Image: 'Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops'
Konami Digital Entertainment  /  AP
The new video game "Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops" for the PlayStation Portable system is about as good as gaming gets on Sony's handheld gaming machine.
updated 1/10/2007 8:21:33 PM ET 2007-01-11T01:21:33

With a few exceptions, Sony Corp.'s PlayStation Portable hasn't had many good games since it was released a few years ago.

The new "Metal Gear Solid: Portal Ops," (Rated M, $39.99) is one of those rare titles to buck that trend. This latest in a long series of spy-action thrillers from Hideo Kojima is about as good as gaming gets on the PSP.

I've always been enamored with the "Metal Gear" series and its blend of Cold War intrigue, calculated action and oddball humor. This successful mix continues with "Portable Ops."

Despite a few glitches that mar an otherwise perfect game, this new edition adds many enhancements that make it worth considering.

Technologically, "Portable Ops" is a huge leap over previous PSP versions in the series such as "Metal Gear Acid 2."

Previous games were turn-based, but this time the world of espionage and infiltration plays out in real-time 3D graphics that look superb on the PSP's dazzling screen.

It's one of the few games that seems to have harnessed the true potential of the PSP.

The single-player story finds the gruff, eye-patch wearing Naked Snake in a South American prison in 1970. Inexorably, he is sucked into the vortex of a military conspiracy involving the CIA, the Soviet Union and a host of mysterious military operatives and organizations that fans of the series will find familiar.

There are some excellent additions to the usual tasks, such as sneaking around guards to snag secret documents and crawling through underground tunnels.

What's most engaging are the role-playing elements: you can take out enemy soldiers, drag their sleeping bodies back to a waiting troop transport vehicle and then recruit them to your cause.

Eventually, you'll be controlling squads of converted troops with special abilities such as medical skills, sniper accuracy and stealthiness. These abilities are more than just a stat sheet: you'll need to deploy the right mix of abilities to successfully perform missions.

There's an incredible array of online modes beyond the single-player story, which neatly ties together other games in the series.

You can even recruit characters from other "Portable Ops" gamers who are within reach of the PSP's ad-hoc and infrastructure wireless capabilities.

Once you've organized these characters into squads, you can put them to work in various online multiplayer modes, such as death match and recovery missions.

Though "Portable Ops" offers plenty to do, the doing part sometimes gets bogged down by weird controls that had me switching between first-person and third-person perspectives.

Switching between the two can be frustrating, especially if you get caught in a sudden firefight. And as good as the graphics are overall, some of the textures when I was crawling in a ventilation shaft were bland and ugly when viewed up close.

These are relatively minor complaints, however, in a game that really combines the best elements of the "Metal Gear" series into one portable game.

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