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Retro Replay: Playing Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons Of Liberty (PS2) Before Phantom Pain

by Dean James

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Metal Gear Solid had a smashing debut back on the original PlayStation, providing us with one of the first true cinematic experiences in gaming. The voice acting and gameplay was top notch, but the graphics certainly have not aged as well. Coming only three years later in 2001, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty took the series to new heights with one of the best fake outs in gaming history, albeit not without its fair share of backlash.

As the Metal Gear Solid series is very story driven and twist filled, this could have some heavy spoilers in it. As a result, it would be advised to not continue reading if you haven’t played the game before.

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty starts off by presenting you with an option to play Tanker, Plant, or Tanker-Plant. To get the full experience, Tanker-Plant must be chosen, as otherwise you will not get the full experience. Upon starting up the game, the Tanker portion is definitely the shorter of the two. You are in control of Solid Snake  and get thrust right into the action aboard a tanker.

With help from Otacon, Snake must infiltrate the ship and find the Metal Gear housed within. The graphics look fantastic here for the time, especially in comparison to the blocky look of the original. The gameplay is also drastically improved as a result of the PS2, with first-person aiming being easy, especially with being able to sneak up on enemies and freeze them in their place.

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We only get one boss battle in this part of the game, which is rather fun bout with Olga. After more sneaking around, the Tanker chapter ends with a bang, as Ocelot shows up and betrays his Russian partner, while also being controlled by Liquid that has taken over his right arm. The Tanker is then taken down and Snake is presumed dead. This Tanker portion is pretty short overall and merely sets the scene for the epic events that are to come.

Right after that, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty jumps to the much longer chapter titled the Plant, though it really could have been called the Big Shell. The familiar Colonel is on the radio with someone else that we do not recognize, though he is being called Snake. He then surfaces and takes off his mask and certainly isn’t the Snake we know, but rather the newly named Raiden.

At the time of this game’s initial release, this was one of the biggest twists in gaming history, as every single piece of marketing for the game featured the events of the Tanker chapter and Snake. It wasn’t until gamers played the game for the very first time that they discovered the Raiden fake out that is still talked about today.

Snake is not gone completely however, as we all know Snake couldn’t die like that. He instead plays a supporting role, which is a nice touch to where he’s not gone completely here. Hayter does a good job at portraying the mentor role here in a way, with him becoming a major part later on. I can understand some people being mad they weren’t able to use him again in the game, but I think the switch to Raiden is more than fine here.

Raiden plays almost exactly like Snake, except for his cartwheel like dodge rolls that are different. This means that there are not really any drastic gameplay changes to learn, but due to the split chapters, we still have to go through a tutorial of sorts, which is kind of tedious. This quickly ends though and the game gets full underway.

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For a good while after his introduction, we do not know much about Raiden at all. The character of Rose is introduced as essentially his Otacon, as a way to save, but also helps to expand his characterization. We know they have a relationship, which continues to grow the further you get into the game. We had the Snake and Meryl relationship in the first game, but this is the first true relationship we’ve experienced in the series and is done quite well, though it gets incredibly confusing later in the game.

As Raiden starts to remember more about his past as the story unfolds, you really start to get more and more invested in the character, even though he is not Snake. His past as a child soldier and being forced to kill at such a young age was really a reflection of the world of Metal Gear Solid as a whole, pushing the limits of the series even further than it had so far.

The story does get kind of convoluted near the end, which has almost being a staple of the series, but it is the good kind of convoluted. It becomes of a case of not knowing what is real at all, with Raiden, aka Jack, beginning to lose his mind. Even through the end, we really don’t know everything about what’s real and that open-endedness is kind of unique for a game like this.

Raiden is not the only character that goes through a lot in this game, as we also get to learn a lot about Otacon. The entire story about how he actually seduced his step-mother in the past and the result of that with his father and sister is just downright heartbreaking, which is perfectly played once again by his voice actor Christopher Randolph.

The Big Shell setup is definitely different, with various Struts and other areas to visit throughout. The structure does require a lot of backtracking, but the game is laid out well enough to where that doesn’t become irritating. The areas are kind of similar at times, but the map is easy enough to navigate to where you are going.

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The boss battles in Metal Gear Solid 2 are decent, though definitely not as good as some other entries, largely due to weird placement of them. After the aforementioned Olga fight, you won’t have another boss fight for a long time, which happens to be a disappointment. Luckily, the unique Fatman fight makes up for that, with only the Metal Gear Ray faceoff really the only standout.

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty is an absolutely excellent follow-up to the first Metal Gear Solid. It may often get flack from some people for the change to Raiden, but I think it works to the series’ advantage by introducing another compelling character, while Snake still plays a big part. The combat is improved on the previous game, though the boss battles are weaker. The biggest problem for Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty is probably the fact that is came between the game that started it all and the game we will cover next. Regardless, it is a great game all by itself and is still just as good in another playthrough.

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