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Metal Gear: Ac!d
Score: 88%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Media: UMD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy/ Card Games/ Action

Graphics & Sound:
Itís funny how more and more games are starting to include CCG mechanics in their designs. So far the mechanic has been used in everything from RPGs to strategy games to even an action game. Metal Gear: Ac!d is the probably the most unlikely of series to take to CCG traits, but when you really think about it, the two structures actually compliment each other rather well. Success in both requires strategy and tactics. Though the combination has likely turned some fans away from the latest game in the Metal Gear series, those who give it a chance will find that even with the new system, much of what they liked about the action-oriented series is still present.

Ac!d may not play like a traditional Metal Gear game, but it certainly looks the part. Many of the gameís environments take place in dark, industrial areas, bringing it in line more to the style of the first two games rather than the latest game in the series. Expect to see lots of concrete, metal, and, of course, labyrinth upon labyrinth of look-alike hallways. Character designs look like they were ripped straight out of Metal Gear Solid. As with some of the other games in the PSPís lineup, some of the smaller details have been removed to accommodate for the PSPís hardware, but there are still enough details to keep it looking sharp. These are especially noticeable during the action scenes that occur after playing a card.

Story elements play out through a series of hand-drawn portraits which take the place of the codex conversations found in other games. Depending on the situation, portraits are complimented by either another hand-drawn image or animated in-game images.

Camera issues are one of the biggest issues facing Ac!dís graphical presentation. Most of the time, they are not much of an problem, though difficult-to-navigate angles arenít all that uncommon. Camera issues donít make the game unplayable, but a little more control over the camera would have really helped the gameís strategic elements. More control would have been especially helpful in later levels that take place in multi-tiered areas.

Following in the path of past games, Ac!dís soundtrack is kept very low-key until the action kicks in. Even when the action is calm, the tempo is upbeat and keeps you in the game. None of the lines are voiced, so expect to do a lot of reading during some of the longer story sequences. All of the familiar blings, bleeps, and whistles carry over to the PSP as well. Though it may sound like a small thing, these elements are integral elements to past games and their omission might serve to only anger some of the series' more ardent fans who are already turned off by the change in gameplay.

The gameís plot takes place in a universe parallel to the Metal Gear storyline. Snake is once again called to help put down a global threat, this time by a man named Roger. The plot revolves around a secret military project named Pythagoras that a group of mercenaries demand be handed over to them. As an incentive for cooperation from the government, theyíve hijacked a plane that happens to contain the frontrunner for the upcoming elections. Oh, did I mention that the hijackers are a pair of talking dolls? Yeah. As you can see, some of the stranger elements from Metal Gear show up here Ė which is why fans for the series should feel more than comfortable with the gameís setting. As the plot twists and turns, Snake also comes across a psychic named Alice, and multiple groups, all with a different stake in Pythagorasí fate.

When you first get into it, Metal Gear: Ac!d looks like a normal Metal Gear game. In many respects, it also plays like one. The game is still a stealth game; the difference is that everything plays out in a turn-based manner. In addition, the cards you draw at the beginning of each turn dictate all of your actions. Because of this, planning and strategy are even more important than past games.

Even with the gameís CCG/turn-based mechanics, Ac!d is still a Metal Gear game, so expect lots of story sequences. The reliance on storytelling turns out to be a flaw in the game. Watching 30 minutes of straight cinemas on the consoles is bad enough, but itís even worse on a handheld. Mercifully, the cinemas never exceed more than 10 minutes, but this is still long enough to not make it a good game to take on the go. If youíre on a long car trip, itís fine. If youíre trying to catch a quick game while on the bus, Ac!d isnít the best option.

Completing the main story mode unlocks a Multiplayer mode that is exclusive to the U.S. version of Ac!d. This mode feels like the VR missions from past games. You take control of either Snake or a new agent, Teliko, and try to recover as many Pythagoras discs as you can. Once youíve collected three discs, you unlock four mission goals that must be completed. Missions are timed, so itís possible to try and outlast your opponent and be the guy with the most discs when time runs out. You can also deplete your opponentís score and try to get a win that way.

Getting used to Metal Gear: Ac!dís card-based system is handled very well. Missions are set up to help you slowly work into the complex workings of the system. You begin with simple movement, and then towards using the different card types during missions. Eventually youíll have to manage Snake and Teliko, as well as learn to equip special cards on the item grid. Mastery of all the gameís systems isnít a requirement for completing it, as demonstrated by my inept handling of some situations. Like any good CCG, the system is easy enough for most players to get, yet still offers enough depth for more advanced players to get something out of it.

One of the downsides to Ac!d is the luck factor. Cards are dealt at random, and though you can increase the odds of pulling certain cards, thereís never the guarantee that youíll get what you need when you need it.

Game Mechanics:
The CCG element is very deep and complex, so it will take awhile before you get all of the subtle nuances down. Iím still trying to figure out how a few things work Ė something that speaks well for the gameís replay value. The basics are easy to understand. At the beginning of each turn, youíre dealt a hand from your deck, which you can build between missions. These cards represent all of the actions you can take at a given time. Some cards are movement cards and allow you to move a little further than you normally can (which is usually about three spaces). Other cards let you equip weapons like the AK-47 or SOCOM, or use a box to hide. Some cards, which are based after characters from other Metal Gear games, allow Snake to use special abilities. For example, playing the Ninja card causes every enemy on the screen to take damage. Other characters include Revolver Ocelot, Otacon, and Olga. This adds a bit of nostalgia for long-time fans. Cards are drawn completely at random, which is where much of the gameís strategy comes in. Youíre limited in what you can do during a mission, requiring you to think a little harder and take some chances.

The collecting aspects also add some replay value. At the end of each mission, youíre ranked based on how you performed. The higher your rank, the more points you get. Between missions, you can purchase new cards. Some more unique cards, like some of the more powerful character cards, can only be unlocked through high rankings or by finding them during missions. If youíre unable to snatch any of the unique cards, you can still go far in the game, but taking the time to try and get better cards will, of course, make your job that much easier.

Again, turn-based strategies arenít for everyone, so I canít guarantee everyone will like it. Still, Metal Gear: Ac!d is an enjoyable experience if youíre willing to give it a try and have patience for learning a new game system.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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