Review: Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance

By James "Styrofoam Sloth" Wiles

For reasons almost entirely irrelevant to the game itself, I was angry when I first got word that this thing was going to be released. Sure, it certainly appeared that it was going to be an even better version of Metal Gear Solid 2… But I had already gone so far as to trade in my entire Game Boy rig for the FIRST release! Naturally, I was feeling the same sort of anger any DVD enthusiast feels when they break down and buy the Ultra Special Platinum Widescreen release of their favorite flick, only to find that the studio will be releasing the Ultimate Criterion Millenium Edition Signature Series 5-disc set a week or two down the road. Thankfully, even if the core game has pretty much stayed the same, Konami hasn't made me regret a second purchase at all.

By now, the story of MGS2 should be fairly well-known: After the Shadow Moses incident (MGS 1), Former FOXHOUND operative Revolver Ocelot sells the stolen specs of Metal Gear REX on the black market, resulting in new Metal Gear programs springing up worldwide. In response, Solid Snake and Hal "Otacon" Emmerich form "Philanthropy," a fringe organization devoted to halting the spread of Metal Gear technology at any cost. As the game begins, Snake and Otacon are beginning a reconnaissance mission to confirm the existence of a new, amphibious anti-Metal Gear weapon being transported by the U.S. Marines. The events that follow drag Snake and his allies into a complex web of international conspiracy of epic proportions, and once again threaten to change the world as we know it.

For those that have played the original version of MGS2, the main game has remained pretty much unchanged. The levels haven't seen any major alterations outside of a few minor cosmetic ones (mainly the addition of new girlie-posters in many areas, this time with the FHM Magazine logo conspicuously absent), meaning that vets will have no real trouble blasting through again. The graphics are also pretty much the same, with a few minor enhancements here and there (more heat distortion in outdoor areas of the Big Shell, as well as a more accurate-looking view from the thermal goggles). The entertaining dog tag collecting has returned as well, with a few new tag-carrying soldiers tossed in for good measure. And a few new bonuses have been added for repeated playthroughs, ala MGS 1's Tuxedo Snake and "Spider-Man" Ninja.

Substance's real changes lie in the area of extras… and boy, are they good ones! One of the biggest complaints most fans had about MGS2 was the length of time that the player got to actually play as Snake. Fortunately, players will see no shortage of their favorite son of Big Boss in this outing; A special set of separate "Snake Tales" missions have been added to finally bring to light Snake's portion of the Big Shell portion of the game. These new scenarios are exceptionally challenging, and make a wonderful supplement to the main game. VR missions have returned as well, offering a myriad of fresh challenges ranging from standard sneaking and combat training, to bomb disposal, to guard elimination and hold-ups, to photography. The missions can be tackled with a variety of characters, with changes in difficulty and guard layouts for each. Rounding out the roster of new material is a cinema viewer (view any of the game's beautiful cinema clips) cinema editor (replace character models in the in-game cinematics with others from the game), boss survival mode (see how quickly you can battle through every boss in the game with one life bar and limited resources), and… the perhaps infamous skateboarding.

Yes, you read that right. There is a skateboarding mini-game. As skateboarding games go (I am perhaps one of the three people left on the planet who isn't a Tony Hawk aficionado, and therefore have a very limited frame of reference on the topic), it seems to be a pretty solid one, featuring all of the requisite challenges, tricks and the like. And there's admittedly something oddly appealing about seeing Solid Snake grinding along a cruise missile.

That's hardcore, folks.

So, on the positive end of the spectrum we have the definitive version of one of the best looking and playing games of all time, with slightly enhanced graphics and tons of entertaining extras. However, this doesn't change the fact that it is a re-release of a year-old game that is already on the PS2's Greatest Hits roster. Ultimately, the decision to purchase this new edition may come down to how big of a fanboy you are. Substance definitely has the goods for those that want the ultimate MGS2 experience, but those on a budget may still opt to go for the more wallet-friendly Greatest Hits version.

My advice, though: for the money, Substance has all the Snake anyone could want, and more.

Now, Mr. Kojima… about that plot….

James' score: 5 (out of 5)