The fact that Portable Ops is a PSP game shouldn’t confuse you, this is a true Metal Gear Solid experience.
Translating the Metal Gear Solid experience to portable form must be extremely daunting, especially since a lot of concessions need to be made on a clearly inferior hardware. With Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, Konami has done the unthinkable, since the company made a true Metal Gear Solid game on a portable console and while there aren’t any lavishly elaborate CGI cutscenes and some other details are missing here and there, you could easily confuse this game for a console version. Yes, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops is that good.
The story takes place in November 1970, a few years after the events of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and the narrative is as convoluted as always. In the game, you assume the role of Big Boss as he finds himself in a prison in Colombia. He was charged with treason after killing a bunch of FOX members and for starting a revolt, so this time around Big Boss needs to clear his name or else he and his team will be court-martialed and imprisoned for life. The most evident addition to this game is the graphic novel presentation that’s used to tell the story. Gone are the lavish cutscenes so proper of the series and while diehard fans will certainly miss them, the comic book style is a terrific way of presenting the story. On top of that, the top-notch voice acting is still here.
Despite what everything up to now might suggest, this is still Metal Gear Solid and the story is ridiculous. Characters with extrasensory perception, anime cliches, extravagant FOX members and the list goes on and on. Some concessions were made, but this is the game that deserves a spot among the best entries in the series. The best part about the game is that it has bite-sized missions you can complete in a few minutes. Naturally, the scope and lager-than-life feeling of previous games is nowhere to be found here, but as its name suggests, Portable Ops is a truly portable experience and that’s both impressive and convenient.
The structure of the game’s completely different to other Metal Gear Solid games. You play one mission at a time and once you complete it, you go to a menu where you can persuade prisoners to join your cause, send members of your unit to explore other places, go back to previously played levels and so on. In each level, you need to complete a specific scenario and as you complete more missions, you recruit soldiers you can use to join your team.
Whenever you capture a prisoner, you need to wait a few turns to convince them to be part of your unit. You have different units at your disposal: the spy unit retrieves information, the medic unit heals your wounds, the primary unit features the soldiers that complete the main missions and tactical unit develops new equipment and ammo you can use. You assign soldiers to each unit and the performance of each unit depends on the statistics of its members, so if all the members of the medic unit have an A rating, your wounds will heal rapidly.
Despite the lack of R2 and L2 buttons and a second analog stick, all the moves you used to pull off in other Metal Gear Solid games are here: you can use CQC, shoot, plant bombs, knock out enemies, make noise to draw the enemy’s attention and the list goes on and on. Additionally, all the weapons and gadgets that you remember are still a part of this game, but take into account that the game’s set in the 1970s, so you won’t find any modern devices. Nevertheless and despite having all the moves from previous games, Portable Ops controls can be tricky and sometimes this is definitely aggravated by the camera.
The camera struggles to properly frame the action in both small places and in big ones, so you’ll find yourself rotating the camera several times in the same level to see what’s ahead. This is a serious problem in a game where whenever enemies spot you, you’ll spend minutes hiding until the alert state is over. So you’ll usually find that you’re spotted the best thing to do is restart the mission and try everything again.
Also, the alert system has its fair share of issues. As in most Metal Gear Solid games, whenever an enemy sees you, he’ll seek refuge and call headquarters to alert everyone of your presence. Worst case scenario, they spot you and kill you, but if you manage to remain hidden for a few seconds, enemies will patrol for a while before returning to their position which hinders the entire experience.
In the end, Portable Ops is a terrific Metal Gear Solid title that’s negatively affected by some control issues and some antiquated design decisions. To be fair, that’s been the problem with other games in the series and while that doesn’t make those issues more acceptable, they’ve been part of the design of the series for a while. Those problems aside, Portable Ops is a game that no fan of the series should miss, even if that means tracking down a PSP and a copy of the game to have this experience.