Own a PS2, and chances are you’ll have a copy of Metal Gear Solid: Sons of Liberty as a highlight of your game library. Universally considered by most gamers to be a masterpiece, Konami’s action game set new standards, ones that have yet to be reached or surpassed. With fans of the venerable series eagerly awaiting the next chapter of Snake’s adventures, Hideo Kojima and his team have worked on providing two early holiday presents to gamers everywhere. The most publicized is probably MGS2: Substance, which can be described as a special edition collector’s version of Sons of Liberty. Contrasting Substance is The Document of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, a PS2 exclusive title that provides deeper insight into this seminal title.
First off, let me say this: Document is not your typical game. As a matter of fact, it’s not really a game at all. It comes across more like a documentary of and about MGS2. The only true “gameplay” that you’ll find within it are the 5 provided VR Missions, which comes across more as an appetizer for Substance. You’ll run through sneaking, guard elimination, swordplay, target and sniper rifle practice, but don’t get too attached to this sample, because there’s much cooler things on this disc.
There are twelve sections to delve into with Document, each one filled to the brim with behind-the-scenes goodness. Some of these sections feature items that you might have seen on the web or in magazines, such as action screenshots or concept drawings. But when you actually take a look at the mythos that has grown up around MGS2, you get a sense that this is much more than a game, it’s a phenomenon.
You know that you’ve truly arrived when you’ve got an action figure. The Items section catalogues every piece of merchandise branded with the MGS2 logo. From books to soundtracks to action figures, the Items section shows the tchotchkes that have been given or sold in Japan, Europe and North America. Speaking of things that you may have never seen, check out the Special Footage section of the disc, featuring interviews with the designers, motion capture actors and footage of the design team going through SWAT training. Do you remember where you were when you first saw the MGS2 trailer? I clearly remember the time and place I was at during E3, and watching it again on this disc still gives me goose bumps.
For anyone interested in the dialogue and story of MGS2, there are two sections that you will really get into. The first one is the Script section, which has the entire script for MGS2 included for perusal. Going much deeper than your typical script, MGS2’s includes designer notes, stage directions, and actual lines of dialogue in a setup that comes across much more like a researched book than a basic Hollywood screenplay. (Hollywood would do well to take notes from this approach; if they did, maybe most of their movies wouldn’t sucků) The other plot-driven section is the Gameplan. Taken from the notebook and hands of Hideo Kojima himself, these pages are the basic design document that the gaming mastermind came up with to help direct and focus his team’s efforts. This includes illustrations and other voluminous pages of text, although it’s all in Japanese.
The Chronicle section is a hyperlinked timeline of all-important dates to the design team, featuring milestones of development, benchmarks, and even marriages and births for team members. This goes along nicely with the Staff section. Broken up by sound artists, designers and programmers, it describes briefly how each person contributed to the project.
Anyone who’s played the game can tell you that the in-game music is just as much a pivotal character as the 3D models onscreen, providing additional tension and emotion to even the smallest action. In the Sound section, all 29 tracks of music within the game are presented, along with the option to hear them under sneaking, detection, caution, evasion or alert modes. However, if music isn’t your thing, but coding is, you can check out the Program section, which has technical specs on every facet of the game, from the A.I. to how the game interfaces with Emotion Engine. You might not necessarily think about how the alert status was programmed or the way in which they’ve been designed to clear a room, but if you go back and play the game, it’ll make much more sense.
The last four sections are interesting for both their finished products as well as their concept drawings. Preliminary sketches, 3D rendered models and schematics provide a sense of just what direction MGS2 could’ve gone before hitting the final product we know of today. The Character and Mechanic sections provide 3D models of characters and vehicles, respectively, allowing you to zoom in and out on specific details of each design. The characters can also have items added to their base models to give you a sense of what they should look like in different situations. For example, Snake can be outfitted with a cigarette, and then quickly have a machine gun placed in his hand. You can also manipulate background colors for the models, their ambient light sources and the angle at which they shine upon a model. Combined, these two sections feature over twenty character models (including Snake, Otacon and Raiden) and over ten mechanical models (such as the Kasatka, Cypher, and, of course, Metal Gear Ray), as well as non-included design elements.
Finally, the Background and Polygon Demos sections provide a similar kind of exploration, however, they focus in more on scenes and areas. Background gives you a sense of each setting within the game. The Big Shell, deck of the tanker, and Federal building are just a few of the more than 50 areas found in the game. Polygon Demos, on the other hand, show in-depth looks at in-game movies and cinematics. While not featuring sound, the option to go into slow motion, change angles and look at storyboards of each individual frame places the player on the same level as that of a film editor.
There really isn’t much to complain about with Document. Graphics within Document are top-notch, which has become a standard with Kojima’s work. The concept sketches and rendered 3D models are done in high detail, and you can also flawlessly zoom in on any section of a graphic for tighter examination. For example, you can zoom in and clearly observe Emma’s photo on her ID badge, which normally isn’t discernable in gameplay. Each and every movie file, whether cinematic, in-game movie, or Full Motion Video, animates smoothly, and most, if not all, allow you to manipulate the playback rate, giving you control over your viewing experience. Sound is also just as good, considering that it received a section by itself on the disc. Aside from the music, there aren’t really many sound effects, with the exception of the VR Missions. However, since these have been taken from the game, you still have as sharp a playing experience as you would with MGS2.
The only two complaints that you might have with the disc may seem rather trivial. The first is that it isn’t a game. If so, turn the PS2 off and walk away; this just isn’t for you. (Don’t worry, we’ll be able to count all of you on one hand.) The other one is that there is no option to translate the notes or documents that have been written in Japanese into English. While this language barrier can be a little distancing as far as fully comprehending everything on the disc, there are so many other items that are outstanding that this is easily balanced. Simply put, if you are a fan of Hideo Kojima, Metal Gear Solid, interested in game production, or gaming period, you should pick up this disc. Not only will this give you greater insight into how games are designed and produced, but you’ll get a better picture of just how much work went into one of the greatest titles of all time. And with Document tagged at fewer than 20 bucks, can you really afford not to own this? I don’t think so.