The first Portable Ops game for PSP received stunning reviews and universal praise for its action-packed gameplay and typically Hollywood-style story that tied in with the epic plot of the main series – so much so, in fact, that it won several game of the year awards. On the back of this success, Konami has released an expansion pack that takes the focus away from the story and puts it firmly on the multiplayer aspects of the original title.
As if to only emphasise the concentration on multiplayer, the single player experience here is disappointing, especially given the resounding success of the first game. The plot of the first title touched on many important issues – loyalty, the futility of war – and pleased fans by including several well-known characters from the series. Snake Eater, Roy Campbell and FOXHOUND all made appearances. Despite this strong grounding, Portable Ops Plus doesn’t really include a plot at all. It’s left for you to keep guessing as to why certain characters make an appearance, and there’s never any answers.
In lieu of this omission, the game includes something that will be familiar to any old-school RPG player: randomly generated dungeons that, conversely, look like generic military bases. The idea is to play through the stage, capturing soldiers and other strategic points, before making your way to the end of the level. Any soldiers that you capture can be dragged to a truck and ‘persuaded’ to join your team for later missions.
Progression in the game results in your soldiers improving in another touch that will please RPG fans. Their accuracy, stamina and health can be enhanced throughout, which prepare them for taking on harder missions. Problematically, though, the further you go through the game the easier it becomes – while your troops definitely improve, the AI seems to remain static. Certainly, we didn’t see any huge sophistication when playing – they’d rather stand in the open firing than dive behind cover, for instance, when we pulled out an AK-47 to counter their pistol. If you have saved data from the original title, you can even use warriors from that game – super-soldiers that simply obliterate the out-gunned AI.
It’s also a shame that a few gameplay elements have been left out of this expansion. There’s no opportunity to drive vehicles, scan wireless signals for enemies or voice acting. In fact, co-ordinating yourself on the maps is done through the slightly odd medium of sound, which takes some getting used to.
Graphically, though, things look up: Portable Ops Plus carries on the tradition of the original title by looking pretty stunning. Characters are detailed and share animations with their larger console brothers, which makes them brilliantly smooth. It’s just a shame that the environments that are rendered so well are pretty mediocre – and that the graphical investment results in some slight slowdown later on.
The multiplayer side of Portable Ops Plus has received a lot of investment, and it’s mostly a decent update to the already-competent older title. Ad hoc and infrastructure modes are both supported, and new maps and features provide some welcome longevity. Saluting and the ability to take snapshots of winning moments are a laugh, as is the new Shooting Range mode. Modes from the original game, like Cyber-Survival and Infrastructure, receive upgrades.
There’s also been an attempt to concentrate on balancing teams – rookie players are indicated as such and do more damage, and take less, until they become more proficient. But this doesn’t seem to stop ludicrously powerful players from dominating matches to the point of aggravation.
As an expansion pack to the original game, Portable Ops Plus isn’t entirely successful. They’ve taken out some of the things that make any Metal Gear Solid game enjoyable – the schlocky story, for instance – and attempted gameplay revisions aren’t always successful. Multiplayer can lean towards being unbalanced and the single-player game lacks focus. While enjoyable in short bursts, this is one for Metal Gear Solid enthusiasts only.