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Once again the world of Snake encompasses Metal Gear fans of the gaming community, but this time round the mission proves to not be just your usual run of the mill fiasco. From a more intuitive compelling story plot, superb visuals, and top-notch audio to enhanced single and multiplayer game play elements, "Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops" takes a strong bold step in a new direction and the results are somewhat astounding. Even more shocking is the fact that a title with this much clout and depth was produced on a handheld system. The PSP console is clearly proof enough that sometimes big things really do come in small packages.
Portable Ops is nearly a direct continuation of the awesome "Snake Eater" chapter of the series which helps to shed a little more light on the infamous Solid Snake A.K.A "Big Boss" and in some ways really helps to bridge the entire series together as a whole being that a few tidbits of the past storyline thus far have been sort of left up in the air.
Six years after saving the country from a nuclear crisis, establishing himself quite a worthy reputation, and then suddenly without reason leaving his elite unit known as Fox Hound, Solid Snake finds himself confined for questioning and torture in a jail cell on a secret military base located in South America.
During an intense interrogation process Big Boss learns that members of his old Fox Hound unit are behind his painful abduction and questioning. It appears they are after the "Philosophers Legacy," an extremely large cache of money which they believe Snake probably knows the whereabouts of. Even more, Snake learns that these rogue Fox Hound soldiers have stolen a top secret nuclear arsenal from the CIA and intend to heat up the Cold War between the US and Soviet Union by launching a full scale nuclear attack on Russia and inevitably marking the beginning of World War III. As fate would have it the CIA is looking for heads to lop off and under the impression that he must be at the heart of this mutiny, Big Boss is at the top of their list. Now an outsider to his former unit and with no support from back home, Snake will be forced to spill a lot of familiar blood to save the world from a mass nuclear threat once again.
What makes this newest installment so intriguing right from the start is the fact that this isn't your usual start to an official mission. There are no fancy insertions behind enemy lines. The mission is not well thought out and calculated to the finest degree. There isn't a massive support team sitting at the com monitoring and guiding Snake's every movement. There aren't any designated people with resources or valuable information planted on the inside and most importantly of all this is one mission Snake is totally in the dark on. Instead he finds himself locked in a jail cell, in unfamiliar territory, surrounded by tons of opposition with no real back-up. The situation is humbling to say the least.
Thankfully, help comes in the form of another prisoner in an adjacent cell who goes by the name Roy Campbell. If you're a veteran of the series, that name will be pretty familiar to you as he's made appearances in past installments. It seems Roy and his team of green berets was sent in by the CIA to investigate and diffuse this terrorist like situation but was ambushed before they got a chance to do so. Campbell tips Snake off about a wall panel underneath of his bed that he, himself, had loosened in that very cell just before he was relocated to another. It's not long before Solid finds himself a little freedom, a state of the art sneaking suit, and handgun equipped with silencer and a sizable cache of tranquilizer darts. Afterwards, given both their present circumstances, Snake reluctantly convinces Roy that if they are going to have any chance of turning things around in their favor it'd be best to start working together.
The controls of the game are somewhat of a challenge to get used to, even for veterans of the series and may prove a little frustrating at first for new comers. However, with some consistent practice and patience things will feel a lot more comfortable for players down the road. There isn't really anything new to talk about in terms of combat moves as Snake seems to have all of his former skills from the previous installment. However, in this case that's certainly not a bad thing.
There are a few new helpful tools, however, that help to make combat life a little easier for the everyday soldier though. For starters, the interface for weapons and items selection has changed. Rather than side scrolling through a tedious list of weapons and items from the side panels of the game screen like before in the past, players can easily gain access to weapons and items by pressing the cross pad in the desired direction of their weapon or item of choice on a four way interface menu. Players may have noticed slightly similar interfaces like this one in games like X-men, Zelda, or the more recent Splinter Cell series. Needless to say the interface is very convenient and well suited for the PSP handheld.
A more noticeable change to the control aspect of the game, players can now manually adjust the camera angle to their own liking during game play. As respected as the Metal Gear saga is, frustrating camera angles have always plagued the series. Finally, Konami has answered the call, allowing players to get a better view of things while peeking around corners, sneaking up on soldiers, or engaging enemy bosses.
Also the tedious "status ailment" screen from the Snake eater series which required players to manually take care of their own injuries and illnesses to stay alive did not make the cut this time around. Instead, the newer installment retreats back to the traditional methods of healing which may come to some as grief and to others relief.
As significant as all of these changes are, the colossal twist in the game play aspect of Portable Ops is the new "comrade system" or recruiting system. Apparently, there is some uneasiness stirring through out the ranks of the Red Army. Not everyone shares the same feelings about spilling blood on their own soil. There are those that disagree quietly among themselves and even those that question the decision making of their superiors and where the overall mission is headed. This kind of weather couldn't be more perfect for Snake and Roy who realize that the numbers game is most definitely not in their favor. The two decide to seek out these weak-hearted soldiers and hopefully persuade them to join their cause and help put an end to this nuclear threat.
Recruiting is essentially a snap. The key is to get Snake in close enough to the enemy without alerting anyone, knock them out and then drag them back to the truck where Campbell will be waiting to perform the interrogation and persuasion process. Once Snake makes the drop-off he's free to head back out in the field and find more potential recruits. Once the soldier has been persuaded over, he can then be assigned to the team and become an active and playable character. For the first time in the Metal Gear series players will be able to not only play but also manage a sizable numbers of characters within the game.
You can collect a number character classes including snipers, mechanics, medics, military officers, and even Icon characters from the Snake Eater series. Each character recruited will have their own individual stats which you can look over and then decide how the character might best suit you. Once you've made your decision you can then assign them to a Spy, Medical, or Technical unit. Or, option 2, if the character is completely worthless to you simply discharge him and move on. With enough care and thought put into the process, players can fashion an army of soldiers completely to their liking and particular style of game play.
The comrade system is a very nice and addictively fun change for the Metal Gear series and undoubtedly puts this Portable Ops title on the map. Even more so, you can take your man-made army from the single player mode to the online arena and battle it out against friends via a Wi-Fi connection. Here you'll have the opportunity to nab some of your buddy's hand-picked ringers and add them to yours to help beef up the ranks.
The game's intriguing storyline and solid game play are backed up by a very clean cut graphics engine and a stellar audio engine complete with some great voice-overs, sound effects, and background music. It's pretty impressive just to see a game of this magnitude played out on the PSP handheld. Players won't get a chance to see those jaw-dropping real-time cut-scenes like in the console versions. However, Konami has incorporated many artistic stills in place of the cinematic cut scenes which work out very nicely overall. All of the slide shows are backed up with the same powerful voice acting the series has been known for all these years.
The bottom line is that Metal Gear Portable Ops is a must buy title for any hardcore fan. The game offers up some hot new game play elements as well as a deeper look into the past of Big Boss, the infamous hero/villain of the series which really helps to bring the whole storyline up to this point into perspective. On top of that the series continues its trademark traditions hammering out solid graphics and great audio to help keep the audiences mesmerized. More importantly, though is the feat of squeezing a game with this much depth onto a handheld system, getting it to run smoothly and at the same time deliver the goods to the thousands of blood thirsty fans who are going to pick apart any inconsistencies as the Metal Gear Solid series has been held to pretty high standards over the years.
That is impressive within itself. A solid 4 GiN gems is my final verdict on this newest handheld hit.
Jevon Jenkins enjoys all types of games, especially those where the programmer's imagination is evident. He can be reached at : firstname.lastname@example.org.