Review by King_Lueshi

"I'm tripping on acid..."

Metal Gear AC!D is not your typical Metal Gear game. Gone are the fast-paced stealth moments that so many fans have come to love from the PS1 and PS2 classics. In their place is a world of Snake and enemies taking turns to attack each other, and using cards, to boot. While this may seem further from fun than watching naked Raiden do cartwheels, if you keep an open mind, you might find that there's something to like here.

The story follows the usual wacky Kojima world of stuff that is both acceptable and totally implausible: the next great US president is on board a plane that has been hijacked by terrorists, but the terrorists aren't your usual bad guys - they are blood-thirsty dolls. This all adds up to one heck of a story, with enough twists and turns to keep any player on the edge of their seat.

Of course, while the story may seem a little “out there”, it's nothing compared to the radical new style of gameplay that Metal Gear AC!D brings to the table. Solid Snake will now be constrained to moving around on a grid, taking turns with the enemy to use the abilities of cards to move or attack. It's very hard to explain – sadly, the game struggles to explain things, too. Between the instruction booklet and the rudimentary in-game tutorial, you will have gained about half the knowledge you need to recognize what's going on. The concepts of card cost and weapon equipment are hardly explained at all and are both terribly difficult to figure out on your own. Using a card will add a certain amount of cost (the amount varies, it depends on the card), and the more cost you have accumulated when you end your turn, the longer you'll have to wait to take another turn. When I say “longer”, I don't mean literal time, I mean that you'll have to wait for people with less cost to go first. That's the rough, Reader's Digest version of things. The learning curve here can be very long if you don't do something like go online and read up on the advice of others, and for a game to force you to do that is... insulting.

Now, as I've mentioned, cards dictate what you can and can't do in Metal Gear AC!D. After and between each mission, you can get card packs, which will get you cards, oddly enough. You then select the cards you like and put them together to form a deck. Deck-building can be another difficult task for beginners, since the game doesn't actually give you any tips on this at all, and trust me, beginners won't know enough to make much of a deck, even if they had the best cards in the world. There is an “auto-deck-builder” function, but it literally puts together the worst deck imaginable, and anyone caught using it needs to rethink things. Again, the learning curve strikes you hard – if you don't read up and gather the knowledge of others, you're going to have a hard time. For a game to force you to do this is simply... disappointing.

The gameplay is, quite frankly, very slow – almost too slow. One complaint of mine is that when you use certain cards, you have to watch a movie. The cards are generally classic character cards, so you might see a quick clip of Cyber Ninja from MGS1 or something. Now, these are pretty interesting the first time, but the problem lies in the fact that you can't turn them off. You can make it so that you don't have to watch the movie itself, but there's a five-second animation that plays before the movie that will be there every time. This is incredibly annoying, especially if you use these special cards often – they really slow the game down. In general, things still go pretty slowly. Every time you use a card to move Snake, you'll have to watch him walk all the way over to where you sent him. Then, you'll have to watch every single enemy in the vicinity move, too. It's not sped up at all like in Advance Wars, either – it's actually extremely slow, especially if the guards don't know you're there and are just crouching around. Seriously, the sluggish gameplay is just all around – it can take 60 seconds to perform a simple task like moving through a hallway, since you have to get your movement cards out or you'll pile on the card cost, which means that you'll do more sitting around. Seriously, when basic objectives become both time-consuming and mundane, you know something's wrong.

After a playthrough of Metal Gear AC!D, you'll probably feel like the entire game seems a little rushed and incomplete – the story mode cleans itself up (we don't have another Halo 2 here) but the gameplay in general seems a little untested. I honestly think that with another few months, Kojima's gang could've nailed things on the head in Metal Gear AC!D, but they simply didn't have enough time. For example, the card balance is a little... off. Anyone that frequented the MGA message boards back when they were active would notice that everyone was really running a slight variation of the same deck. Even those that dared to use a different strategy would use many of the same cards. This happens because there are a few cards that are unquestionably the best. For example, the “Johnny Ingram” card can be used to make a deck that will literally make your turn last forever, and even for those that don't use this deck, four Johnny Ingrams still find their way in. On the bright side, there are 204 cards, and if you try, you can make a deck that is somewhat new and original. However, to be honest, it simply won't be as effective as the ones that most people will use.

