Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance Review
It was perhaps the most critically acclaimed game of 2001, and arguably one of the best games ever made. With the most breathtaking graphics ever seen on a console, an amazing musical score by Harry Gregson-Williams, and some of the most innovative gameplay in the industry, Metal Gear Solid 2 was nothing short of a masterpiece; and Hideo Kojima, the game's creator/producer, wasn't satisfied with it. It just doesn't make any sense, does it? You'd think the man would be happy with the perfect scores that this and other publications gave the game, the boat load of awards the game received, and the appreciation of millions of gamers for delivering another round of super smooth stealth action. However, even more shocking is that Kojima-san allowed this game to ship before he thought it was ready. Well, he did, and now he's back to deliver what he calls "the true form of Metal Gear Solid 2". Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance is a super tweaked version of the original, with tons of extra missions, features, and more. Think MGS2 on steroids, and you're pretty close. Of course, anyone who hasn't been living in an igloo in Antarctica for the past year has already played the original, so the question is whether Substance is even worth our time and money. The answer, believe it or not, is a resounding YES. I was, like many other people, rather skeptical of the idea of Substance when it was first announced. In fact, I felt cheated. I'd already paid my $50, and just a few short months later I find out I didn't even get the real deal. However, that feeling only lasted about halfway through my first VR mission before it gave way to the most intense feeling of pleasure you can have without calling a 900 number. It wasn't long before I was immersed in the world of Metal Gear Solid once again, unplugging phones and screaming obscenities at anyone foolish enough to ring my doorbell.
For those of you who just got back from the moon and missed the release of the original Metal Gear Solid 2, let me take a second to bring you up to speed. Two years after the events at Shadow Moses Island, legendary soldier Solid Snake is back in action, this time as an operative for a non-profit institution known as Philanthropy. Rumors have surfaced that a new Metal Gear prototype has been developed by the Marines, and scheduled for transport through New York City. Shortly after boarding the tanker in true Solid Snake style, the entire ship is hijacked by rogue soldiers from a Russian battalion. After that it's up to Snake to (yeah you guessed it) stop the terrorists and save the world from Metal Gear. Again.
Accompanying Solid Snake on his quest are some of the most jaw dropping graphics ever seen. We've all seen the XBOX version of Substance running at about 4 frames per second in places, so you may be a bit worried about how Substance looks and plays on the Playstation 2. The answer is that it performs identical to the original release- absolutely perfect. The extra sections of Substance look just as good from a technical standpoint, obviously, but they also bring a whole new aesthetic to the mix. Much like the VR Missions disc for the original MGS, Substance's VR simulations have a look all their own. However, unlike the first VR Missions game, Substance offers a style that is almost surreal in several ways. Instead of the old schematics-on-acid look of the first game, the backgrounds in the new VR Missions are fully drawn in, with a pastel color scheme is shocking at first, but oddly comfortable after a while. The enemy soldiers have an almost cel shaded look, appearing both more and less than real, somewhat like we would expect computer generated enemies in a virtual environment to look like. This odd graphical scheme may sound completely off the wall, and at first sight it certainly looks that way. However, over time it starts to feel right, and you could almost believe you are actually in a VR simulation.
The extra features in Substance, which are made up mostly of the 300 VR missions with a few other additions, pretty much run you through every imaginable scenario you might encounter in the actual game. You'll start out with basic sneaking missions, where your objective is simply to get to the goal without being seen. You can incapacitate or eliminate any soldiers in your way, or simply sneak past them. As you advance through the missions, you'll encounter more difficult situations, which require weapons and gadgets, just as in the game. Basically, think of the first half of the VR missions as game training- if you can complete the sneaking and weapons missions, there is nothing that can stop you when you tackle the actual game. However, the meat of the VR missions is not the basic training. It's not until you get past those preliminaries that you truly begin to have fun with Substance. As you complete missions, you gradually unlock new characters and new missions, such as Raiden as the ninja and many more. Each new character has something unique to offer, giving you a wide variety of gameplay.
In addition to the VR missions, each character has specific Alternative Missions which are set in the main story's settings, the Tanker and Big Shell. These can range from simple objective like bomb disposal to more risky endeavors such as Hold Up missions, where the only way to clear the stage is to successfully hold up every enemy in the area without being seen. Perhaps the coolest of such missions is the Eliminate All feature, which allows you to cast off that stealthy aura of yours and put a cap in every enemy you run across. It's almost like a guilty pleasure in a game that places such high priority on stealth.
As if that weren't enough (and it almost is), Substance also allows you to step into Snake's sneaking suit in five all new Snake Tales. Each of these new mini games offers up original missions with their own side stories. Most of them are quite lengthy, but sadly, all of them take place in either the Big Shell or on the Tanker. It would have been nice to see something more original, or even something from the first MGS, but in the end, the Snake Tales are still a worthwhile extra feature that anyone who wanted more time with Snake in the original will appreciate.
The only real problem with Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance is that Konami, for some weird reason, decided to add a skateboarding feature to the game, which is nothing more than a stripped down version of the already stripped down Evolution Skateboarding. As if the original Evolution wasn't bad enough, Konami somehow felt that gamers would appreciate taking Snake for a spin around the Big Shell on a 'board while listening to a completely butchered version of the Sons of Liberty theme. Apparently, there are a few closet masochists working for Konami of America.
In the end, with all the extra features that Substance has to offer, anyone who is a fan of the series would do themselves well to plop down an extra $30-40 for this updated version of Sons of Liberty. Substance is definitely going to deliver a good 30-40 hours of wildly diverse gameplay, and in all ways is a huge advancement over the VR Missions disc for the PSX. You may feel that Konami is just exploiting your love of the franchise to earn a few bucks, but once again the MGS team has managed to offer a solid title that anyone can appreciate.
3/6/2003 Ryan Hartmann