2001. Metal Gear Solid 2 hit the market, and the video game industry welcomed a giant in its ranks.
Innovative gameplay, genius mechanics, movie-like cutscenes, and a nerve-breaking plot – Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty took it much further than its predecessor, released on PSX 4 years earlier, thus showing the world the real power of the PlayStation 2.
Has time been gentle on Hideo Kojima’s creation? Should you play – or replay – one of the best games of the past, over 20 years later? Answer in this late but comprehensive review.
Before we dive in, let’s talk about the several versions of the game released over the years.
MGS2 was first released in 2001 on PlayStation 2. It then reached the Xbox, PC, PS Vita, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 in its Substance and HD versions.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty – PS2 (2001)
This is the original version of the game. Released in 2 versions; one with the game, and the second including the game as well as a making-of DVD.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance – PS2, Xbox, and PC (2002)
A year later, Hideo Kojima and Konami released an improved version of MGS2 on PS2, Xbox, and PC. If the franchise has since been flirting with Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony, having MGS2 released on another gaming console (Xbox) in 2002 was a big deal (and a tough one for Sony).
With MGS2: Substance, Konami repeated what they had done a couple of years earlier with Metal Gear Solid: VR Mission and added a VR mode. The VR mode is an extra game mode adding a whopping 511 short missions—or an extra 30 hours of gameplay to the title (at least, this is how much time I needed to finish it at 100% myself).
MGS2: Substance also added a couple of side missions to complete with Snake (Snake Tales) and a Skateboard mode (exclusive to the PlayStation 2).
Metal Gear Solid HD Collection – Xbox 360, PS3, PS Vita (2012)
Ten years later, Konami surfed the HD Remaster wave and released HD versions of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (Substance version), Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (Subsistence version), and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker.
Note that the PS Vita game does not include the PSP episode, Peace Walker, which you need to purchase separately.
This review is based on my recent playthroughs of the HD collection.
Let’s kick this off with something that contributes to making MGS such a great franchise: its soundtrack.
A soundtrack worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster
From the epic battle tunes to the impeccable voice cast, the game’s soundtrack will captivate you from the beginning to the end.
Don’t take my word for it. Give it a listen.
A memorable adventure
Metal Gear Solid 2 holds a complex and twisted plot that will be hard to follow if you’re not 100% focused during the 5 hours and 20 minutes of real-time cut scenes.
So, if you’re not willing to spend that much time watching cutscenes, walk away. Besides, you won’t understand much if you haven’t played the previous episode (may it be the original Metal Gear Solid on PSX or, The Twin Snakes remake on the GameCube).
Metal Gear Solid 2 takes place in 2007 in the United States, two years after the Shadow Moses incident, where Solid Snake stopped Liquid from starting a nuclear war. In this MGS game, you play once again as Solid Snake, now part of Philanthropy alongside Otacon, the nuclear engineer he met and saved from Shadow Moses.
Snake and Otacon’s objective is to end the spreading of new Metal Gear* models across the globe.
* A Metal Gear is a bipedal tank capable of launching nuclear missiles from anywhere on earth.
The intrigue begins as Snake secretly boards an oil tanker passing under the Manhattan Bridge in New York City after Otacon receives intel regarding a new Metal Gear model traveling in its cargo. A couple of minutes in, things go south, and the tanker is taken hostage by what seems to be a Russian group led by ghosts of Snake’s past.
Important note: the game splits into two chapters. One takes place on an oil tanker (Tanker Chapter) and the other on the Big Shell (Plant Chapter), an offshore platform near Manhattan. I won’t go into details as it would lead me to spoil those lucky enough not to have played the game yet. What I can tell you, however, is that MGS2’s story will keep you busy for 10 to 15 hours (during your first playthrough) with a rare intensity.
