« Back home

Why Portable Ops is a Sign of Bad Things To Come

This is a good representation of any time I have spent playing Portable Ops.

Editorial by Ravi Singh, Posted on February 20, 2008

No, really, it is.

Why the fuck is Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops considered to be such a great game? Or even one of the best Metal Gear games? I consider it to be one of the weakest titles in the series. It's not necessarily because I hate retcons. It's not because I hate "innovation" or adding new things to gameplay. I just think the game could have been done without.

Sure, you could swallow all the bullshit that Konami and Kojima Productions' public relations fed us. Oh, it's "the missing link between Snake Eater and Metal Gear." We can find out about "the tragedy of Big Boss." It explains things that you will need to know to make Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots make any sense. It's a "real" MGS for a portable game console, "made from the ground up." Ravi Singh's just an old fan who won't let the series progress, am-I-right?

No, fuck you, Mr. Italics.

The Fucking Truck

I have been quoted as saying that this game is as much as a "Metal Gear Solid" game as Metal Gear Acid was when it comes to gameplay. I know, understand, and in some way have come to terms with the fact that the storyline is officially canon, but the gameplay feels quite different than any previous canon Metal Gear title.

First off, if you remember any of the previous Metal Gear titles, you play as a character, infiltrate an area, and go from start to finish. Sons of Liberty and Snake Eater had the game divided into two chapters, but this is a small change compared to Portable Ops which treats the game like an online game. The game is divided into maps basically, in which you do some missions. Most of these missions are composed of "get something" or "get to the goal" and ends right there–Roy Campbell's truck is always ready for you to get-your-ass-back, no matter how ridiculous the situation you are currently in may be.

MISSION COMPLETE: Now Campbell will call you, tell you to "get your ass back here" but in reality you will teleport to the truck, even if you're in ALERT mode and you have four guards behind you, all of whom know exactly where the fuck you are.

The fact that there's a fucking truck driving around with a ton of sweaty guys  in it (and a few women) is ridiculous as it is. The game even acknowledges it too, by having some guards mention that there is a "suspicious truck" moving around. Yet, these guys fail at doing anything about said suspicious truck. By that logic, you can get a nice van, cram a bunch of guys on PCP in it to simulate there being over twenty people in said van, and drive around town doing crazy shit like blowing up generators (which, if Portable Ops is anything to go by, will be constructed back to normal as if nothing happened if you take too long in the Silo Entrance afterwards) and stealing people's paperwork. The van will be on the news as labeled as "suspicious," but you will never get caught. For a series that got rid of a popular weapon (the FA-MAS) in a game because it made no sense being in a Marine tanker, it's kind of weird seeing shit like this being perfectly acceptable.

The Roy Campbell Truck Tour concept was probably thrown in to make the concept of Big Boss recruiting people at least make the tiniest bit of sense at all. With the normal Metal Gear gameplay, you're on your own, or with one more person (perhaps two) and so running from place to place is not too crazy. Running place-to-place with a bunch of guys following you does seem odd, especially to an audience that seems to be extremely homophobic. However, the truck idea still doesn't make sense if you consider the fact that you can dispense your unit as spies to various locations on the map instantly. Although sometimes the spies are useless and unreliable so I guess you can say that Campbell's Truck isn't as reliable as it seems a magical teleporting device would be.

PlayStation 2 on PSP

There's more to it feeling like an entirely different game from a Metal Gear title altogether–it's because the game is essentially a port of the online mode in Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence. There are a few differences and modifications, but it is a port of an online PlayStation 2 game that was loosely affiliated with Metal Gear. While that seems remarkable to essentially have the gameplay of a PlayStation 2 game on a portable console, there lies some flaws here and there.

When Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance was ported to Xbox, a few problems occurred. Not including the withdrawal of the skateboarding gimmick, the game's controls were a bit off, and the game suffered from serious slowdown during certain parts. Mind you, the Xbox as a console was more powerful than the PlayStation 2. Now porting a game engine designed for the PlayStation 2 to the less powerful PlayStation Portable is obviously going to create some issues.

