Jeremy Jastrzab
18 May, 2007

Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops Review

PSP Review | Portable bliss.
At the beginning of the PSP's life, Snake discarded his action-orientated roots for a card battling game, the highly controversial Metal Gear Ac!d. Some loved it, some hated it, but either way, it was an interesting venture. Then, just as Metal Gear Ac!d 2 was set for release, E3 arrived, bringing with it the announcement that the Ac!d suffix was making way for a return to Solid. Hence, Snake is back to his original trade, with Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops for the PSP. And with Kojima back at the helm, there was only ever going to be one possible outcome.

So let’s not beat around the bush. We liked both Metal Gear Ac!d games, as they were exceptionally well put together. However, nothing is quite on the scale of a true Metal Gear project. Simply, Portable Ops is easily one of the best games on the PSP, and one of the most endearing in the series as a whole. It is exceptionally well-designed, taking into account nearly every single feature that is offered on the PSP. It is technically outstanding and, above all, an absolute blast to play.

The story picks up a couple of years after Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater/Subsistence, in 1970. So, you reprise the role of the original Snake, also known as "Big Boss". Having quit service, he's captured by a band of rogues, and taken to a South American getaway, where said rogues are in the process of creating a military nation. Upon escaping, Snake encounters a fellow named Roy Campbell, and together they start to fight back against the rogues, in order to prevent nuclear chaos. The story is quite typically drawn out, and at times even unfathomable, but it's still great to follow through, and provides some clues for the occurrence of future events.

Time to celebrate! Real Metal Gear is back. And Solid.

Time to celebrate! Real Metal Gear is back. And Solid.
The achievements of this game are so impressive that every PSP title released from this point onwards will be compared to it. While at its core it is very similar to previous Metal Gear Solid games, it has been rebuilt to cater specifically for the PSP, and does so incredibly well. After a slightly lengthy introduction and general tutorial level, you're introduced to a new mission-based structure. Rather than being a seamless whole, each area of the game is split into levels, and you play each level as required by the story. In between stages, there will be mission briefings and character interactions.

You start off by looking at a map. Each point on the map represents a level, and upon entering a level you'll be required to complete a certain mission objective. Objectives are vast and varied, so you shouldn’t get bored too quickly. However, it’s not as simple as going from objective to objective. While Snake has always been a one-man-army, in Portable Ops he’s recruiting his own forces. Once it becomes viable, any enemy that you knockout or immobilise can be taken back to your truck and later "persuaded" to join your cause. By gathering a bunch of soldiers, you’ll be able to create an army of your own. Troops can also be recruited whenever your PSP is next to a wireless access point or by using the PSP GPS add-on, through a simple mini game. Nifty, isn’t it?

Outside of the levels, there's a sophisticated but simple way of managing your troops. You’ll split everyone into the Sneaking, Spy, Technical, Medical and Independent units. The sneaking unit is the group that’s taken into the level and controlled directly. For the most part, it will be Snake and potentially a couple of other troops in this unit, and it'll be this unit that gets the dirty work done. Individuals in the Spy unit can be allocated a level in which they’ll go out and gather information, reporting back if they find anything interesting. Generally, it will be a useful item, or even the next objective to continue the story. You are free to choose whether or not you pursue the extra items, though it actually is the best way to procure weapons. The Technical unit works on enhancing your equipment, and the Medical unit works on producing healing items.


The thing is, unit creation is no random process. Each and every individual troop has specific strengths and weaknesses, so you’ll need to place them correctly if you’re to make the best use of the system. The game rewards you immensely if you do it properly. In typical Metal Gear fashion, you’re able to approach levels with either stealth or brute force as your primary approach. And with the troops at your disposal, there are even more options to help you deal with the various objectives that you’ll encounter, as they can blend in with their former comrades. As you play through the game, you really get the feeling that you're tactically sabotaging things from the inside. Furthermore, no mission is likely to take longer than 20 minutes, with many being much less. That, and you can abort a mission at any time, but still retain anything that you’ve picked up, such as an item or a recruited troop.

Of course, the PSP layout lacks a lot of buttons in comparison to the PS2 controller. However, the development team have done exceptionally well in the translation. The face buttons are pretty much the same - X lets you crouch and roll, Triangle is for actions, and Square attacks. The Circle button opens up your item menu but, unlike in previous games, you can only hold a maximum of four items. This limit can be frustrating sometimes, but you can discard items on the fly and store them once outside the level. The R button lets you look through the first-person perspective, and the L button centres the camera and locks on to enemies. The D-pad meanwhile can be used to manually control the camera.

Despite the fact that there are limitations to this system and the PSP buttons, most of Snake’s staple actions come through unharmed; you can still grab enemies in strangleholds, knock them out discreetly, sneak around, hide under beds and so forth. And pretty much all of the staple Metal Gear weapons and arsenal appear here also. The camera can get in the way sometimes - it’s prone to being jittery and jumpy, and the analogue nub isn’t as precise as we’ve become used to - but these are really minor concerns in the grand scheme of things. The only time the camera is a real nuisance is when you’re below the sightline of your enemies, as you may not realise that they’re above you, leading to an easy spotting.

Snake's brought some new friends.

Snake's brought some new friends.
The controls and set-up take a little bit of time to get used to, but once set, you’ll soon be the king of sneaking. While the game is suitable for quick-pick-up-and-play sessions, you’ll find that your actions are much more fluent once you’ve been playing for a while. At the top right of the screen, there's a radar that detects the changes in sound from the enemies, which can be used to guage their position and awareness. It’s not as blatant as the old radar, so you have to be on your toes, yet it's useful enough to provide you with the information you require.

