STAFF REVIEW of Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance (Xbox)

Tuesday, January 21, 2003.
by Stephen Cameron

Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance Box art For those of you who have already played MGS2: Sons of Liberty for the PS2, then you?re pretty much familiar with MGS2: Substance for the XBox. For those not familiar, this is an action/stealth game which plays out over two chapters. The first is the very short tanker chapter in which you assume the role of Solid Snake, the hero of past Metal Gear games, and currently a member of the activist group Philanthropy. Philanthropy?s goal here is to help raise the public?s awareness of the powerful Metal Gear weapons ? giant mechs capable of wreaking much havoc and destruction. In the second, much longer chapter, you take control of newbie special agent Raiden as he infiltrates ?Big Shell?, a huge cleanup plant where the President has been taken hostage by a group of terrorists.

This is a very cinematic game. Very often you will just be sitting back and watching conversations unfold between the characters of the game as they communicate through the ?codec?. Visually, all you see is a green tinted screen with talking heads. Other times you may be treated to much better cinematic cutscenes as the story unfolds. And it *is* a story, so the game is very linear. This isn?t to say that you don?t have any degree of freedom ? you are free to move from room to room, but you?re not really going to get all that much further plot-wise until you progress down the (one) correct path.

Now, for those of you wondering how MGS2: Substance compares to Splinter Cell, know that this really is a different style of game. Although you play as a special agent character in both, MGS2: Substance definitely sticks to the action side of things. For example, you can take quite a number of injuries before dying, especially at the lower difficulty levels. Also, the enemies? field of vision is really quite limited as is the distance they can see. Often times, you can be standing in what appears to be plain view right in front of them, but they are somehow oblivious to your presence. Even so, the gameplay itself is still really quite fun and varied. Stealth is definitely a big factor, and there are many wonderful ways in which you can avoid being detected as well as hide the unconscious (or dead) bodies of your enemies. Combat can take place from the usual 3rd person perspective view, or you can switch over to first person if you need to tweak the accuracy of your shot. Keep in mind, though, that you cannot move while in 1st person perspective ? this game obviously was not meant to be played as a frag-fest. One thing of particular note ? there are multiple difficulty levels. MGS2: Substance will cater to either the newbie player, or to the veteran ultra-elite assassins out there - very nice.

The real bonus for you Xbox owners out there is all the extra VR missions. During the actual game, Raiden refers to his VR training, and now we can see what those missions were actually like. Here, you go through many levels offering many different tactical situations using all the different types of weapons throughout the game. As you succeed in progressing through these levels, more will be opened up to you, as well as hidden characters. All these extra VR missions are perfect for a ?quick-fix? adrenaline rush when all you?re looking for is a bit of action and not so much plot and story. Also, your performance during these missions is rated, so there?s another reason to keep on playing ? try to better your rating and become the ultimate stealth/killing machine.

: The only real complaint that I have about the graphics is that there was no attempt at improving the visuals for the more powerful Xbox platform, which is a shame. However, what it?s already got is still pretty !&%$@#* fine. Even though this is a game which was originally released a year ago, it still manages to hold up very well by today?s standards. There?s some very nice detail in here ? for example, the rain and wind effects when you start the game off on the tanker are really quite breathtaking. The motion-capture animations, simply put, are excellent. The characters move with such fluidity that it?s easy to forget that you?re not watching live actors. Not to mention the fact that there are so many animations as well. There is a multitude of things that you can do to interact with the environment, and it all comes off looking extremely realistic. Then there are the cut scenes ? again, the animation is fantastic, and is often done in such a cinematic way as to make it look as if you were watch a feature film at times. One little thing though ? there is a motion-blur technique that seems to be used throughout all the cut scenes. I?m not sure whether Konami decided to do this originally on the PS2 because of hardware issues, or simply as artistic value. In any case, the effect got ported over to the Xbox version as well. It does tend to jump out at you - whether you like it or not is just a matter of taste.

Now here is where the game kicks some serious butt. First of all, there is an excellent and very fitting musical score which was composed by Harry Gregson-Williams. This is the same man who is responsible for writing music for such Hollywood films as Armageddon and The Rock. The music always fits the mood perfectly. It?s very subtle ? kind of a peripheral character as you sneak around quietly. As things pick up, though, and the action intensifies, so does it. It?s always adapting itself perfectly to the situation at hand. If anything contributes to the overall cinematic feel of the game, it?s definitely the musical score. The voice acting, too, is very well done. Although the overall plot itself may seem a little over-the-top and cheesy with all the twists and turns, the voice acting certainly carries it off very well. Since so much of your time in this game will be spent just listening to the story, it?s a good thing that the voice-acting is done so professionally. Let?s also not forget about the sound effects. Again, we have a top notch job here. From the sound of Snake?s footsteps as they splash the water on the deck of the tanker, to the weapon sounds ? everything is extremely well done, and those with Dolby Digital setups should especially be in for a treat.

Hmm, maybe a less convoluted plot next time? Geesh, my head?s still spinning! Otherwise, great job.

Overall: 9.0 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 10.0 / 10


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