Release Date: 11/05/2002
When Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was released for the PS2 last fall, gamers across the country were singing its praises. Now, a little over one year later, it has been firmly established as a classic game that will go down in gaming history as one of the most breakthrough titles ever. So what does this re-release of the title bring to the table, and more importantly, why should you buy it? Well, what Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance does, first and foremost, is bring the classic combination of stealth and cinematic action to Xbox owners who would otherwise not be able to play it. And secondly, it brings a wealth of bonus additions to the experience in order to enhance and prolong the already-stellar title. Much like the Playstation Japanese-only re-release of the first title, Metal Gear Solid Integral, Konami has opted to include an immense amount of bonus VR missions. Also like Integral (or the American localized and separately sold: Metal Gear Solid VR Missions), Substance includes different modes of play including the popular First Person mode which allows you to conduct your business completely from an FPS perspective.
But Konami didn’t stop there, quite the opposite in fact. Here is a quick run-down of additional features and extras that Metal Gear Solid: Substance includes:
- 350+ VR missions.
- 150+ alternative missions.
- New playable characters and new outfits for established characters.
- 5 brand new missions called Snake Tales.
- Casting Theater.
- Boss Survival mode.
As you progress through more and more of the game new stuff will become available. One of the biggest complaints about the original Playstation 2 title was that it was over way too fast: it took the average gamer around 12 hours to complete, and that includes watching and listening to the long-winded cut-scenes and instances of dialogue. So the wealth of extras that the developers included on this version is very much a welcome addition. Another major complaint about the original game was the fact that Solid Snake took a backseat to the then-unknown and offendingly-effeminate Raiden. In an attempt to address this criticism, Konami has included the aforementioned Snake Tales, which allows Solid Snake to take the place of Raiden in a select few Big Shell scenarios. Not exactly a solution to the problem, but the Snake Tales do finally give gamers the option to see what some of the missions would have been like had Solid Snake been the controllable character during the Big Shell portion of the game. It should be noted, however, that for some reason these missions do not include the ever-helpful radar system that permits you to scope the position of enemy soldiers and their field of sight at a glance. As you can imagine the absence of the radar makes successfully completing the missions needlessly difficult and much more an exercise in trial-and-error.
If you have yet to experience MGS2 and are considering purchasing Substance then perhaps a little background info on the plot is required. You’ll play the part of Solid Snake, member of an advocate group called Philanthropy whose purpose for existing is to spread the word on the creation of enormous mechanical robot destroyers known as Metal Gear. You’ll work in conjunction with an engineer named Otacon who was formerly employed by the same people creating these bi-pedal mechs but is now on the side of good. You’ll constantly keep in contact with him via a stealth communication implant known as the codec during your mission to gather intel, seek out, and eventually destroy Metal Gear.
The gameplay is similar to that of Metal Gear Solid and identical to that of the original MGS2: Sons of Liberty. You’ll be given an objective, like reaching a certain area of the environment in order to save hostages, and it’ll be up to you to deal with enemy units on your way there, either by disposing of them via an assortment of based-on-fact weaponry or by using stealth maneuvers to secretly slide past them. The method of approach is completely up to you. If you alert a guard through any number of ways, like leaving a trail of blood, accidentally sneezing, purposely knocking on the wall, or unloading a noisy slug within earshot, he will investigate the area and if he makes visual contact with you he’ll radio in his position and request backup. When this occurs your radar system will malfunction and you’ll be working completely on intuition until you manage to elude the enemy forces for a certain duration of time, at which point the backup soldiers will leave and your radar system will go back to normal.
Needless to say, avoiding detection or quickly disposing of enemy threat is necessary to avoid an untimely demise. Luckily, Snake is equipped with a plethora of different maneuvers that will help him to move under the radar, as it were. Aside from running around and shooting he can do such things as press his back flat against a wall and peak around the corner, if there is an enemy nearby you can execute a quick draw that automatically targets him and after letting off a quick shot Snake will immediately go back to his previous back-against-the-wall position. He can crawl around on the floor and hide under objects, use a cardboard box to move around in, or hang off ledges for a short period of time. And those are only a fraction of what he is capable of doing, as you become more comfortable with the gameplay setup you’ll learn new tricks and tactics.
The main story mode of Substance is, for all intents and purposes, identical to the original title and thusly so will include interspersed graphic cinema sequences that push the twisting storyline forward. Unfortunately, there are no new cutscenes in this, or any other, mode of the game. Instead the new story elements are presented as pages of onscreen text.
While Konami certainly enhanced the Metal Gear Solid 2 experience considerably in terms of lasting appeal with virtually any and every conceivable bonus that they could cram onto a single one-sided DVD disc, they didn’t even touch the visual facets of the game. Not that a graphical overhaul is necessary considering the fact that even one year after its initial release it still stands squarely as one of the most graphically impressive titles to date, but the Xbox is significantly more capable than the PS2 and so logic would dictate that steps should be taken to take advantage of that extra horsepower. To add insult to injury, the frame rate occasionally chunks up in certain sequences, it is hardly noticeable and doesn’t do anything to detract from the experience but – I mean, c’mon, this is the Xbox we’re talking about, it doesn’t make sense that the less-powerful PS2 does a better job of keeping a consistent frame rate. But alls said, you can expect an awesome graphical presentation replete with super smooth animations and insanely detailed characters and environments.
As many who have already played through Sons of Liberty know, this game is an aural tour de force, thanks largely in part to the magnificent soundtrack by Hollywood-film guru Harry Gregson-Williams. Ambient sound-effects can be heard throughout every nook and cranny in the various environments and they really help to give the player a unique feeling of immersion. Topping off the audio trifecta is excellent voice-acting, particularly the role of Solid Snake who is voiced by X-men 2 director David Hayter.
The burning question most Xbox owners have on their collective minds is whether Metal Gear Solid: Substance is worth buying if they’ve already played through the original MGS2 on Playstation 2. Well, the heaping serving of bonus modes and various other additions do prolong the potential lifespan of the game by 20 or 30 hours. The VR missions (which make up the majority of the extras) are great fun for Gear-heads who are more into the nuances of the gameplay, but the cinematic cut-scenes and excellent audio/visual production values were undeniable hooks of the original game and, regrettably, no steps were taken to include new voice-overs or cutscenes. So the real question is what was it about the original game that you liked so much, the gameplay or awesome production values? Fact of the matter is that it was probably a combination of both, so the extras will succeed in keeping you glued to the screen for many hours but chances are that you won’t enjoy them as much as you did the first time you laid your fingers to Sons of Liberty on the PS2. If, however, you’ve never played Sons of Liberty, this is a definite must-buy, no question about that.