On another note, MGS2 allows Hideo Kojima to tackle topics that are still highly relevant today:
- The Information Age, how we’re overfed with news, and how information control can manipulate entire populations. Something that our society is struggling with a lot nowadays. In our Digital Age, information manipulation – or fake news – has become a tool to control the masses and gives way to the worst conspiracy theories.
- Artificial Intelligence, and how it is an invisible and yet active part of our everyday lives (with an important Sci-Fi twist, obviously). After seeing how much AI can do (image processing, deep fake, voice reproduction, etc.), Hideo Kojima and his teams nailed it.
- Future generations and cards we’re dealing for them via our actions today.
Play as Snake, Play as Raiden
You won’t only be playing as Snake in Metal Gear Solid 2. This is important because the part with Snake only represents a fraction of the game. Back then, Hideo Kojima hid this information from all gamers until the release of MGS2 – and it came as a shock for the fans of the previous games.
During the Plant Chapter, the player will control a brand new character: Raiden.
Raiden is a young FoxHound agent sent on the Big Shell to fight a terrorist group called the Dead Cell, led by Solidus Snake, the third son of Big Boss. Raiden will cross paths with the mysterious Iroquois Pliskin, the enigmatic Gray Fox Mr. X, and the terrible Revolver Liquid Ocelot during his mission.
Now, what matters in a game is … playing. Right? Well, MGS2 is pretty good at that too.
A demanding – yet accessible – gameplay
In Metal Gear Solid 2, stealth is key.
Like Metal Gear Solid was before, Metal Gear Solid 2 is a sweet mix of action and infiltration. And just like in MGS, you’re better off playing the infiltration card if you want to survive. If you’re being reckless and rush your way through, you’ll most likely run out of ammunition, rations, and die in minutes.
MGS2 also brings a lot of new gameplay elements to the series.
So, what’s new in MGS2?
A new set of weapons:
- Tranquilizer guns: This is one of the most important additions of Metal Gear Solid 2. You can now incapacitate enemies with non-lethal weapons. It applies to all guards and human bosses.
- USP: Cousin of the SOCOM, the USP does the same job. And, just like with the SOCOM, you can equip it with a silencer to dispose of enemies and obstacles requiring firearms without alerting anyone.
- M4 and AK47: These two replace the Famas rifle.
Adult books and empty mags: MGS2 lets the player trick the artificial intelligence a lot more than before. You can now lure the guards out of their routine walks using adult books or by throwing empty mags nearby to either dispose of them or sneak by them while they’re distracted.
- Sword: A deadly weapon you’ll get to use towards the end of the game (not my favorite, but it serves the series storyline).
- Grenade launcher: A devastating weapon that’s hard to master. It’s loud, imprecise, and messy. That’s right, not my favorite either).
A new set of items:
- The AP sensor: If you’ve played the previous game, you’re familiar with the soliton radar. It’s showing you where enemies are compared to you … unless you’ve been spotted. This is when the AP sensor comes in handy as it uses your controller’s vibrations to alert you when enemies get close to you.
- Bandage: When your life bar reaches a critical level, it will turn from blue to orange. Once orange, you’ll bleed and gradually lose health. If you’re not careful enough, the blood drops left behind will lead guards right back to you. You can either rest (get on the ground and stay still) or use bandaids to prevent it.
- Cold Medicine: Snake is only human and can get sick if he spends too much time out in the cold. If he sneezes next to enemies, they will be alerted by it. Make sure you use the medicine if and when Snake gets sick.
- Noise detector: An item that you’ll have to use to complete the game – and that you can use to listen to bonus conversations here and there.
A new set of moves:
- First-person view mode (with all weapons this time): FINALLY! While this is most useful with pistols and machine guns, it’s quite annoying that you cannot move in first-person mode. For instance, to change positions when using a sniper rifle or a missile launcher, you’ll need to unequip, move, and equip the weapon again. This can be quite irritating in some situations that require speed and accuracy, especially if you don’t master the controls yet.
