"ACID: Amazingly Cool Innovative Defiance"

List

I don't like:

1. Metal Gear Solid
2. Stealth Games
3. Patience

I do like:

1. Action Games
2. RPGs
3. Strategy Games

How amusing then, that Konami managed to take all three of the things I *do* like, and apply them to those things which I don't. The end result is Metal Gear Tactics: Chains of Memory, a stupid pun on the three games which Acid technically consists of, Metal Gear (obviously), [insert name] Tactics, and Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories; it's a lot of cards, a ton of strategy, and all Metal Gear.

I'll call myself out right now and confess that I despise Metal Gear Solid 110%. It is amazing that this series has so much hype surrounding what I feel is nothing more than a geeky, sloth-like spy game. Who has the time or patience to sneak into every little situation and wait out others (hello Snake Eater)? And collecting dog tags and finding little “creative sparks” like pin-up posters? Um, sorry, that's just a little to otakufor me.

Manifest Destiny

Now that I've probably enticed die-hard Metal Gear fans to stop reading, (trust me, it's all the better given a majority's inability to accept this game from the start) I can properly begin this review. Metal Gear Acid (or Ac!d, as Konami spells it) is a game unlike any other I've recently played, and certainly unlike any the Metal Gear universe has witnessed. In fact, it stands as the third time in my life (Baten Kaitos being the first and Chain of Memories the second) I have found reason to love a card-based premise.

While I'm tempted to start off with the visuals, the nature of the beast takes precedence. Cards, cards, cards…everyone above the age of 10 seems to hate them, and consequently, no one believes they can make for a good game. Acid uses cards in a straightforward manner, but a highly intelligent one at that. The game play itself works in a device lifted straight out of a strategy game:

1. Player turn (phase) starts.
2. Player has the option of moving/attacking/using item/etc.
3. Player turn ends.
4. Enemy turn starts.
5. Enemy attacks/defends/flees/etc.
6. Enemy turn ends.

And the cycle begins all over again. But here's what happens if you throw cards into the mix:

1. Player phase starts.

2. Game deals Solid Snake (the main character, duh!) 6 random cards from your deck. The cards can be anything from attack cards, defense cards, restorative cards, special move cards, etc. Just about every card can be sacrificed to move Snake, however each contains a special function of its own use. You get two player turns per phase, however there are cards which permanently increase the max number for the duration of the mission. Perhaps you want to hide behind a building (first turn) and use the other to restore health (second turn). In the event you run out of cards, the game will reshuffle your deck.

3. Player phase ends.
(Continue as directed previously).

Let's explore a bit further, though, as there is a remarkable amount of detail that goes on in that second step.

Loaded Deck

Once Snake's phase arrives, there is a variety of actions you can take. Most likely though, the first steps will involve movement, getting into a position to attack or complete an objective. After selecting the “Move” option from the card use window (there are usually two functions, one being the card's depicted use, and the other movement), a grid-type layout appears before Snake indicating the number of spaces he may take, as determined by the card's ability. The player then uses the digital pad to trace the route and then, provided you accept it, confirm the action and watch our hero emulate the path. [Minor gripe: if you make a mistake, you have to cancel the entire thing; the game doesn't let you take back just a single square at a time]. Along with moving Snake, you also have the choice of stationary position: normal (i.e. standing), crawling, or-provided there is a wall or such-“behind” which presses Snake against it. He will then remain in the selected position until you instruct further movement in the next turn.

After completing the movement, the game then requests the direction in which Snake is to stand in, four options allowed for (i.e. front, back, left, or right). Those unfamiliar with the laws of strategy games need understand that this position can greatly affect the outcome of the mission: a face the face encounter with resistance will result in far less damage than if you go attack from the side, or even from the back. Thus, as you can see, there is a large element of pre-planning involved with this type of game: one must constantly assess what their attackers will do, especially in large numbers. Is it better to assume the Genome soldier in front will come towards you, or could that hidden one off to the back sidle up instead? Acid, however, takes this one step further, actually limiting your actions by the position Snake faces: some weapons, for example, can only be used when your face is to the assailant, and with others (such as a grenade) the target area is affected as well.

