Metal Gear Ac!d 2 is a pretty fun game, if you meet it half way. Shortly after the release of the PSP, you could go to any video game store and see the shelves lined with used copies of the original Ac!d. For Metal Gear fans, the concept of a card and tile version of their favorite stealth action game was too much of a leap. I certainly had no desire to play it.
But over time, a contingency of fans grew, and with this second installment, maybe it is time for all of the doubters to give it a try. I did, and I grew to like it.
For those new to the series, Ac!d combines elements of the Metal Gear games with turn-based card games. Environments, such as a secret military instillation, are sectioned off into tiles like a board game, and players take turns drawing cards from their deck and moving across the board, trying to avoid detection, defeat their enemies, and complete missions. It sounds odd, and it is, but once you settle into the game, it provides a pretty good platform for strategic experience that plays out more like a combination of chess and Metal Gear, than say, Yu Gi Oh and Metal Gear, which may be some people's first impression.
Let me explain that last statement. When I think of card games like Yu Gi Oh, I think of a frustrating array of cards and rules, whose advances and reversals can only be deciphered by little kids that devour slick, commercial anime like it was candy laced with crack. But Ac!d plays more like a chess game, only with Snake representing all of the pieces on the board. How you negotiate your moves on the board, where you place yourself in regard to your enemies, and how you attack are based on your environment, your opponent, as well as on your cards.
The cards represent how many tiles you can make on the board, what equipment you can use, and which weapons and attacks are available. First and foremost, your objectives in the game are to avoid detection and eliminate your enemies. By using your environment and Snake's ability to crawl, back against a wall, and use subterfuge, you can place yourself out of sight of your opponent, or sneak up on him or her for a surprise attack. The strategy comes in as you plan your moves ahead of time and try to predict your opponent's moves so that you do not end up accidentally coming face to face with a group of enemies armed with machineguns. Equipment ranges from body armor, rations, scopes, the ever enjoyable cardboard box (a staple in the Metal Gear canon), and so forth. Traditional weapons include knives, guns, mines and grenades. Then there are the more outlandish weapons such as jet pack/flamethrower combos and the HF Blade, which summons a robot swordsman to dispatch the target of your choice.
Ac!d 2 has made several improvements to gameplay. Movement is much smoother this time around, as Snake is able to turn, back up against wall, and lay down in a crawling position as an extension of a move, rather than taking up a turn. The addition of close quarters combat allows Snake to engage nearby enemies in hand to hand combat once per turn. This can often save your butt by knocking your opponents unconscious, and may even give you some new cards. But it carries a risk: if your enemy remains standing, you are caught.
An invaluable addition to Ac!d 2 is the in-game guide that allows you to examine the controls, the cards, and nearly every aspect of the game as you learn to play. By pressing Start to pause the game, you can press a button or choose a card and receive a description of what it does. This, in addition to the training mode will have you fully versed in Ac!d before long.
There is a deck manager which allows you to create decks and upgrade your cards. Cards are upgraded using points gained through your performance during missions. The game begins by asking you if you want to upload cards from the original Ac!d to use in this game. You can choose your most powerful cards, or upgrade cards using the new system.
There is a multiplayer mode that is available after you defeat Stage 5 in the single player game. The multiplayer game sets you against your opponent with a random deck. It is mostly a seek and destroy scenario, although it is not that hard to find your opponent when there is an overhead camera available that allows you to examine the entire level. So, the strategy here is not to avoid detection, not to create the perfect deck, as you can always find your opponent and have no control over your deck, but rather to economize your moves, trap the other person, and make the kill. Players can also take part in the Arena, facing off against bosses from other Metal Gear titles.
Those fans out there that are also playing Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence can connect the PSP to the PS2 and download pictures taken by Snake in that game. The draw here is the 3D viewer. In addition to the snapshots and cards, the cinema screens from Subsistence can also be viewed in 3D. The 3D is used effectively, but it is more of a gimmick than anything else, and even includes some irritating and even somewhat disturbing elements. Several of the viewing selections are nothing more than a cute chick dressed in fatigues lounging around on a daybed, and staring into the camera. One even features her loading a pistol and waving it around, all the while looking at it in a vaguely confused, sexual way, as if she would like to make love to it but isn't exactly sure how. I have no idea what this has to do with the game, other than implying (perhaps rightfully) that the core audience is vaguely confused, sexually frustrated teenagers.
The presentation is solid, with a cell shaded look and a distinctive anime style in the cinema screens. The new look of the series helps to further set it apart from its console counterparts, which is necessary in order for it to create its own niche of gameplay within the Metal Gear world. My biggest complaint is the same as I have had with all Metal Gear games: too much pointless exposition. The characters in these games love to expound on the finer points of everything other than the task at hand, and players have to negotiate an endless stream of tangents and nonsense in order to get any pertinent information. This might not be so bad if any of it was interesting, but it isn't. Truth be told, I got so used to holding down the triangle button to skip the endless flow or useless information that I really don't even know what the story of this game is. There is also no voice-over in this game, and for some reason you can only watch the cinema scenes from Subsistence in Japanese with subtitles.
Metal Gear Ac!d 2 has been one of those rare gaming experiences: a game that I was expecting to hate but have come to enjoy. Once I was able to look past the differences between the Ac!d series and its console brethren, I found an engaging strategy game that challenges me to think in a way that is more reminiscent of chess than your average card or board game. It also lends itself well to the portable platform, akin to other strategy and puzzle games. This is not to say that PSP owners don't deserve a traditional Metal Gear Game. However, as the Metal Gear Solid series has become a bit predictable by its third incarnation, I'm happy with this current diversion.