Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops Review

Portable Ops is what I would call Metal Gear Lite. Being the first handheld iteration of the Metal Gear Solid series to feature the traditional sneaking and shooting gameplay, with Portable Ops Kojima Productions has attempted to shoehorn a direct sequel to MGS3 onto the PSP — they fantastically succeeded. PO is without a doubt my current favorite game for the PSP, and, I would even venture, the best game the system has seen so far. That being said, PO is still a radical departure from the format of the console entries.

Technically, PO shines. The graphics aren’t quite up to par with MGS2 or 3 for the PS2. They tend to be simpler, and textures occasionally appear pixelated, but that’s really the only significant graphical complaint I can make. For a handheld game, PO looks great, with nicely detailed character models and not a hint of slowdown even with many enemies onscreen. Perhaps some areas end up looking a bit bland as a result of having many of the environmental effects and soft lighting from MGS3 stripped out, but PO proves its chops during certain climactic battles. What PO elevates to high art, however, is the menu. This game’s menus are brilliant. Everything looks slick and makes cool little sounds, and the overall presentation of this game is flawless.

The cutscenes aren’t full 3D like the console titles, but are instead stylishly done comic book style, with minor animation thrown in. These usually look decent, and they generally do a good job conveying the story. The voice-acting in particular, though, is very well done. David Hayter, the voice of Snake, appears to have gone for something a little bit less gruff this time around, but the general interaction between all the actors is natural sounding and emotional. The enemy radio chatter is pretty good as well. Overall, the sound is regular Kojima fare, which, of course, means really well-done. These are the MGS sounds you are used to, and they still work great.

Control-wise, there are a few issues. In making the jump to PSP, there is one less analog stick to use for control, so camera sometimes becomes an issue. Kojima Productions makes it somewhat easier by allowing you to completely configure your controls, resulting in my being able to come to an acceptable compromise, but, in my case, the lack of complete freedom of control of the camera while moving sometimes made things difficult for me. It was not a continual and glaring annoyance, just something that frustrated me a few times where I needed to aim my character more exactly and couldn’t depend on seeing where I was going. With the customizability of the controls, however, every player is free to figure it out for themselves. I actually configured mine to play entirely in first person mode for awhile, just to try it out, but it didn’t end up working so well.

The story is fairly solid. Sort of a truncated mix of the murderous battlefield drama and emotional exposition of the console versions, PO tells you the story of Big Boss following MGS3. The story is significant, in that it unveils some of the vital points in the Metal Gear timeline, beginning to bridge the gap between MGS3 and the original Metal Gear for the NES, but it is a bit short. As usual, there is a ninja, but boss battles this time around are somewhat limited and the mythology of the Metal Gear series, with its usual collection of emotionally scarred but supernatural warriors, is reduced to just a few supernatural soldiers. The same elements are present, just in smaller amounts.

The way the story unfolds, however, is where PO diverges from the console games. In Portable Ops, the essential gameplay within an individual mission is the same, but everything is broken up into bite-sized maps that can be completed in a shorter period of time, making PO much more convenient as a portable title. The gameplay is open-ended in that you can choose which maps to go to, leaving the actual progression of the story for later if you wish. Between missions you can save and manage your team. That’s right, I said team.

In PO you get the chance to build an army. As you go from map to map executing missions, you have the option of abducting enemy soldiers and convincing them to join you. By the end of the game, I had a vast network of spies delivering reports on every map area for me to investigate, a workshop full of technicians building me weapons and ammunition, doctors making sure I’m nice and healthy at all times, and a squad of the finest killing machines ever seen. Inside each mission, you can bring a squad of up to four soldiers that you can switch between dynamically. Item slots are limited, so you really benefit from specializing each member for a specific role.

So how does the game play? Everything feels like classic Metal Gear Solid within the missions; the sneaking and the fighting are still fun. Once the recruitment push began, I found myself a bit obsessed with the process, often tranquilizing, beating, and choking entire maps of enemies unconscious, then dragging them back to my truck. At times dragging enemies around got a bit tedious, but once I figured out how to radio them in it wasn’t a problem at all. You don’t have to go through a convoluted process to treat your wounds this time around, thankfully, but you still have to deal with both stamina and health. The stamina running down coupled with the limited item slots occasionally results in annoyance. The boss fights are, sadly, much more direct and simple than is common with MGS, breaking down into little more than outright shootouts, but they are still emotionally charged affairs, pitting former comrades and eternal rivals against one another.

Dealing with things from the map screen, you get the basic enjoyment of building an ever larger army, developing your own weapons, etc. Unfortunately, you don’t really seem to build new and interesting weapons for use in the missions enough. As your spies deliver reports on each map location, you end up getting a sort of repetitive series of sidequests that follow the formula of procure the new weapon on this map here or rescue the detained soldier on this other map over here. That said, the strangely addictive quality of getting more soldiers and arming them with increasingly better weapons keeps you going, and the maps are small and self-contained, allowing you to complete the objectives in a relatively short period of time.

There are a few idiosyncrasies going on, as well. You are executing sneaking missions, but you perform all actions from your truck, which acts as a mobile base. Each mission you go on, you pull up in your truck and hop out. How the enemies manage not to notice, I’m not sure, especially since the truck’s wheels appear to be perfect hexagons, so you know it has to be making plenty of noise. Also, in Portable Ops’ version of the 70s, the majority of doors sense your presence and slide open automatically. Soviet technology was formidable, indeed. Humorously, all of your comrades that you deploy with hide in cardboard boxes strewn across the level. Luckily, the cardboard box is still the perfect disguise. Finally, this time around enemies seem to be utterly baffled by lockers. Even if you climb into the locker right in front of them, they are powerless to open it. The enemy will just run up to you then run away over and over again, as if desperately trying to decide what to do, before radioing in to headquarters that you’ve mysteriously disappeared.

The multiplayer aspect of PO seems very robust but, unfortunately, I was unable to find any opponents due to the fact that the Japanese version isn’t out yet. What I could see is that there is a trading function that puts your PSP into sleep mode while it waits to pass another PSP waiting to trade, then you swap team members. There is also a direct battle mode where you play against other players online, and whether or not it is real or virtual mode, your characters that get killed are taken by the other player. Finally, there is a sort of simulation circuit where your team plays against other teams online, without the player doing anything.

Long story short, MGS: PO is undoubtedly one of the best PSP games yet, and a solid, but somewhat non-traditional, addition to the MGS series. Though somewhat short on the MGS series’ traditional pantheon of inhuman boss characters to puzzle out how to beat, it’s polished, fun, and delivers in all aspects. I have no qualms recommending this game unconditionally to any PSP owner.


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Author: GamerNode Staff View all posts by

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