Ride the snake!
At a recent Konami Gamer's Day, the GR staff broke out the snake-hooks and antivenin for a close encounter with Hideo Kojima's latest hatchling, Metal Gear Acid for the Sony PSP. While it plays differently from its console counterparts - Acid is a turn-based strategy game rather than a stealth-action game - its look and feel is very Metal Gear and nothing short of solid.
Weird, nonsensical plots involving eccentric villains and top-secret weapons are a mainstay of the Metal Gear franchise, and Metal Gear Acid has one of its very own. The story begins when Snake is called out of retirement to fetch a mysterious weapon known only as Pandora. Without having seen it, we're willing to bet it has something to do with a huge tank capable of launching nukes anywhere in the world. Just a hunch.
In a shocking twist, a shadowy group of powerful mercenaries have taken over Pandora's development facility. Elsewhere, two demented dolls have hijacked a passenger plane and are threatening to kill everyone on board unless Pandora is delivered to their master. Snake's unenviable task, then, is to deliver a monstrously powerful weapon from a squad of lunatics to a brazen terrorist. In saving the lives of the few, he is jeopardizing the lives of us all, and surely setting himself up for some tense, introspective moments about the roles of soldiers within the cosmic balance of the universe.
But rather than making your way through this classic Metal Gear plot by hiding, sniping, evading and destroying in real-time, Acid takes bold steps down a very different path: turn-based strategy using a deck of cards. Don't be fooled into thinking this is some kind of Pokemon nightmare, though. We took it for a spin and found the new gameplay concepts to be fun, interesting, and totally effective.
At the start of every turn, you're dealt several cards from your deck, which appear along the bottom of the screen. Every card has two functions: move and use. If you select move, you can travel a set number of spaces as well as crouch, face a certain direction, hug a wall, climb a ladder and basically do anything that Snake could do in the other games that didn't involve gear.
The environments, in turn, are divided up into isometric grids. Each square is considered a space and when you elect to move or use a weapon, the spaces to which you can move or attack will light up. Moving and acting both take time, and you only have a limited amount to spend on each turn. Time is simulated in Metal Gear Acid by a point value; begin the game with 7 time points per turn. When you've moved and acted to the point that you run out of time, your turn ends and your enemies' turns begin.
The beauty of Metal Gear Acid's turn-based combat system is that it will allow you to control two units simultaneously - Snake and a mysterious female counterpart. We don't know what her name will be, although a couple possibilities instantly spring to mind.
Aside from providing you with movement, any given card will also fall into one of five categories: item, character, weapon, action, and support. For example, a typical hand might include Cardboard Box A, Flashbang, SOCOM, FAMAS, Kevlar Vest, and Metal Gear Ray. You can plant claymores and choose a blast direction, pick targets and fire away with the guns, equip the Kevlar, designate an area to have Snake hurl one of his grenades, or hide under the box to avoid the eyes of a patrolling guard. You can also use ability cards for more powerful attacks and buffs. The Metal Gear Ray card, for instance, unleashes Ray's beam laser and deals massive damage to any foes caught in its path.
From a conventional perspective, there is no explaining the sudden, explosive presence of a humongous laser cutting a swathe through the battlefield. But from a gameplay perspective it makes perfect sense, as all of your favorite characters from every Metal Gear game will be collectible, and each will come with a bad-ass special ability. Vulcan Raven, I choose you!
The ability cards are the acidic equivalent of all the cool unlockables found in previous Metal Gear titles, like the stealth camo and the patriot cannon. There will be challenges to meet in each level and completing them will earn you credits to spend at a Card Shop. The cards will come in different types of packs for the different Metal Gear games, and a good chunk of the strategy will lie in mixing and matching to create custom decks.
Once you've built a sufficiently salty deck you'll want to challenge your friends to online, wireless duels. We aren't entirely sure how this element is going to work, but we predict strategy guides, FAQs, card lists, offensive and defensive deck builds, bitter rivalries, and signature cards that players will use to finish off their friends and foes. When Metal Gear Acid is released, many new geeks will be born and many old ones will be born again.
Aside from the cards lining the bottom of the screen and stat-windows emerging from units between turns, Acid looks just like a PS2 Metal Gear game. The resolution is extremely clear, the characters are well-animated, and the camera can be rotated 360 degrees using the L and R buttons or angled with the analog stick, making it the most useful camera included in a Metal Gear, ever. It doesn't look like a handheld game, that's for sure.
Metal Gear Acid for the Sony PSP is shaping up to be an awesome game, period. It's got a weird, dramatic plot, a fascinating new gameplay style and an involved collection system. Konami's Metal Gear games have always exuded quality and fine workmanship on every platform, and we can't wait until their latest strikes with the PSP launch on March 24.