Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops PSP Review
It may be not be immediately noticeable but the PSP has been a great home to MGS over the past few years with three games and a graphical novel available for fans of the series to pick up. While the first two games may not have been to everyone’s taste Portable Ops is going back to more familiar grounds for its third appearance on the platform. Interestingly, even though Portable Ops is more familiar than the outings in Acid, it still has a few unique selling points of its own.
Where to start… okay for an MGS game the story is as good a place as any! Well, Portable Ops takes place in 1970 which places the game right after Snake Eater in the highly convoluted MGS timeline. The story starts off with Snake heading to a Soviet base in South America where he is captured by members of the fox unit. Of course, no one is going to hold Snake for long and he quickly escapes with the help of a familiar friend, a fresh faced Green Beret known as Roy Campbell. The two quickly realise that trouble is brewing and it hits them that it is far too much even for both of them to handle all by themselves. This revelation by the duo heralds a big change from the MGS norm and adds squad options to the gameplay.
Before I talk about the squad options, it’s best to talk about the rest of the gameplay first and right from the start it is noticeable that the game borrows heavily from MGS 3. Snake still has access to most of the moves he learned in MGS 3, including the close quarters combat elements, so Portable Ops should be instantly familiar to anyone that worked their way through that game. The survival aspect of MGS 3, which saw you eating food and doing other random things to heal wounds, has been dropped for this release which is a move that should please many fans. Most of the other series mainstays remain with first-person and third-person views available when holding a weapon. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you felt about it, the same kind of camera seen in MGS 3 also makes a return in Portable Ops with a few changes to make it work more proficiently on the handheld. With the camera positioned behind Snake you can use L shoulder button and the d-pad to realign it, which makes up for the lack of a second analogue.
Ok; now for the big changes. Firstly the mission structure of the game has undergone a rethink as the huge levels seen in the console games would not work when shrunk down onto a handheld. Instead, most of the missions on show in the game revolve around getting to a certain point or just performing a certain task. This may sound very basic for a game of this type but the missions seem varied enough to keep things interesting. Also, the bite-sized mission style also helps if you enjoy gaming on the move as you can easily dip in and out of the game picking where to go from a tactical map without losing track of what you were doing before you put your PSP onto standby.
The next big change is the inclusion of squads, which I already alluded to above. This may sound like a gimmick but in reality turns out to be a fantastic addition and is the sole reason I would label the game as ‘great’ rather than simply being just ‘good’. The idea behind the squad element of the game is that you get enemies to join your team. To do so you have to subdue them (without killing them) and dump them in a waiting truck. Afterwards, Snake convinces them they are fighting on the wrong team and they decide to join him. You can then assign the new members of your team to spy on particular territories or even better pick them as part of a team of four to take part in each mission (each member can bring four weapons with him to help). At times you can get other additions to your squad via different methods but most of your team will come from converting the enemy.
It gets better though as each of the enemies have their own set of stats (some better at using weapons, some better at other skills and a few having some unique skills). Once you put together a top quality team you can then go into a mission and control one member at a time but make sure you find a clever place to hide the ones you are not using before you switch between them or they may be found. Interestingly if one of them is found, gets shot and dies then he is dead for good, there is no way of bringing him back. I personally think that the idea the squads is a great addition to the MGS series as it not only forces you to play the game with an emphasis on using stealth but more importantly taking down your foes with non-lethal force as you’re not going to get many opportunities to add to your squad if you go around killing everyone!
As we have now grown to expect from the series the game is presented masterfully. Even though the PSP is able to pull out some fantastic graphics when needed Portable Ops is actually a step up from what you’d expect from a handheld addition to the MGS franchise. The individual characters all seem to get the most love with all of them intrinsically detailed. Environments are also nicely realized with well rendered objects scattered throughout. I suppose you could complain that there is not a lot of variety and many of the areas look eerily similar but what’s on show does look very nice! Another change from other MGS titles is that the cutscenes in the game play out differently than you’d expect. Instead of offering full-blown cutscenes, the game mimics the MGS graphic novel with static images displayed on screen with character voices talking over them. The idea does not look that hot on paper but it is well done in game and a nice way around the lack of disc space that could have hampered things.
Speaking of the voice talent used in the game; that is also very impressive. Worryingly, the characters have nowhere near as much to say as they do in the console games, in fact the radio conversations have been reduced to text-only affairs, but when they do speak the scenes are well acted. David Hayter once again puts in the kind of performances you’d expect with everyone else being in tip-top audio shape as well. Some may be disappointed to hear that Harry Gregson-Williams played no part in the music heard in the game but remixes of his score are used throughout which don’t sound half bad!
All in all Portable Ops is not only a great game but also a fantastic addition to the seminal MGS series. It mixes some top new ideas with great old school MGS gameplay and as a result, we get a highly playable title that is best played in short bursts and thus is perfectly suited to handheld gaming. If you felt a little bit let down with the Acid games then a few minutes with Portable Ops will quickly right all those wrongs you felt. Sure, the game is never going be as memorable as its console based counterparts but when the game lasts the experience so good who the hell cares about that!
A must play PSP title, especially if you are a follower of the series.
8.5 out of 10