Metal Gear Solid Touch iPhone, iPod Touch Review

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When Konami announced that they were bringing Metal Gear to the iPhone as a touch-based shooter, we wondered how it could possibly capture the essence of a largely stealth-based franchise. Clearly Konami were just as clueless as we were, because Metal Gear Solid Touch is a Metal Gear title in name only.

This game is a simple shooting gallery, but a rather polished one nevertheless. Although it purports to follow the narrative of MGS4, in reality the story is merely summed up in a single paragraph between the 12 levels on offer. Anyone who has played a game from designer Hideo Kojima before knows that his style of plot exposition is hardly concise, so there’s not really any need to worry about potential spoilers if you haven’t yet played the full PS3 game yet.

One thing that is never explained in MGS Touch is why Old Snake is rooted to the spot, only able to pop his head up and down from behind a single piece of cover. Could this be an adverse effect of the nanomachines in his bloodstream, or simply that his infirmity has caused him to suffer some embarrassing incontinence?

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Whenever your finger is not touching the screen, Snake ducks behind cover, shielding him from attack and eventually regaining some health. Aiming is performed by sliding your finger along the screen in the direction you want to move the targeting sight, and firing your weapon is simply done by tapping the screen.

It must be said that the controls work brilliantly, and feel like the closest approximation of analog-stick aiming yet seen in a touch screen game. The oft-encountered problem of the players’ fingers obscuring the action is solved by allowing the player to drag and tap on any part of the screen. The only annoyance is that the only way to pause the game seems to be to turn your iPhone vertically.

Not all enemies will be within range of the M4 assault rifle that you are initially equipped with, but switching to the SVD sniper rifle couldn’t be easier. Simply pinching out (as when zooming into a picture or website on the iPhone) will switch to the long-range weapon so you can pick off faraway enemies, and of course pinching in will do the reverse. This feels intuitive, but using the sniper rifle leaves you vulnerable, so it’s good that the need to switch weapons is never overused.

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In the only real showing of the sometimes-bizarre sense of humour seen in Metal Gear Solid games, a yellow duck will occasionally appear that provides health replenishment when shot. Similarly, killing a small green frog randomly rewards you with either a single-use rocket launcher or a temporary stealth mode that allows Snake to evade enemy attacks.

The main enemies are soldiers from various PMC (Private Military Corporations), and when each guy pops out from behind some object they have small health indicator and a circular bar surrounding their weakpoint, which gradually fills and turns red to show you when they are about to shoot back.

In a few levels other enemies are introduced, such as attack choppers, elite Haven troopers and soldiers in Power suits. There are even some adversaries that can destroy your defensive wall with repeated attacks, leaving you as exposed as a World Cup streaker. The formidable Gekkos in particular need to be first crippled by shooting their organic legs before you can get a good shot at their vulnerable spines.

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There are also two boss battles that slightly alter the way you play. The first is against Laughing Octopus, who uses stealth camouflage to avoid being seen. Snake has no wall to hide behind here, so the challenge is to spot her as she uncloaks herself and shoot her before you can be shot yourself.

The final battle of the game is against Raging Raven, who raises the difficulty by being the only moving target in Metal Gear Solid Touch. She teams up with flying ‘Sliders’, which swoop towards Snake and can be ducked under, but destroying a whole sequence of them in turn provides with the same valuable bonus as killing the little froggies. Currently the game ends after this fight, as only three of MGS4’s five acts are included, with the remaining two to be added as a free update at some point in the second quarter of 2009. Presently, the game can easily be completed in less than an hour.

A few additional features aim to add some replay value to the game. First, each completed level will reward you with Drebin points which can be spent at the Drebin Shop on stylish 3D art wallpapers for your iPhone.

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You also earn an animal-themed ranking depending on your accuracy, remaining health and time taken to complete the level. This provides incentive to try and go back to get the best rank, but some of the names are a bit ambiguous; is Lobster better or worse than Centipede?

Completion also unlocks a Survival mode in which your health and time stats carry over from mission to mission. Dying forces you to start again from the beginning, meaning that success will take a lot of practice.

Metal Gear Solid Touch is a very well-made shooting gallery, and as long as you don’t expect much more than that, you’ll enjoy it. Although it somehow feels like half a game right now, it will hold replay value, especially for completionists. Still, there’s just a feeling that so much more could have been done using the franchise that the game is based upon, and Metal Gear enthusiasts will likely be disappointed because of this.

7 out of 10
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