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Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance

Review By:  Jared Black

Developer:   Konami
Publisher:   Konami
# of Players:   1
Genre:   Stealth
ESRB:   Mature
Online:   No
Accessories:   N/A
Date Posted:  


I think it's safe to say that I'm a pretty big fan of the Metal Gear franchise. After all, I grew up playing the NES versions and occasionally even preferred them over Mario and Link's best efforts. A little over a year ago I reviewed Metal Gear Solid 2 for PS2, and hailed it as the best PS2 game to date. Nearly a year later it's been revamped for Xbox, complete with a slew of new missions, playable characters, and other extra goodies. The result is the definitive version of Kojima's masterpiece, although it makes much less of an impact this time around.

For those of you who played it on PS2, you'll find a lot of new stuff to love in this version. Substance comes complete with the following enhancements/modes not found in the original:

  • Over 350 new VR missions
  • Over 150 alternative missions
  • 5 Snake Tales
  • New playable characters and game modes
  • Boss Survival and Casting Theater modes
  • All of the original extras from the PS2 version (dog tags, previous story text, photo album, etc.)

The meat of the new additions lies of course in the overwhelming number of new VR and alternative missions. The VR missions are essentially simulations in a variety of training modes, including Sneaking (reach the goal or kill all enemies without being detected), Weapon (practice proficiency with a variety of weapons), First Person View (play missions entirely in first person), and Variety (misc. objectives). These are presented in Tron-esque VR stages, complete with simplified graphics and a very tech feel, and can be played with a variety of characters.

The alternative missions take place in actual stages from the game, and consist of one of four different objectives: Bomb Disposal, Eliminate, Hold Up, or Photograph. Bomb Disposal consists of eliminating all bombs at once, Eliminate involves killing/KO'ing/putting to sleep enemy soldiers, Hold Up has the player holding up all enemy soldiers, and finally Photograph involves taking a variety of pictures with a digital camera within a specified time limit. Again, these missions can be played with several different characters.

The Snake Tales missions are, as the name suggests, mini-missions played out by Solid Snake. Each mission is presented with several pages of text outlining what the mission is about, and then furthered as Snake reaches specific objectives with additional storyline text and/or events. These missions take place in actual locales from the main game, and are by themselves nearly as long as a lot of the objectives in the actual game. The main wrinkle in these modes is that Snake is now without his trusty radar and Codec, making them challenging affairs for all but the most seasoned Metal Gear fans.

The Casting Theater is perhaps the most humorous addition, as it allows the player to replay key scenes from the game with substituted characters. Replace Snake with a middle-aged lady, replace Ocelot with Ocelot from MGS1Öthe possibilities are endless. You can spend hours just playing with all of the different character combinations and never get tired of it. Boss Survival is just what it sounds like, as it allows the player to fight each boss back to back and survive as long as they can.

Other extras include a variety of unlockable alternate outfits, additional playable characters, and the ability to enter in your top scores via password on Konami Japan's website. Additionally the Tanker and Plant chapters can now be played separately, which works out great since both felt completely different in the original storyline anyway. And of course, some old favorites from previous Metal Gear games make special appearances as wellÖ

With all of this extra stuff, it's sometimes easy to overlook the fact that Xbox owners are also getting the complete original game as well. The core game is completely unchanged, aside from some very minor graphic details (like different posters) and the slightly altered control scheme due to different controllers.

I donít want to talk about the storyline too much, as spoiling any part of it would be a great injustice to everyone who reads this. So instead, Iíll simply give you whatís on the back of the box: "Top-secret weapons technology is being mysteriously transported under cover of an oil tanker to an unknown destination. Armed with an arsenal of new weapons, supplies and stealth maneuvers, itís up to Solid Snake to infiltrate the transport and keep this deadly weapon of mass destruction from falling into the wrong hands."

Naturally there's much more to the story than that, but since the exact storyline is retained my only complaint from the PS2 version applies here as well. At times, the storyline can be a bit too confusing (particularly to those new to the series) and many key points are relayed via the Codec interface rather than through short cutscenes or flashbacks. On the whole though, MGS2 tells a great story filled with suspense, intrigue, and backstabbing that keeps the player interested throughout the game.

The enemy AI really hasnít been improved a whole lot from the original MGS, although there are several improvements here and there. Most disappointing to me personally is the fact that an area can easily be "reset" after the enemy has spotted you and goes on Alert. Simply step outside to another part of the building and return, and theyíll act as if you were never even there. Itís simply not realistic (although it is a staple of the series dating back to the NES), and itís one of the things I had expected to be fixed in MGS2. I can understand why itís still in place (for one thing, the game would be much harder if they chased you from area to area), but it does detract from the realism. And any break in realism is a jarring event in light of how realistic the rest of the game is. Boss AI is much better however, as each requires itís own unique tactics to successfully defeat.

The environments are really one of the main things that make MGS2 as great as it is. Never before has a player been able to interact with the environment with this degree of realism, and mastering it will ultimately decide how successful youíll be in the game. Much like the first game, enemy line of sights will be represented on your radar. Sneaking past the numerous enemies in the game will require you to use the environment to your advantage by hiding behind boxes, disposing of incapacitated enemies so they arenít discovered, and more. You donít just have to stay out of their sight however; you also have to make sure there isnít any evidence left behind that you were there. Youíll leave footprints if your feet are wet, a trail of blood if youíve been injured, and even sneeze if youíve breathed in too much flour (or have the sniffles). You can literally go throughout the entire game using the environment to make your way through without killing a single enemy (with a few exceptions when you have to kill them to move the story forward), or you can blast your way through and take each and every guard out one by one. Almost everything you do is up to you, and itís this level of freedom that really makes MGS2 the ultimate adventure/stealth game. Konami has really created one big playground here, in which every problem has multiple ways of being solved, all of which are natural and intuitive solutions and make good use of the surroundings.

Graphically, Substance looks identical to the original PS2 version. And while last year I did call MGS2 overall the best-looking game ever, that definitely does not hold true today. Games like Metroid Prime and Splinter Cell have certainly surpassed it, and as such it would've been nice to see some sort of upgrade for the Xbox port. I would still consider the texture work "crisp" and the character models refined, but it's still noticeably below the work on many recent Xbox titles. Additionally, the Xbox version is saddled with some pretty bad slowdown in a couple of areas where motion blurring is used in the original storyline. Players new to the game probably won't even notice it, but the slowdown in those places (ex: outside in the rain) was certainly noticeable and disconcerting to me. It doesn't really effect gameplay, but it's still not pretty to look at. None of this really matters, as the game still ranks as one of the better looking Xbox titles thanks to the awesome sense of style it originally possessed.

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