Another annoyance of mine is the way that stuff like facing various directions and crawling under stuff is handled. After you move, you are given the option to get on your belly and crawl or go up a ladder or something, and you can also choose which way you face. The direction you face will dictate your attack range, basically – it's pretty standard SRPG stuff. However, if you forget to do something like go up a ladder, you'll have to use up another card to move absolutely nowhere so that you're given the option to go up the ladder again. Of course, cards add cost (which means that you'll have to wait longer to take another turn, basically), and you can only use so many cards per turn, so a simple mistake like that can be very punishing. Now, this is a minor issue, since crawling and climbing isn't always needed, but it's worth mentioning. Another small annoyance of mine is that in story mode, when things move to a cutscene in the middle of your turn, it will often wipe out the rest of your turn entirely. This has, surprisingly, screwed me over once or twice. Again, it's another minor issue, though.

One thing I've noticed about a lot of SRPGs is the way it seems that the game does not actually require any strategy, simply characters leveled up enough. The same thing exists in Metal Gear AC!D, only instead of levels, it's the strength of your deck. However, what cards you get depends mostly on luck, unlike levels, so things are even worse here. Yes, from my experience, almost all of the “strategy” portion of the game comes in the deck-building phase. This disappointed me a little at first, but I've discovered that it isn't so bad – deck-building can be pretty fun, especially if you can come up with something fairly original (which is harder than you think).

But seriously, it's time to stop lumping on the criticism, because behind all of the errors, Metal Gear AC!D can be a fun game, and it succeeds where many other games fail. For example, the story mode does a pretty good job at mixing things up goal-wise – you won't always be trying to simply get past the guards and reach the goal. There's a fair amount of different objectives, like sneaking into an armory to get an item or eliminating a bunch of flying robots, not to mention the occasional boss fight. Speaking of boss fights, they can get pretty difficult, and are probably the only things that will get your heart pumping in the entire game.

Also, the difficulty is spot-on; you won't be clearing levels easily for quite a while. Also, after you beat the story mode once, a hard difficulty mode will become available, if you've found that things are getting too easy at that point. Seriously, though, there will be missions that you have to try multiple times before achieving success, but not so much that things will become frustrating.

Another thing that the developers nailed here is the length. The story mode packs a good 20-something missions, and each mission can last quite a while. You can also replay levels that you've already cleared, only you'll be given different objectives. This is done to earn points that are used to purchase cards. Speaking of cards, there are a ton, and collecting them all will take quite a while.

Metal Gear ACID's graphics are spot-on. Gorgeous textures are found throughout the game, and the environments look great, although they certainly aren't beautiful. Then again, I'm not sure I would want that in a Metal Gear game. Character models are great and well-detailed – seriously, Snake looks downright good. The framerate is pretty good, although it will drop noticeably when there are large/multiple explosions on-screen. I should note that you will see a small amount of ghosting here, but it's not really a big problem. Graphical effects are actually somewhat rare... The only real effect you ever really see is an explosion – there's no rain or anything of the sort, no polish to the graphics. So, I guess you might say that Metal Gear AC!D succeeds in the basics of graphics, but doesn't go beyond that.

Audio is decent. The gun sounds are pretty good, although a few, such as the various snipers, just don't sound quite right to me. The music tends to fit the mood pretty well, but after you've been playing for a long time, it becomes downright grinding. Seriously, I don't know if I've ever been so annoyed at a piece of game music after one two-hour session. This is basically all I can discuss about audio, because there's not much else in the game. Yes, I'm hinting that there's no voice acting whatsoever. This really angers me, because there's a lot of dialog, and it annoys me to have to read it all, especially since this game is on a disk-based medium and accomplishes quality presentation in every other aspect.

The game fits a portable gaming system extremely well. Loading up a level will take probably less than two seconds, and there's not even a loading screen. Also, with the option of replaying levels that I mentioned earlier, you play for just a few minutes, which suits a portable game very well. Of course, if you're interrupted abruptly, you can always just save in the middle of the battle, a very handy feature. Battery life is above average as PSP games go, too.

Summary
+ Story is intriguing and full of twists
+ Gameplay is original and pretty fun
- The game does a horrible job at explaining things
- Gameplay can be slow
- There are a few kinks in the gameplay
+ Objectives are varied
+ Difficulty is perfect
+ Game is plenty long
+ Boss fights are fun
+ Deckbuilding can be enjoyable
+ Graphics are great, but they don't try to go above and beyond
+ Good music and audio
+ Game is extremely portable – low load times, good battery life, quickplay options

Overall, you've got to give the creators of Metal Gear AC!D some credit – they took one of the bigger risks in gaming history by taking one of the most popular action games around and turned it into a card battler. However, while there are some signs of rushing here and there, overall, the package is good.

Rent or buy? Unless you're absolutely sure that you'll love it, I'd suggest for you to rent this game. Metal Gear AC!D is such a huge hit-or-miss game that I literally can never know what kind of person would and wouldn't like it, so I'd advise you to get a cheap test-drive before you drop forty bucks on this puppy.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 04/30/06, Updated 05/16/06


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