Thursday, December 28, 2006

Metal Gear Acid Review

My thumbs hurt, I've been playing Metal Gear Acid on the PSP so much in the last couple of days. Metal Gear Acid is a turn-based tactics game using a collectible card system to control your actions. The combination of collecting cards, building decks, and fighting turn-based battles in the secret agent Metal Gear setting is fascinating.

You play the main hero, Solid Snake, sometimes alone, sometimes with a second character named Teliko accompanying you. You start the battle with 6 cards in your hand, drawn from a deck of 30 cards. You can play between 2 and 4 of these cards per turn, that is Snake can normally play 2, but increase that number by using an Action+ card, Teliko can always play 3 cards. Cards represent weapons, equipment, special actions, bonuses, or movement. But you can play most non-movement cards to move 3 spaces as well, so you are never stuck without a movement card. Using these cards you play the game on about 20 different maps, doing missions that range from killing every enemy on the map, to finding things, to reaching the exit. Sometimes you need to hide and sneak, sometimes you need to use various weapons to kill the enemies. Each card has a "cost", which is a sort of time counter. The lower the cost you rack up to end of the turn, the faster it is your turn again. But if you use a lot of high-cost cards in your turn, the enemy can do a lot of things before you can act again.

Cards are drawn from a deck. In the first mission a standard deck is given to you, but from then on you can find cards on the maps, be awarded cards for doing missions well, or buy cards from the card shop with the points you get from doing missions. So between battles you can change your deck. At the start both the minimum number and the maximum number of cards in a deck is 30, but later the maximum goes up. Nevertheless, as any player of collectible card games knows, it is better to build only decks with the minimum number of cards. For the first few missions you can only get access to cards of the most basic set, called MGS1. Later other sets like MGS2, Chronicles and MGS3 open up. I'd advise you *not* to buy any MGS1 packs in the card shop, but to save your points until the MGS2 set becomes available, and then buy a lot of those.

The reason for needing a lot of MGS2 packs is the advanced weapon system introduced in that pack. In the MGS1 pack you shoot a weapon by using a simple weapon card, which is then discarded. The advanced weapons need several cards, one that you equip, and another weapon card using the same sort of ammo to load and fire the equipped weapon. You can also use various cards to give a one-time bonus to an equipped weapon, increasing your chance to hit, damage, or adding some other effect to it. You can still use the simple MGS1 weapons, but the advanced weapons are usually better, especially when you add some bonus to them. Equippable cards can also have arrows of different colors that increase the stats of the cards next to them. So if you equip a card with a red arrow pointing towards one of your already equipped weapons, that weapon now deals 10 more damage per hit.

Metal Gear Acid has a main story consisting of 25 missions in linear series. But you can always do random missions on previously visited maps to gain points and cards. The main story revolves around Solid Snake entering a heavily guarded weapons laboratory somewhere in Africa to get some secret data demanded by some plane hijackers. On the one side it is nice to have a story. On the other side the story is a bit over the top and not very believable, mixing a lot of supernatural nonsense into a modern-time secret agent story of conspiracy and betrayal. I never go around to play the Metal Gear games on the PS2 very much, but as far as I know the type of story is similar in the other games. The story is told in long dialogues. If you fail a mission you have to go through that dialogue again, but fortunately you can just skip it by pressing L, R, and X at the same time.

But the main source of fun of the game is the combination of deckbuilding and doing missions. You can load up your deck with lots of explosives and bomb your way through the missions, or you can use lots of stealth and try to never raise any alert. You can build a deck around different types of weapons, powerful but short range pistols, or long-range machine guns. There are 204 cards in the game, although some of them you can only get by entering passwords, which you can find on various cheat sites. I had a look at the password cards, and they aren't very useful, except for the XM8 weapon you get by typing the "Xmeight" password. Anyway, with so many cards the opportunities for deckbuilding are endless. But as you can put every card only 4 times into a deck, and you might not have the card you want 4 times, you never know whether you get the card you need at the good moment. The same mission can play very differently based on the luck of the draw.

Fortunately even with the worst of luck, you can't lose Metal Gear Acid. The worst case scenario is failing a mission, which gets you no points, and you'll have to do that mission again from the start. Between missions you always go to the "intermission" screen, where you can buy cards, build decks, save your game, and select your next mission, with the mission advancing the story line marked by a big arrow. Saving during a mission is also possible, but not recommended, because saving during a mission quits the game, and you need to reload the game every time you want to load that saved game. More of a useful feature in case Real Life ® interrupts your playing session.

Missions are varied, and most of the maps are fun. There aren't very many types of different enemies, but the enemy soldiers can have different decks and equipment as well. Like in most tactics games you move on a map divided into squares. You can press the triangle button to get an aerial view of the map, and if you select an enemy soldier in that view, you can check which squares he can see. That works usually very good, only on a few maps that are three-dimensional the camera isn't working very. In that cases you need to use the analog "joystick" of the PSP to wiggle the camera until you can actually see something.

I like Metal Gear Acid a lot, so much that I just ordered Metal Gear Acid 2 from Amazon. I do like turn-based games which actually make me think, instead of just react. And I especially enjoyed the deckbuilding part of this game, which adds a lot more variety to the tactics game genre. The setting and story might not be to everybodies liking, but it is easy to skip and ignore if you prefer to concentrate on the gameplay. The large variety of cards and maps gives Metal Gear Acid endless replayability. Recommended.

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