Review: Something about doing all this acid makes me wonder if I won't get permanent brain damage??
Metal Gear Solid and card games just don't sound like they mix well. When Metal Gear Acid came out around the PSP launch, it seemed like it would just be a flashy title to show off the system's PS2-like graphics, but that it wouldn't hold any real weight as a game. Despite some clunky interface problems, Konami did a pretty good job of proving the naysayers wrong, by bringing the Tactical Espionage Action series to the world of turn-based strategy. Considering the initial sales of the system, the game sold quite well, so it was only natural that Konami would go for a sequel. Of course, being a Konami game- especially one of Hideo Kojima's productions, the team behind Metal Gear Acid 2 (MGA2) wouldn't be happy just making a simple sequel, so they changed up the graphic style, cleaned up the interface, added a few new modes, threw in a little PS2 connectivity, and even added some makeshift 3D glasses to ?enhance? the game. How do all these stack up in the long run, though?
Metal Gear Acid 2 takes place in what appears to be another alternate universe apart from any previous titles. Snake has been stricken with amnesia, and is relying on a gang of mercenaries for his wellbeing, that is until the FBI captures them all. Snake is then bribed to accept a dangerous mission in a weapons facility, known as Saint Logic, in order to free his allies and regain his lost memories. Of course, as expected, the mission doesn't go as planned, and before he knows it, Snake stumbles upon another sinister Metal Gear mass-production plot. The game features your usual odd enemies, each with their own strengths and weaknesses and the story, like all Metal Gear stories, is full of twists and turns, where friends become enemies, enemies become friends, and those pesky guards will always find a way piss you off.
MGA2's gameplay is still the same as Metal Gear Acid's. Players must move Snake through a series of rooms, avoiding guards/robots/cameras/etc while completing certain objectives, and all through the use of Metal Gear Solid themed playing cards. Players initially start out with a hand of five cards from their customized deck and are allowed to use two cards per turn, each adding to an overall cost rating which determines the order of moves between Snake and the many obstacles between him and the goal. Cards all have different effects ranging from simple movement, to firearms, to the new trap cards, which cause enemies standing on trapped spaces to be handicapped in one way or another. If players complete a stage using only a certain number of cards, avoid being caught, and/or avoid killing enemies, they will receive new and often rare cards to add to their deck.
Once missions end, players are sent to an intermission screen where they can purchase cards, edit their decks, and save and load the game. In MGA2, players can now spend some of their experience points upgrading their cards to either hold more ammo, do more damage, or boost any other effects of their cards, though upgrading a card generally adds one extra cost point. Sometimes this is helpful, but not always, seeing as some of the cards are just too plain difficult to use to make the cost worth it.
As mentioned in our preview, Metal Gear Acid 2 has been streamlined from the original. Players can now go into and out of a crawl, move, then go back into or out of the crawl all in the same turn- no more wasting valuable cost just to get into a ducking position. The same goes for flattening Snake against a wall and knocking to detract guards. Entire moves have been mapped to the D-pad, which is now entirely context sensitive. Unfortunately, it's still a bit of a pain to turn and face a different direction. Players have to select a card, then ?move' in order to turn their character. As long as they cancel out of the action, it won't cost any cost points, but it's still a very clunky way of performing such a simple feat.
MGA2 has some new modes to wow its players. Once a mission is beaten, players can go back to the stage and choose between time, battle, or stealth modes to replay the stage. In battle mode, players must fight off every single guard in the immediate area, which can get very tricky very fast considering that even in the first stage, the guards are generally swarming all over you in roughly three turns. In stealth mode, players have to guide Snake through a harder version of the stage without getting caught. If a soldier finds Snake, the game will end. Lastly, in time mode, players are given a set amount of cost to fulfill a given goal. The deck in time mode is different from the player's acquired deck for the rest of the game. The specialized deck is built so that players won't need to worry about which cards come when, guaranteeing that the mode is always beatable, even if it is tricky figuring out what cards to use and where to go. In both battle and stealth modes, each stage features many more guards than normal, causing both modes to be quite challenging, however once any mode is beaten, players get some of the more exotic and rare cards found in the game.