Soldiers fall, but never to get themselves back up!

The game runs like Subsistence's online mode in that there is no "fixed" camera, which is stupid because even Kojima has mentioned before that while a user-controlled camera is definitely a welcome touch to the Metal Gear series, a fixed camera mode is needed for situations such as you being in a small room. Sure, in Portable Ops, pressing "L" will center your camera, but it also is used to aim your weapon, which makes disguises fail and strafing fucking obnoxious. Even more outlandish is how you control such camera.

While in Subsistence one was able to move it by using the right analog stick, in Portable Ops the PSP's lack of one caused it to be assigned to the directional pad, located right above the control stick. No matter how you customize your controls, you will never have a nice control scheme for Portable Ops unless you run it through your computer and use a Dual Shock or SIX-AXIS controller. This is especially true if you have somewhat bigger hands such as myself. You know what they say about big hands… they fucking cramp up if you play this game during "intense" moments such as… running around and shooting people. So with there being no fixed camera mode, moving around in some areas (usually any indoor area) has the camera feeling like it's trying too hard to get up your soldier's ass. I mean, I couldn't' care less about the camera's sex life, but come on man, not at work. As mentioned before, "intense" moments are a big weakness for Portable Ops. The game also slows down during such "intense" moments. Once again, by "intense" I mean when more than a couple of enemies are after you, and select boss fights–especially the last one.

The defense fans give is that this is a portable game, and that it's unfair to hold it to the standards of, say, a PlayStation 2 game, even. However, I think this argument is one that reeks of twat, because shitty controls and slowdown should be expected from a game running through an emulator–or a full-on port. Portable Ops is a PlayStation Portable exclusive. They should have made the gameplay engine from scratch. Which they fucking didn't.


I can't even say it's worded in a weird way. This is totally a fucking lie.

Oh that thing from the official website? Fuck that thing. The idea that Portable Ops was built from ground-up is insulting on it's own. Never mind that though, Kojima Production's Ryan Payton pretty much backs my theory up in an interview with IGN:

"One of the first steps in developing MPO was to place the existing MGS3: Subsistence engine on PSP — so what you're getting here is a brand new game built off of the Subsistence infrastructure….This was quite a chore to implement and playtest into the game, but I think MGS fans will appreciate having all of Snake's moves available in a new game on PSP."

I'm sure it was a chore. So why the fuck didn't you guys just make it from scratch as the promotional video suggested you guys did?

The Questions We Apparently Had

"MPO plays very well into the Metal Gear Solid mythos. … For those who have beaten MGS3: Snake Eater, I think they're in for a real treat with MPO — we reveal some massive revelations about Naked Snake's involvement in Operation Snake Eater. And I don't want to spoil anything, but the events of MPO also have a direct relation with what occurs in MGS4. In other words, in order to fully understand what happens in MGS4, you'll need to have played MPO."

More like "In order to truly understand what happens in MGS4, you'll need to buy a PSP and our game, bitch" right? Wrong, actually, because the plot's main points can be summarized in one page. Maybe two pages if you're going to double-space. Even if we lived in a world where nobody posted spoilers and videos on the internet, the need to purchase this game to understand an upcoming PlayStation 3 title is made obsolete considering that Kojima Productions wants to make sure than anybody who enjoys video games can jump into Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots without going "What the fuck is a PHILOSOPHERS LEGACY" and returning it to their local GameStop. In order to do this, the game has been confirmed to have not only flashbacks to previous titles should certain subjects or incidents be mentioned ever again, but an in-game encyclopedia as well.

