Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops ReviewCain Dornan
Kojimas esteemed stealth action series has established itself with a solid, dedicated fanbase that spans the globe. While the succession of titles that have now spread across multiple platforms have helped to concrete the series firmly within the hearts of gamers, its often been difficult for the franchise to attract new gamers to its distinctive, you-love-it-or-hate-it gaming style. The fact that Kojima often preferred to fill the game with cutscenes that pushed the deep story further rather than relying heavily on its gaming elements also contributed to many gamers opting to stray away from the series.
MGS3 arguably provided one of the first significant gameplay changes to the series in quite some time, introducing a number of welcomed and not so welcomed changes that helped serve up something different, all the while keeping the traditional gameplay core intact to keep long time fans satisfied. Further building on these changes arrives Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops for the PlayStation Portable, the first time the traditional gameplay styles arrived on the PSP without making a transition into a card-based affair that was found in Metal Gear Acid.
While the same familiar core gameplay is on hand, Portable Ops introduces a handful of new strategic elements that will lead players to approach familiar situations on a different angle; this time, youre not in the field alone, as youve recruited your own team of skilled soldiers to fight alongside you and perform a vast range of tasks to help your job easier. In a nutshell, the game injects some new strategic elements into a tried-and-true formula, and the end result proves to work quite well for the most part.
The game begins with players finding Snake, aka Big Boss, awakening in a jail cell while troubling memories flash before his eyes. Youre soon confronted by a large fellow who wishes to find information on a subject that you apparently know very well, and is willing to do whatever it takes to get it; torture or otherwise. It soon becomes clear that youve been captured by your once fellow team members, the FOX unit, who have taken you to a top-secret Soviet missile base situated in South America. After escaping from your jail cell, you befriend a surviving Green Beret by the name of Roy Campbell, who pledges to form a team and become the operations manager for the countless missions that youre about to embark on.
The storyline offers a distinct MGS feel, as it features all the classic over-the-top world domination attempts from crazed military leaders and insane technological weapons that makes the series storyline so engaging despite its frequent exaggerative presentation and exorbitant enemy leaders. Fans of the series will feel right at home with what Snake is up against this time.
With your mobile base in the form of a stolen supply truck, youll make your way around to different locations on a map, with the option of revisiting any past areas at any time throughout the course of the game. Youre given the choice of where to go at any time, although you are often required to make your way to a certain location in order to progress the storyline further. Its not a completely free, option-filled experience rather, it provides a less linear experience than what has been found in most previous MGS games.
The new key change to the game is the ability to form your own force of soldiers by recruiting the enemy to join your league of warriors as you take on the bad guys. This is achieved by knocking out a soldier, dragging him back to your truck and then coercing him to join your league of which you can then use in various roles as you assign them to be a part of your sneaking team (who join you on missions), as spies who gather intel about specific regions that they have been assigned to, as doctors to help heal your injured soldiers faster, or as part of your tech force, who help to improve your capabilities such as increased ammo count.
The introduction of controlling your own team introduces further strategic elements into the game, as capturing new soldiers offers several incentives. First, each soldier offers varying levels of health and capabilities, as well as being skilled in various different areas. Furthermore, a recruited soldier is able to make use of his uniform to infiltrate areas where the enemy are wearing the same uniform, as they fit-in amongst the guards, allowing them to walk on through areas with greater ease than Snake could. As such, youll often find yourself using recruited soldiers to complete simple tasks rather than Snake, as the extra abilities they offer can help to make certain sections easier.
To allow the game to be better suited to portable gaming, each of the missions that you embark on are usually short and straightforward, and can usually be completed any between two to ten minutes each. A significant change from its often long-drawn outings with previous MGS games, some gamers may be disappointed with the new simplicity that many of the games missions entail, particularly during the earlier parts of the game, with the overall game time ranging somewhere between ten to fifteen hours. The missions usually involve reaching a certain location or locating an item, with the occasional challenging boss battle offering a welcomed change to the usual missions, as they incorporate a higher level of strategy and may take several attempts to beat.
The game also offers multiplayer support through online connectivity and ad hoc play, with the ability to go head-to-head in deathmatches or trade team members with other owners of the game. The game makes use of various characters, items and weapons from the game for the firefights, providing a familiar yet refreshing experience for when youre tired of the single player missions.
Unfortunately, one annoyance, as we had initially expected, is the games camera, which can often prove to be annoying when it gets stuck at awkward viewpoints which hide an enemy or cause you to wrestle with the camera in order to get it in a useful position. Youll often be forced to stop and tap the left shoulder button to make it swing back behind your character or use the face buttons to realign the camera, which can quickly become annoying, especially during firefights. While the developers have done well adapting the game to the PSPs restrictive controls, some more work needs to have been done with the games camera controls.
The visual presentation is solid, with Kojima choosing to scrap the games traditional in-game cutscenes for a series of artistically designed, black and white comic strips that offer a refreshing visual experience that works surprisingly well. The games in-game graphics are quite impressive for a handheld, offering detailed character models and varied locations to explore. A full lineup of great voice acting completes the games impressive presentation.
Clearly a game that will please most fans but fails to attract new fans, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops is a mixed bag. The new strategic elements of team building is a great addition, as are the shorter missions that make it better suited for gaming on the go. At the same time, however, the simplicity and overly repetitive nature of many of the games missions cause for sections of the game to become drab and boring, particularly when youre only hunting for a piece of easily-locatable intel or other sorts. Still, its a tried and proven formula that offers a handful of new inclusions that help to freshen the experience. Worth a look for fans of the series after a portable espionage fix.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.