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Old 08-30-2012, 11:12 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Better with Age: Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops



If you told me five years ago that the PSP would be my most played portable system of 2012, odds are, I'd either laugh in your face or go catatonic with fear over the horrible future that awaited me. You see, until recently, I had a supremely negative opinion of Sony's plucky portable, until a little something called "personal experience" greatly changed my perception. I picked one up with some extra money in the summer of 2010, caught up with a few of the better titles in the PSP library (an undertaking that doesn't require a huge investment), and soon developed a fondness for the system that once irritated me with its forced viral marketing and hobbled versions of console games. Some advice for the patient: wait until the end of a system's cycle, and reap the rewards.

Of course, I imagine those who stuck with the PSP since its launch had a much more irritating experience than my own as they patiently waited for some killer app to validate their purchase. And if any mega-franchise absolutely screamed Sony, it was Metal Gear Solid -- though its first two PSP outings underestimated the potential of the system. Metal Gear's initial PSP installments went for a turn-based card game approach, which made for a strange (but enjoyable) pairing of games that didn't really deliver the same action fans of the series expected. Along with the atypical choice of genre, Kojima's lack of involvement in the Metal Gear Acid series made this experiment seem like a strange curiosity at best. To really prove the PSP's potential, Konami would have to do the seemingly impossible by translating the art of Metal Gear to a system seemingly unequipped to handle its detailed graphics and complicated controls.


And then came Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops. This one didn't have direct involvement from Kojima, either, but it stood as a canonical installment in the fuzzy period following Metal Gear Solid 3. The game impressed critics with its sheer sense of ambition, but most slagged on it for being a horribly demanding experience that broke your typical Metal Gear action into bite-sized chunks; perfect for gamers on the go, but not for folks wanting the same sense of immersion brought to them by the then-recent third entry of the series. And what Portable Ops adds to the Metal Gear saga amounts to a bunch of (well-meaning) silliness, along with the initial motivation for Snake to create Outer Heaven -- where the original installment of the series takes place.

I recently picked up Portable Ops on a whim (well, our week of Metal Gear stories certainly helped), and it offered a very interesting experience for someone who spent roughly 80 hours knee-deep in Peace Walker's many RPG-like systems. Going back in time to play this previous portable installment helped refresh my respect for Kojima, as nearly every element that serves as an unnecessary roadblock in Portable Ops has been removed or greatly revised in Peace Walker -- which the Metal Gear creator directed himself. For folks who love to study game design, Peace Walker serves as a master class in improvement; Portable Ops isn't terrible, but it makes itself more complicated and/or tedious than it needs to be. And though Peace Walker is typically regarded as yet another throwaway entry in the series, it fully develops the mechanics established by Portable Ops in a very thoughtful way that seems out-of-character for the obstinate and idiosyncratic Hideo Kojima (though I guess it helps that he wasn't correcting his own mistakes).



Before I get carried away with praising Peace Walker, I should mention that Portable Ops is actually pretty good! I guess knowing that the developers would eventually correct their stupid decisions made me a little more forgiving towards some of its user-unfriendly features -- the frustration of "Why didn't they know better!?" melts away when you realize they eventually did. And being removed from the context of failing to be the PSP's killer app lifts some of the burden off of Portable Ops -- sort of like how Luigi's Mansion holds up much better as just another GameCube game instead of an all-important launch title. And though they're far different than their console brothers, I've actually come to enjoy playing the PSP Metal Gear games much more than the main entries; they may not deliver the same crazy stories and emotional impact, but they're absolutely overloaded with pure game play, with each session adding at least something to your overall progression. Snake Eater remains my favorite game in the series, but it's such an engrossing and emotional experience that I can't jump into it for fifteen minutes at a time, or revisit it without letting my fond memories lay fallow for at least a few years.

I should also mention that my pacifist nature makes Portable Ops all the more appealing; I normally play Metal Gear games without killing a single soul for the sheer challenge, but PO actually makes abstaining from murder pay off. Any enemy can be a potential recruit, so switching to lethal weapons really makes it feel like you're wasting valuable human resources. And unlike Metal Gear Solid 4, Portable Ops actually gives peaceful players more than a few weapons to use, as a few of the robotic bosses require some serious firepower to take down. Peace Walker improved upon this idea by providing massive, multi-part robo-bosses for players intent on making a no-kill run. You might not know what that rocket launcher does to human flesh, but you can certainly take out your aggression on a colossal singing robot (yes, they sing) without facing any sort of moral dilemmas.

One important thing to remember about game reviews is that they're unfortunately rooted in the exact window of time in which they're written, and often, unfair expectations grounded in a very specific context can significantly lower a grade. Hence, the generally lukewarm reaction to Portable Ops; the game has its problems, but it still provides a fully digestible 20-hour experience with enough Metal Gear historical hooks to keep fans of the series interested. I'm about to dig into Portable Ops Plus, another value-priced handheld Metal Gear experience that offers what the PSP entries do best: fun-sized levels that let you experiment with any number of useful and ridiculous weapons and gadgets, while keeping the story strictly on the sidelines. If you're looking for a quick Metal Gear fix, keep in mind that the current fire sale on anything and everything PSP has made this simple dream more affordable than ever.



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Old 08-30-2012, 11:30 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Better with Age: Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops

Damn, I've pretty much lived the exact same experience as this article writer. To be honest, I haven't gotten very far in PO though, as the controls are just too much like MGS3. Not a bad thing, but it feels like a massive step backwards (which it should be, but it's more than I expected).
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Old 09-02-2012, 03:33 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Re: Better with Age: Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops

Portable Ops is fun, but the controls are pretty broken.
The only thing it has over Peace Walker is boss fights against human characters, instead of just being boss fights against tanks, helicopters and mechs.
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