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PLATFORM PC

Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance Review

GAME INFO
publisher: Konami
developer: Konami
genre: Sneakers

MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS
PIII 800, 128MB RAM, 32MB Video Card , 3.9GB HD
ESRB rating: M
homepage:
www.konamijpn.com/products/mgs2_sub/english/topics

release date: Mar 27, 03
» All About Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance on ActionTrip


I know, I know, many of you are PC purists (I am, for the most part), and when console games get ported over to the PC, they had best be pretty damn good in order to justify spending your hard earned cash on purchasing them. But no one can deny that Metal Gear Solid and its sequel are two of the most widely regarded console games of the last 10 years. But I guess when one talks about Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance one cannot simply throw the reader in medias res. Many of our readers are probably unfamiliar with Konami's flagship PS2 series, so a little introduction may be in order.

The original MGS game was a huge hit on the PSX, and eventually ended up on the PC back in 2000. About that same time, the hype machine was already in full swing for the long-awaited sequel, slated for release in 2001 on the PS2 - Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. The game was supposed to unleash the (then) awesome power of the PS2 console, and it actually did so with flying colors. MGS2 was definitely one of the most highly acclaimed games ever to be released for the PS2. It's only natural, then, that us PC gamers would get a taste of the action, albeit some years later.

But get this; what we got is not a port. It's a port of a port! MGS2 was first ported to the Xbox, only to eventually end up; as a DVD release; on the PC. The story, however, doesn't end there. Besides being a DVD-only release, MGS2: Substance will only work (properly) with NVIDIA's 3D cards. Really. I'm not kidding. So, unlike many companies who want to take in as many new users, Konami elected to say "piss off" to all the Radeon 8500 or higher users out there (http://www.konami.com/usa/support.shtml), narrowing the possible number of potential consumers by a fairly large margin by excluding those who own CD drives or Radeon cards (the latter group will be able to play the game properly once the patch is out). Why was this done? Your guess is as good as mine. I guess NVIDIA made them an offer they couldn't refuse.

Still, those of you who are lucky enough to own a DVD drive and a GeForce card will certainly be happy to hear that Hideo Kojima's masterpiece is available for the PC. That is if you have 7.9GB to spare for the full installation. Naturally, this begs the question of why you need a DVD in the first place, but that's just one of the mysteries surrounding this PC port.

OK, let's imagine that all of these issues are out of the way. You have the necessary hardware, cleared enough space on your hard drive, installed the game, and now you're ready to play it. First of all, you need to learn the controls, and trust me, this is no easy task. PC gamers will never feel comfortable with the game's keyboard controls simply because Konami has done a half-assed job of porting it to the PC. It's like putting a Porsche engine inside a '87 Yugo. In all honesty, playing MGS2 on the PC feels like playing the console DVD with an emulator. Subsequently, the controls and their mapping were a complete mystery to me; I had to read the manual a lot, and basically take time to learn how to play this game. And even after a couple of days of playing I still didn't feel comfortable with them. MGS2: Substance for the PC is supposed to have some kind of mouse support, but for some reason, all I could do with the mouse was fire my weapon. I couldn't use mouse free look, and when you switch to the first person mode, you'll be left at the mercy of your directional keys, which is quite frankly ridiculous. Essentially, the mechanics of this game are unchanged from the console version, so hooking up a gamepad to your PC would be highly advisable. The same can be said about the graphics as well, as the textures are very low res and are definitely reeking of PS2. Considering the job Konami did on Silent Hill 2 (in terms of its high detail textures), MGS2 is falling far behind with its rather low resolutions and simplistic texture work. Moving in third person is similar to any of Konami's PC ports, but most of my frustration came from trying to shoot in the first person mode. If we consider Splinter Cell as an excellent example of a kick-ass port, then, MGS2 is on the other side of that scale. Aside from making it run on the PC, I really failed to see any actual work that was done to make the game more enjoyable for the PC players. That is essentially the game's biggest flaw. PC ports of popular console games are meant to offer something new - something more substantial than the exact same game on a different platform. In this case, while the game itself is a masterpiece on a console, this is quite simply not a good PC port.

Metal Gear Solid 2: Substances is a game of extremes. It's a bad port of a fantastic game - a digital masterpiece in its own right. Sure, using up 8GB of your HDD space is a pain in the ass, but when you've tasted the cinematic grandness of this game, I'm sure you'll be more than pleased that you went through so much trouble to make this one run.

Surprisingly enough, Solid Snake is not the main protagonist in MGS2: Substance. Although you get to play a rather short Tanker mission with Snake at the beginning of the game (as well as five main campaign mini-missions from Snake's perspective in the "Snake Tales" mode), the game introduces a completely new and inexperienced character named Raiden - a blonde, girlish-looking rookie with nerves of steel and a heart of gold. The story is, naturally, in many ways connected to the one from the original. Those of you who haven't played the original will have a hard time keeping up with the plot, but I must say that the same thing might apply to those of us who are already familiar with the Metal Gear Solid universe. Hideo Kojima obviously has a flair for dramatics and makes his games with a lot of attention to detail, so you'll be required to pay close attention to everything in order to advance. The story and the characters have a unique Japanese flavor to it of brave and emotionally torn anti-heroes and epic (Samurai) duels. The most impressive thing about the game is the way it has been directed, and the superb cinematic experience that players will be treated to when they play the campaign. Hideo Kojima and his team masterfully combine pre-rendered and real-time rendered cinematic sequences which create a rich and immersive world of colorful characters. Those blend perfectly with the dynamic and engaging plot to create a digital world that surpasses many of those in the latest Hollywood movies. Often times, MGS2 is more thrilling, spectacular, and better directed than a Hollywood blockbuster. Quite simply, the game is a cinematic masterpiece. Many of our editors were constantly looking over my shoulder just to see another scene from the game. The art design, scene selection, and the usage of sound, music and voice acting set a standard that is yet to be surpassed by any of the PC games out there. Legend Entertainment should've learned a thing or two about making a kick-ass cinematic single-player experience by paying closer attention to what Hideo was doing in MGS2.

