Version tested: PSP
Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops +
Portable Ops +, an expansion to last year's mostly excellent game of the same name-minus-the-plus-sign, features eight hundred cut-scenes, each one over two hundred minutes long. Konami didn't want us to mention it, nor the fortnight long UMD installation, but there it is anyway.
Okay, not really. In fact, for a series so infamously encumbered by narrative bulk, Portable Ops + is weirdly devoid of storyline. We'd even go as far to say it suffers from a lack of scene-setting and plot purpose.
It's a strange situation that perhaps indicates Konami's desire to provide something a little shorter, sharper and more accessible to those players for whom Kojima's tangled, overbearing plot showmanship is the emperor's new sneaking suit. But, in removing this and other features from the original Portable Ops in order to emphasise and introduce others, the developer's achieved the unthinkable: an expansion that is worse than its unexpanded (flat-packed?) inspiration.
In main the problem is a lack of context for the single-player missions. In the original game you worked through stages recruiting characters plucked from MGS's tortured mythology in a story that mostly made sense, provided clear incentives for characters to join forces, and examined some interesting issues to boot. Portable Ops + offers the chance to add even more characters to your army (up to 200 of them), but offers no context or reason for the recruitment drive, leaving certain characters' defection to your cause a mystery, where before it was explained in interesting ways.
Infinity Mission, the game's single-player mode, sees you working through a variety of randomly chosen 3D environments, carrying out specific tasks that increase in difficulty as you progress. These range from simply kidnapping enemy soldiers to having to reach the exit while all enemies are in alert status. As you recruit new soldiers you can assign them to one of four different divisions: a medical unit, which develops healing items; a technical corps, which develops weapons and ammunition; spying, which grants additional information on maps and enemies; and your all-important sneaking team, the eight recruits you send directly into the field to accomplish new tasks.
Units gain experience, allowing you to upgrade their abilities in the RPG style. However, the sheer number of levels you'll be ploughing through, combined with the fact any characters you have left over from the original game will start powered up, means that soon enough you'll overwhelm the AI soldiers, removing much of the game's challenge.
The compelling interface between the single-player and multiplayer online modes remains. Soldiers recruited in the single-player game can be taken online and new game-types, maps and playable characters add further options for up to six players in ad-hoc or infrastructure multiplayer modes. Standard deathmatch joins an array of capture missions and shooting range game types (in which two teams compete for points by shooting targets) each of which can be played across a dozen maps (again are drawn from MGS games past and present).
Win a match and you can take any of your competitor's soldiers in what amounts to a kind of gigantic, aggressive trading card mechanic. The option to take in-game snapshots, a beginner's lobby for newcomers, as well as a new, um, salute animation, are new features that don't make up for the removal of the entire single-player game's storyline.
The menu design is also fussy and cluttered, especially when trying to host a match, an over-complication that extends to the game's core controls which introduce inter-match chatting, either via a keyboard or messy shortcuts that cause problems mid-play. Also removed is the option to recruit new soldiers based simply on your GPS coordinates; a gimmick, for sure, but one whose removal seems unwarranted.
With the story and some of the more interesting recruitment features from the original game removed and with an RPG experience system that ultimately breaks both the offline and online play, it's hard to recommend this over its forebear, even if it is cheap at half the price.