Yes, these flashbacks require the game to have existed though. They're not just going to throw in random shit that have never been depicted in a Metal Gear game before. So in theory, if there was no Portable Ops, things within the game couldn't have been given a flashback to. The thing is though, what's been revealed in Portable Ops' story is not as major as the promotional material claimed it would be. It's not a "lost chapter in the Metal Gear Solid saga" as the back of the North American case claims it to be. It's a filler, at best, with some decent voice acting. It's quite odd how this game was hyped up to answer questions it never fucking did:

"Why did [Big Boss] lure Solid Snake into fighting him? How could the man who once saved the world threaten its very survival? All these questions–and many more–will soon be answered."
Apparently this made no fucking sense to you guys whatsoever.

What about the "tragedy of Big Boss"? It's assumed that the tragedy is him being tricked into killing his mentor, The Boss, right? Well, what does Portable Ops have to add to this? Nobody knows. Portable Ops' only "tragedy" is the death of a certain character that ends up helping Big Boss. I think the tragedy is the fact that I spent $60 on this title and it's "expansion pack." Alright then, what about the "missing link" between Snake Eater and Metal Gear? Well, it was assumed that after knowing the truth behind The Boss, Big Boss seeks revenge against the United States or The Philosophers or something. Maybe he actually doesn't, but goes fucking nuts because it's been in his head all the time while he developed FOX-HOUND. Double nope. So what is the missing link according to Portable Ops? He retired, gets captured, finds out that Volgin was in on the whole thing (what?), learns about a soldier's paradise rooting for global war called Army's Heaven, and then getting the funds from Army's Heaven to start a similar let different Outer Heaven.

So basically those two things are not really a big deal in the first place, right?

Correct. So who fucking cares? Why was there ever a "need" to witness the events that unfolded in South America in 1970? The only major input the story has to the series is the Perfect Soldier project, some guy who looks like Pinhead might have lived and joined Big Boss' army or died, Gray Fox's story about being a Vietnam War orphan who was discriminated against for being white is a lie, Sokolov is alive (yeah, I know), and that The Philosophers actually all get killed off and then replaced with The Patriots, which is formed by Ocelot, some guy with "the same codename as Null," and maybe Big Boss. Like I said before, this shit is easily summarized and instead of answering any questions, it simply adds some.

The Presentation

I understand why they'd replace the real-time cutscenes in favor of ones drawn up by Ashley Wood like a digital graphic novel. This is something that, if criticized, meets the "it's on a portable" excuse. Besides, they're pretty good, and the voice acting (aside from Null's) was decent at least. It's just that anything that does not involve a cutscene fucking sucks. It's just text with either drawings, renders, or models  without any voice acting. At least Sons of Liberty's codec conversations involved some movement and noise, regardless of how many you had to go through.



It may look boring, but in action, there's shit going on. There are voices, music that fits into the conversation, and it pretty much is a Metal Gear Solid cutscene done with comics.
/

Here, what you see is essentially it aside from the music that plays during this map. Pretty shitty for a game with "Full voiceovers for cinematics" to do this.

Oddly enough, there's text and voice during gameplay. The guy who commands the guards to do shit like returning to their positions has a voice and it is subtitled. The guards, however, are mute unless they're calling for backup or screaming in pain. If you interrogate a guard, what he says will not be heard, but seen. This is compromised by anything else that relies on text… such as that fucking commander voice, which the game will visually represent as text anyways for the deaf even though the words "RETURN TO YOUR POSITIONS" is easily decipherable and isn't important enough to require the need for subtitles that override a guard giving an important radio frequency.

Wait, no, fuck, I need that frequency, GOD DAMN YOU FUCKING RADIO AND YOUR FUCKING VOICE OVER AND SUBTITLE ABILITY!

If that wasn't enough, what about the look? Sure, the character models look pretty neat for a PSP game, but everything else doesn't. I can go ahead and ignore the fact that all the palm trees that the promotional artwork for the game depicts do not exist in the game (but I will continue to laugh at any of you people who honestly think that palm trees don't exist in South America) and yet, there are still some things that are just make the game look even more of a rush job than it probably was.

