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Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops - single-player hands-on

In a few short weeks, PSP owners will get their first real Metal Gear Solid game for the handheld; not a turn-based, card-filled strategy game, but an honest-to-God stealth actioner that mimics the gameplay from the PS2 games. We've previewed Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops before, but until now, we've only seen its multiplayer deathmatch mode in action - which is great, don't get us wrong, but it's not the adventure we've been craving.

Now that we've gotten our first crack at Portable Ops' single-player story mode, however, we're impressed. It looks a little grainy and chunky next to its PS2 predecessor (as most PSP games tend to), but this sequel to MGS3: Snake Eater plays almost exactly like the original - with a few key differences, of course. To see it in action, just hit the Movies tab above and look for "Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops gameplay blowout - 11-22-06."

Our time with the game was brief, but long enough to get a good feel for the opening stage. Set in the mid-'70s, the game opens with Naked Snake (aka Big Boss) waking up in a cell in Colombia and being tortured by some burly jerk who thinks Snake knows something about the Philosophers' Legacy, which will only mean something to you if you've finished Snake Eater.

This was our first real look at one of the game's cinemas in full, and if you've seen the Metal Gear Solid: Digital Graphic Novel, you've got a good idea of what to expect: beautifully drawn watercolor art with limited animation. Oh, and more long, expository monologues about obscure military and political history than a thousand college lectures.

Actually escaping from the cell was a cinch; thanks to some advice from Snake's new prison buddy, a long-haired hipster by the name of Roy Campbell, we found an unguarded vent and made our way into the hall.

Escaping from the jail was similarly easy; we had a tranquilizer gun (which can be aimed in first-person mode), but it was simpler to get in with close-quarters combat and slam the roving guards into unconsciousness. They actually stayed down after we punched them a couple times - surprising, because KO'd soldiers in MGS games usually get back up shortly after they're knocked down.

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