Metal Gear typically conjures up visions of advanced graphics, intricate storylines and stealthy action. But to bring the series to the PSP Konami has jettisoned most of the graphics, some of the stealth and simplified the story...kinda. Metal Gear Acid is, of all things, a turn based strategy card game. And yet it's also the deepest, most complex and difficult game on the PSP. That's not always good.
As unlikely as the card-based strategy are the murderous dolls that drive the plot. After hijacking a plane carrying a presidential candidate, they demand delivery of Pythagoras, a device currently held in a jungle weapons lab. Too bad the location has been captured by an unknown mercenary corps, Solid Snake and a SWAT agent named Teliko have to infiltrate the base, grab Pythagoras and learn all sorts of uncomfortable truths.
Acid features that classic video game duality: good plot, awful dialogue. We're tempted to advise skipping through the text-only dialogue as fast as possible, but there are occasional bits of useful info buried in there. Hope you can speed read; it'll ease the pain.
Acid's card system seems outrageously complicated at first, largely because some of the bad dialogue conceals skimpy gameplay instructions. The basics are obvious; any action requires playing a card. Snake's deck is small at first, but cards can be purchased between missions, and over time he'll have loads of endlessly configurable options.
Each card has a cost, noted in the top right corner; Snake can only play so many cards per turn, and the cost of those cards determines how much time passes between turns. Moving costs almost nothing, but equipping a weapon and firing can eat up a lot. So the game becomes a balancing act between getting into position to evade or destroy a guard and calculating exactly what cards to play to do it all safely.
Though Snake doesn't move in real-time, most of the classic Metal Gear actions are still around as options. He can crouch and crawl, flatten against walls and make sounds to attract enemies. There's no neck-snapping, though. Violence has to be through ranged weapons or knocking a guard down, which is just a setup to use a ranged weapon. That's a disappointment; even in the strategy gameplay there should be room for Snake's most famous moves.
Some of the card system's complexity might be meant to conceal the fact that the computer's artificial intelligence isn't much to write home about. The series has featured better and better artificial smarts over the years, but here the genius is on break. Enemies are aggressive, but none too sharp, and there's little unit thinking in evidence. Guards behave like disconnected individuals. While the game does get difficult, the challenge lies more in learning to use cards than overcoming the AI.
The move to the PSP has also taken a toll on the series' vaunted graphics. Though Snake and Teliko look fine, no areas outside of your immediate surroundings will be rendered, and the camera frequently does more harm than good.
Though Metal Gear Acid takes some practice and will create some frustration, it eventually becomes a very unique strategy game that has its own unique rewards. Co-op multiplayer would have hooked us, but determined strategists will find their fun regardless.