Hey guys, and welcome to another tantalising games-related blog from yours truly. I'm going to keep it fairly simple this time around and just focus on what I've been playing over the last week or so. As you can probably tell from the title of the blog, it's pretty heavy on the Metal Gear, but there is some other stuff thrown in too.
Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops
While I was stuck at University without any consoles and only my PSP for company, I got around to finishing Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops. I completed it last Tuesday (that is, a week ago today), clocking up fourteen hours in the campaign, and I'm not exaggerating when I say I loved pretty much everything about it. As a PSP game, it's right up there with God of War: Chains of Olympus and Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions as one of the best I've played. The graphics are incredible, with the character models really stealing the show. The environments aren't quite as impressive, but still look great and are filled with enough detail to encourage a bit of exploration. The controls are fairly close to the ones found in previous 3D Metal Gear Solid games and they're about as well-implemented as they possibly could be on a handheld, given the lack of a second analog nub and a secondary set of shoulder buttons. Despite the more restrictive control system you can still do pretty much everything you could do in MGS2 and MGS3, which is great to see, but it can also be a headache at times. Some control functions are mapped to multiple buttons, making things slightly more awkward than they needed to be at times (some of the boss battles come to mind), but for the most part the game controls smoothly.
The gameplay initially comes off as standard MGS fare, but not long after the game begins you have a host of novel additions to consider. The most prominent of these is the inclusion of team-based stealth missions. I count this as a welcome addition to the franchise, and I thought it was an excellent way of giving something new to long-time fans of the series. Having a squad of up to three additional operatives supporting Naked Snake makes the game feel different from previous iterations, even if what you're doing isn't all that far removed in terms of gameplay mechanics. All the little changes this one notion brings have a noticeable impact on the way the game plays. Instead of taking down enemies and running past their unconscious bodies, I felt motivated to kidnap as many of them as possible in order to amass my own miniature army. Instead of having to worry about sneaking through an area unnoticed, I had the option to simply send in a soldier wearing the same uniform as the guards on patrol. I also enjoyed strategic aspect this squad-based concept adds to the gameplay. Throughout the game I found myself spending a lot of time between missions managing my units, trying to effectively rotate my soldiers to ensure stamina never becomes an issue, and attempting to form the most effective spy, technical and medical units to complement my sneaking team. The interface isn't what I'd call intuitive, but it's certainly not a nightmare to re-organise your troops.
Another thing I really liked about MGS: Portable Ops was just how close it came to replicating the experience of the console Metal Gear Solid games on a handheld system. All the conventions have made it through wonderfully unscathed. In terms of gameplay, everything remains intact. Portable Ops has all the weapons and gadgets you'd expect in a Metal Gear Solid game, from the humble tranquiliser gun to the mighty rocket launcher and everything in between. The series' penchant for memorable boss fights is carried over to the PSP as well, with most of Portable Ops' boss battles living up to the standards set by its console brethren. Similarly, despite the significant changes, the stealth action in Portable Ops is still very much what you'd expect from the series. Then there's the story. The story is one of my favourite things about MGS: Portable Ops: I thought it was well-written and (perhaps more crucially) well-told. I loved the use of the comic-style art panels accompanied by voice acting which, despite being drastically different to the cut-scenes from the console games, still managed to capture the style and flair I've come to associate with the franchise. A lot of that is probably thanks to David Hayter reprising his role as Snake, and his performance is as strong as ever.
In short, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops is Metal Gear Solid on the PSP. Nothing was sacrificed in the transition, and the result is certainly one of the PSP's killer apps. Any fan of the series should definitely check this out if they haven't already. Now I'm really psyched for Peace Walker, too. Actually, looking back over the length of that, I could have probably set aside a Discovering Gaming Greatness blog for Portable Ops. Oh well.
Metal Gear Solid
No, not thatMetal Gear Solid. I'm talking about the GameBoy Color iteration in the Metal Gear franchise, known in Japan as Metal Gear: Ghost Babel. Shortly after finishing Portable Ops I turned my attention to the series' first handheld outing to see how it fared and, for the most part, I was majorly impressed. In much the same way that Portable Ops translates the MGS2/MGS3 experience to a handheld, Metal Gear Solid does the same thing with its PlayStation namesake. It plays like a hybrid of Metal Gear Solid for the PS1 and the original MSX Metal Gear games. Naturally, it's all in 2D, but gameplay-wise I think pretty much everything from the PS1 game made it over: you can press yourself up against walls and knock, you can crawl, and there's a well fleshed-out story told through Codec dialogue and "cut-scenes", if they can be called that. In all honesty I found the story in Metal Gear Solid GBC to be pretty weak and almost insultingly overindulgent at times, even by Metal Gear standards. Thankfully the gameplay made up for it with plenty of solid sneaking, a few intriguing puzzles and some pretty awesome boss battles. It's also pretty short, but considering it's a GameBoy Color game, I can forgive that. As if to say sorry for the brevity of its campaign, the game also includes an extensive VR Training mode and an assortment of mission-based challenges to attempt once you've completed the story. It may not be "up there" with the rest of the Metal Gear games, but I certainly don't regret picking it up.
In terms of other stuff, I got home from University on Friday. I've never been happier to be back at home, and I'm glad I won't have to see the vast majority of my flatmates again other than in passing. Tensions were riding high in the last week, and I said some things that upset some people, but I don't regret any of it. What I do regret is letting the environment I was in make me so damn cynical. I've arrived at a mental state where I have very little time for the concerns of other people right now, and I don'r like being there. Hopefully a few weeks at home, as well as the knowledge that I'm free from the nightmare flat, will revert me to my old self again.
On the subject of games, I now have access to my consoles again. That fact, plus the distinct lack of available work right now, means I'm playing the hell out of video games for most of the day. I'm currently continuing to tackle the Career mode in Forza Motorsport 2; I'm at Driver Level 34, with around 53% of the available gold medals under my belt. I've also resolved to use the vast expanse of free time available to me this summer to polish off some outstanding RPGs. I've decided to postpone playing through Final Fantasy VI for the timebeing, in order to focus on tackling two colossal games that have been sitting on my shelf for a few months: namely The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and Persona 4. I'm not very far into either at the moment (I've just started Morrowind and I'm up to about Endurance Run Episode 9 in terms of Persona 4 progress), so I can't really pass judgement on either of them, but I'll be sure to keep you all posted with fairly regular updates regarding both of those.
I think that just about covers everything. Sorry about the length - I'll try to blog more regularly over the next month or two, to ensure I don't continue pushing out blogs of such a daunting length. In the meantime, take it easy, fellow Giant Bombers. I'll see you around.
Currently playing - The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Game of the Year Edition (XBOX)