Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops PSP
Published by: Konami
Developed by: Konami
Release Date: Out Now
If you were to ask those who picked up their PSP on its launch day, it's a fair bet that most would have wanted a Metal Gear Solid title to play on their console. Of course that did actually happen but whilst Metal Gear Acid was a great game, it wasn't the Metal Gear Solid experience that most fans of the series wanted and was in fact more of a card-based and turn-based strategy game rather than the typical third-person stealth action game that many would have hoped for. The long wait for a 'real' portable Metal Gear Solid experience is finally over with the release of Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops.
Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops continues the storyline from Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. We won't go into too much detail in case you haven't played MGS 3 but suffice to say that Snake is supposed to have retired from FOX. However, at the start of the game he finds himself in a Colombian prison cell and is being subjected to interrogation. To make matter worse, on escaping from the cell Snake learns that he has been blamed for causing a rebellion amongst the FOX members (who incidentally have a base in Colombia, are out to cause trouble and have nuclear weapons at their disposal) and can't rely on any support from his own nation. There are a few who agree to help Snake but for the most part he's going to have to recruit individuals to assist him in his task.
You might think that having to recruit your own team seems like it's going to be a bit of a chore but in actual fact it's the highlight of the game and it gives Portable Ops a sense of freshness that few games in the Metal Gear Solid series can claim. Very early in the game Snake encounters a Green Beret named Roy Campbell, who is also imprisoned and injured. Campbell agrees to help Snake but because of his injury he's only able to act as a driver for the truck that serves as a kind of base. Having transportation allows you to travel to the various locations on your map and recruit from different regions. As you play through the game the idea is to capture various types of enemies and coerce them into joining your side. Recruits all have their own specific role such as an Athlete, Scout, Spy or Chemist to name but a few. These recruits are very important as you can assign missions for them to help you gather information. They can do specific tasks for you. The medic for example can be used to heal your characters. You can even play as one of the various characters you've enlisted and take advantage of their particular skills and abilities. You can take numerous characters into a mission with you (you can control up to four characters in a single mission) and switch between them when you want to in order to achieve your goals. As in games such as Fire Emblem, if a character is killed during a mission you'll lose them completely which means you really have to be careful if you are to assemble a useful force.
It's refreshing to see a PSP game that's just so impressive. You're not going to be subjected to long cutscenes in Portable Ops. In fact the storyline is delivered in a positively zippy fashion when compared to the PlayStation 2 Metal Gear Solid titles. As a result of this you feel more in control over the game's events in Portable Ops. The game's missions are all kept fairly short which is very appropriate for those who like to enjoy their games even on the shortest of journeys. There's quite a bit of strategy involved here and it works really well and adds substance to the experience. Sure the enemy AI isn't the sharpest on the default or easy difficulty setting (the unlockable difficulty setting is another matter however), but you still have to be careful. There are some challenging boss fights here too. Those who have played the previous Metal Gear Solid titles will come across numerous characters from previous games and this helps to give the game extra appeal to MGS aficionados. The game even makes a good job of being an engaging multiplayer title and in many ways is a similar experience to the one found in Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence. You can even recruit some of your opponents' characters (as well as lose your own) during online games. You can even play against a friend who doesn't have a copy of the game thanks to Portable Ops supporting the game sharing feature.
The Metal Gear Solid games that appeared on the PlayStation 2 looked impressive and appeared to get more out of the console than most games. For a handheld title, Portable Ops looks stunning and is easily one of the best looking games on the PSP. In fact the game looks very similar to the PlayStation 2 Metal Gear Solid titles, which is truly impressive. There have been some compromises however. You'll see no blood in the game (which strangely enough may disappoint some gamers). There aren't any elaborate cutscenes here. In their place you'll find comic book sketch style sequences which carry the story forward. Whilst this may disappoint some, it has to be said that it's very effective and works really well. In fact the presentation of the game as a whole is superb and is a glowing example of what can be achieved on the PSP. Even the frame rate holds up very nicely and the load times are bearable, surprisingly so in fact.
Portable Ops does offer subtitles and they are enabled by default. The comic book style cutscene dialogue is simply displayed with white text and there are no character names or portraits placed alongside the text. Because the cutscene text isn't placed on a darkened overlay or in a dialogue box the clarity isn't always as good as it could be, due to parts of the background occasionally being white or a similarly light colour. All dialogue during the missions is shown against a black background, for maximum clarity, and has the name of the speaker placed above the text. In the top right of the screen you'll see a Surround Indicator that shows you the sounds that are being made in the surrounding area. The inner ring shows the sounds you are making whilst the outer ring shows the sounds made by others. When the outer ring turns red you have to be careful not to alert your enemies. The Surround Indicator is an excellent inclusion and allows deaf gamers to see if they are being heard. I hope this is included in future Metal Gear Solid titles. As with other games in the series an exclamation mark icon appears over the heads of your enemies who have spotted you. There are a few sounds in the game that don't have captions such as the noise that signifies that a door is locked and there are also a few beeps that aren't captioned. For the most part though, Portable Ops won't give deaf gamers any real problems.
Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops finally gives PSP fans a true Metal Gear Solid experience and it's fair to say the wait has been truly worth it. Not only does Portable Ops manage to capture that classic Metal Gear Solid feel, it also manages to include a fair amount of originality that makes the game feel like the next step in the Metal Gear Solid series. The graphics and general presentation of the game is superb. Support for deaf gamers can be considered good too. Even the game's story is impressive and engaging. In fact it would be fair to suggest that this is the finest PSP game to date. On a single-player and multiplayer level the game hits the spot and will not only delight fans of the Metal Gear Solid series (and not just because it continues the story from Metal Gear Solid 3) but fans of quality action games in general.
Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops is quite simply stunning. Definitely the finest PSP game to date. Even this early in the year it's looking a certainty to be the finest PSP game of 2007.