Before the release of the highly anticipated Metal Gear Solid 4 on the PlayStation 3, Konami launched another game in the series for Sony’s PlayStation Portable. Because Hideo Kojima wasn’t as heavily involved with the creation as he normally is, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops is often overlooked by fans. Many people believe that the game is not worth checking out, but this is not true. Not only did this game lay the foundation of many mechanics later found in Peace Walker, but it was also an impressive game when it first came out, and a nice entry in the franchise in its own right.
This article contains spoilers for the game’s story, so if you haven’t played it, be warned.
“I’m not living unless I’m in battle. So I have to find my own reason to fight. I have to pass on what’s been handed down to me…” Big Boss, Portable Ops
Good cast of new characters
Portable Ops had actually a very good cast of characters, with the most notable one being Gene. But also Elisa and the crazed Colonel Skowronski (‘Bring me a plane!’) are memorable additions to the Metal Gear universe. It helps that they are accompanied by very good voice acting, as is expected from a Metal Gear game, among which (for the first time in a Metal Gear game) Steve Blum, who would also return for Peace Walker.
Sokolov’s return felt forced, but other than that the returning characters were a nice bit of fan service. There is young Colonel Campbell, who shows a different side of the character the fans know so well. Gray Fox makes an appearance as the young, brainwashed ‘Null’. It even explains the origins of the name ‘Frank Jaeger’. And it has Ocelot (who was absent from Peace Walker), in his famous backstabbing, cool and collected -and always twisted- ways, which is a bonus point for the game of course.
Interesting story that foreshadows Metal Gear Solid 4’s
It may be true that Portable Ops’ story isn’t absolutely necessary for the saga as a whole, but on its own it’s interesting enough. When this game is brought up in a discussion, it’s more often than not regarding its canonicity in the series. Kojima himself separates the games he created from games he only produced, and Portable Ops is not a ‘Hideo Kojima Game’. Now that this is out of the way, the story does stand on its own. It has some interesting plot points and dialogue. It should also be noted that the game was released before MGS4, and gave some interesting foreshadowing on that game, the most important one being the identity of (some of) the Patriots, which turned out to be a major plot point in MGS4.
Some great and memorable cutscenes
Portable Ops introduced animated cutscenes by Ashley Wood (which would also return for Peace Walker), and there are some great ones indeed. The best one has to be Elisa’s death scene, in which she uses her ability to give Big Boss a glimpse of his future. Accompanied by fragments of Solidus Snake, Metal Gear REX, Liquid and other things to come, she tells Big Boss that his sons ‘will bring the world to ruin’, but also ‘save the world’. Something he can’t comprehend at the time, but the player knows exactly what she is talking about. But there is also the speech from Gene, with which he manipulated Snake’s squad into murdering each other, and Python’s introduction scene.
As you would expect from a Metal Gear game, the soundtrack of Portable Ops is great. It’s composed by series’ veteran Norihiko Hibino and Akihiro Honda, among others. Calling to the Night is a favorite, but other good tracks include To Arms, Sad Man’s Theme (a rearrangement of Peter Stillman’s theme in MGS2), and Show Time. It’s not quite the best Metal Gear soundtrack out there, but the game’s music still manages to keep the feel of the other games while having some memorable tracks on its own.
Of course, the PSP isn’t exactly new anymore and seven years after the game’s release, we are used to seeing better graphics now, but at the time it released the graphics were absolutely stunning on a handheld. To have a portable game with graphics that approached MGS3’s, was unheard of. It also looked really sharp on the PSP’s screen, and the animated cutscenes were very impressive as well (memorable is the ‘3D truck’ in this scene).
Interesting and original gameplay mechanics
Portable Ops introduced many of the overall gameplay mechanics that Peace Walker expanded on, such as the soldier recruiting and mission selection. Thus, the game laid the foundation for base management that would return in Peace Walker and later in MGSV. You could also play as other characters than Snake, including a good selection of favorites such as Major Zero, EVA and Ocelot. Additionally, the game allowed players to choose not to kill certain bosses in order to recruit them to your team. The controls take some getting used to, the say the least, but if you can get past them it is actually a fun game to play.
In conclusion, for the true Metal Gear fans who missed out on this game, it may be a good idea to try it out sometime. While it may not be up to par with a Hideo Kojima developed Metal Gear title, there is still plenty to enjoy in this game.