Ever since Subsistence revived my interest in the Metal Gear series, this one has been high up my wishlist. It fulfills both the need to continue the excellent Big Boss saga and the more pressing requirement for something to play on the PSP. I got my US copy this morning and, after a couple of hours spent trying to get the 3.02 firmware emulated so I wouldn’t have to upgrade, I gave it a crack.
The immediate concern when playing this game is the control system. One of my criticisms of MGS3 was the convoluted controls and although they still take some getting used to here and are overall inferior, Kojima’s team has done some much-needed pruning. The lack of buttons eventually stops feeling limited, and I hope that the lessons learnt here are carried over to MGS4.
The 3D camera obviously doesn’t control as smoothly on a D-pad as on an analogue stick, but is still a welcome transplant from the last game. The frustration of unseen enemies is further alleviated by a permanent radar/sound sensor thingy (no worrying about battery levels) and a full map of each area on the pause menu. I still got spotted by an enemy that I missed in the first room but that was my fault for not realising how the radar worked.
The fundamental change to this game comes with the recruitment system, where each mission can be played out with a squad of four allies. Almost any enemy in the game can be recruited into your little rebellion and then their unique skills can be utilised – uniformed enemies are less conspicuous when infiltrating a base, for example – in your efforts to complete the game. It even uses the wi-fi function of the PSP to generate random recruits, meaning that just stopping in a coffee shop can yield an S-class supersoldier. I’ve taken my PSP out with me a couple of times with the sole intention of visiting a known access point to see what I can get.
Graphically, the character models are comparable to their PS2 counterparts, albeit with a lower polygon count and lesser detail. The tradeoffs don’t really affect the graphical acuity on the screen size that you’re going to be playing this on. The stages have received a similar drop in detail and range from good to functional. When playing in the Town area at night I found myself remembering Medal of Honor on the PS1 for some reason – it doesn’t look that bad, but that’s what I was channeling.
Where Konami deserves credit is in not shovelling a PS2 MGS game onto the portable. This has clearly been designed as a portable game, with stages that rarely take more than ten minutes to finish and the chance to micromanage your growing army if you don’t even have time for that. It’s a model that I hope more developers take note of before the state of PSP software gets any worse. They’ve clearly understood the target platform which is all too rare on Sony’s handheld.
So then, what this looks to be is a highly competent portable MGS, and quite possibly my favourite PSP game behind Lumines. Any flaws are generally systemic and, despite a story that has so far seemed slightly perfunctory (although confirmed canonical), I’m confident that fans of the series will find this thoroughly enjoyable.