As is now the “genre standard”, Snake retains main of his signature moves, such as knocking on walls (only usable when “Behind” something). Used to attract the attention of opponents, knocking on walls can result in your pursuers wasting their turn investigating the goading noise and placing themselves smack in the line of fire, bodily blow, grenade…or light saber swing if you have that card. What really caught my attention, however, was the fantastic attention to other details as well. For example, if Snake lobs a stick of dynamite, he can then target the thrown explosive with a gun and cause manual detonation rather than waiting for its timer to run out and risk the enemy retreating in the down time. I believe that the normal series already made use of this concept, however for a tactical game it's just plain amazing.

Attacking is another process in and of itself. Directly correlated with movement, the player must always consider the logic and benefit of attacking. While almost always required in the completion of a mission, the actual time in which you attack becomes more of a window than an impulse. (This is, obviously, where the game still retains its stealth lineage, along with the hiding). What if you only have two turns in the phase, and you already used one up? Furthermore, what if you still aren't within attacking range of the enemy? Typically the unassuming player would simply use the second turn to approach the opponent, but the catch is you can only take one action per turn. If you decide to move directly behind the soldier in this example, your phase will end (no attack possible) and hence be out in the open for everyone to see. There is a chance the soldier won't notice your presence (unless the “!” appeared above his head and he saw you…STEALTH people!) but suffice to say there's a small probability given your dramatic exposure.

When the golden moment finally arrives, however, you can unleash hell upon the resistance. Just as with movement, the actual attacking process is completely automated; you only set it up and watch as the game handles the actual work. Different weapons have different ranges, and each has its own handicap. Higher end guns, for example, may provide for greater attack power, but a greater chance of missing. [When Snake fires a gun, he empties the magazine so you do get more than one shot, but missing all of them isn't any good either]. On the other hand, melee weapons and attacks provide a 100% probability of connecting, but at the expense of power. Once again, it all comes down to intelligent planning…you know, the more I think of it perhaps the shift from stealth to strategy really isn't that big of a change after all. On the other hand, there isn't the same level of tension with this type of game because time limits aren't really an issue, just [at times] phase limits.

Overarching this entire system is a “Passive Time Regulator”, as one could call it. Each action you (or the opponent) takes not only uses up a phase or turn, but also eats up time. Different movements have different time blocks attached to them, and hence the contentious strategy gamer must always assess their current situation: if their time counter is too high, it's quite possible that the opponents could use a series of small-scale time wasters and suddenly be breathing down Snake's neck before your next phase arrives.

Ace in the Hole

Though you have no control over which cards will filter into your cache for each turn, the player does have a say in the actual selection itself. Upon completion of the first official mission (second if you count the introduction) the game opens up the incredibly organised Deck Construction option, available from the intermission screen. Selecting it allows the player to “hack” their deck, adding and subtracting different cards from their in-game supply. The micromanagement however, just like the game play, requires careful planning and foresight: You can only bring 30 cards along for missions, and there is a set number in terms of each type. The player has to evaluate the utility value of each of the cards and determine which of them is a “must have” for the current mission. Sure it's tempting to bring that shiny new Meryl Silverburg card along, but not if it comes at the expense of giving up something critical.

As you progress through each of the game's missions, new cards will appear, some from defeated enemies, some from items lying on the ground, etc. Completion of the second official mission (third if you count the intro) opens up the Card Store, complete with a hilariously anachronistic “sales pitch” movie to go with it…so odd that while watching it, I actually said “Is this a demo or the actual game?”. Anyway, the card store lets you purchase new cards (what else) from the series you've already collected. At the onset of the game, the only series you can find is that for the original Metal Gear Solid, but as you progress more open up. Of course the next question probably relates to currency, as how else can one buy things without money? The game ranks your progress in each mission, and upon completion, awards score points accordingly. These points are then used to go shopping.

As you can may doubt guess, Acid makes heavy use of the series' timeline within the cards. Featuring everything from weapons, characters, items, and even the cardboard boxes, cards more or less embody the image contained on them, especially so with attack cards. In addition to the picture, each card has a detailed description of what it does (also visible during the selection process in-game).

The game also makes heavy use of the stealth dynamic in the form of visibility and attention. As if everything yet mentioned were not enough of a taxation on the gaming brain, you must also take into consideration the element of surprise. Whereas a clandestine Snake can slither into any situation without a hitch, reckless mongooses live to be eaten. When the opposition realises where you are (either by literally seeing you, by surveillance camera, etc.), it will come after you, along with reinforcements. Then, it's either run for your life or taken down as many soldiers as possible. Either way, assuming you're still alive, Snake needs to play hide and seek to avoid further detection. Guards stay on alert mode until a timer withers away, then switch to cautionary, then back to their regular posts. Of course, there are ways to make things safer for yourself should the inevitable occur and you DO get discovered: try equipping some of the cards instead of just using them to move; body armour is your friend!

