Review by The10thElement
"It's Metal Gear, and it's solid, but it's not Metal Gear Solid."
The purpose of this review is to warn you about something; Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops is a solid game...but it's not a Metal Gear Solid game. What exactly do I mean by that? I'll explain in detail.
Think of the Metal Gear Acid games; they have all of the features you normally find in MGS - you control Snake, you use stealth to sneak through areas, and you've got some weapons to get enemy guards out of your way. But the gameplay is fundamentally different; instead of using the directional pad or analog nub to move around, you use cards for that. Instead of holding down buttons to aim and fire guns, you use cards for that. MGS: PO also departs from traditional MGS gameplay, just like MGA did.
This is not to say that MGS:PO uses a card system or anything like that for basic actions. To make Snake move or shoot, you use the same controls from the past MGS games. The basic gameplay controls are not where MGS:PO's differences lie; the differences lie in the overarching gameplay beyond the controls.
You have a mobile base, and you recruit soldiers. You scatter spies across a map, and wait for them to return reports. You have medics healing your wounded, and techies developing cool devices. You can instantly to travel to any discovered place on the map that you want at any time. You embark on a series of short missions. You can abort a mission anytime you want. Dragging unconscious guys into a truck is essential to completing the game.
Read that above paragraph again - does it sound like I'm describing a Metal Gear Solid game?
No. Not at all.
MGS games are about one stealth soldier making his way from one side of a base to the other. MGS games are about solitude - one man healing himself, procuring his own items, and saving the world on his own. MGS games are about traveling long distances on foot, to and from a few key places. MGS games are about long-term objectives.
MGS games are not about driving a truck around. MGS games are not about literally having around 100 friends following you everywhere. MGS games are not about sending out spies to gather intelligence for you. MGS games are not about asking other people to heal your wounds. MGS games are not about asking other people to build things for you. MGS games are not about being able to instantly teleport anywhere you wish. MGS games are not about short missions, aborting missions, or dragging guys into trucks.
In a nutshell, this is NOT a Metal Gear Solid game.
Does it have all of the elements found in every MGS game? Yes. But so did Metal Gear Acid. And the developers named it "Acid" for a reason - it wasn't the same as a "Solid" game. And neither is Portable Ops - PO should not have "Solid" in its title.
Now, at about this point, you're thinking that I hate the game simply because it's not MGS. That's not true at all! As I said at the beginning of the review, I think that this is a really solid game - just not a Metal Gear Solid game.
There are, of course, reasons why the developers changed the overarching gameplay so much - to make it more fitting for a portable system. For example, short, quick missions are more suitable for a portable system. However, that doesn't change the facts; this is not an MGS game.
What is my point? If you really want to play a traditional MGS game, without any of this weird truck stuff, just replay the other games in the series. If you sometimes think to yourself that it would be awesome to play MGS-style gameplay for short bursts at a time, then by all means, this is the game for you. If, when you get bored, you start daydreaming about flattening up against walls, peeking around corners, and popping out of cover to shoot tranquilizer darts into guys' heads, then I could not imagine a more perfect game for you than MGS: PO. If you want to play for hours at a time, getting Snake across multiple maps to achieve a goal that will take hours to reach, then just replay the console games.
Now that I've made all of this clear, I can start talking more about PO's overarching gameplay.
Building an army is, admittedly, very cool. It reminds me of Empire building in Vice City Stories - you drive around, kill enemies, take their buildings, then improve those buildings by doing missions for them and paying money to make them bigger, and ultimately diversify your empire. Building an army in PO is very similar - you drive your truck to a location, knock out enemies, drag them back to your truck, convince them to join your cause, and then use them to do missions and progress the game, and ultimately make a really diverse army of medics and techies and whatnot.
It's just nice to know that you're this force that's growing more and more powerful, gathering more and more men, until you've literally got about 100 guys spying and building you cool stuff. (Is that MGS? No. It is fun, though.)
The story, however, does live up to the MGS name. Memorable characters, thought-provoking themes, exciting cutscenes, double-crossing, second-guessing, philosophical discourse, and all the other fun twists and turns that MGS promises.
For those of you who weren't sure if it was true or just a rumor, no - the game does not have 3D cutscenes. The cutscenes are all in 2D. It's a little hard to describe them perfectly, but "moving comic book panels" is adequate.
Now, don't get the wrong idea - this new type of cutscene has every bit of cinematic flair that 3D cutscenes have. The heavily stylized ink artwork is just as nice to look at as 3D models are, even if the art is much different in style from the way the rest of the game looks. There are no problems with this format, and it doesn't make the cutscenes any less dramatic or memorable than the 3D MGS games.
However, this brings us to another topic - there is a horrible imbalance between gameplay and storyline here, as compared with previous games in the series. The other games had a cutscene about every 5 'areas' - in this game, you have to spend hours driving your truck back and forth between different levels, searching for weird stuff in short missions, sending out spies, organizing your army, reading reports, and repeating, before you eventually get to see a short cutscene that nudges the story along a few inches. There is no gratification for your efforts if you only rarely see the story moving, while you're doing all this hard work. In most games, the story is what compels you to continue and succeed, and when you're hardly ever seeing cutscenes, there is little motivation for moving forward.
In the actual missions, there are many new gameplay elements that are more of a hassle than an improvement. Stamina, for example, is a pain. There simply aren't enough Rations to restore the stamina of your giant army of men. You could stuff your men into the medical bay and wait a few days, but if you don't like wasting days or re-organizing your army too often, you're in a bad situation.
Dragging men back to your truck is annoying. Snake moves very slow while dragging. You have other men who drag twice as fast, but it still takes ages to drag a man back to your truck. You can plant other men around the area and simply drag the body to their hiding spots, but it's often just as much of a hassle to plant those men everywhere. All these men everywhere makes MGS:PO more of a tactics and strategy game than a stealth or action game.
There are, of course, many good points. The graphics are amazing, especially for a portable system. MGS:PO is very close to MGS:3 in graphical quality. The music is great - the style is from MGS:3, so if you liked that game's music, you'll be right at home here. The voice actors, as well, are all top-quality. In pretty much every aspect but the annoying gameplay, this game excels.
In conclusion, MGS:PO is a lot of fun, but falls short of being an MGS game. The missions are too quick, simple, and straightforward to live up to MGS' standards, and the style of the game itself is hardly similar to MGS in any way beside the story, music, and controls. Often, missions are about little more than reaching a particular destination. This may be fitting for a portable system...but it's not fitting for a good game.
If you want a Metal Gear Solid game, look to the consoles. If you want a Metal Gear game, then this game is perfect. If you're expecting MGS, you'll only find this game about a 7. If you look past its flaws, or just really like Metal Gear themes, then it'll be an 8 for you.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 12/08/06
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