April 14, 2006

Review: Metal Gear Acid 2 (PSP)

More often than not, a title with shoddy gameplay may use a solid story as a crutch; the recent release of 24: The Game for PlayStation 2 is a shining example. The uninspired gameplay fails to impress, but the narrative makes it worth playing. Rarely do you see a game that can stand on its own without a strong storyline, especially in the action/strategy genre. Metal Gear Acid 2 for the PSP is the rare exception, building upon the original release to offer an excellent portable experience.

If you’re lost, let me recap the history of the series for you. Metal Gear Acid was originally released alongside the PlayStation Portable last spring, offering an original experience set within the Metal Gear universe. Rather than an espionage/action game (like the Metal Gear Solid series), Acid was a card-based strategy-role-playing-game. Don’t let the dashes (or the mention of cards) scare you; it was a strong release that maintained the spirit of the Metal Gear, while deviating significantly from the gameplay the franchise has been known for.

Metal Gear Acid 2 is more of the same, and while it is a better game, it is not bigger in all respects. While the first game offered a 30-hour adventure, the story mode of Acid 2 will take most gamers only 15-20 hours. I see this as a distinct positive, as the game never becomes stale, and the available levels offer a variety of interesting scenarios. For example, in one stage, you’re progressing down an underground train tunnel, and you must avoid a train that comes down at a certain interval.

Acid 2 puts you in control of Solid Snake yet again, this time befallen by amnesia. Captured by the United States government upon re-entry in the country, he is enlisted to carry out a mission in return for his freedom. As expected from a Metal Gear game, not everything goes to plan, and Snake finds himself working for another man who promises to fill him in on his forgotten past. Honestly, the storyline is pretty generic and forgettable, but you won’t mind. The beef of Acid 2 is in the gameplay.

Card-based combat is the name of the game, and you’ll be constructing a deck from over 500 cards inspired by the previous Metal Gear games. The construction of your deck is integral to your success in each stage; sometimes you’ll need more ration cards (for healing), while other times you may need sniper rifles to get the job done. Some weapon cards are for one-time use, though many must be equipped. In addition to these are status cards that can affect either your character or the enemy.

With so many cards available, it is not surprising that many have shunned this series. Those who played the original game have a serious leg-up over newcomers; not only will you have a better understanding of the gameplay, but you can transfer over one of your best cards from your completed save file of the first game. In addition, you’ll be given a small percentage of the points you earned in the original, which will allow you to buy new cards, as well as upgrade the ones you already have.

I haven’t played a collectable card game in a decade, and I have not enjoyed any other card-based games I’ve played (such as Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories). On top of that, I do not have much patience for slow or frustrating games. Yet somehow, I love the gameplay in Metal Gear Acid 2. It’s strategic enough to require some brain power, yet you can play through it without knowing what each and every number means. Acid 2 also simplifies movement, as many actions are no longer controlled by cards. It makes for a more user-friendly experience.

Metal Gear Acid 2 isn’t a terribly difficult game, though I definitely had the advantage of playing through the original. I went through the first ten hours without dying, and only found one of the missions to be particularly frustrating. One thing to note is the enormity of the final boss battle. It took me nearly ninety minutes to defeat the final boss with two characters and a wide selection of powerful weapons. The other bosses in the game do not pose quite the same challenge, but they make for interesting diversions between the stages.

Visually, the game has been overhauled significantly. Instead of bland, grey environments, the cel-shaded graphics explode with vibrant yellows and oranges. It may seem odd for a military-themed game, but it works well and keeps you interested. Rough edges pop up occasionally, but the game is overall enhanced by the visual style. The audio is pretty standard, though a lack of voice-overs makes for a less cinematic feel than the Metal Gear Solid series.

Outside of the main quest, there are many other ways to bide your time in Acid 2. Arena Mode lets you duke it out with popular bosses from the Metal Gear Solid series (including Vamp and Liquid Snake), while wireless multiplayer is likely a blast (if you can find anyone nearby to play against). Also, you can re-play any completed stages with new objectives if you’re looking to find more cards. Acid 2 can also connect with Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence for the PlayStation 2, which allows you to transfer photos from Subsistence onto your PSP to view with the Solid Eye attachment.

The Solid Eye is packaged with Acid 2, and is little more than a cheap pair of 3D glasses. Sure, they work, but it is little more than a gimmick. You’ll unlock CG movies from the Metal Gear Solid games in the story mode, which you can then view in 3D with the glasses. You can also play through the entire game in 3D, but it is not recommended. The glasses are never required for any part of the game, so their use is more for amusement than anything else.

A year has passed since the launch of the PSP in North America, and only now are solid games being released at a decent clip. Metal Gear Acid 2 refines the original title and offers up an enhanced gaming experience. The game mixes adult themes (violence, sexuality) with gameplay mechanics (card collecting) typically geared towards a younger audience. While this may explain why it has not found a large audience, the combination works and has resulted in one of the best games for the PSP.

Grade: B+

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