- Front roll: Snake gained flexibility. He can walk, run, and roll! An excellent addition that’s particularly useful when trying to evade or knock enemies cold.
- Suspension mode: Suspending will help you hide from the enemy and reach places you wouldn’t otherwise. Fun fact. With training, Snake and Raiden will grow stronger, allowing them to stay in suspension mode longer.
- Shoot while in hiding: When reaching a corner with your back glued to a wall, you can take a sneak look at what’s happening beyond it and shoot enemies/security cameras if you deem it necessary. An interesting gameplay addition to move fast while sneaking.
- Hide in lockers: hiding has always played an instrumental part in Metal Gear games. In the previous entry, Snake could use card boxes to lure the enemies away. In this title, you can hide in card boxes AND lockers. It works wonders when no one suspects you’re around –, but guards may look inside lockers during an Evasion* alert mode. Lockers also have strategic importance as you can hide dead or knocked-out guards to prevent other enemy sentinels from finding them.
* There are four alert levels:
> Normal mode: guards are routinely walking around.
> Prudence Mode: guards have been alerted of a potential intrusion and are being extra cautious.
> Evasion Mode: guards actively look for you based on your latest whereabouts.
> Alert Mode: you’re spotted. Guards will shoot on sight.
An interesting but predictive Artificial Intelligence
MGS2 lets the player interact a lot more with enemies than previously.
Here are a couple of examples:
- If they wake up after you use a tranquilizer gun, they’ll assume they fell asleep and continue their round as if nothing’s happened.
- When waking up after you knocked them down during a fight, they will alert their friends.
- Bodies can take long minutes to disappear. Consequently, a dead (or knocked out) soldier found will automatically result in an extended search for an intruder (you).
These searches can be very stressful. Depending on the difficulty level you’ve selected when starting the game, investigations will be more or less thorough. Play in easy mode, and hiding in a locker should be enough to escape guards. Play in hard mode, and they will check every single locker and each corner of the room they last saw you in.
Other than that, don’t expect to be surprised by the A.I.
Enemy sentinels follow a route they will repeat indefinitely unless you interact with them or get their attention.
A well-balanced difficulty
I don’t recommend playing the game in easy or very easy: you’ll face very little opposition, thus ruining the overall experience (but that’s just my own opinion).
During your first play-through, the normal mode should be enough of a challenge.
You’ll die an okay amount of time and shouldn’t get stuck anywhere – even though some boss fights may give you a hard time (note that you can only change the difficulty of a saved game once you reach the New Game+ Screen).
That said, once you understand the game’s mechanics and how enemies and bosses move and attack, you’ll realize that mastering MGS2 is mostly about remembering patterns. There’s very little if no room left to chance. Something you’ll probably learn the hard way against some bosses like Olga or Vamp.
Epic boss battles
Bosses are part of the Metal Gear Series. All MG games have them, and MGS2 is no exception.
In MGS2, all boss fights are unique. This is a rare quality that not all games share. Each boss fight offers a new challenges, from playing hide and seek under pouring rain to taking down a military aircraft or fighting an army of Metal Gear Rays. Not all bosses are equally hard to defeat, but there’s no easy way out either – at least not during your first run.
A great looking game (even so many years later)
Another signature trait that’s typically associated with the MGS series is the overall technical and visual quality.
Back in 2001, Metal Gear Solid 2 looked stunning! Well, the HD remasters make the original game look better than ever.
Like Resident Evil 4, the OG PlayStation 2 version aged a lot, and playing it on a large flat screen is not a good idea. Textures and colors won’t display correctly. If you can, I strongly recommend getting the HD Remaster instead. Note that if you don’t own a PS3, the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection is fully backward compatible on the Xbox One and Xbox Series.
A challenging New Game+ that’s worth your time.
Once you complete the game for the first time, you will unlock the Extreme and European Extreme difficulty modes. In short, Snake and Raiden will die with 2-3 bullets in Extreme, and the game will stop as soon as the enemy discovers you in European Extreme. Therefore, I do not recommend playing your first new game + in either one of these modes.