There's also a multiplayer mode that caters for up to six players. Here, there are both deathmatches and team deathmatches, and while it's not as fully-fledged as its excellent Subsistence counterpart, Portable Ops still manages to retain a high quality, and a unique type of gameplay. It’s actually surprising to see how detailed it really is. You’ve even got an option to play with your squads, where the winner procures members from the loser. Playing for keeps, you might call it. Furthermore, there's a mode known as "Cyber-survival", which takes your squad and puts them through a simulation, to see how well they fare. More recruits can be earned this way as well.

As a whole, Portable Ops is by far and away one of the most comprehensive titles on the PSP. It plays just as well as any console game, contains just as much content, and also manages to cater for portability and the unique characteristics of the PSP. When not chasing the story, you can take ten minutes to capture a few recruits on the fly. To date, there are only a handful of titles on the PSP that can legitimately claim to do the same. Despite some flaws, (a jittery camera, a dragged-out story, and some unnecessary additions, such as the need to keep stamina in check), there's one aspect of the game that places it above every other game on the PSP. And that aspect, in one word, is "quality". The quality of the design is such that almost nothing feels out-of-place, and everything has been put together superbly. Not only that, but in terms of technical performance, it’s the best on the PSP.

Snake is afraid of needles.

Snake is afraid of needles.
Both graphically and technically, Portable Ops is the greatest showcase on Sony's handheld. Not only does it boast some of the sharpest, most vividly detailed graphics on the system, but the visuals don’t get in the way of the game’s performance. For a game that looks this good, the load times are almost non-existent, and frame-rate is fluid the majority of the time. Infact, the game looks better than a lot of PS2 titles. The full cutscenes have been replaced by animated ones, but these look excellent and serve the game and series well. Only minor gripes such as the camera and hexagonal wheels get in the way. But these are very minor in comparison to the rest.

The voice-acting in the game is not as frequent as in previous games in the series, but it's there in the animated cutscenes. Also, while the game does tend to drag out the scenes where people are speaking, there's not as much text to wade through in comparison to previous titles. Otherwise, the game contains an array of well-composed and appropriate tunes, as well as all of the familiar Metal Gear sounds. In a telltale sign of the game's high production values, Portable Ops takes the PSP to a level that is rarely achieved in terms of sound quality and immersion.

Overall, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops can be (arguably) considered the best game on the PSP. It ticks all the boxes and then some. It makes almost every other game on the PSP seem lacking, and pretty much every game released from this point forth is likely to be compared to its achievements in game design. Not only does the game look better than just about every other game on the system, but the technical aspect doesn’t suffer in the least. This puts a lot of PSP games to shame, because it shows exactly what the system is capable of when effort is put in - both from gameplay and technical perspectives. Portable Ops epitomises the approach that ought to be taken with PSP games, in that it successfully takes a console experience, and appropriately and intelligently redesigns it for a handheld format. As such, Portable Ops is not only the definitive Metal Gear experience on the PSP, but the definitive gaming experience on the PSP.
The Score
Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops is the definitive PSP gaming experience. 9
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops Content

Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops due in May
20 Mar, 2007 PAL gamers forced to wait more than six months.
Exclusive content for PAL MGS: Portable Ops
12 Jan, 2007 Characters and maps and missions, oh my!
E3 2006: Real MGS PSP title confirmed
10 May, 2006 Happy now?
6 years ago
Seriously hate the Snake with a patch thing. Yes I know it's all part of the story of 'Big Boss' but patches are uncool. Almost as much uncool as old Snake.

Still, I'll most likely pick this up.
6 years ago
i havent played a metal gear solid game since the first one which i finished on the ps1. I have been seriously thinking of picking them all up to go through the story again, maybe this review is what i need to be convinced.
6 years ago
How does this compare with syphon filter: dark mirror?

I played a couple of hours of syphon but then got into other games and forgot about it. Ill be going back into it soon, but it was a GREAT game with amazing graphics for a handheld.
6 years ago
As an owner of over 50 psp games (mainly review code, mind you), MGS Portable Ops is the best of the lot - and that includes Syphon Filter
6 years ago
Well I think this will have to be the first ever Metal Gear Solid game that I buy. I've been realy hyped for this game and now that it has a great review to go with it I reckon I'll pcik it up in a couple of weeks.
6 years ago
I tried this game, the control schemes left me in the dark.
6 years ago
arbok wrote
How does this compare with syphon filter: dark mirror?
I own both titles and I can honestly say Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops kicks it's ass in almost every department. There's just so much more to MGS:PO than Syphon Filter. This is coming from somebody who is new to both franchises and has never played a Metal Gear Solid or Syphon Filter title before.
6 years ago
LeonJ wrote
Seriously hate the Snake with a patch thing. Yes I know it's all part of the story of 'Big Boss' but patches are uncool. Almost as much uncool as old Snake.
I hate to break it to you, but survey says Eyepatches are just under Trenchcoats and Facial Hair in the Top 3 Badass Man-accessories. Wearing an eyepatch broadcasts to everyone you see that your eye has been forcefully removed, and that you don't think they're man enough to glimpse the gruesome aftershow. Eyepatches are beyond cool.

I'm fairly sure I'll be buying this the moment it comes out. I don't have a PSP, but I'm a giant MGS fanboy and I need more Ocelot in my day.
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