|By Zach Patterson||Monday, 16 Jun 2008|
In the spirit of Metal Gear Solid 4′s release last week, I reviewed what I could afford…the $20 portable game. Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops is an interesting addition to the Metal Gear series. While I picked it up expecting a game along the lines of the other numbered games in the MGS series, what I ended up with is something of a mishmash of the series’ signature stealth gameplay, strategy game, RPG, and graphic novel. First thing is first
though; the game controls and feels like every other MGS game since the first one, so if you didn’t like any of the others, this one really isn’t going to change your mind. I fall in the camp that happens to like them, so this game served as a nice reminder of how well the gameplay still holds up. The game also begins assuming you have played all of MGS3 and are intimately familiar with it and its characters. And I…did not play all of MGS3, so much of the story was of the “hmm, don’t know that guy, or that one…not sure what that means…what are they talking about” variety for me. A primer to catch some people up would have been fantastic, but no such luck here. Regardless, the story isn’t terribly hard to follow from an overview standpoint. This game is a sequel to MGS3, taking place in the 70′s. The game stands out as different from the other MGS titles because of the fact that you can recruit enemy soldiers by knocking them out and bringing them back to the level’s starting point. Once you recruit an enemy soldier, you can play as them. It’s very odd to control an MGS game as a no-name character, but each character you recruit has unique skills that can make your life a lot easier when sneaking around. Some can blend in with enemy soldiers, some can drag enemies faster, some have superior stamina, some can flesh out the maps for you, etc. In addition to telling a decent story, the name of the game is really collecting soldiers, because you need a lot of them. You get several different types of groups in the between mission menu that you have to fill out with soldiers. There’s a spy group where you can put soldiers at every location in the game to collect intel for you, a medic group to collect supplies, a tech group to create and accumulate ammo…so there’s lot of roles to fill. Oh, and you go into missions with a 4 man team that you can switch out at any time. I think what is frustrating about this whole thing is that the game actually has tons of great hidden characters, but they are nearly impossible to find without looking at a strategy guide. I got to nearly the end of the game and I had nothing but common grunts, a few doctors, and some generals. I look online and find out I can recruit nearly every character in the game through various means? Lame. That’s really awesome but not making that clear at all is irritating. And really, I think that’s one of the most bothersome parts of the entire game. There’s too much good hidden stuff that is never really even hinted at. Considering that I have always considered MGS games to be relatively linear, cinematic experiences, this game is almost completely opposite. Instead, there is minimal story for much of the game, and there’s a loose feel to the game, where you can take on story based missions to further the game, or take on various side tasks that are revealed through random placement of spies. I’m guessing the disjointed feel of the game was to make it more portable friendly, in that there are longer story missions, and quicker side missions, but I don’t know how well that benefits this game. I mean, Metal Gear just isn’t a series that lends itself well to pick up and play gaming. You need to sit down and dedicate some time. And while the quick missions are nice, they usually feel rather pointless. Many of them are for random items you might already have or to rescue characters you may never use. And frankly, when I am playing the game, I want the mission I’m on to further the story, not be some pointless fetch quest. However, most story missions are pretty long and don’t lend themselves well to the “pick up and go” feel they tried to go with, so Portable Ops tries to have it both ways and doesn’t quite succeed in defining a true identity here. If there’s one benefit to the open ended gameplay, it is that it leaves a lot of time for fucking around in stages. Most MGS players know that fucking around with soldiers is one of the best parts of the game, and the ability to reload a level if things go wrong or you set a trap that doesn’t work is rather valuable and fun. The story is pretty good overall, but it also feels like a gifted student that doesn’t apply himself until the final when he needs to pass the course. The game leads you along with the whole “stop the Metal Gear, don’t let them launch the nukes” story from one mission to the next, but you never get too attached to any of the characters or bosses you meet before you take them on. Once you hit a boss battle, then the story kicks in through some pretty Ashley Wood graphic novel cutscenes (no in game cinemas here) and you start to kinda get into it and all the political intrigue and double crossing, but before you know it, it drops you out on the mission select screen and leaves you wanting more. In the end, the game really shines with a fantastic ending that ties together MGS3 with MGS1 and 2, and you get a compelling end battle with the game’s antagonist Gene over his beliefs versus your own, which leads into how the events of Metal Gear occurred. The graphics are pretty great in this game, looking like a close approximation of Metal Gear Solid 2/3 PS2 graphics. It’s a little rougher in places, and occasionally, you see seams in the environments, but it’s still quite nice technically. If I had one complaint, it is that there too many generic “base” type levels where you seem to be crawling and sneaking around the same looking levels, but they do spice it up in some areas, like ravines, town, and wilderness outposts, which are very welcome and some of the best parts of the game. The game controls pretty great, and maps all the usual MGS controls onto the PSP nicely. I had really no complaints about how it played. If you have played and MGS games, you will feel right at home here. The sound plays an important part in the game in regards to hearing where enemies are and getting the full experience from the voice acting. The voice acting is all pretty good, and while it is a little sparse at times, the graphic novel cinematics really come to life with actors in them. The music ranges from great and epic to real background music at times, but there’s a great end theme and some standout tracks throughout. Again, I find myself writing a more negative than positive review, but in the end, I did enjoy this game. While some of the decisions like enemy recruitment, less story, and loose direction puzzled me a bit, I poured 20 hours into this game without even realizing it. And that is without even really playing the Metal Gear Online part of the game, which I figure should be a separate review entirely, as this is already getting long-winded. But the easy answer as to whether this is a game you would be interested in boils down to whether you like Metal Gear Solid. If you do, this is a no brainer. If you don’t, I’m not sure this is the game to jump into the series. You’ll miss a lot of story references and you may not see what has garnered the series such a rabid, large fanbase. It’s a competent, good addition to the numbered games.