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Metal Gear Solid 2 more a movie than a video game

Rating: NNNNN

when playstation 2 launched inlate 2000, the common complaint, mine included, was about the available games. Nothing out there seemed able to push the machine’s allegedly awesome capabilities to the limit. “Wait until Metal Gear Solid 2 comes out,” doubters were told. “This is the game that PS2 was created for.”

After plunking down $75 and then watching a frightening part of my free time over the last few weeks vanish, I agree.

It’s hard to imagine a video game more complex, engrossing and flat-out addictive than Metal Gear Solid 2. It’s ostensibly a first-person action game, in which you assume the role of a couple of different shady characters, slink around a tanker and an offshore oil facility and try to find out information about the government’s fearsome new Metal Gear weapon.

It sounds straightforward but is anything but. Although you’re armed with a massive arsenal, killing people is out of the question except as a last resort, so the point is to remain invisible and disable the opposition by other means — underwater, on land and in the air.

The deeper you get into the story, the more complex the plotline gets. Laid out like a movie, with credits for characters and film-like dream sequences, the story is twisted and reshaped in real time through flashbacks, conspiracy theories, conflicting agendas, a creepy love story and a dissertation on the state of information overload in the world.

All these diversions are presented in stunning movie interludes in which animation mixes with real-life footage. You can end up not actually playing for 25 minutes while the background of the story is fleshed out in a big-budget short film.

By the time you get to the end of the marathon game, you’re completely wrapped up in the tale and don’t know who or what to believe. All this makes other compelling action games seem a bit thin by comparison.

Metal Gear Solid 2 is a shoot-’em-up video game without the shooting, an action game that makes you think — about the plot and its relation to the real world. Book some vacation time and settle in.

metal gear solid 2 for PlayStation 2. $75. Rating: NNNNN

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