Developer: Kojima Productions
Release Date: November 13, 2007
Before you read any further into this review, a warning: If you haven't already played the original Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, stop right here, go out and pick up the game. Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops Plus is more of an expansion pack than an improved version of Portable Ops à la Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance and Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence. If you didn't bother to play Portable Ops online, didn't enjoy the online play or for some reason can't play it online, then don't bother with this title. It's designed for gamers who've mastered the online combat in Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops and nobody else.
A first for a Metal Gear title, Portable Ops Plus has no plot at all. There's no character development, no boss battles, no lengthy speeches about the horrors of nuclear weapons, nothing. If you're coming in expecting to see more of Big Boss or Revolver Ocelot, don't bother. Portable Ops Plus is completely devoid of story, grinding Portable Ops down to its bare essentials in order to facilitate easier online play.
Portable Ops Plus' sole single-player mode functions as a training simulator for your soldiers. You pick a team of four soldiers and send them through a gauntlet of randomized stages. After picking a difficulty (with higher difficulties meaning each mission has more areas to go through), players are thrown into the first level with a simple objective: reach the exit point. This remains your objective for however long you can stand to play the single-player mode. Sometimes you need to fulfill "special objectives," such as "survive X minutes" or "kill all enemies on the stage," but those don't do much to change the overall gameplay. You still need to find the exit point, move to the next stage and repeat until your PSP runs out of power. You can't even bring weapons or items to make the levels more interesting. Every single mission begins with your characters unequipped, and they have to find any items they desire on-site, making the already boring mode even more tedious and boring.
Why would you want to play such a bland single-player mode? You can use it to power up any soldiers you send into the field. Every completed area gives everyone on the team some experience points — enough to level up the warriors so that they gain improved stats and, occasionally, some new abilities. For those playing in single-player mode, this is relatively pointless because few enemies can provide a reasonable threat to your characters once you've built a stable team. The only reason to gain experience points is to improve your team for online play. Unfortunately, that's it. There are tutorials offered for newcomers, but it's difficult to picture someone who's playing Portable Ops Plus needing instructions.
Leveling up has changed slightly from Portable Ops. All characters' stats now have a higher maximum limit and are capable of reaching S3 rank (previously, S was the highest possible rank). This means any character capable of reaching S3 will be stronger and more accurate in combat, although those warriors capable of reaching this lofty height are few and far between. Any characters transferred over from your Portable Ops save data will be recalculated to take advantage of this new maximum, so don't be surprised if your hard-trained Naked Snake suddenly has an S2 in CCQ. Likewise, a few new special traits, such as the ability to heal with weapons or to determine an enemy's attributes by looking at him, have been added to the mix. While it's nice to gain new traits, few are worth being excited about, and some can't even work unless you play the game online.
One of the most interesting features about the original Portable Ops was the ability to have non-combat units that supported your assault teams. Divided into Spy, Tech and Medical units, each of these special groups gave you new attributes, ranging from weapons and ammunition to special information that couldn't be seen anywhere. Sadly, Portable Ops Plus completely neuters these characters. Spy units now simply improve the map, occasionally marking enemy or item locations. In the original title, Medical units revived weakened characters, and Tech units created new weapons and items over time. However, since all of your characters are healed at the end of every mission, and weapons can only be procured on-site, these units now have no purpose other than sitting there and taking up space. The primary use of these noncombatants seems to be soaking up experience points like hungry leeches. It's not a bad way to level up weaker characters that might not be able to survive combat, but it feels like a complete waste of a formerly awesome feature.
Unsurprisingly, Portable Ops Plus introduces a whole battalion of new soldiers. These range from generic soldiers like the Arsenal Gear Tengu to the older mustachioed version of Solid Snake that will be appearing in Metal Gear Solid 4. A few different stats, a different model and a perhaps a new taunt are all these new characters offer, so they don't have a large effect on the overall gameplay. While this is certainly appealing to the most die-hard of Metal Gear fans, none of these new collectable characters have any personality or backstory, unlike most of the hidden characters in Portable Ops. It's fairly neat to be able to play as Old Snake for the first time, but it's a bonus that quickly loses its luster.
Portable Ops Plus's online mode hasn't changed at all from the original title. Players send their warriors to a number of different battlefields and have an all-out deathmatch until one side emerges victorious. Players can choose to play it safe and have a virtual reality match where dead soldiers come back to life afterwards, or a real combat match, where it's possible to capture enemy soldiers for your own, although this places your hard-trained warriors at risk. It's plenty fun, and a good diversion. Portable Ops Plus's biggest addition to the online mode, besides the change in stats, comes in the form of a number of new maps on which to play. The additional maps are interesting and certainly add a good amount of extra value to Portable Ops's aging online play, but if you didn't enjoy Portable Ops's multiplayer combat, then Portable Ops Plus isn't going to do anything to change your mind.
Portable Ops Plus looks identical to Portable Ops, which isn't a huge surprise, as it's more of an add-on. There are no real significant changes to anything at all. Don't misunderstand: Portable Ops was one of the, if not the best-looking title on the PSP, but even excellent graphics can grow tiresome after a while, and Portable Ops Plus really doesn't add much to the mix. A few new stages, a few new weapons and a few new character models are thrown in, but you'll still be wandering in the same areas, shooting most of the same soldiers, with the same weapons. It's hard to work up enthusiasm for the same stages that you played countless times in Portable Ops, and the simple fact that you're sneaking past slightly different-looking soldiers doesn't alleviate that. The audio is also mostly identical, the only changes being a few additional grunts or brief vocal clips from the newer characters.
In the end, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops Plus is a glorified map pack for the original Portable Ops. While the changes are going to appeal to the gamers who played Portable Ops online, they are the only possible audience for this title. The "single-player" mode is bland, boring and pointless, and that is functionally all the game has to offer if you're not taking your soldiers online. Even at the budget price of $20, there simply just isn't enough gameplay here to justify picking it up for offline content. If you are, however, one of the gamers who is seeking to improve your Portable Ops characters, then Portable Ops Plus is just what you're seeking. Twenty dollars for the scant amount of new features is a bit pricey, but it's worth it for those who plan to play online. Offline gamers, however, should pass on this Metal Gear offering.