Game Description: Metal Gear Acid is a whole new take on the blockbuster Metal Gear franchise. A plane full of hostages is going to die, unless they're given a mysterious secret weapon called "Pythagoras". When the U.S. tracks down "Pythagoras" to a remote lab in Africa, they send in Solid Snake to retrieve it. In this card-based adventure, strategy is everything. Use the Weapon card to take out enemies, the Action card to duck & hide from enemies on patrol, or call in support with the Character card.
Metal Gear is undoubtedly one of videogaming's best-known franchises. The series is popularly credited with starting the stealth genre with Metal Gear Solid, one of the original PlayStation's runaway hits. It was an unquestionable smash that did much to strengthen Sony's cred with gamers. Bringing Snake back for the PS2 in the equally successful and controversial Sons of Liberty was another home run for both Sony and Konami. Clearly, the goal with Metal Gear Ac!d was to score once more by launching the new PSP hardware with a proven superstar. However, this time Snake's mission is quite a bit different than his past forays, and the results are mixed.
No longer featuring real-time action, Ac!d is a turn-based strategy game using a new collectible-card style system for attacks, abilities, and movement. Play consists of an intricate structure where Snake creeps through environments slowly and methodically, every step requiring forethought and planning. With a set number of options available each round, and with each action incurring a "cost" in time accumulated before Snake can take another turn, reactionary playing rarely pays, and skin-of-your-teeth escapes are few and far between. This time around, the speed of a trigger finger is irrelevant—it's all about mental dexterity.
As a fan of Strategy-RPGs like Vandal Hearts and Shining Force, and also someone who enjoys collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering and the PS2's phenomenal cult hit Culdcept, I was sold on the genre-fusion premise of Ac!d from the get-go. In practice, I found that it was full of good ideas, but lacking balance and smooth playability, especially in the all-important first few hours.
My first impressions of the game were so poor and my level of enjoyment so low that I actually shelved it and walked away, so frustrated that I needed to put it down. The camera system is very weak, and it's difficult to get a good view of areas that feature multiple elevation levels, or those with intricate architecture. It was hard to see small features like vents to crawl into, or oddly-placed doors. A prime requirement in Strat-RPGs is that it be easy to grasp the character's surroundings in order to make effective choices. Ac!d stumbles here.
Another rough area is that the game's way of managing guns—a central play mechanic—is completely counterintuitive, and the developers take no steps to make it easy for players to understand. Instead of simply drawing a gun card and "using" it, I had to first equip a gun card. Then I had to draw another gun card of the same caliber and combine it with the first card before I could shoot. I could, however, fire the gun right away as a counter-attack. It's extremely confusing and makes no sense, especially since the gun cards available at the beginning of Ac!d aren't used this way at all.
Other irritants abound, such as the fact that Snake can't really "do" anything (…except punch) without a card. It's important to sneak and not be seen, but I couldn't grab a guard from behind and choke him out to avoid detection. I couldn't climb over small boxes or hang from ledges without the specific cards. I couldn't get through locked doors without standing around helplessly burning through my deck waiting for the key card to come up. When seen, I couldn't fire on a guard standing right next to me without using a card to simply turn and face him. It drove me batty that I would use a card and then be interrupted by a cutscene, after which I would lose the card I just selected even I never actually got to use it.
I could go on, but the point is that many of the qualities of the card system in Metal Gear Ac!d are eccentric, to put it mildly. Too many things make too little sense, and I can't see why the Ac!d team ham-handedly tried to completely reinvent the wheel. Still, I count myself as a true Kojima fan and I love the Metal Gear series, so I came back to Ac!d after a short break and a mental prep session. The funny thing was… I ended up liking it a lot.
Once I got used to all the quirks and idiosyncrasies, the rough edges, the frustrations and every thing else, I discovered a great Metal Gear game that didn't reveal itself until I slogged through the first eight to ten not-very-enjoyable hours. The story ended up excellently unfolding into a dark, spiraling flower full of twists and turns in classic Kojima style. Working my way through hostile territory with Snake's new partner Teliko was a great exercise in precision teamwork, and collecting enough cards to give me creative leeway in designing my playstyle took the experience to a higher level.
It's extremely unfortunate that the Ac!d team couldn't reshape the opening hours into something more welcoming and tolerable. I can easily see why so many people would give Metal Gear Ac!d the cold shoulder since the game clearly gives it to the player first. However, for those who manage to make it past the painful introduction, there's a very worthy addition to the Metal Gear legacy to be found. I'd even go so far as to say that I enjoyed Ac!d more than the recent MGS3: Snake Eater when all was said and done, but an Ac!d sequel with a huge tune-up would be even better.