I mean, for starters, there are tons of doors that lead to nothing. Now I'm not going to bitch that the San Hieronymo Peninsula is made up of limited maps that were designed with online play in mind. Well, I could, but regardless, couldn't the doors have been programmed to show that they are locked? You know, just have the "DUH UH" noise effect should you go in front of them? Or have the soldier reach the handle, make the clicking noise that locked doors make, and that's that? You know, like how SOME of the locked doors in the game actually do? What the fuck's with that? I can only remember one game involving Snake and a Metal Gear that had stupid shit like this all the time. Could this be THE MISSING LINK?!


One of hundreds of faux doors that are glued to the walls in Portable Ops. One of hundreds of faux doors that are glued to the walls in Snake's Revenge.

The ones that do actually open occasionally lead to… an empty room. This would be a camper's paradise online, but I've found areas like these in the Airport, for example, which is not a playable online map. It's nice to know that this Russian base is bigger than it seems to be, but why ignore details when in Sons of Liberty, you can watch ice cubes melt should you shoot them out of an ice bucket?

The Problem Itself

Now why is all of this a problem? Why am I so frustrated at this game? So what if quality wasn't put on high priority? I could quite easily never play it ever again. In fact, that's what I've been doing. At least the story is very short and is easily summed up. There is absolutely no need for someone who hates this game to ever play it. I probably just don't like multiplayer games because I don't hang out with many gamers, and I probably don't like online multiplayer because I don't give a fuck about frogs and headshots. That alone is a problem. The reality is that if games like Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops sell quite well–especially if it's selling well mainly for multiplayer–and is praised by everybody, more slipshod shit like this will be released.

If you can't see what's wrong with this picture, then you must be squinting too hard.

Why would a development team bother making gameplay work for it's platform, making a game engine from scratch, making a story that actually matters, and pretty much having a standard of quality even for a handheld game when they can simply ignore these high-costing aspects of game development? There are rumors of a sequel to Portable Ops in the works. These have been shot down, but would you be surprised? They can take the same game engine and just create new maps, characters, weapons, and have Hideo Kojima write down a quick paragraph of the story so they can use his name in promotional materials–that's even if they bother with a fucking story. Making a a whole new game franchise was a bit too much during the development for the original anyways:

"At the onset, the project was totally unrelated to the Metal Gear Solid series. I had the notion to create a competitive fighting game on the PSP, and I decided to develop it as an MGS title afterwards."

It doesn't even matter anymore if the selling point of a Metal Gear went from "intriguing storyline and stealth gameplay" to "online multiplayer on PSP." It's of little concern if we don't need another prequel to the original Metal Gear. It makes no difference if fans already kind of figured out that Big Boss, an American hero, went against his country and his clone, Solid Snake, kills him using a lighter and a can of spray. In the end, it's just the guarantee that it will sell quite well that ultimately green lights games. Making money is fine and is usually the fuel behind the creation of great things. It's just that making an online multiplayer game and just stamping the METAL GEAR name on it shits on those who've enjoyed the series before they started to mass produce it out of plastic.

I'm sure most of the people reading this are fans of Portable Ops. The fact that the highly-detailed character models are thrown onto low-detail bland maps to be controlled awkwardly and other quality-control issues I've mentioned above probably don't bother you for some reason. Is it the multiplayer that you love? Out of a scale of 1-10, give Portable Ops a score. Did you pick it? Good. Now let's pretend Konami has shut down the servers. Let's say even if you own the expansion pack Plus, you cannot go online and teabag everyone like you love to do on Saturday nights because you have no life. What score would you give the game if you can't go online? The idea of the servers shutting down isn't even that farfetched–expect it to happen before the possible sequel's release.

When asked about there being a sequel, Ryan Payton stated:

"Absolutely. If the response to MPO is as good as we're expecting, you can look forward to new chapters in the Big Boss legacy on PSP. We still have many stories to tell about the early years of Metal Gear Solid — I hope we can continue to do that on PSP."

Ask yourself this; if there really is more to the Big Boss story that we don't already know–or rather, need to know–why does it matter how well Portable Ops does?

There are 8 comments in our discussion thread.

« Back home