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Relax, Metal Gear fans – there’s no need to be nervous. It’s all here this time. Unlike the two oddball Metal Gear Acid games, the first real Metal Gear on PSP has everything you might expect from a Metal Gear Solid. Third-person sneaking? Twisting and slightly bewildering storyline? Snake as the main character? Striking boss characters with distinctive peculiarities? Brilliant cut scenes? Gratuitous cleavage shot? Slightly silly in-jokes? All here, and just as you might expect.
What’s more, this mobile Metal Gear has cunningly managed to entangle itself within the continuity of the series as a whole. It picks up soon after where MGS3: Snake Eater left off, with a captured Naked Snake (or Big Boss, as they now like to call him) stuck in the middle of a revolution on a ‘lost’ South American peninsula. Not only does this mean that it has the same ultra-cool Cold War vibe as MGS3, it also gives Kojima Productions license to introduce characters you know and love from both MGS3 and the (chronologically speaking) later games in the series. Want to catch up once more with Solid Snake’s CO, Roy Campbell, Para-Medic and SigInt, Gray Fox and – of course – the legendary Revolver Ocelot? Here’s your chance. You might even fill in some of the gaps in your understanding of the whole Metal Gear timeline.
Now, if all this means something to you, then it’s fair to say that you’ll get a huge kick out of Portable Ops. Go on and buy it. Buy a PSP if you have to. You really will enjoy it. But, frankly, you don’t need to get any of this to understand why this is a must-have game for Sony’s handheld. On a system swamped by poor home console ports and rubbish tie-in trash, Portable Ops is a pretty rare thing: a PSP game of real substance.
The trick is that Kojima Productions hasn’t merely shoe-horned a PS2 game onto the PSP, but worked out how to make a portable MGS work. Where the console MGS approach still fits, Portable Ops adopts it. This is still a game of sneaking, peeking around corners, ambush, daring and tactics. The basic controls and the close-in, third-person review clearly stem from the Subsistence ‘remix’ of MGS3 and – as far as is possible on PSP – the two games share the same look and feel.
Surprisingly, the character modelling and animation hasn’t seen too much degradation in the translation; a layer of surface gloss might be missing, but Snake is still very much Snake and the rest of the cast look solid and convincing. Only the environments, now sparse, blocky and blandly textured to a fault, would instantly clue you in to the handheld’s diminished 3D horsepower. Audio-wise, Portable Ops and MGS3 are like two peas in a pod, with all the classic cues you expect from an MGS title – the pounding music when you’re discovered, the alert signal of an incoming radio message – present and accounted for. As ever, David Hayter provides vocals for our lead, and if the music isn’t the usual Harry Gregson-Williams stuff, it sounds enough like it to maintain that signature MGS feel.
Luckily, where the console MGS approach might not have worked on PSP, Portable Ops reworks it comprehensively. This starts with the presentation, swapping the usual, lengthy MGS in-game cut-scenes for shorter cinematics that blend fantastic illustrations with speech and motion in a brilliant high-impact, animated graphic novel style. It’s so good, that you might start wishing all Metal Gear games were done this way.