Reviewed: April 11, 2005
Released: March 22, 2005
So just how do you bring one of the biggest and highest grossing PS2 franchises to the handheld PSP platform? Well, if you are Hideo Kojima and the game is Metal Gear Acid then you take a stunning third-person action title and turn it into a turn-based strategy game with cards. I’m not kidding. Metal Gear Acid is a “card game” along the lines of Yi-Gi-Oh but it’s also a lot more fun and deep than even I would have imagined.
Metal Gear Acid is a game you are either going to love or hate. A lot of people despise the very nature of the card-battle genre and even Solid Snake isn’t going to change their opinion, but for those with an open mind and about one or two hours to acclimate themselves to this shift in genre, you might just find a cool new twist on an old franchise.
Acid was developed from the ground up for the PSP including a new story that has no connection to the original series timeline. With the exception of the lead character, Snake, and a few quirky naming conventions this could have been the start of a whole new franchise, but I think Konami was hoping the name recognition would help sell this title.
Snake is brought in after a passenger jet is hijacked by an unknown terrorist. Using a nerve agent, the passengers, including one important senator, are put into a comatose state and held for ransom. The ransom is a research project known as “Pythagoras” being developed on a secret island lab in South Africa. Using his trusty “deck of cards” and assisted by the lovely Teliko, Snake must infiltrate the island facility and secure the research project.
Much like the other games in the franchise, you are forced to endure an insane amount of backstory before you ever get to the actual game. Even the tutorial is broken up with flashbacks that tear you away from training.
When you do finally get to play the game you are given six cards, each with its own unique purpose, attributes, and sub-functions. You have cards that allow you to move, attack, and perform other specialty actions, even granting you an extra turn. Each card costs a certain amount of points to play and you only have so many points you can spend each turn. If you run out of points you will have to stand idly by while the rest of the world goes on without you.
The game unfolds much like a strategic board game, chess if you will, where you can move in so many directions in so many squares, or you can climb a ladder or fire a weapon. You plot your strategy based on what the enemy is doing and what they might do in their next turn. Once the plan is locked in you get to watch the action unfold in a 3D style that is reminiscent of the PS2 games.
All too often the gameplay is at the mercy of the deck, often defying logic or what would otherwise not be an issue if you had real-time control of Snake. You are often left waiting for a certain card to come up to achieve the simplest of tasks. It can wear on you if you aren’t already a fan of these card-style games.
The very nature of the card game genre lends itself to replay value in that you can collect cards during one game and use them on subsequent replays. You unlock some of the rarer cards by excelling in gameplay while other decks are left lying around the levels. You’ll also earn ranking points for each mission that you can spend at the “card store” to purchase more cards.
There are an amazing amount of cards in this game that grant you all sorts of attacks and abilities. The manual is quite weak in this area, and I ended up getting the strategy guide just so I could read up on all the cards and plan some advanced tactics. Cards can be invoked immediately like a movement card or equipped in a standby mode like the SOCOM card. You can then fire our counterattack with the equipped weapon. It’s all about careful planning.
Despite the turn-based nature of the gameplay, Snake’s major ally is stealth, well that and Teliko. Regardless of which cards you might be playing, staying silent and staying out of sight are always of paramount importance since one alert can signal overwhelming guards and make your life a whole lot harder.
But with every moment of frustration there are two of pure brilliance. When the game works it does so with a flair and style that is solely Metal Gear. Enemy AI isn’t the best but it doesn’t have to be – they are constrained by the same set of turn-based rules that you are.
Control is simple enough despite Konami’s insistence on swapping the X and O buttons. You can navigate the menus and pick cards and sub-functions of cards on their pop-up menus easily enough. The turn-based nature of the game promotes slow methodical planning, so reflexes and precise control are not an issue.
The best thing about Acid is that the more you play the better you get and the deeper the experience becomes. You’ll even get to team up with a female agent a few hours into the game and have the luxury of commanding both agents as a coordinated team. This is great for setting up traps and engineering creative solutions to some of the more difficult challenges in the game.
Metal Gear Acid is a unique mix of isometric strategy gaming with periods of glorious 3D action as the combat and movement unfolds. The 3D portions of the game look far better than anything we’ve seen on the PS2, even Snake Eater. The graphics are ultra-crisp and rendered at the highest quality. The PSP screen is perfect for showing it all off.
The cards are surprisingly legible with a great font and visual style and the graphics on the card are outstanding including portraits of the various characters on the special character cards. The menus and cutscene captioning is also crisp and clean and easy to read.
The music is classic Metal Gear with upbeat military style music that enhances the action or the tension of any situation. Sound effects are spot on with excellent recreations of all the original weapon sounds from previous games. You’ll feel right at home.
For a game with this much cinematics I was hoping for a lot more speech. Instead, you’ll find yourself reading the equivalent of a small paperback before the game is over. Admittedly, I tend to skip dialogue on future replays but I’d like to hear some voice acting, at least the first time I play.
You can easily expect 20+ hours of gameplay from your first pass through Acid and if you enjoyed it enough to finish it once you are certainly going to be going back again and again until you have acquired the entire collection of cards.
There is also a multiplayer mode that sort of falls flat before it ever gets a chance to take off. You have to unlock this mode first, but that is a natural reward you’ll earn after only a few hours of story mode. Once unlocked you can go head-to-head with another player, each choosing either Snake or Teliko, and participate in VR missions focused on shooting enemies and collecting enough Pythagora discs to unlock the goal and end the game. You can also win by exhausting the timer and having the most discs or killing your opponent enough so that they run out of credits.
The turn-based gameplay and card strategy works well enough in multiplayer but you first must find somebody who owns the game and has gotten as least as far as you have unless you want to give them your save game file via a USB-PC swap.
The only people who won’t like this game are the ones who go into it not knowing it’s a card game. Everyone else should really enjoy the extreme tension this game manages to generate, both by game design and the slow plodding nature of the turn-based card system. You’ll play out your hand then sit there on the edge of your seat to see what the computer is going to do next.
I’ve never really liked card-battle games in the past; I tend to avoid them whenever possible, but Metal Gear Acid might just be the game to make me reevaluate my stance on the genre. Packing in all the strategy of chess and infused with the goodness that is Metal Gear, this could be the sleeper hit of the PSP. It’s definitely worth a look.