Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops
is billed as the missing chapter between the first game and MGS 3: Snake Eater
. If you didn't play either one, don't worry about it... you should still pick this up. You can catch up later on the story, but you won't need to know anything about the earlier games to enjoy Portable Ops
. Snake, or Big Boss, is a character that doesn't need much preamble. You know from the first few moments of the game that he's a cold killer. Snake finds himself stranded alone with no apparent support in a South American base where Russian troops and members of FOX are dug in and up to no good. Once Snake makes a friendly contact, he is on his way to uncovering and foiling the FOX plot.
The amazing thing about Portable Ops is how it manages to use stealth action as the starting point rather than the destination. In many ways, this is a game with all the depth of an RPG. Snake doesn't try to do it all by himself this time around. Because the soldiers posted on the peninsula don't have any love for FOX, they can be convinced to turn against their new masters. Everyone has a grudge of some kind and there's political intrigue involved; what would any Metal Gear game be without some level of political intrigue? It used to be good enough to stun or kill enemies and then hide their bodies. Hiding bodies is still important but you can also do a snatch-and-grab on the soldiers you leave alive. These soldiers start out as prisoners and can be converted to your cause over time. Once a soldier decides to join the fight on your side, the fun begins.
Tactical stealth action with Snake alone was fun but imagine deploying four-man squads into battle. Imagine managing a network of spies to gather information. Imagine a medical group to help heal up wounded soldiers returning from battle. Imagine a group of technicians solely responsible for cooking up cool new weapons and gear. It all comes true in Portable Ops, my friends. The neatest thing is how well balanced the game remains after it sheds its "one man army" persona. Each captured soldier has some type of specialty that may come in handy during battle. The most basic is being able to drag stunned soldiers more quickly to the truck after Snake knocks them out. When you deploy team members in infiltration missions, the other members will hide in preset spots and wait. A sort of relay can take place with Snake knocking out a guard, calling in a team member and cooling out while the other guy does the heavy labor. Snake may be the baddest soldier around, but the guards you recruit have one distinct edge when it comes to infiltration. By wearing the same uniforms that enemy guards are wearing, you can infiltrate without having to do nearly as much sneaking.
The single player game is really just a prelude to all the cool things you can do in multiplayer modes. After building up your ranks to as many as 100 soldiers (including Snake) you can do some amazing things in multiplayer. The most innovative mode - almost a game in itself - involves assigning a team of four soldiers to fight "on the network." You don't control the battles, but instead choose the team carefully and give them weapons that will provide maximum advantage. You deploy the team, go to work or school, and come back later to retrieve them from the server. The spoils of battle may be new recruits or at least bounty in the form of points. If rankings are all you care about, you'll get your bragging rights here. Other online modes are the expected ad-hoc battles or game sharing and even full fledged online multiplayer. Unlike some other games we've played for PSP, the online arena was already hopping the minute I logged in and selected a Deathmatch. You take teams that you've gathered offline and test them in the online challenges. Some challenges will actually result in forfeiting a character though, so be careful.