Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops Review

MPO Title

Title: Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops
Developer: Kojima Productions, Konami
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Type: PSP
Download: 803 MB
NA Availability: Digital Download
EU Availability: Digital Download
PSTV Support: Yes

Metal Gear is one of my favorite gaming franchises ever, and the PS Vita is a great Metal Gear console in and of itself.  With the Vita, you can play the first Metal Gear Solid as a PS One Classic, 2 and 3 along with Metal Gear 1 and 2 via the PS Vita’s HD Collection, and Peace Walker via the PSP backwards-compatibility feature.

For the longest time, though, North American users could not play two of the first Metal Gear PSP games, Portable Ops and Portable Ops Plus.  Thanks to a PSN Update a week ago, the two games became direct downloads for the Vita and PSTV, though they remain incompatible with the PSTV.  PS Vita owners, however, can now enjoy both of those games.

Portable Ops maintains a special place for me because it is what got me into the series.  I first played PO, and then went on to play the rest of the games.  To start off this retro review duo, here is my review of Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops!

Story

MPO Story
Beautifully-drawn CG scenes really bring the story to life

Portable Ops takes place 6 years after the events of Metal Gear Solid 3.  Snake aka Big Boss awakens trapped in a Jail Cell somewhere in South America.  After escaping his cell with an ex-Green Beret, he finds out that the FOX Unit has gone renegade, stolen a top-secret nuclear weapon, and plans to use said weapon against the world.  Recruiting local rebels along the way, he fights to stop the weapon’s launch.

The story of Portable Ops I enjoy because of a few reasons.  First of all, it pulls plot points from MGS3, but doesn’t leave you in the confusing dark if you have yet to play that game.  Second, it provides backstories for two iconic characters from the first Metal Gear Solid, primarily Roy Campbell and one other that plays a big part in that game.  Third, the hand-drawn scenes and plot in general can be philosophical at times, but also tear at your heart-strings.

Gameplay

MPO Game 1
Your first wall peek is a trip down Metal Gear nostalgia

MPO is a stealth-action game with shooting elements and management elements thrown into the mix, most similar to Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.  While you’re on missions, you will be sneaking past enemies, taking down bosses in third person and first person shooting fashion, and everything else you know from the series.

As I said above, this is a mission-based game.  You do have a map where you can choose a location, but each time you go into the gameplay, you’ll be on a mission with objectives, though you can also go into other areas for the fun of it.  It still registers as a mission, but there is no objective so you can go and collect items and fight enemies to your liking.

Your base objective of the game is to amass an army of rebel recruits to your side and to stop the nuclear weapon.  To do this, you not only have to sneak into areas to obtain information and eventually stop the enemy’s plans, but also have to figure out the lay of the land and discover areas and Intel that will lead you to those goals.  For that, you need recruits, and lots of them.

MPO Game 2
Recruiting is tedious, but you can’t help but compare this to SAO’s bridal carry feature

Recruiting enemies in MPO is different than that of Peace Walker or The Phantom Pain.  The Futon Recovery System is not a thing, and you have little to no resources when you start the game.   When you’re out in the field and there’s a soldier you want to recruit, you have to knock them out, either with an MK22 Tranquilizer Pistol or by knocking them out the old fashioned way.  Then, you have to pick them up and drag them to your truck.

This is, as you would guess, a very tedious process.  There are some enemies that spawn near the truck in a stage, but you need different types of recruits.  Some are better at certain things than others.  Over the course of the game, you’ll need those good at sneaking but also those with medical expertise to develop healing items for you, mechanic expertise to develop weapons and equipment, and those with spying expertise that are good at gathering information and Intel.

The key to this is choosing who you want to do the recruiting.  You control them, of course, but some recruits are more athletic, allowing you to move faster when you’re dragging a downed enemy.  Snake moves rather slow when he is dragging, but Para-Medic on the other hand, can drag them a lot faster.  (Try explaining that.  Seasoned combat veteran isn’t strong enough to move quickly but a medical officer that sits on a plane for the entirety of MGS3 can do it quickly).

This brings to an interesting and unique point the series didn’t have before.  You can play as any of your recruits, and there are a lot of key characters from the series that you can recruit.  Many characters from MGS3 that are recruit-able from Para-Medic and Sigint to Eva and Ocelot.  There are also some others, from MPO itself and from the Metal Gear Acid series.

MPO Game 3
Para-Medic got a special bust increase just for Portable Ops.  No joke.

As I said before, you have different types of units and for that, you have different teams.  Your main groups will be Sneaking, used for taking out on missions.  Spy Unit is where you can place recruits in certain areas to gather intel, key to finding many of the high-tier weapons and for advancing the story.  The Engineer Unit is responsible for developing equipment, from weapons, thermal goggles, and certain items needed to advance the story.  The Medical Unit is responsible for developing healing items, like Medical Kits for health and Rations for stamina.  And then you have your Prisoner section, where recruits go for a few days before you can coerce them into joining your cause.

When you’re on a mission, you will have an objective.  This can range from reaching a goal to gauge security of a bridge you need to cross and interrogating government officials to blowing up armories to weaken enemy troops and taking on bosses to reach the next area.  Most of these objectives are pretty simple to find, maintaining the gameplay but also allowing players to take this on the go in short bursts.