The gameplay itself can be pretty interesting; if you can live with the controls that is; and it intermingles almost seamlessly with the cinematics. The AI is really good - enemy soldiers will act quite naturally, and also be completely aware of your presence and their environment (they can be a bit shortsighted at times though -- Ed). The challenge is certainly there, especially when you have to defuse bombs in a limited time span or solve puzzles on the fly (in hairy situations). MGS2 favors stealthy gameplay; as does its predecessor; and the actual mechanics of gameplay are very similar to the original. There are so many details you'll need to learn about the gameplay itself that you'll need quite some time to become efficient at it. Fighting is usually the last resort, but it may often come to that in the end. Raiden will be equipped with a cubic assload of gadgets, but the weapons will be surprisingly scarce. The accent in this game is on sneaking past the sentries rather than going in Rambo style, though the fighting is largely arcadish in nature. What also struck me as very nice were the periodic boss encounters. Because of the crappy controls, the encounters themselves aren't as exciting as they are on the consoles, but the antagonists are so full of character that you'll enjoy the hell out of your encounters with them.

Aside from the aforementioned god-awful console-related problems, there are a few other things about the gameplay that I didn't particularly care about. The game will usually let you save in every room, hall, etc. that you visit, and sometimes, the only thing you need to do to lose the guards is to simply enter a new mini-area in the game (I played on the normal level of difficulty). Sure enough, if you're bleeding, they'll see the blood and follow you, and also, the assault team that is dispatched when the alarm is raised might stumble on you from another direction, but I just wish the guards were a tad more persistent than that. Not too much though, as there are times during the game when you'll have to replay certain areas over and over again since they are time-limited and you don't have an option to save upon entering a new mini-area.

Overall, the game is very feature-rich, in a sense that you'll get a lot of toys to play with (various sensors, special binoculars, and other high tech stuff), and it's highly stealth based - avoid cameras, surveillance robots, etc. Raiden and Snake can kick butt with their Kung-fu moves, or they can shoot a guard's lights out. The models feature locational damage so aiming at the head and switching to first person view during fire fights is highly advisable.

The core gameplay will certainly be fun enough to tide you over before another twist in the plot, and the preceding, gorgeous real-time cinematic. If there ever was a story-driven single player campaign, then, this one would be it. The story keeps you guessing and it's thrilling enough to make you want to play until you've finished the game.

The fun doesn't stop there, however, as MGS2: Substance offers plenty of replay value by offering over 500 VR missions, which are a recreation of the kind of stuff you'll encounter during the main campaign, and will gradually get more difficult as you finish each of them.

I've already hinted my thoughts about the sounds and visuals in the preceding paragraphs, so I'll keep it short. The art design, the animation of the models, as well as the level design are excellent. The models look alive and expressive, and that helps greatly to intensify the superlative cinematic experience. The usage of the motion blur effect and a rich particle system create a stunning visual representation of the MGS world. The only thing that's missing are better looking textures. It looks like the original textures remained the same on all the ports and that is a real shame. Then again, the frame rate is generally pretty smooth and I suspect that higher textures would've made it rather impossible to create all those lovely real-time rendered cinematics. It should be noted, however, that the frame rate did go down on a several occasions (especially during scenes that featured rain effects - heavy use of particle effects - and motion blur).

Complementary to the fantastic visual design, the voice acting is professional, highly expressive, and an integral part of the whole experience. The music, composed by Harry Gregson-Williams incorporates perfectly into the action and is also on the highest level. The positional audio is very important to the gameplay, and it works very well to enhance the stealthy aspects of the gameplay.

In the end, playing MGS2: Substance was a rewarding experience for me. The sheer scale of the project and the way it was realized is breathtaking. Hideo Kojima is truly a master of the craft, and it shows with every new twist and turn in the game. Sadly, Konami didn't really care enough for us PC users to pay more attention to PC's unique interface or to let us enjoy the game to its full extent by making an even decent port. Technically, this porting job sucks, and it's the biggest problem I've had with this game, but that would hardly stop me from buying it anyway. PC gamers deserve to experience a game like MGS2: Substances. Sometimes you got to put up with the nagging drawbacks in order to live through a masterful single player game like MGS2.

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HIGHS
One of the best console games in existence, cinematic, gripping storyline;

LOWS
PC port did nothing to enhance graphics whatsoever, keyboard/mouse controls are awful - use a gamepad, people owning an ATI Radeon 8500 or higher are screwed!

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