I liked Metal Gear Ac!d about as much as Brad, but for different reasons. While Brad felt it stumbled out of the gate but gained steam later, I felt like it started out strong and became overwhelming as it got more complex.
I didn't find the initial portions of the game so frustrating. It's true that adapting to the eccentricities of Ac!d's gameplay is an ordeal. The most shocking offender is the weapon system, an opaque cloud of confusion that threatens to break the game in half. However, I disagree on the more mundane "unrealistic" elements, such as not being able to turn and attack in a single turn. These sorts of rules are staples of the turn-based strategy genre, so I don't find them so intrusive. I don't care what the rules are as long as they are clear, and Ac!d's only real crime is failing to present its quirky logic to the player in a coherent way.
Once you grasp the gameplay system of Ac!d it works well, and if you grasp it early, the earlier levels are no less fun than the later ones. In fact, I felt the game was more frustrating towards the end because that's when the system began breaking down in spite of the fact that I understood it. There are so many cards by the end that it didn't seem worth figuring out how to use most of them, since their abilities often involved manual calculation. I enjoy solving complex systems, but the point of a videogame seems to be leaving the math to the program. When I realized that to use most of the cards I had to add up "COST" in my head, I just tuned out and stuck with the simpler cards.
Nonetheless, Ac!d is a fun game. I think Brad and I got about the same level of enjoyment out of the gameplay, even if we differ on pros and cons. I can't say we see eye to eye on the story, though. Acid's plot is certainly cool, but it doesn't have the depth or weight that I was hoping for. It may seem unfair to hold a portable game to the standard of the multi-million dollar cut-scene extravaganzas like Metal Gear Solid 2. But then again, it might not be. The previous portable Metal Gear game, Metal Gear: Ghost Babel for the Gameboy Color, actually managed to import a lot of the tone, depth, and dramatic feeling of the main series into the small screen. It was in its own way as effective a synthesis of gameplay and story as any mainstream Metal Gear. Metal Gear Ac!d, however, doesn't feel like it has story on its mind. Because of the lack of a codec system, you never get to know the characters very well. And the plot, while interesting and full of twists, has too much padding in the first half and resolves itself too quickly at the end. Metal Gear Solid 2 was lambasted for having too many plot twists at the end as well, but it at least had iconic characters in memorable situations. Even if you didn't understand the plot, characters and events lingered in your mind. They don't in Ac!d. Many of the plot twists seem to have no purpose other than confusing the player, and while it all does sort of make sense if you think about it, it lacks the dramatic punch to make you want to untangle its web of conspiracies.
Still, the foundation is very strong. Though uneven, the card-based gameplay is engaging. I spent 30 hours finishing this game, and I don't regret it. I think all of its problems, even the story ones, could easily be smoothed over in the sequel which was just announced. If Metal Gear Ac!d 2 follows the same trajectory as Zone of Enders, another Kojima-produced series that got off to a shaky start, the sequel will realize the dormant potential of the original.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Blood, Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence
Parents would be well-advised to keep children away from the game. It's not that any of the ESRB's warning nouns are really all that warranted, but more that the game will be abominably hard for younger players. However, there is a significant level of violent gunplay in the game, and although I wouldn't say it was very gory, it's pretty clear that enemy soldiers are getting drilled full of holes by automatic weapons. I'm not clear where the "suggestive themes" were unless you count the faux porno magazines that Snake can drop to distract guards, and I don't. The story is written at an adult level so the tone is very serious and intricate at times, and there is a small sprinkling of very mild swear words, almost unnoticeably present. Still, despite all that, I'd say the game would be safe for most older kids if they can cope with the game's difficulty.
Metal Gear fans should know what they're getting into. The story, tone, and characters are all in line with the rest of the franchise, but the gameplay is radically different. Those willing to learn the ins and outs of a hybrid strategy system will ultimately find a worthwhile game, but those wanting fast-paced espionage action should look elsewhere.
Strategy RPG fans will likely get more out of Ac!d than the average Metal Gear player, but they should be prepared to learn a system that initially looks like others in the genre, but has enough odd quirks to throw them for a loop. Once the mechanics are mastered, the second half of the game is a very fine experience.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing gamers will have no problems since all communication is delivered through on-screen text. There are no auditory cues that are not co-represented visually through alarm meters, or other such devices. I'm very happy to report that Ac!d offers full access.