Moving into the field has gameplay almost exactly the same as Metal Gear Solid 3.  Portable Ops was basically a way to emulate MGS3 gameplay on a handheld console.  You have the same basic field of view, radar, CQC, etc.  You also still have both a Health and Stamina gauge like in Snake Eater.

The main difference with the stamina gauge is there are no survival elements here.  Instead of eating food for recovery, you find rations in the field (or have your Medical Unit develop them for you) and use them from your item menu to recovery Stamina.  If you play the game on Easy, you’ll never have to worry about stamina, but on Normal, you do have to worry about it.

Just like in Snake Eater, bosses also have a stamina gauge as well as a health gauge.  The importance of stamina kills on bosses in this game are not only to up the difficulty of the game, but you also get different cut-scenes if you stamina kill a boss, and half of the bosses will actually join your team if you choose to stamina kill them instead of HP Kill them.  Since all story-oriented characters have high stats for the various groups, it is very helpful to get those people on your side.

MPO Game 6
First-person aiming isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but is accurate once you learn how

CQC is similar to MGS3, except you can no longer kill enemies in a CQC hold.  If you sneak up behind an enemy and use CQC to restrain them, you only have the option to interrogate them or choke them until they fall unconscious.  Killing can only be done with weapons.

Now let’s talk about stealth.  In MGS3, you could do the game without stealth.  If you wanted to just run and gun, you could.  You can do that here, too, but the further you get in the game, the tougher the enemy reinforcements get.  If you think you can run up and melee an enemy before the alert sounds, it’s all good.  But after a certain point, you go from fighting enemies with pistols and AK-47’s to enemies with M870 Shotguns and RPG-7’s.  It’s advised to always go stealth to not have to waste resources.

Finally, let’s go into difficulty.  I wouldn’t gauge this as the hardest game in the series, but that doesn’t make it easy.  Learning the ins and outs of each area takes time and even with a mastery of it, it can be a little iffy on whether you can get through a mission unscathed or not.  Bosses, of course, you have to learn.  Every boss has patterns and certain methods required for fighting them.  The first boss, for example, cannot be damaged by close-range weapons and can actively freeze and immobilize your weapons.  Each boss requires a different strategy and weapon range.  It’s all about learning patterns and waiting for openings.

Another aspect of the difficulty is inventory.  Each mission lets a character take only 4 items with them.  That’s weapons, ammo, healing items, rations, equipment.  You can only take four items.  Granted, you can have different characters hold different items and switch out, but it’s challenging especially when you’re trying to decide which weapons to use on a boss as well as leaving slots open for items you find during a mission.

So, how long is this game?  Taking into account recruitment, cutscenes, learning the ways of the trade, and everything else, I would gauge it somewhere around 10-12 hours.  It’s not a short game, but not an overly long game.  It’s a nice length for a handheld action game and for a Metal Gear game in general.

Controls

Control schemes were always a huge debate whenever the PSP got console gameplay games.  Obviously, Metal Gear Solid 3 used all of the buttons available on the PS2 so how would the PSP be able to handle it?  We shall get to that in just a moment.  Beforehand, I would like to say that Portable Ops is not compatible with the PlayStation TV.  I’ve seen dozens of news articles that claim it is.  It is not.  So if you own a PSTV and not a Vita, you should know that right now both Portable Ops and MPO+ are not compatible.

(Update: As of January 4th, 2017, Portable Ops is now compatible with the PlayStation TV)

The control scheme goes like this, by default.  The Left Analog Stick moves your character and the D-Pad moves the camera.  This can be redirected to the Right Analog Stick for proper dual analog play.  The L button is used to lock onto an enemy in front of you and the R button can go into first-person shooting mode.

Now let’s get into the odd face button controls.  X lets you change from a standing, crouching, or crawling stance.  Square fires off a weapon when L/R are held down or uses CQC if unequipped.  Triangle performs actions, like opening doors, climbing ladders, or clinging against walls.  Finally, circle is used to access your inventory.  Hold Circle to see all inventory.  Tap Circle to equip or un-equip the last selected weapon/item.

This control scheme works, but it is very strange, and was back then, too.  If you’re used to the control schemes of the newer games, it’s going to feel very weird until you get a feel for it.  Even then, it still is strange.  Workable, but strange.

Presentation

MPO Game 5
I have never done this in the game, but it just looks cool, right?

Visually, the game doesn’t look all that bad.  For a PSP game, it held up the MGS3-style graphics quite well.  I’d compare it actively to the Nintendo 3DS port of Snake Eater, so that’s saying something.  When the camera zooms in on characters, you can see a lot of detail in each model.

Performance-wise, it also does very well.  Frame-rate is nice and smooth, load times are only a few seconds long, and it has a new soundtrack that is reminiscent and keeps the Snake Eater feel going as you play through each separate level.

Summary

Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops was a huge deal when it first came out, being the first console-style Metal Gear game on a handheld console.  It certainly isn’t perfect, with a tedious recruitment system and awkward control scheme, but for Metal Gear fans, it’s a fun adventure that both resembles the console games and gives the pick-up-and-play feel handheld games need. 

8/10

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