There, I’ve said it. At times Portable Ops reminds you of a grown up Pokemon mixed with Commandos and who knows what else. As a mix though, it is pretty compelling. Kojima Productions has even thrown in a neat feature whereby you can set your PSP to scan for nearby wireless networks and it will add new recruits based on what it finds (presumably it uses some weird algorithm on the SSID). If you want an excuse to play your PSP in weird places, you couldn’t hope for a better one than this.
Still, I can’t quite go crazy and start throwing around the nines and tens. This is an exceptional PSP game, but one with a few minor flaws. Firstly, the camera. The usual PSP problem – a lack of dual sticks – means that in any control configuration the camera is going to be a hassle. By default, you control it using left and right on the D-pad, and can instantly centre it behind you by tapping the left bumper. This is all very well and good, but it’s not all that fast or that sensitive, and the result is that you will occasionally lose a man in action just because you weren’t able to track down the assailant shooting or whacking him quickly enough. It’s just not quite intelligent enough. Similar problems affect aiming in the first-person targeting view: good luck shooting anyone with the PSP’s woefully unresponsive analogue nub.
All the same, I’ll forgive these glitches – not to mention the generic military base design of so many of the levels – because they don’t seriously hamper your play 99 per cent of the time, and because the overall game design is so well-worked. You’ll play it to death, and then some, and then you’ll find the multiplayer option. There’s good news here too. Despite slightly clunk controls, Portable Ops enjoys the best mobile deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture the flag modes I’ve played on a handheld since Metroid Prime: Hunters on the DS. Expect to be ‘pwned’ the first few times you play, however, particularly as the game involved fielding a squad of characters from your single-player game. This gives an immediate – though not necessarily decisive – advantage to the player who has spent the most time recruiting every last goon in the game. Were it just a single-player game, Portable Ops would be highly recommended, but as a total package it’s crossing the border into essential territory. If you have a PSP, you know what to do.
The first proper MGS on PSP is anything but a disappointment. A compelling single-player story and a fine multiplayer mode more than make up for some minor control issues.