The E3 Expo - two years ago.
We had just observed exclusive gaming footage featuring Konami's newest installment of Metal Gear. The whole thing impressed (to say the least), and we expected nothing less but good things to come...
A natural inclination, given the fact hype and cryptic marketing campaigns attributed to sweeping fans off their feet in eager anticipation of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.
"Solid Snake did die...but he's also here. Either he survived, or there are two of them."
Quite an intriguing riddle, but what did it all mean? Without a doubt, Konami and Hideo Kojima had developed a masterful plan to leave us guessing until the very end. Suffice it to say, their objective worked - with a few unexpected side effects. Numerous gameplay elements were critiqued, leaving one to infer that the fanbase felt cheated out of a true, action-packed sequel (among other extras, such as the recent PS2 release - The Document of Metal Gear Solid 2). Though perhaps the greatest argument of them all centered upon the heroic icon of the franchise - Solid Snake, no longer featured as the integral element of the anticipated sequel. Naturally fans were in their right to express disappointment, waiting for some form of atonement to present itself in the immediate future.
Meanwhile, rumored discussions in relation to an updated edition to the "Sons of Liberty" installment remained. These were finally put to rest at last year's E3 2002 Expo, as Konami introduced Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance. While many considered Sons of Liberty to be one of the oddest editions in the franchise, Substance, (to put it lightly) would be acknowledged as one of the silliest. At first, I assumed this package to more or less be a "Director's Cut", containing new footage and surprises. Substance, regardless how you look at it, qualifies as the most complete edition of Metal Gear Solid 2 to date.
Essentially, the game features the entire game (which will be acknowledged for the remainder of the review as "Sons of Liberty") and a bevy of VR missions. Here's breakdown of each mode:
Sneaking Mode - Composed of two types of VR missions in which the player must avoid being detected by the enemy. Your objective in "Sneaking" requires you to successfully reach the goal without being detected by the enemy. "Eliminate All" is exactly as the mode implies - take out all the enemies in order to complete each level.
- Weapon Mode - Contains several of the weapons featured in the "Sons of Liberty" game. Each weapon features five levels respectively which include:
- Assault Rifle
- C4 / Claymore
- HF.Blade (short for High Frequency Blade, for Raiden only)
- First Person View Mode - Ever wanted to know what it's like to experience Metal Gear in first-person view? Here it is...(if only it was as fun as it sounds).
- Variety Mode - Features specialized missions using parameters within the MGS2 gameplay. Do you have what it takes?
- Bomb Disposal Mode - Navigate in search of bombs planted throughout the Big Shell. Search everyone and diffuse the bombs before time runs out.
- Elimination Mode - Expands upon the "Eliminate All" mode using similar skills to take out all the enemies on the screen.
- Hold Up Mode - One of the more enjoyable modes, sneak up on enemies and hold them up to complete the level.
- Photograph Mode - Each level will instruct you to take photographs in a certain manner. Overall, they're pretty straightforward, while others will require some careful thought.
Snake Tales: - Were you disgruntled about having a limited experience with Solid Snake? Cast those gripes away with the introduction of 6 all-new chapters set on the Big Shell. Now you can enjoy the game the way it was meant to be!
Quite an extensive roster of gameplay modes is it not? Don't expect to beat it in one sitting either, especially if you're planning to show off your top record scores at the MGS2: Substance rankings website.
Say what you will, but it's pretty inexcusable as to some of the inherent flaws featured throughout the Xbox edition (the PlayStation 2 edition is scheduled to be released in March 2003). Full-motion video sequences among other action elements are plagued by slowdown? I mean - it's really bad, impossible to ignore. What's the deal? Apparently, since the code was optimized for the PS2, the developers never bothered to adjust the parameters to flawlessly run on the Xbox hardware (gotta love those port jobs). Ugh. At the very least, they could've taken this into account and provided an option to customize the rate of slowdown from the user-end.
