1 Reviews

Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops

Snake's best handheld game hits Britain

MGS is fiddly enough at the best of times, but the PSP version requires arthritis-baiting dexterity. We didn't like MGS3: Snake Eater for six hours until we mastered CQC, camouflage and fine camera control, so this is highly frustrating. With no second analogue stick to constantly adjust the camera, plus the addition of PSP's small screen making proceedings cramped and claustrophobic before you even start, you need to constantly tap o to reset the camera behind you, lending the game a staccato feel. Or - worse still - let go of the movement (on the analogue nub) entirely, so you can adjust the camera on the D-pad.

The symbol in the top left shows you when your team member is camouflaged.

You do adjust after a few hours, but if you've never played an MGS game before, the controls are perversely intimidating - and that's not to mention the game's unique inner-logic, recruitment system and new hub-based play that'll unsettle even the most hardened stealth operatives.
Still, you can do anything you can in MGS3, including crawling, leaping and punching; plus complex stuff such as pop-out shots from behind cover (involving an octopus-handed number of buttons), CQC, taking guards prisoner and even tapping the walls to attract attention, before sneaking up and 'holding up' guards to nick items.
There's no camouflage system - though certain team members are 'invisible' to a point in certain situations, leading to critical selection choices - and you need to hold w to sneak past foes undetected. There's no radar (like MGS2), or sonar blip (like MGS3), but a new sound-based detection system that shows how much noise you and the enemy are making, plus its direction and intensity. It's a versatile tool, allowing you to make great use of cover to baffle foes, and sneak up from behind.
The big addition is team recruitment. Knock out a foe and you press-gang them into joining your squad. Different troops have different skills (some help stamina recovery, some help headshot accuracy, etc), lending the game a tactical feel. You could rush through each level - yes, there are levels, and a hub - killing people at will, but you forfeit the chance to recruit them. A slower approach lets you build a varied team, and makes things easier.

One step at a time
You don't play through the game in a linear, organic swoop like MGS3, but tackle levels one-by-one from a main hub/map. The theory is sound, but you end up visiting levels more than once, and sometimes you can't proceed until your Spy Units unearth new information about a location - you sometimes hit brick walls and have to wait until your team 'unlock' the next key plot-driving objective, be that informant, secret document or weapon. As a result, the game never develops the flow of MGS3, with the excitement of key scenes eroded by busy-work. Worse, since you've only got four menu slots, you really need to know what items to take into each mission to avoid needless juggling, meaning you'll Restart or Abort time after time.
All that said, MGS: PO is one of PSP's best games. You'll delight every time you sneak past six foes to a chorus of 'Huhs?' and revel in every hard-fought boss battle. It's like eating a platter of hors d'oeuvres - easy to digest, but compromised and repetitive. It's just less satisfying than a set menu of balanced textures and flavours - and that's why MGS3: Snake Eater is still Kojima's tastiest dish.

The verdict

Right now, this is a compromised imitation of a classic, but one of the deepest, most engaging games on PSP.