Less than two years into the PSP’s lifespan the handheld has already seen two Metal Gear titles. While both game in the Ac!d series are considered very well done they are still not your typical MGS style games that fans of the series have come to know and love. With the release of Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops Kojima Productions has finally brought the traditional style of the series onto the PSP handheld. Can it live up to the ridiculously high expectations of the console games, or simply fall into the category of just another PS2 port?
The biggest draw of the MGS series is the storyline and thankfully MGS: PO has plenty to offer fans. The game is set a full six years after the events of Snake Eater as you once again don the trusty eye patch of Naked Snake, who has received the title of Big Boss. Snake has stepped down as commander of FOX and somehow managed to get himself captured, drugged, and tortured by a member of his former team in a South American prison. This rogue group wants information about the Philosopher’s Legacy and Snake was the last person to have any information about it.
The game is chock full of all sorts of twists and turns that the franchise is known for and you will even run into familiar faces such as Roy Campbell along the way. What drives the story is the overall progression of Snake from classic American hero to his unfortunate turn to the dark side. While the game never specifically mentions things like FOXHOUND and the foundation of Outer Heaven it does lay the groundwork for the inevitable happenings in the storyline.
What sets this game apart from previous console offerings though is the structure of the main game. Instead of one giant quest each mission is divided up into smaller sorties that can be completed relatively quickly. Each mission can be blazed through in less than five minutes, which is ideal for a portable game, but you can also take your time and recruit new characters for your virtual army. This makes the game more accessible to players, but simply blazing through each mission will also have it’s consequences as you will miss out on vital equipment and soldiers.
This is one of the coolest new aspects of Portable Ops. Now when you enter any of these quickie missions you can recruit new members to your cause. Once you have obtained them you can send them out to scout other missions and find weapons and gear for you. Each soldier you recruit has specific talents and abilities that make them ideal for different situations. This adds a nice layer of strategy to the game as well as expanding the traditional game play of the series.
There are several ways to recruit soldiers in Portable Ops. The traditional way is to knock them out in the game and drag them back to the truck without killing them. But would this be a Kojima game without a unique use of the hardware? Another cool way you can earn new characters is by using the PSPs WiFi capabilities and scanning different hotspots. Each place you scan will randomly generate new soldiers for your armada; you can also do what is called “war driving” where you move from place to play via your car and scan for different soldiers. Of course we recommend finding a designated driver before attempting this method.
You can also trade your created soldiers with friends via the WiFi connection, so if your buddy manages to nab a truly unique soldier from the McDonalds hot spot four hundred miles from you, simply log on to the network and work out a trade via the Infrastructure mode. You can also recruit new soldiers by defeating opponents in the online mode, however be warned that if you lose they can do the same to you, so be careful.
As I mentioned earlier all of these recruited soldiers can be used to scout new missions and the like, however sometimes they seem to get caught regardless of how well they fit in. This is where the game can become frustrating at times. You have a perfectly good solider, that in theory should blend right into the mission without raising an alarm, yet right when you are ready to complete the mission it fails for no apparent reason.
The mission structure can also be hindered by your ability to only carry four items into each mission. This includes weapons, gear and even rations, so if you find yourself up against a worthy boss with no health or ammunition you can expect to die with no hopes of putting up a fight. Utilizing your recruited soldiers though can be a huge advantage here especially if you manage to uncover the shotgun as early as possible. This weapon makes the problematic aiming a non-issue since the range is so wide and it can usually take down enemies in a single blow.
These limitations are good in a way though as they force you to become a better player. Getting more headshots, being stealthier and generally making better decisions overall. The MGS series was always built around the idea of not being seen and having less equipment that you can carry keeps that aspect of the game fully intact. Just like in Snake Eater our hero can also engage in CQC, otherwise known as Close Quarters Combat. This is a hand to hand system that can be used to either knock out opponents or take them out permanently. This becomes vital in Portable Ops because of the lack of gear you can carry on any given mission.
Controlling your protagonist in Portable Ops can certainly be a chore with the PSP. Having to tap the left trigger to constantly center the camera is a pain and aiming with the nub becomes frustrating early on. Thankfully the game has been well designed for these shortcomings and before you know it everything will become second nature to the player. Aside from the mission second analog and a lack of the extra triggers the game mimics the control scheme found in every previous MGS title on the PSOne and PS2 faithfully and what it lacks in buttons it makes up for in smooth controls.
Probably the most impressive aspect of the game though is just how good it looks for being on a portable. Kojima and his team have easily crafted the best looking PSP game to date. The textures and structures are very reminiscent of Snake Eater and for the most part the game runs very smooth on Sony’s handheld. A few issues do crop up such as spotty texture tearing and a stubborn camera, but for the most part the game is easily the most technically impressive game I have ever seen on a handheld.
Sound wise the game is equally impressive complete with David Hayter as the voice of Snake. The music, while not composed by series favorite Harry Gregson-Williams, still fits the game very well and adds tension at all the right moments. Normally you wouldn’t expect a handheld game to deliver much voiceover work, but thanks to the UMD format Kojima was able to squeeze quite a bit into this dialogue heavy story.
Portable Ops is by far the best reason to own a PSP so far. For fans of the series this game is a must own simply because of the story tie-ins and the incredible production values. With the high bar that Kojima and his team have set with the franchise on PS2 Portable Ops matches it to every degree and even adding new layers to the game to fit the hardware. If you own a PSP you must own this game, if you do not this game is more than reason enough to purchase the system.