As much as I've come to adore the "S" controller, I absolutely hate using it for this game. Despite the various configurations to choose from, none of them compare to the flawless PS2 layout. Even now, I am still bickering at the fact I need to tap the right analog stick to switch into first person view. Enough of that though, the real highlight of Substance isn't "Sons of Liberty" itself, but the VR aspect. For those who enjoyed Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions are in for a treat. A challenging game mode throughout, players must complete a total 500 missions - 150 of which are classified under "Alternative Missions".
As outlined above, the FPV Mode wasn't quite the enjoyable experience I hoped for. While I applaud KCEJ's intent to try something different, their efforts are dulled by the Xbox controller. Using the dual sticks takes a great deal of adjustment; imagine yourself pressured by time and playing missions over and over until it becomes second nature. You call that fun? In any case, it's something that you can learn to overlook.
Initially, players can only select from the main heroes of the game, Raiden and Snake respectively. Each contains a variety of sub-game modes which will test your aptitude in the areas of stealth, marksmanship, bomb disposal among other gameplay elements featured in the "Sons of Liberty" game. As you progress, additional characters will become accessible. For example, once you've achieved a 50% completion rate with Raiden, you'll have access to play in his VR ninja outfit using the high-frequency blade.
The VR missions' level design overall is relatively the same, distinguished only by the rate of enemies, time limit, among other parameters. To further elaborate on the various core mission modes, Alternative Missions basically strips the VR aspect down to its roots. Players are required to avoid detection for a designated time period, navigate from point A to point B, or in the case of one mission, elude a 50 foot Godzilla-sized guard. Yah, Hideo's got some weird ideas. The Variety Mode embodies a combination of VR elements, which aren't quite as satisfying as the standard VR missions, but serves as a nice variation nonetheless.
VR Missions also contains a few additional modes that must be unlocked - Variety and Photograph Mode respectively. I found both to be pretty refreshing after extensively playing so many standardized VR missions in one sitting. Speaking of which, Substance also features a special series of missions exclusively featuring Solid Snake. Aptly entitled "Snake Tales" contains fictional stories unrelated to the "Sons of Liberty" chapter, set throughout various locations on the Big Shell. From a gameplay perspective, Snake Tales is very challenging as players must rely upon every trick of the trade sans radar to complete their mission. In addition, enemy soldiers don't drop items (meaning any rations you may encounter should be used conservatively), hints will not be issued from your Codec, and save sessions can only be executed in-between game intermissions. Each episode is outlined in a text-based fashion, the only major deterrent to the game (it got to the point, I no longer wanted to read through pages of "ramble" and quickly saved the game and moved on to the next mission).
Substance soars in replay value, mainly in the fact you'll be spending so much time completing the bevy of missions with respective characters. And most importantly - to unlock the assorted extras packed within. Some of the extras you'll uncover include playing as Snake in a tuxedo (mullet and all), in addition to a special skateboard level featured on the Big Shell (!) There's also a mode which will allow you to manipulate CG sequences by swapping the characters as you see fit for some amusing results. In the end, all that diligent game playing will pay off. It's unfortunate that the Document of MGS2 release wasn't thrown in (certainly Xbox owners rightfully deserve it, unless Konami will see fit to make consumers go out and spend an additional 30 bucks).
It's a tough call to consider Substance the definitive version to own, especially for fans who've previously played "Sons of Liberty", investing in this package requires some well-founded justification. To its credit, Substance delivers enough new material in which a diehard fan would enjoy, while a newcomer may be more skeptical. Thus far, I wouldn't motivate ANYONE to rush out for the Xbox edition, especially with those inherent flaws. It's such a slap in the face especially to Xbox owners, while I am certain the PS2 version will be "solid" and surpass this release in every way. Although I've been remained a dedicated fan to the franchise over the years, I sincerely can no longer acknowledge it as the definitive model. Especially with the release of Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell, that bar has been raised and redefined (stay tuned for Sleeveboy's review for more details). Unless the next installment of Metal Gear can deliver substantial improvements, fans will become attracted to entertaining epigones to hold their interests.
· · · Bahn