Snake in my Pocket
No, I'm not talking about anything lewd... I'm talking about the latest PSP blockbuster title, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops. Finally a true stealth-action strategy title, instead of the card battle-based Metal Gear Acid PSP games in the past, MGS PO is a true sequel to the last MGS adventure, MGS3: Snake Eater for the PS2. It's kind of odd that Konami would put such a high-profile game onto a handheld when it would no doubt have been a more complete game on a home console... but still, MGS PO has it's own flavor and gameplay elements which translate well to the handheld.
Set a couple of years after the events in MGS3, PO sees Naked Snake AKA Big Boss captured by some mysterious new faction looking for something called "The Legacy". Unfortunately, Snake doesn't know what the heck the Legacy is (and if he did, he probably still wouldn't talk anyway), so instead of waiting around for the next torture session, he breaks out of Dodge with the help of a fellow prisoner named Roy Campbell. It is soon revealed through communication with old friend Paramedic that Snake has been taken prisoner by the now-renegade Fox Unit, and is even suspected by the US of treason. Now on his own, our lone wolf decides that going solo isn't going to cut it this time. With Campbell in tow, he sets out to form his own army, prove his innocence, take down the Fox Unit and save the world from Nuclear Holocaust. Again. And you're going to do it on commutes, between meetings and during downtime on your PSP. Impossible? Not so.
What makes things a bit hard though from the get-go is the PSP itself. The limited controls/buttons available on the handheld makes for some changes in the way you control your Naked Snake. Movement is done via the analog nub (the joystick), while the d-pad controls the camera. Every button is used for Snake's arsenal of moves, from sneaking to crouching to hand-to-hand combat to shooting weapons. The learning curve is a bit steep, but a few hours of play should have you moving like a pro. Still, it can get pretty frustrating to walk into an area when it's impossible to see if an enemy is nearby or staring at the door you're coming through. The game gives you a bit of leeway to keep from being too deadly, so hopefully you won't be throwing your PSP into orbit after a few deaths.
As mentioned earlier, MGS PO requires you to recruit your own army, which basically entails that you sneak up to individual soldiers, knock them unconscious and drag them to your truck for... convincing. These new recruits can be tech specialists, spies, operatives or grunts, and you can send them off to do missions. Instead of the linear storyline of previous MGS games, PO is mission-based, with key elements of the plot appearing as you do certain missions. These jobs are often short bursts of action, which are perfect for short play sessions on the PSP. There are online multiplayer options and modes where you can pit your soldiers against those of other PSP owners, putting at stake your hard-won recruits should you lose.
Despite the control issues, MGS PO is a must-play for fans of this iconic videogame series. The production qualities are high, though the cinematics are done this time mostly with animated comic book panels, instead of the full-on cinematics from the console games. The story, of course, is complex but gripping, and will easily keep you playing to the bitter, bloody end. At the very least, this should tide us all over till the next REAL MGS game- Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots- finally comes out of hiding on the PS3.