Not with a little help first.
For that, you need to collect Dog Tags.
Dog Tags are nametags that enemy soldiers carry around their necks.
To collect them, you need to hold soldiers at gunpoint and threaten them with a weapon. They’ll then start to wiggle, and the first thing they drop will be their dog tag. Then, they’ll drop items and ammunition. You can repeat the operation until they don’t have anything more to give you.
There’s a total of 394 dog tags to collect, and here are the rewards you’ll get once you start collecting them:
Tanker Chapter dog tags rewards.
- Bandana (infinite ammo) – 46 dog tags needed (30%)
- Stealth camouflage (optic camouflage making you invisible to the eye once equipped) – 76 dog tags needed (50%)
Big Shell Chapter dog tags rewards.
- Infinity Wig (infinite ammo) – 73 dog tags needed (30%)
- Stealth camouflage (optic camouflage) – 121 dog tags needed (50%)
- Wig B (grip gauge will not lower once equipped. Meaning you can stay in hanging more forever) – 170 dog tags needed (70%)
- Wig A (O2 gauge will not lower once equipped, meaning you can stay underwater forever) – 218 dog tags needed (90%)
You have to finish the game in each difficulty level on the same save and collect dog tags on almost all the soldiers you’ll encounter (No tag to collect in the European Extreme difficulty mode).
Extra game modes
The Casting Theater Mode
Once you complete the game, you’ll unlock the Theatre Mode. It lets you re-enact some of the most iconic cutscenes of the game … and switch characters. It’s useless, but it’s fun to try.
The Boss Survival Mode
In this mode, you have to defeat all bosses from the game (in the difficulty of your choice) in one go and in a minimum amount of time. This is an exciting challenge as your life gauge, items, and ammunition will not be refilled in between each fight, and you’ll have to collect them yourself on the battlefield.
A fun addition for players looking for a good challenge! It would have been interesting to include an online scoreboard, but BluePoint (in charge of the remaster) did not add anything to the original Substance iteration. So, no scoreboard.
The VR mode
This is a mode that’s only available in the Substance and HD Collection versions.
VR missions are short additional gameplay sequences (sneaking, elimination, bomb disposal, etc.) that you have to solve as fast as you possibly can without getting spotted by the enemy. You’ll need about 30 hours to see the end of all 511 VR missions.
You’ll manage the first ones without encountering any significant problems. But I can guarantee that the last missions will definitely test your skills and patience.
The Skateboard mode
Only the PS2 Substance version included the Skateboarding mini-game. I haven’t had a chance to try it, but here’s a taste from IGN:
The Snake Tales
The Snakes Tales are five alternative missions you get to play as Snake. It’s nothing extravagant (no cut scenes here), but playing short missions with Snake in places where the original game didn’t allow you to maneuver with him is a real pleasure.
A quick note on Achievements and Trophies for completionists
MGS2 is a 100% solo title, and you don’t need to play online to unlock any achievement or trophy. Now, I’d like to stress that getting all achievements or trophies will require skills (If you think you have it in you, go for it!).
The hardest parts?
Finishing the game in the Extreme difficulty in your quest to collect all dog tags and that one Variety Mode VR mission during which you have to snipe about 50 sugar-rushed guards running in all directions (trust me, you’ll know when you get there).
Here’s a guide that I highly recommend following if you want to complete the game at 100%.
Verdict: good buy, or goodbye?
This is a great game. Get it; you won’t regret it.
Nostalgia is one thing. Aging well is another. With these two in mind, I can say that Metal Gear Solid 2 is still one of the best video games I’ve ever gotten to play.
If you haven’t yet or have forgotten most of it, I strongly recommend you try it. You will not be disappointed, especially since the game is now fairly cheap (and the HD Collection also comes with Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker).