A snake up your sleeve.
When the PSP launched last year, developers and publishers bought into the idea of "bite-sized" game experiences. This meant they tailored their titles to fit the fifteen-minute intervals they thought PSP owners were spending with their new toys, whether in line, on the bus, or on the pot.
They failed to realize, though, that you don't just spend an occasional fifteen minutes with something that cost you three hundred bucks. You want your money's worth, and many PSP titles came up two hundred and ninety nine dollars short.
The original Metal Gear Acid was one of few to buck this trend, offering a weird new take on a classic series with enough gameplay to keep you entertained even if you didn't have a train to catch or some kids to drop off at the pool. Still, it was a far cry from perfect, with irritating camera issues, obtuse play mechanics, bad A.I., and awful writing. We guess that's why they didn't call it "Solid."
It should come as little surprise, then, that the name isn't the only thing Metal Gear Acid 2 has in common with its forbear. It still provides a weird take on a classic series that is still fun to play even if you have better things to do. It also inherited every issue that corroded our enjoyment of the original, but instead of addressing these, Konami added more crazy cards and boss fights. The result is more acid, but not more solid.
At least it's very Metal Gear. The plot, for instance, has an amnesiac Snake infiltrating a secret weapons lab to battle an eclectic mix of super-powerful mercenaries on his way to destroying Metal Gear. This time he gets his orders from a bumbling former FBI agent named Dalton and an evil Army guy known as Wiseman, carrying them out alongside a sexy and equally amnesiac female mercenary named Venus.
The petty banter between these characters will make you want to bang your head on a fish hook. To whit: at one point early on, Dalton is waiting outside the facility in a boat while Snake is attempting to steal some data the FBI agent needs for an investigation. And…scene!
Dalton: Snake, find a computer terminal and send me the
data on that disk.
Snake: Are you really an FBI agent?
Dalton: I have a badge, don't I?
Snake: How do I know I can trust you?
Dalton: If you don't, I'll have your friends killed.
Snake: Okay, I'll send you the data.
Jesus. Never mind that Dalton obviously intends to flee once he has his data, leaving Snake stranded. This is not Solid Snake. Soldid Snak or Short-bus Snake, maybe, but not the badass special agent we like to be in our spare time.
When it comes to the gameplay, though, retardation is the exception rather than the rule. Indeed, just like the original, Metal Gear Acid uses a smart, deep collectible card system within a turn-based strategy frame. As you play, you collect, buy and earn hundreds of cards, which you organize into a deck to take with you on your missions. Every turn you can play cards, the cost of which determines how long it will be until you can play again.
These cards govern all your actions, so basic things like moving, ducking, close-quarters-combat, and knocking can all be executed with any card. Otherwise, the cards are incredibly diverse. Some act as guns, rations, traps, boxes and other items Snake would normally use in a Metal Gear game. There are also cards that reduce cost, letting you move again sooner; cards that allow you to play more cards during a single turn; trap cards that can stall, kill or otherwise debilitate enemies, and special cards that allow you to unleash special attacks or gain huge combat bonuses. The real meat of the game lies in figuring out how to use these together, and with around 500 cards to find and use, there are countless strategic possibilities.
And you'll need more than a few aces up your sleeve to deal with the many bosses and challenges the game throws your way. Bosses generally hit hard and have special abilities you'll need to either negate or avoid through clever hand management. If a boss is brutal at close range, you might want to slow him with a series of traps, gain distance, and blast away with a card that gives you accuracy bonuses. Of course, you probably won't have all the necessary pieces for such a ploy at the start of a fight, so you'll have to survive long enough to put together a killer combo, then execute it.
But where the boss battles demand strategy and smarts, many of the standard missions simply require patience, and maybe a box. Most of the game is spent sneaking from point A to point B, which means watching enemy patterns and slipping by undetected. Matters are complicated by the fact that enemies don't move until you're near them, making it impossible to know what they'll do until you're potentially in harm's way.
In true Metal Gear form, the camera system doesn't help. Normally centered on Snake, its angle can be tilted and rotated. From this view, though, you can't see enemy vision cones, and a good sense of those is crucial to successful slithering.
To see a foe's field of vision, you must pull up an overhead view and put a cursor on the enemy. Sounds simple, but is pretty wonky if you're trying to, say, sneak past two guards. You must watch their individual patterns, checking their fields of vision at the end of each turn. Then you have to memorize which squares they could be looking at on any given turn, and not move to one of those. To complicate matters further, it's difficult to see enemies from the overhead view when there are two tiers to a level.
As a result, it's easy to screw up and be spotted. But unlike the Metal Gear Solid games, you can't run back through a level and hide out of sight until the Evasion timer ends. In Metal Gear Acid 2, you're usually trapped in a single room with no way to hide unless you have a box. If you don't have one on hand, you have to either fight or run the gauntlet to point B. Of course, if you don't have a gun card you can't fight (many enemies are immune to CQC), and if rations or bandages don't come up you can't heal. Without the luck of the draw, it can be easy to die.
If you're familiar with the original you know this already, so it should come as little surprise that in spite of these frustrations, Metal Gear Acid 2 is still fun and interesting to play - even when you're simply schlepping around a base - thanks to the depth of the card system and the options contained within.
The options contained without aren't bad, either. The fifteen-hour campaign is just the tip of the iceberg; you can go back and play any mission with new objectives for special cards, battle bosses from other Metal Gear games in the new Arena mode (there can never be too many boss battles), or challenge a friend to an Ad-Hoc duel. You also get to port a card over if you have a save file for the original Metal Gear Acid, and you can unlock bonuses for both Metal Gear Acid 2 and Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence through PSP to PS2 connectivity. We're a little disappointed that there's no Infrastructure play, nor Ad Hoc matches involving more than two players, but this is still a highly playable PSP game.
It's also easy on the eyes. The new cel-shaded art style looks crisp and clear, and the whole game is bound by a comic book aesthetic. Even better, the mysterious slowdown that plagued the last game has been neutralized. Good riddance. The same can be said for the volume - after you turn it off. It has no bearing on the gameplay since there's no voiceover, and most of the sound effects are awful. The music is even worse, rounding out a bad audio package.
But not a bad package overall. It might not improve on the original in any meaningful way or fix any of that game's glaring flaws, but it's still a deep, smart and entertaining PSP game. A rare card indeed.