Developer: Kojima Productions
Release Date: March 21, 2006
At least from the perspective of a videogame store clerk, Metal Gear Acid was like a bucket of cold water dumped on the unsuspecting heads of most day-one PSP buyers – at least those who don't spend their days scouring gaming web sites, gleaning any and all bits of information on their upcoming purchases (although it must be said, for the amount of research most gamers do, blind allegiances to brands nonetheless seem to have a tight hold on our buy-lists, for the most part).
I mean, seriously, it's not like the Solid Snake on the cover was carrying a tackle-box filled with Magic: The Gathering cards. The guy looked armed and ready to snap some necks, am I right? (To give some dissatisfied Acid owners a little comfort after the stinging "razz" I've just unleashed, I'll concede that Konami downplayed the card-based gameplay on the pack panels of the box.)
So most Metal Gear fans were displeased, especially those who picked up their PSP just to play the game. I was not included in the Legions of the Displeased. Believe it or not, for all its flaws, I had quite a good time with Acid.
Let me explain: Acid is extremely slow-paced; Metal Gear games are not. This angered action game fanatics. I enjoy strategy games as well as Metal Gear. Slow as Acid was, even for a turn-based strategy game, it had a lot going for it, and had incredible potential, had it not been rushed to release. And for those of you who haven't played the game yet continually bash it on message boards ("I don't wanna play that yu-gi-o crap dude"), this isn't Pokemon the Trading Card Game Part Deux, it's a strategy game in the tradition of X-Com and Rebelstar, with cards as a fancy little feature. There is no table, there are no dice, markers, or anything of the sort. Of course, there were problems with the cards: One needed to be played for any single action, including ducking, sidling against a wall… even detonating C4 required many turns to flitter by until the detonator card popped up. I'm mentioning this because I just restarted the first Acid to refresh myself for this review, and this was probably the most idiotic design flaw I ran into. But quite honestly, other than that and the lackluster (but amusing, if not even on the same planet as a true Metal Gear) plot, Acid is a solid spin-off, and the best launch game next to Lumines (which barely justified spending $250+ on a new console).
Metal Gear Acid 2 doesn't fix the screwy storyline – although there is so little continuity that you won't need to have figured out what the hell was going on in the first Acid ? and it keeps most of the same sounds, even the same cards, but every major problem has been fixed. Unless you're looking for a terrifying level-grind, I'd go as far as to say this is the best turn-based strategy game so far this year; it definitely takes the stuffing out of Generation of Chaos (shudder).
But then, there is the issue of cel-shading. While the anger towards this style has dropped significantly after people realized that The Wind Waker was an a-okay game and there would be a "m4tur3" sequel afterwards anyway, people seemed apprehensive at a Metal Gear game, even a non-canon one such as this, touting the overtly stylish look. Don't worry. It works. To pull from press releases, this style was chosen to match up with the stylish appeal of the PSP hardware itself; to appear as an "accessory." While I'm not sure cel-shading pulls that off (at least not in the U.S. – thuggin' snake would be required for that), it looks wonderful, giving the game a comic-book feel, as well as putting a deeper fissure between it and canon Metal Gear games, to lessen any confusion. This is a different Snake, these are different characters, this is (to pull this next idiom from the fantastic Cosby Show spin-off) a different world.
Again, many of the same cards return, so streamlining is the justification here; that goes for gameplay, too. Menu commands are intuitively assigned to face buttons (no more pressing X six times to get to the special action menu), and each available action is presented on a diagram, which changes depending on the circumstances. Each action is noted by a simple icon, never confusing, and is always accessible with a single button press. This may not seem like such a big deal for newcomers, but after wrestling with the first game's interface, this is a major blessing. Best of all, none of these actions require cards. Sidling, crawling, standing up ? anything your common sense claims should be readied often enough to not require a card seems to be mapped to the face buttons. This even goes further: Straight out of Metal Gear Solid 3 comes CQC, which can be a lifesaver during crucial turns when your hand contains not a single attack card.
Weapon usage is more intuitive, as well. Equipping isn't the wrestling match it used to be; simply equip, counter-attack enemies automatically if fired upon, and plug in ammo cards – which are 100% properly translated this time around, to my knowledge – and go. There are more guns this time, so some ammo works with multiple weapons, which adds a lot more flexibility to deck building. For the lazy, the auto-builder seems to make proper decks this time around, instead of the randomized messes (despite the in-game proclamation, "Automatically make the best deck possible." Never true in the first game).
Stage layouts were never a problem in the first Acid, but great improvements abound here. Multi-tiered stages are now in the mix, without necessarily having entirely different maps when going from floor to floor. There was a small, simple amount of this in the original game, but the maps in Acid 2 seem to be much richer, complex, and fun. This complexity, as well as the simplified card-less actions, opens up a great deal of possibilities even for those without patience. Like a good Metal Gear game should be, it is definitely not required to kill all enemies, which the original game seemed to force upon the player far too readily.
And last, but not least, that bastion of Kojima's craziness: The Solid Eye. The thing is completely short of revolution, but it wasn't supposed to do anything but make fans smile, I'm sure. Stereoscopic 3-D has been dangled in out of faces once before (to Hiroshi Yamauchi's chagrin) and it didn't work then, but now, with the ability to show colors besides red and black, the effect is much more impressive. In-game, it is something of a pain to have to lean over the PSP, and the effect isn't so painstakingly applied – not worth it for more than a few minutes, if your neck, eyes, and wrists have anything to say about it. But I cannot deny how wonderful the unlockable Metal Gear Solid 3 cut scenes look with the effect. Your eyes will burn after watching a few of the longer ones, but the gimmick shows enough worth that some of the crazier anti-Acid MGS fans might want to pick up this game just for this silly cardboard pack-in.
Metal Gear Acid 2 is a great strategy game, and its gameplay keeps the Metal Gear spirit close to heart, despite radical differences. MGS fan or not, this is much better than the first, and it will probably be the last, given poor initial sales and the canonized, non-Acid Metal Gear for PSP, which seems to be coming later this fall. Don't wait for that game, as wonderful as it sounds; experience something completely different now.
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