Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops Reader Review
Fifteen minute introduction
With Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops + on the horizon I figured I'd give this one a good running so as not to allow it to grow flabby and unattractive for it's new lodger. Well that, and there can never be too much Snake - Like Ouroboros he just keeps going. This time set in 1971, decades before the events on Shadow Moses where the remains this escapades hero - Naked Snake (or "Big Boss" to his friends and notably enemies) were jossled around by his cloned children in the arctic under the harsh glare of an insane Ninja and a mech-obsessed otaku. This is a little after Naked Snake himself became "Big Boss" by sucessfully CQCing "The Boss" to the ground. Did you get any of that? Nope? Neither does Kojima really. Back into that lovely Cold War then.
The Playstation Portable has recieved multiple exclusive MGS offerings in the past in the shapely forms of the AC!D duo and an animated digital graphic novel based around the events of Metal Gear Solid. None of these however were really worthy of Solid Snake's name. In Portable Ops however we gain a real handheld window into the tactical espionage action befitting the jumpsuit-clad, mullet-sporting hero. More on the gameplay later.
The story begins six years after the events in Metal Gear Solid 3 with Snake once again under interrogation on the subject of the missing half of the Philosopher's legacy. This time by a man claiming to be from FOX, The team Snake had helped create. Inevitably Snake escapes by abusing an obvious design flaw in the cell's ventilation. Here he meets a surviving marine locked in another cell named Roy "You created a time paradox" Campbell. The pair flee the prison complex and decide that in order to go against FOX they needed allies. Snake uses an enemy facility to contact Para-Medic and Sigint who inform him that Snake and Major Zero are being blamed for the rebellion on home turf. With this news its decided that the two must become more in order to combat the renegades and clear their names. Standard stuff, then.
Snake in hand and no ukelele in sight
First off, the graphics are quite an achievement. They are excellent for a handheld and when using MGS3 as a contrast the resolution is higher but the textures are comparatively very weak here. The characters themselves are detailed and well animated, though sadly they all seem to pinch Snakes animations somewhat. Don't expect to see them dirtying themselves up with blood though, that has been switched off strangely.
The main game screen you'll be seeing a lot of is the map of the area of South America Snake and his allies are holed up in. From here you can manage your teams, check on your prisoners, read over you spies reports, check your alliances progress in technology levels, recruit new allies via Wifi or password, play online, save or skip some time. The latter option allows you to heal your wounds and advance your technologies a little. Theres a cap on how much you can abuse this before attempting a mission however.
Speaking of prisoners, these are a major aspect of the gameplay. In any level enemies subdued by a means other than death can be carried to the truck which serves as your entry-point into a level and "captured". After this, they will go into a "Prisoners" pool in your character inventory screen until a random amount of time has passed and they feel coerced into joining your little militia. Another way of acquiring characters is by defeating certain bosses by depleting their stamina instead of their vitality. It's tougher than killing them but afterwards they will join you. The third way of gaining aid is by tapping into a wireless hotspot with the PSP's wireless, however I only managed to get this to work once seemingly randomly.
When on a mission, inactive characters are stored at "Points" in cardboard boxes, when not in alert status you can hide your current character inside a box and switch to another member of the sneaking team. This can be used to relay a comatose prisoner back to the van without having to walk all the way to the start of the level, simply drop one next to a cardboard box and call a special frequency on your codec to have them whisked away faster than a runner after a particularly long steroid binge.
Bear in mind when you capture enemy soldiers that you will be able to return to areas with them and the enemy soldiers won't attack unless you attack them or areseen doing something unusual (The blue Chameleon at the top of your screen tells you when you are free to run around in sight). Though, this seems to be based on enemy rank so not all soldiers will have this degree of invisibility, making them just as vulnerable as Snake. Though if they die in the battlefield then they are lost forever, leaving Snake to tell tales of their heroic demise.
Allies themselves have a series of statistical categories which are ranked by letter. These determine how well a character will use various weaponry or which team they would best be put on. For instance, someone with a high technical skill would serve best as part of your Technical team, aiding you by developing new weapons and gadgets for use in the field. Someone with high Medical skill should be placed with other like-minded individuals in the infirmary to quicken the speeds of the main sneaking teams vitality regen. The Sneaking teams are the ones you directly control so the best ones to use here are the soldiers with higher health and weapon skills. Obviously, the spy units allow you to spy on the enemy, retrieve items from hostiles and even discover new areas.
Missions are the storyline, illustrated and carried along by wonderful voice-acted cutscenes in a graphic novel style. The voices aren't actually too bad which is a nice thing to see in a videogame, though Metal Gear has never had particularly bad voices.
Back to the wall
The core gameplay is much the same as previous entries in the stealth series, albeit slightly shrunk to fit into your palm. There are slight control differences and the camera isn't as controllable as you'd like due to the lack of a second analogue but it's forgivable. Snake is still capable of hugging walls, peering out, CQC and holding up guards. Which are all very fun things to do on the bus. I particularly like baiting chavs with the PSP and then knifing them in the back, works every time...
One of the most obvious changes is that the games many firearms can only be fired from a first-person perspective, which admittedly you do get used to after a while. Though beyond the Mk22 you probably won't want to use the guns in the streamlined explorable areas through caution of alerting the entire regiment. CQC is incredibly useful at dispatching enemies for capture but be sure to check that your current character is rated B or above, otherwise when you go to grab an enemy stealthily from behind you'll end up punching them in the back of the head and wind up with more heat than Paris Hilton after being found having relations with three horses simultaneously.
Got, got, need
Theres online multiplayer too. This squad-based combat game allows you to pinch peoples characters or even have your own pride and joy stolen. Again, characters murdered here will stay gone during your single-player campaign. Theres local wireless play bootable from a single UMD that offers a scaled-down experience and the ability to send your team out into the wilds of the interweb to battle other statistics without your direct involvement. This isn't just a way of dressing up soldier collection either as it is quite an entertaining diversion from the plot.
Not that you'd want a diversion from the plot as it is stronger than ever here. It makes you feel more of a part of the proceedings yourself. Even the fact the long codec sequences aren't animated or acted won't bother you after the lovely comic book style masterpieces. Though these are quite far between as the bulk of the story is revealed through map-screen conversations with Campbell and anonymous soldiers.
The game isn't however without fault, the controls do feel more fiddly than Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater's and all the captured soldiers are essentially Snake reskins with slight variance and stat randomisation. Most anonymous grunts even all posess his signature roll and punch-punch-kick combination. During CQC the choke command is mapped to the same button as release and requires some dexterity and effort to accomplish without accidentally triggering an alert. Sometimes an alert can be triggered when you least expect it, always reset your camera every so often. The areas are quite small and seperated from each other physically so you often feel penned-in, likewise the enemy limit feels almost alien. However even with the niggles it is still one of the better action games on the Playstation Portable and a wonderful narrative experience to boot. I think this still holds up now even after being out for so long.
9 / 10