Game Over Online ~ Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance

GameOver Game Reviews - Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance (c) Konami, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance (c) Konami
System Requirements Xbox
Overall Rating 86%
Date Published Monday, February 3rd, 2003 at 10:05 PM

Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

If there was a title that was deserving of Hollywood treatment and has yet to win a chance at the silver screen, Metal Gear's Solid Snake would fit the bill perfectly. It would also be a natural transition. Cinematic is one of the words that should come to mind when playing Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance. Not only is the soundtrack penned by someone of the film industry, Harry Gregson-Williams, its direction and even gameplay is heavily influenced by cinema. Indeed, many go forth and say that half of Substance is dedicated to telling the story. The other half is still strongly rooted in the story but it'll require your actions to get it moving.

The transition from Playstation 2 to Xbox is not an easy one, although it has yielded better results for some titles. Capcom's Genima Onimusha is one such title that became stronger in its migration to the Xbox. Substance, whether it's because of timing or technical difficulties in migrating such a title, is one that falls into the conversion trap. The Xbox consistently sets the bar for spatial and surround effects; one that Substance, an inherently effects-intensive title, fails to capitalize on -- all the more pity that Substance is an aural masterpiece.

From a visual standpoint, it's unfortunate that the first level you'll see of the main game is the one that suffers from the most trouble. When you're on the ship and it's raining, there are noticeable slowdowns - to the point that you think there's something wrong with the graphics engine. For a title that rests on facial expressions that ultimately amount to virtual acting, that could be a fatal wound to the heart. Luckily, all the rest translate beautifully. It's the architecture and that foggy rain that is suspect.

The other problem with Substance is its timing. This article is written months after the release date, but from this vantage point, there is value to looking at Substance. Particularly worrisome to Konami's endeavors on the Xbox may be the post-Splinter Cell era. Microsoft and Ubi Soft obviously spent quite a lot of time promoting it during the holiday season. You never saw Substance getting anywhere close to that type of treatment. So when you see Snake and Raiden shimmying, rolling, using enemy thugs as shields and putting their backs up against a wall, you might think, hey, I saw Sam Fisher do the same earlier on. That's a trend that certainly cannot be discounted.

The other problem is the fact that Substance's story lacks the blessing of a literary giant like Tom Clancy, which may dissuade some from pursuing it. Although I can attest that after playing Substance, this one is no slouch, even if it doesn't deal directly with real world events and the quasi-reality realm of "faction" that Clancy material (or wannabe material in terms of Red Storm's rather estranged relationship with the author) often has.

Substance is basically composed of what you saw in Sons of Liberty on Sony's piece. You will be assuming the role of Snake (then Raiden) in tracking down shadow government type operations that involve machinations called metal gears. They aren't really giant tanks or big missiles but half the fun is trying to figure out what it is, what it will do and what is needed to do what it proposes to do, then stopping it from happening.

It's you versus the world material but your protagonist will be outfitted with advice through a device called a codec embedded into the skull to allow you to converse with experts, professionals, HQ and other characters who guide you through the story.

The rest of the game is similar to other stealth/sneaker titles of the genre, except it's wrapped up in cinematic glaze. Here's where Substance differs from more "realistic" titles (I'm sure Splinter Cell comes to mind), simply because its fictional setting means it can get away with more than your usual covert military ops game. Raiden, for example, runs around wielding a sword; when was the last time outside of something ludicrous like XXX where you've seen someone wielding a sword? Then there's the action, which sometimes requires absolute discretion but at other times, the developers simply let you have at it with hordes of enemy goons. And unlike most sneaker titles, you'll get a wide assortment of firepower to do it.

Like most Japanese titles, Substance encourages replaying of the game. You're outfitted with some exclusive Xbox material in the Snake Tales, which are simply some missions that accompany the main storyline but told from Snake's point of view. These attracted much brouhaha earlier on, but the polish and luster on this alternate material simply doesn't match what's in the main corpus. The lack of voiceovers for them is a glaring oversight.

The developers also include countless numbers of VR missions that feature short objectives you have to accomplish. Achieving these objectives will unlock more characters and even more missions. So if you thought this title lacked gumption because it isn't multiplayer, there's a massive amount of gameplay you can go through. This offsets the linear main segment somewhat.

There are plenty of Metal Gear Solid titles released on both Sony's PlayStation platforms. Over the years, this has resulted in the accumulation of a lot of material and most of it is recreated here in one title for the Xbox. Whether you have the patience or will to go through all of it is another matter altogether. I found some of the VR missions were a little repetitive, for example. The old adage that more is not necessarily better is certainly the proverbial case here. Some of the Snake Tales, for example, detracts from the allure of the game, instead of adding to it. Sons of Liberty looked so tight as a cinematic piece, it seemed almost unnecessary, and ostentatious, to add an epilogue to it.

Because Substance works on a universe that is not grounded in our current reality, it will attract followers and it will scare away some. What's different now is the fact that when Sons of Liberty was released, there was effectively no strong alternative. Now, Splinter Cell, particularly on the Xbox, offers one. Substance, however, is able to hold its ground and it does have its charms, even if they are not given the best light on the Xbox.

If you haven't watched the introduction to this game, you owe it to yourself to see it. It's slick, and is indebted more to a cinematic piece in theaters rather than a simple video game. Sure, there are times when you'll mow down countless numbers of foes and the dialogue may drag on for a little while, but hey, that's part of the movie experience anyway. And in terms of what comes to the Xbox, I'll take Substance over some of the other drivel that makes its way across any day of the week.


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