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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops

(Konami for PSP)

Solid Snake's first full-fledged adventure on the PSP, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, offers the challenging stealth gameplay, rich production values and engrossing plot players have come to expect from the series. There are also interesting twists, such as the ability to recruit other characters and switch between them during missions that work well with portable play. This co-operative approach fits in with the story and is well-executed and adds a different feel to the gameplay. Portable Ops' multiplayer modes use this feature extensively as well, making for an exciting and challenging title that successfully translates the depth and nuance of the console games onto a handheld platform.

While many gamers probably doubted Sony's PSP could handle a full-fledged Metal Gear Solid title after the release of the two Acid games, MGS: Portable Ops proves this theory wrong. Konami has succeeded in creating a title that offers the depth, gameplay and feel of a console title in the palm of your hand. Set after the events of Snake Eater, Portable Ops finds Solid Snake captured on a remote South American island where a dangerous despot is trying to establish a nation by blackmailing the superpowers with a secret weapon that can launch a nuclear strike from almost any location. The storyline unfolds via a series of elaborate cut scenes that are lavishly illustrated and feature the voice actors from the main series of games and fits in snugly with the long-standing Metal Gear mythology. The gameplay itself is classic MGS as players sneak around, collect information, take out enemy guards and try and avoid detection. What's different this time around is the use of secondary characters, which can be used to complete the mission co-operatively. It sounds like a small change but is a big deal because learning when to use the secondary characters is the key strategy in completing your missions and making progress through the game's many levels.

As you play the game, you can recruit or kidnap extra characters by knocking them out and dragging them back to the truck. Once you have interrogated them, they can join your team. What really makes this system interesting is the fact that each of the characters brings a special ability to the mission. For example, if you convince an enemy soldier to switch over, you can then use them during the mission. Since they have the same uniform as the other soldiers, their presence will not cause the alarms to go off. This is indicated by a blue chameleon which appears on the screen. Using this approach lets you get into other areas without getting caught. There are several types of soldiers you can command, and each one also brings in special abilities. For example, they can drag opponents faster than Snake can. When you capture soldiers, they'll often give you extra intelligence information as well, which can help you complete the missions. Of course, you won't only need soldiers for your mission, and can enlist other character types such as scientists and doctors to aid your cause. This system plays a key role in the missions and you need to use each character's abilities in different situations. You can set up different unit types, including combat, sneak and medical and use each one for different portions of the mission. Players can also swap characters between units and release characters from their team when they are no longer useful. Switching between characters during the mission is fairly easy to accomplish and this definitely adds more strategy to the gameplay.

Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops follows the structure and conventions of the series and players will find the interface, presentation and controls quite familiar. Switching between the game screen and codec is fairly simple and players should have little trouble using the in-game menus to equip weapons and use items. The controls should also be familiar, with movement handled by the analog nub and views changes with the d-pad. The gameplay remains realistic in terms of tactics and military conventions. For example, Snake (or one of his comrades) need to penetrate many areas without being seen. In order to do this, you need to be careful and try not to get spotted. If you do, you can still get away without causing a full scale alert by offing one of the guards quickly. Once you have equipped a weapon, you can use the first person mode to shoot at opponents. After they pass out, you need to put your weapon down in order to drag them out of site. This attention to detail makes Portable Ops feel authentic and realistic and this approach has become one of Kojima's trademarks and this game is no exception. Players will find a realistic arsenal of weaponry and items including machine guns, pistols, rifles which are authentic to the game's early 1970's era. You'll also find a number of other useful items, such as knives for close-range combat and more. As you play through the levels, a rich backstory and deep characters begin to develop which makes the experience all the more enjoyable.

The single player experience is deep and engaging, but Portable Ops includes a number of engaging multiplayer modes as well. There are several variants to choose from including, team and solo battles, and a cool capture mode. Setting up this game is fairly easy and most players should have little trouble signing in. Once online, you can choose which teams to battle and can also use the wi-fi abilities and GPS to collect and download additional soldiers which you can then place in your units. This mode is surprisingly elaborate and goes beyond what most games offer. It's especially gratifying that progress you make in the solo game can be carried over to the online battlefield, since you can use the same soldiers you've unlocked in these versus match battles as well. Metal Gear Solid fans will find a lot to like in the multiplayer games as well, which do an excellent job of bringing the series' trademark pacing and strategy online. Portable Ops mirrors the look, feel and pacing of the bigger console titles, but the game has made some adjustments to its portable format. The missions themselves seem to be a bit shorter and take place in somewhat smaller levels, which reduces their length, but not the richness of the experience. The system of trading and managing your soldiers is also well-suited to a handheld platform and makes the game highly playable either in short bursts and episodes on the go while holding up well enough together to make for a satisfying experience during longer at home sessions.

These adjustments to the portable front haven't come at the expense of quality, since Portable Ops is one of the best looking games in the series on the PSP to date. From a technical standpoint, the game uses its visuals effectively to produce a believable cohesive world. The game features excellent production values from start to finish that really showcase the developer's talents. The in-game graphics engine is impressive and showcases a high level of detail throughout the many levels and environments. From outdoor areas to closed in bases, the game shows a variety of terrain. The camera does get in the way occasionally, but you can manually adjust your viewpoint on the d-pad. Portable Ops' levels have a high degree of detail with excellent light sourcing while the characters themselves move and respond realistically to your actions. A dark, moody score gives the game a serious tone that reflects the gravity of the situation, underpinning your every move. As you'd expect, the cut-scenes are impressive with hand-drawn graphics and visuals that bring the gritty atmosphere to life vividly while not over-powering the main game.

These production values and graphics harness the system's power and the engaging gameplay effectively brings a console-quality title to the palm of your hand. The single player mode is quite extensive and being able to switch characters throughout the missions helps to keep the formula fresh without diffusing the essence of its appeal. Managing your characters and trading them also ties in nicely to the game's online modes, which offer extensive team and solo multiplayer action in an accessible form. While the Metal Gear Acid titles were a nice appetizer, MGS: Portable Ops represents the main course. The title follows the storyline and characters from with the other games in the series, and offers a deep, challenging and, satisfying stealth adventure that offers solid gameplay in an engaging and entertaining package.

Grade: B

> Related Reviews

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (PS2)
Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence (PS2)
Metal Gear Acid 2 (PSP)

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