An awkward but ultimately successful experiment, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops tries really hard to bring the wholesale MGS gameplay to the portable platform. The Konami coders are proficient enough to overcome the technical hurdles, almost bringing PS2 quality to the pocket version, but there is a fundamental problem that no amount of programming wizardry could overcome: the PSP only has one analogue stick. I can see ways they could’ve gotten around this, for example favoring a more top-down perspective, but as it is, you’re constantly left wanting for another analogue stick to be able to control the camera. A lot of the time, you can’t see where you’re going. The controls could’ve used more general streamlining, too, although they’re by no means broken.
But you learn to play around those issues. Because in all other respects, Portable Ops handles the migration to PSP admirably. The way they’ve ditched cutscenes and gone for voice-acted, sketchy comic book expression is just divine. It looks and sounds great and manages a better balance between gameplay and non-interactivity than MGS ever did before.
What I especially like is the overall gameplay structure. Playing as Big Boss in 1970 in South America, you’re leading a group of rebels. You start out alone, but recruit more people all the time. These are not scripted in for you either – you decide who you want to, knock them out and drag them to your hideout to be converted. It’s a neat collecting mechanic.
Once you have your small army together, you assign roles to them. Some will investigate new technology, some will heal wounded comrades, some will spy for you and some join you on your missions. You get reports from your spies, giving you tips about items you might want to pick up, and so on. The missions are not linear, either – you get to choose where you want to go, and usually you’re free to visit a level numerous times to pick up more gear, recruit more allies and so on.
Sneaking in with buddies, you control the team one at a time, leaving the others to hide in cardboard boxes. Each character has special abilities and statistics. For instance, someone might be able to transport items back to your headquarters, someone reveals additional details on the maps, someone drags knocked out enemies faster.
The one thing that really bugs me is the amount of weapons you get. I can’t see myself ever using them due to the cumbersome controls – the only weapon I’m using is the tranquilizer gun. Once an alarm is triggered, you’re usually better off just hitting abort and going at it again. The four-item inventory is something of a problem, too.
If you’re an MGS nut, this comes certainly recommended. Even if you’re not, it’s something you should look at, although I can easily see someone not liking this, mostly because of the difficult control system.