding his awkward relationship with the save option, it's hard to really like Raiden. The bonkers plot is certainly captivating, but Raiden doesn't make much of an impact on it - his awkward existence is a stark contrast to the cold war nuclear political fantasies this series revels in, and his redundance only escalates as time goes on.

But you can't really gut out the main character without distrupting the game as a whole, so perhaps Raiden doesn't count. Thankfully Metal Gear Solid 2 has plenty of aother problems, such as its dated camera, a tool which seemingly only exists to cause cheap detections and deaths. Though tweaks were made for the benefit of widescreen resolutions, never is the HD technology on offer utilised - you can't always see where you're going because things are zoomed in too far, and likewise, nothing was done to sort out issues such as the jittery sniper scope, a likely by-product of the resolution upgrade.

The thing is, there's no justification for the fixed camera perspective in Sons of Liberty. As the game features a readily available first person mode, visibility issues can already be eliminated at the expense of time, but because such a move requires you to be standing still, stupid traditions are clearly favoured over practicality. MGS2's sequel made strides in the right direction without consequence (and even the 2D Metal Gears let you see more of your surroundings), but sadly, nobody thought to patch the older title.

Then again, when you're dealing with abysmal controls, perhaps it doesn't matter. Likely brought forward from a bygone era on the MSX2 and non-DualShock PlayStations, MGS2's controls make sure every boss in the game is hampered by aggravating button fiddling and ducking mechanics. On top of this, some key functions (like grabbing enemies) are never explained unless you pester people, which although may be fine for Metal Gear veterans, doesn't really help the idea of this series being "accessible".

And the silliness isn't even consistent - weapon types differ in operation for reasons I can't fathom, and with a fixed camera butchering the accuracy of third-person shooting, it seems senseless not to demand first person views at all times when armed. The Y-axis isn't reversed when swimming (unlike every other game on the planet), and the cover mechanics are almost unusable - all testaments of obtuse (if forgivable) game design that has only degraded with age.

It's all a bit problematic - when you're clearly ignoring the competition for half a decade, it's worrying when Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty is consistently lavished in praise. The gameplay let me down far too often, so although the bizarre writing made for an entertaining experience, as a video game it's undoubtedly crippled from my point of view. It's certainly worth checking out for other reasons, but let's not pretend this is the best the PlayStation 2 has to offer.

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