New to the Metal Gear Acid series is the Arena Mode that pits players against classic Metal Gear Solid enemies in a deathmatch style fight. If you don't have the right cards, these battles are actually very challenging. As an example, the first battle pits Snake against Metal Gear Solid 2's Vamp, and Metal Gear Solid's Liquid Snake. Both enemies have special abilities. For instance, Liquid has what amounts to infinite ammo for his guns, while Vamp is given some very powerful knives. Players can use some cheap tactics to take enemies out, but this can take a long time early on. During the later levels of the game, players will amass better cards that make the Arena Mode much easier.
The multiplayer mode is hit or miss. The rules are close to the same in both Metal Gear Acid and Metal Gear Acid 2, in that players must race against each other in order to collect a given number of objects in order to win. However, MGA players are limited to see only within a cone of vision much like the enemy soldiers. MGA2 takes this idea and scraps it, letting players see the entire field during the whole game, taking much of the tactical edge off of the multiplayer experience, and turning it into an odd cross between the old MGA multiplayer and MGA2's Arena Mode. This isn't to say multiplayer isn't still fun, it's just that they needlessly tinkered with something that didn't need fixing, and the finished product is worse for the wear because of it.
One of the interesting additions players will find in Metal Gear Acid 2 is the Solid Eye. While nothing more than an obvious gimmick, Solid Eye lets players see the Metal Gear Acid world in 3D. Players can turn the Solid Eye mode on at any time when they are playing (cut scenes and intermissions will automatically turn Solid Eye off). Also, Konami added a special menu in the intermission for videos made especially for the Solid Eye. These consist of clips from Metal Gear Solid 3, the trailer for Metal Gear Solid 4, and lots and lots of pointless video clips of Japanese girls doing what they do best- being cute. The Solid Eye itself is just a small crude cardboard box with two of the sides removed and lenses in the top. Players slide the PSP into the Solid Eye, and look through the lenses, to get a very magnified, yet 3D look at the game. Unfortunately, a magnified image is the last thing you'll want if your PSP, like so many, has scratches or dust under the screen. The Solid Eye magnifies the game so much, you can literally see every pixel of the screen. While using the Solid Eye, I found myself horribly distracted by the now giant dust particles clogging up the screen. What's worse is that the Solid Eye takes up half of the screen's real estate to give a double image, causing the screen to become horribly cramped. I hate to think what sort of retinal damage I'm doing to my eyes staring at the screen that closely. The payoff just doesn't feel like it's all that much worth it, either. The 3D effect is decent at best, but often it's almost unnoticeable. Solid Eye is definitely not a strong selling point for the game, but at least it's an optional tool that you'll find yourself using every now and then if only to remind yourself what pain feels like.
Visually, Metal Gear Acid 2 is a work of art. The game features a very stylized cel shaded look at the Metal Gear universe with vibrant colors everywhere. Don't get me wrong, though. Metal Gear Acid 2 does not look like a cartoon, but rather a stylized manga (or comic book to the layman). The art direction is also very nice with the character designs being highly detailed, interesting looking surroundings, and an all around fine looking interface. There is also very little slow-down to be found in the game. Something about MGA2 just screamed ?arcade game' to me. Maybe it was the flashy way numbers would pop out of enemies being shot, or the way the alert timer would explode onto the screen. One thing's for sure, while not the best looking game on the PSP, Metal Gear Acid 2 definitely has a visual pizzazz all its own.
When it comes to audio, Metal Gear Acid just delivers. It still has a very Metal Gear sounding soundtrack, with your usual espionage-sounding soundtrack during the sneaking portions, and your fast-paced-I'm-about-to-get-shot-a-lot rhythms during the alert phases. The sound effects are good too. What's wrong with the audio in the game is that there isn't any voice acting whatsoever. You'd think with all the data these little UMDs can hold, and Konami's background of delivering high-quality products, they could have at least thrown a few sound bytes in there, but sadly not a voice is heard throughout the entire game. Looking on the bright side, at least the game wasn't bogged down by terrible voice acting.