Review by NWalterstorf

"Amazing game play brought to the handheld console offering a truly portable and engaging MGS experience."

Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops takes place 6 years after the events of Snake eater. In this handheld and canonical entry into the MGS saga, you will find yourself battling, recruiting and gaining Intel from Soviets. Several features, such as the recruitment and recruit management system, are entirely new to this series. Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops (now referred to as MPO) offers PSP gamers a chance to experience a true MGS title on a handheld system. Packed with wonderful little features and addicting game play, MPO gives PSP owners a reason to pull their PSP out of their closet and dust it off.

A fair story canonical to the MGS series

6 years after the events of Snake Eater, Snake - Big Boss - finds himself trapped on Peninsula. Suspected of participating in a revolt led by members of FOX, Snake cannot return to the states due to the dirty name he has earned. Because of this, Snake must find the person truly responsible for the revolt in order to prove his innocence. Though somewhat brief, the story brings another dynamic perspective on Big Boss trapped between a rock and a hard place; the United States cannot take Snake back, and the Soviets have occupied the location where Snake is suspended. Snake must do all he can to free his name. Joined by several friends and a small army, Snake must defeat the threat found on this strip of land.

Though a true successor in the line of the canonical Metal Gear Solid series, MPO never quite captures that true MGS feel. After the astounding events of the Snake Eater mission, the awkward, indirect approach to MPO's story seems somewhat jarring. You never quite see a large correlation with exception to a few points scattered about in the game. Though now well known as the legendary Big Boss, you never quite feel “fulfilled” after experiencing the story.

The pacing is slow at times. Several missions are devoted directly to gathering Intel, bringing the plot pacing to a screeching halt. This creates times of frustration. You want to continue this intriguing tale, but before you know it, you're off gathering Intel once more. Truly the game is not all about gathering Intel, and there's plenty of great points, but it's not until around mid-way when the story truly takes off.

Mid-way through the game, the story comes full force as Snake takes the gloves off. Fighting your way area through area and performing entertaining exercises help to move the story along. While the start is not painfully horrible, it may easily be classified as “slow”. But the second half of the game more than makes up for it as more facts of interest are brought into the light.

But even when the story really picks up, there's a few retcons which stick out like a sore thumb. They'll have you saying, “Why in the world was this changed”, or “why is this necessary?” While one could easily answer, “wait until the next installment for your reply”, it's no doubt confusing as to why certain changes were absolutely necessary, especially when they did not serve a great purpose as a whole. Nevertheless, these cases of retcons never take away from the factor of the story. But if you're a long-time, devoted following of the MGS saga, it'll leave you feeling uneasy.

Drama heightened by intensity

There is nothing truly better than the impressive arrangements of Harry Gregson-Williams throughout the Metal Gear Solid series. His music in MPO is no exception. The atmosphere of the game is heightened through the use of explosive tracks and pieces which can be called no less than epic. While one may argue that his work isn't as astounding as his accomplishments found in the earlier Metal Gear Solid series, it's no doubt that racing through a map to reach a location in a certain amount of time while a dramatic piece is fueling your charge can be called anything less than “intensely thrilling.”

Understanding the UMD limitations of the PSP, it's a sure thing that not all of the voices can be added to this game. Granted this, the actual voice actors in the game are limited. The powerful voice acting of David Hayter is still here, no doubt, but don't expect much of it with exception to a few “cut scenes” (explained in a moment). There's something uneasy about having to read lots and lots of text without hearing the voices. You may be someone who skips through the long Radio/Codec conversations of the past MGS series, but it's no doubt that it just isn't the same.

Speaking of “not the same”, there's a large lack of active cut scenes which the previous entries of the series was known for. Instead of seeing the in-game character models acting out the desperate and exciting situations famous from, for example, Snake Eater, the cut scenes which are in this game are made up of art drawn by Ashley Wood. In fact, the only true voices heard from the game stem directly from these drawn cut scenes. While the artwork is no joke, it's a shame to see how limited the UMD truly is if we can only get two actual cut scenes into the end game.

On the other hand, it's difficult to be angry with the graphical aspect of this game's atmosphere. Snake looks incredible. The environments look amazing. The guards are wonderfully detailed. This is a sign of the PSP's graphical prowess. The graphics of MPO are beautiful for that of a handheld console. Plenty of detail is put into the character models and detailed environments. The design of the actual maps are well varied. Though a limited selection of maps are actually in the game, each one is different; it's not as if Map B is just Map A with a different floor texture. Each map is dynamically different and provides several different pathways and capabilities to fulfill your mission objectives. Certain missions have you begin in a map at a completely different location, and force you to choose an certain route to get from one side of the map to another. Certain doors will be locked in certain locations, or different barrels will block your paths to another location. Needless to say, the environments, maps and character models all are presented beautifully on the PSP entertainment system.

Intensity heightened by strategy

It's hard to say that any Metal Gear Solid titles has ever failed to be entertaining. MPO is another prime example of how a fair story can be told through the use of sure-fire game play. Though it's hard to say that MPO is ever truly intense, it's definitely “glee-inducing.” Surprising an enemy with an M9 to the head may lead to a guard seeing the soldier's body drop. The guard will move to the location. At that moment, you can switch to another characters who's in range to place the guard into a CQC hold and interrogate him. Knocking on walls can draw an opponent to your location. While the opponent comes to search for you, they leave the important entrance of a building unguarded which invites you to switch to another character to run through while the guard leaves his post. Pulling off such simple and delightful tactics of these will have you giggling… or cackling evilly.