Candy…of a Visual Nature

With that, the card “phase” comes to and end, allowing me to move onto another fully realised aspect of the game: it's visuals. I'd be lying if I said Acid looks bad. Heck, I'd be lying if I said it looks great. Truth be told, it's impossible to understand the kind of uber-cool visuals in this game without playing it yourself; I'm talking graphics on par with the PS2 Metal Gear Solid games…thatgood. Each environment comes to life with fantastic attention to detail of an almost photo-realistic quality that you'll need to reality check yourself to remember this is a handheld product. I'm not even going to continue with this, because it's more than apparent that I'm gushing enough as is. I'd sure as hell like to see the Nintendo DS attempt something like this, that's for sure, especially in the immediate future…just imagine what PSP games will look like come next December.

While on the subject of ultimate refinement, let's talk about the cut scene visuals a bit more. Despite their hand drawn content, they are every bit as gorgeous as one could expect and feature character designs that easily surpass the level of previous games. Snake has an entirely new visual image and I certainly like this one a lot better.

Gang's All Here

Unlike the Metal Gear Solid trilogy, Acid makes use of hand-drawn cinematics to tell this tale of espionage-themed action. Depicting a bizarre airplane hijacking-complete with requisite political crisis in toe-it's up to Solid Snake to save the day. (This appears to feature the Solid Snake from MGS1 and 2, but who knows). With every new Metal Gear game arrive new characters however, and hence our hero is not alone in his world saving quest. Hailing from New Jersey, USA, Rodger McCoy is the “operator” and mission director, Alice Hazle (of British origin) the tech support, Teriko Freedman (half American, half Japanese) as Snake's partner-in-crime, “Gary” the Otakon replacement, and a mysterious nemesis named Reone as the likely villain.

Magic Melody

I've yet to mention to aural side of Acid, but don't let that serve as any kind of indication. The music is just plain excellent: brilliantly composed and technologically optimised by the PSP. Some of the tracks appear to have little ‘throwbacks' to the previous Metal Gear installments in their score, while others sound brand new. It's quite impressive to hear this kind of audio experience from a portable gaming console, to say the least. Some tracks are even of a quality such that you'll hum them to yourselves after playing, at least I did.

Fans of voice acting will have to go on vacation because, as with the cut scenes, “we're not in Kansas anymore”. Voice acting is sporadic to say the least, with only brief samples coming out of character's mouths (save for that awful “commercial” mentioned earlier which features a full narration). Look at it this way: voice acting requires file loading, and file loading requires disc access. Given the absurd wave of “anti-hype” over the PSP's battery life, this is not such a bad thing at all.

“Let's Get Dirty”

Speaking of the battery life, the stated estimate when playing a game like Acid is around four hours, namely because the game does require loading off the disc on a more frequent basis than say, Lumines, and hence that, coupled with actually powering the on-screen content itself, can drain the life somewhat quicker. But big deal; strategy games are made for playing when you have time on your hands, and hence just plug the darn PSP into a socket or something. Those of you who want to take Acid to the gym with you or whatnot will have to make due with only ~4 hours. Then again, how many people honestly sit down (or run on a treadmill?) and play games for 240 minutes at a time on a regular basis, and portable ones at that.

Chip Off The ‘Ol Block

Metal Gear Acid is not just a game, it's an entire phenomenon. If you can imagine every innovation touched upon by the traditional Playstation series, and then combine it with all the cunning ingenuity of a fully-realised tactical strategy game, you have a real epidemic for success. While I've no doubt many MGS fans will instantly write off this game as blasphemous crap, a perversion of all that is right, rest assured this ain't no BMX XXX. Those fans who do opt to purchase this game however, will be pleased to note a little surprise in MGS3 if you link the PSP+Acid…

It seems that the Metal Gear series is in good hands should Hideo Kojima opt to pass on future staff duties, as those that created Acid managed to design one of the most impressive games in the PSP launch line-up as well as one of the most entertaining games I've played in a very long time. Not bad for a card game now, is it.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 12/20/04


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