Solid Snake and the MGS series arrive on the N-Gage. Bet you didn't see that coming? Ewan takes a look at the stealth action game to find out if it works on the small screen.
What a delightful genre the 'run around shooting people' game is. So much so that developers had to go and spoil it with 'sneak around very quietly, make no noise, and don't kill anyone unless you really really have to' game. The inexplicable rise and adoption of the stealth game is something I fail to understand. Look, I've got hulking great machine gun here, I can see the plane I'm going to jump on at the end of the level – just let me kill the soldiers around it!
Some titles get the balance right in this action vs. stealth drama (and I'm looking at Syphon Filter on the PSP here), but Metal Gear Solid Mobile (MGS Mobile), just released for the Nokia N-Gage, eschews a full on kitted out combat system to concentrate on the stealth... and the game is all the better for it.
That's because a casual game, especially one on a mobile, needs much more laser-like accuracy on game play than a full blown console variant. And in MGS Mobile, they've delivered that on a plate. Admittedly they delivered it very quietly, but that's the whole style of the MGS world.
This isn't the first stealth game to hit the N-Gage; the classic N-Gage had two Splinter Cell stealth games. The first was nothing more than a side view platform game, where being spotted made you start the level again. It was the second (Splinter Cell Chaos Theory) that really brought stealth gaming to the N-Gage. That title had a huge range of buttons to press to make your character do various actions.
Thankfully that issue has been dealt with in this game. That might be down to the fact that the next-gen platform is generally gearing to similar control systems; it might be that as this is a new franchise everything could be put on a blank sheet of paper; or it might just be an attack of common sense from the developers. However the decision was made, it was smart.
Thanks to a top-down camera view (into a 3D world) the controls are essentially the cursor keys used to move the lead character, while the 'A' and 'B' keys are used for performing an action (fire a gun, throw a grenade, etc) and moving into first person perspective. This is where Konami start to use the differing inputs on the N-Gage. In the first person view, you don't move around the game area, but simply look about, and to do this, MGS Mobile accesses your phone's camera. Move your phone around, and the movement is tracked and replicated in the game screen.
It's a cute touch and yet again shows the potential of the multiple sensor input that N-Gage compatible devices have, but it does need a well lit room that has decent definition on the walls. Thankfully, it can be switched off and you can use the cursor keys to move around – something that I did on the third look around the world. Certainly when out and about this might be the only way to do it accurately. Still, congratulations for doing something different. There are other camera surprises along the way, to help you with lock picking and setting up some electronic camoflauge by taking a picture of a colour to paint your gear, but like the best plot lines in MGS, the fun is in the surprise.
Needless to say, controlling the main character (the amazingly-named Solid Snake) is pretty easy. Push closer to a wall to push your body against it to hide or move carefully through a gap, use the action key to jump over boxes and into spaces, switch to first person for a subtle sniping shot with a knock-out dart on a guard... It's all intuitive, easily-controlled, and most important for the N-Gage, it doesn't take to long to stop thinking “I'm playing a game on my phone” to “I'm playing a game” and that's an important leap.
The other important thing to note is, yet again, that N-Gage has another strong brand associated with gaming on the platform. Metal Gear Solid is a respected title (mostly on Playstation, it has to be said), and has a huge 'canon' of stories following the adventure of Snake. MGS fans' first question will be to ask where the MGS Mobile story fits in when put alongside the other titles. The answer is that it sits between MGS and MGS2: Sons of Liberty. The plot itself is based around Snake and his (your) partner at the end of a comms link, Ocelot, liaising with a Dr Victoria Reed to destroy a new version of the Metal Gear (Wikipedia has the easiest definition... "Metal Gear is a bipedal walking tank with nuclear weapon launching capabilities").
If you think the story sounds familiar, then be warned that MGS titles have lots of double crossing, twisty plots and hidden agendas. MGS Mobile is no different.
MGS Mobile is stunning. To have a decent portable MGS game is an achievement in itself, but to have one that plays well to the strengths of the device, while minimising the weaknesses - that's something that I praised Reset Generation for, and I'll repeat that praise here. MGS Mobile does suffer slightly in a few areas. There is an inevitable comparison to a console and the simplified controls do lead to you being led by the hand of the designer a bit more than in a full sized game. The maps and levels themselves offer little choice in direction – you rarely get the option to go around something instead of sneaking through the middle, but it keeps the goal of the game in sight, and of course makes the mobile experience one that works in the context of a play anywhere device.
And the thing is so addictive that you'll be happy to pull an all-nighter to finish the game, leading to unjustified complaints of “that was a bit short.” It wasn't that short, it's just you played it for ages in one sitting!
Is it mega? As in an All About Megagame award? I think it just scrapes in and should sit alongside Reset Generation as one of the games to really show off the N-Gage. Reset Gen also picked up a 90, but I'd still rate that (barely) as the top game as it was unique IP and designed 100% for the N-Gage, where MGS brings a lot of baggage to the handset - which is thankfully ditched for a good experience.
Strongly recommended and there's no reason you shouldn't grab the free demo.
-- Ewan Spence, Dec 08