Certainly in game play this title does not disappoint. You're able to approach every situation with any number of options. And options, in this case, are very nice. Noticing an enemy at the other end a room on patrol, you can use an M9 to take him out. You can stalk him from behind and place him in a CQC hold. Or you can toss in a Chaff Grenade to jam their radio contact so you can take the opponent out with a non-silenced gun; the enemies who hear the gun will be unable to contact their CO due to the electronic jamming. Of course, if you really want to, you can raid the area and take out everyone using an M16. Your choice.

Perhaps the greatest aspect of the game play itself is the recruit option. During your missions, you can recruit an enemy by knocking them out and dragging them back to your truck - or getting someone else to do it for you - resulting in another soldier in your army. Equipment can be gained this way, giving you access to some powerful weapons without necessarily having to procure them all on sight. Each recruited soldier has various stats and capabilities. One may perform better on the sneaking team, while another will make a better spy unit. The customization of your army is truly great; you have a feeling of direct command over your soldiers. Issue a few soldiers to the spy unit to find Intel for you. Add a lab scientist to your medical staff to boost your recovery rate. Place some units in the technical department to work on newer and better weapons, items and equipment for your arsenal.

Even so, a wonderful aspect of these recruits is that you can use these recruits in the on-line Infrastructure mode, allowing you to take your customizable soldiers on-line and face off against opponents from around the nation. A ranking system keeps track of how well - or poor - you do. The on-line mode offers plenty of entertainment. The on-line mode, however, is not without its flaws.

Lag bogs down the game play. You can be on a row, then witness as everything stops dead. Bullets will fly by people you swore you shot, yet the lag prevent you from hitting them. Not only that, but there's plague of the limited maps and multiplayer game options puts a damper on the game. I'm a fan of Death match and Team Death match mode just as much as the next guy, but having only four total game mode options isn't necessarily thrilling. Not only that, but you are limited to only six players per game. In a game of Team Death match, that's only three on each side, limiting the carnage by a large extent. However, this is perhaps for the best. This is the PSP we're talking about here. Also, if there were any more enemies allowed in any particular game, it would create much chaos with the map's relatively small size.

Don't get me wrong, I love the on-line mode; I play it all the time. But it's not without it's downfall. Even still, going team-on-team against people from around the nation is a blast.

If there is any great gripe about the game play as a whole, it would be the mission based format. Sure, it's not truly bad, but it's not truly the MGS format we know and love. Adopted a mission style which was executed in the Ac!d series, MPO attempts to bring this feature into MPO. It succeeds in some areas, but it creates a damper on another factor. It never makes the game truly intense. Being able to abort a mission or restart one makes it too simple, too easy. In the previous MGS entries, you were always on field. Never a break, never a pause in the action. In MPO, this mission structure makes it too easy. I do understand that this format applies well to the recruit and management features of the game, but it still could have been executed in another format.

Knowing this simplified mission format, it also makes the game easier, even on the most highest difficulty. Having the ability to restart and abort missions at the brink of despair creates a situation where it's too easy. Sure, the statement could be made, “Just don't do it if it makes it too easy for you.” However, this is a feature directly implemented into the game and intended to be used. After all, if I purposely wanted it to be more difficult, I could handicap myself by placing one arm behind my back. I could even blindfold myself while playing this; it would be quite difficult. But in both scenarios, self-handicaps show a fault in the design of this feature. It simple makes things too easy. Not only is the game play itself easy, but the forced mission breaks make it almost too simple. You're pulled out of the action as soon as you indulge yourself in it.

Adding to the category of poor design would be the camera controls. It's simply too difficult to move around. I understand that the camera worked well in MGS3: Subsistence, in which a 3d camera was needed, but in MPO, one wishes that the top-down view of the MGS games would return. In that case, I wouldn't have to move to every location and adjust the camera just a little bit more so I could see what's directly in front of me. But not all the controls are bad. A game with similar control features as MGS3 has been ported to the controls of the PSP rather well, making everything else but the camera run smoothly.

Badge of Honor

You can't deny that this is one of the biggest things that ever happened to the PSP. The unlockables, recruit management and on-line multiplayer features allow you to play through this title multiple times. Considering this is one of the only great recent games available for the PSP, it warrants it's purchase, as it won't leave that little handheld device for a long time. Offering high-scale entertainment in portable form, Metal Gear Solid, Portable Ops for the PSP handheld console is a title which, though not holding a candle to it's big-brother predecessors, will keep you playing this game until the next Metal Gear Solid installment comes out. MPO gets an eight out of ten.

The Good:
+ Amazing Game play
+ Great sound and graphics
+ Nationwide free on-line multiplayer
+ Recruit System

The Bad:
- Poor pacing at points
- Too many “filler” Intel gathering forced missions
- A bit too short
- Too easy
- Camera function is poor

The Wanted:
- The top-down feature camera would have worked much better for the single player (but not on-line multiplayer, of course)

Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 01/23/07

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