Review by AtlusSaGa
"Not a card to be found in this Metal Gear"
Following two solid, if not spectacular card based strategy games on the PSP, the Metal Gear series finally makes an appearance in it's true stealth action form. While the Metal Gear Ac!d games may have a left a sour taste in most gamers mouths despite being fundamentally sound, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops completely erases any grievance one might have had. It's classic Metal Gear all around, with the gameplay and story fans have come to expect from this series.
Taking place after the events in Metal Gear Solid 3, the game starts out with our hero in a South American prison. We learn that a group of soldiers is building some kind of mercenary nation, and have the ability to destroy every major city in the Soviet Union. Of course the actual story is much deeper then that, but I'm not sure I'm suited for reciting it, as I've never been a fan of the somewhat ridiculous and nonsensical plots found in these games. It's quite easy to tune out, despite the stylish comic book style story sequences. Of course if you're one of the people out there who actually like and fully understand the random and insane chain of events Kojima has turned into a story line, then you'll love this one as well. While it will undoubtedly feel more like a stop gap until MGS4 then a full fledged Metal Gear Solid story, the fans will still eat it up.
While I may not quite enjoy the Metal Gear Solid plots, I have always been a fan of the excellent gameplay found in the series. That gameplay has translated well to the PSP, and with very few setbacks. Taking the over the shoulder, adjustable camera route first introduced in Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence , little is lost in the conversion to portable form. The game still plays like its predecessors, and that's a good or bad thing depending on your feelings about the series. If like the MGS formula, there's absolutely no reason why this shouldn't satisfy you. If you don't like the series, stop reading. There's nothing here that's going to change your mind. You'll still be frustrated by the gameplay found here.
Of course, the conversion is not without its flaws. Like so many games before it, Portable Ops is hampered by the PSP's lack of a second analog nub. The analog nub is used to move, while the D-pad is used to manipulate the camera. Due to the analog nub and the D-pad being placed so close together, this makes for some very awkward moments in the game. Also a problem is the radar, which introduces a sound radar. While a good idea in theory, the new radar is basically broken, making it way too confusing to spot enemies on it. The combo of having to fight with the camera nearly the entire way through and an ultimately useless radar result in being spotted by an enemy guard due to no fault of your own just too much.
Despite classic Metal Gear gameplay, the game could have very easily been ultimately passable and forgettable if not for the innovation Kojima has brought to the series here. Unlike in past entries to the series, you won't have to go it alone. You're given the unique ability to capture and recruit enemy soldiers for your army. Each mission can be tackled with a team of four soldiers, each having unique abilities. This brings an entirely new dimension to the Metal Gear universe, and results in some very new gameplay experiences. However, I felt the team gameplay could have been implemented slightly better, as too often you won't even need to use more then one or two soldiers a mission. I seriously hope Kojima doesn't abandon this feature with this game, as given few tweaks, it could create some fun in future editions of the series.
Capturing a soldier in battle isn't the only way to gain new recruits however, as Portable Ops takes advantage of the portability aspect of the PSP. Take your PSP with you when you leave the house and scan for wireless hot spots around town. Once you find one, you'll be able to recruit new soldiers, some of which are exceedingly rare and powerful. It's a feature that works well, and it's good to see Kojima taking advantage of the hardware.
Visually, this is one of the strongest, if not the strongest title you'll find on the PSP. While any game is going to look decent on the PSP's brilliant screen, this takes it to its limits. Some of the levels are very expansive, and all are to the highest detail. Character models are all done excellently, as even the most common enemies look great. The framerate also never stutters, which is a true testament to the power of the PSP, and Kojima's ability to get everything out of a system. The game also features some very solid voice acting, although only in cut scenes and not in codec conversations.
All in all, Portable Ops packs a very solid single player experience, but it also features a fun online mode as well. Essentially a scaled down version of the online mode in MGS3:S, it's one of the better multiplayer titles on the system. Up to 6 players can compete in various modes such as deathmatch, team deathmatch, and the rest of your standard online multiplayer modes. What really sets Portable Ops apart from the crowd is it's very cool Real Combat mode. You'll take your single player team online, only if one is killed, the user who killed them has the option of recruiting the soldier to his army, while you lose it forever. This adds an interesting dynamic to online play, as hopefully it will dissuade most of being reckless. Of course, you're also given the option to just play for fun if you don't want to risk losing your hard earned soldiers.
Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops is the perfect example of how to bring a home console experience to the handhelds without rehashing another port. It mixes the same Metal Gear Solid elements we know and love with new, fresh ideas. Kudos to Kojima for giving the PSP a truly unique Metal Gear Solid experience, and let's hope it's not the last.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 01/02/07
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