The Forgotten "Metal Gear Solid" Game: First Impressions
Personal History: "Metal Gear Solid"
As a lifelong Metal Gear fan, I pride myself on knowing tons about the game and the positive feelings that being a Metal Gear fan have brought me. Metal Gear Solid was the first game I played and with any luck it'll still be among the last I play as well. I have gotten the platinum trophy for every game in the numbered series (except 4) and am off and on working on Peace Walker HD. It's fair to say that I'm a Hideo Kojima fan. So, in the run up to his upcoming game Death Stranding I decided to take a leap back to his earlier works that I hadn't played to completion such as the MSX Metal Gear games, Policenauts, and Snatcher. All of these have a great charm to them and it has been a treat seeing the seeds of Kojima's future works in these classic titles.
The Missing Link
However, throughout my fandom of MGS/Kojima games I've always had this missing spot. I never owned a PSP as a kid, and thus I've never had access to Portable Ops. The fact that it wasn't directed by Kojima and a generally lukewarm reception among other MGS fans led to an indifference that has been hard to shake. Luckily for me, the Death Stranding hype is real and I decided to take the plunge on a digital copy of Portable Ops after purchasing a PS Vita for portable gaming. I've come away thoroughly impressed and with a great interest in observing just how much this game influenced the Metal Gear Solid games released after this entry.
The Bad: Visual Performance
To start with the negatives, the frame-rate seems a bit rough. Portable Ops more or less constantly suffers from the slow down you would get in Groznyj Grad when using the "3D Camera" in the "Subsistence" release of Metal Gear Solid 3. However, the game is a borderline technical marvel for the PSP and truly is like a smaller Metal Gear Solid 3 in your pocket (gameplay wise at least). A majority of Metal Gear Solid 3's moveset is able to be used in this entry, from stalking to cqc to interrogation to crawling, everything I enjoyed about MGS3's gameplay is in Portable Ops minus eating animals. This is particularly impressive to me as the later release Peace Walker had a slimmed down moveset, such as not allowing Snake to crawl.
The Bad: Control Issues
This level of control doesn't come without its downsides however. The PSP, and even the vita, has far less buttons the standard Dualshock 2 did and that absolutely effects how the game is played. Part muscle memory and part hardware limitations, Portable Ops' controls take quite a while to get used to. I've never agreed with the common consensus that Metal Gear doesn't control well but this game is a bit of an exception. Tons of holding buttons in order to do things like aim or sidle along a wall lead to some user error that would be fixed if there were more buttons available. This is also on the PS Vita which actually does have a right stick to use to turn the camera, rather than the PSP using the D-Pad for that purpose. So far it's worth having to fight the controls a little bit but I'm having a great time.
The Bad: Recruiting
Another negative, due to its improvement in later entries, is recruiting enemies and organizing your teams. In Peace Walker and The Phantom Pain players were able to utilize the Fulton Balloon System to recruit enemy soldiers on the spot. This isn't the case in Portable Ops, where players must drag enemy soldiers back to their van (or any buddies hiding in cardboard boxes nearby) to recruit them. It's definitely a bit of a pain and something I could see hurting the game by the end, or at least hurting the potential of my base/teams. Another element that was improved is the ability to select multiple soldiers to move between teams at once in Peace Walker and Phantom Pain. This isn't as much of an issued since I typically recruit two or three soldiers per missions but it's a bit cumbersome.
The Good: Portability
Despite all the negatives, I'm definitely enjoying the game. The comic book style cut-scenes that later appeared in Peace Walker looks just as great here, although they're at a low resolution and I personally prefer the in-engine cutscenes of other entries. It's great to have full access to all my moves from Metal Gear Solid 3 on the go(Yes, I'm aware MGS3HD is on Vita) and able to play in short bursts whenever I feel like it. I'm also loving the fan service with characters such as the appearance of young Colonel Campbell, as well as Para-Medic and SIGINT. Fan Service like this in Metal Gear wasn't particularly common in MGS outside of 4 with Kojima straight up tricking fans with Metal Gear Solid 2's playable character.
The Good: The Writing Feels Like "Metal Gear"
The return of psychics is also something I enjoy, Metal Gear has always had these psychic/superpowered type characters and it's cool to see the writers stick to the formula. Speaking of the writing, it definitely reads like a Metal Gear game so far and I'm hoping it continues to deliver right up to the end of the game. I haven't been this excited to continue with a game in a quite a while. It's a shame that the only other sneaking style entry in the series that wasn't directed by Kojima is Metal Gear Survive(which isn't a bad game by the way).
The Good: Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
The involvement of the combat unit in each mission is also helping me appreciate each squad member's specific abilities more. In Peace Walker I usually just played as Snake so my troops were only there to increase the levels of their respective teams but in Portable Ops I find that each individuals abilities create a more personal experience. Skills like dragging soldiers faster or faster movement encourage me to build my team in a way that I personally prioritize which, in turn, makes it more interesting to recruit soldiers.
I'll likely continue to update my thoughts as I continue to play through the game, so follow me if you'd like to read more about Portable Ops, Metal Gear in general, or my upcoming review of Death Stranding. I can't wait to see what's coming up next.
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