The attempt to create a more immersive gaming experience has led to various dodgy videogame accessories in the past, from control systems such as the Power glove to the ill-fated Nintendo Virtual Boy system. Despite their general lack of success, the lure of virtual reality remains strong, and recent approaches such as the EyeToy have been more promising. Thus it was with mixed feelings that I recently forked out £30 for Konami's Metal Gear Ac!d2 (Acid2 from now on), featuring the SOLID EYE TOBIDAC!D 3-D goggles that seek to bring a true 3D experience to the Sony PlayStation Portable.
The main thing to note there is the additional cost- none. I actually purchased Acid2 for less than the original Metal Gear Acid (as the sticker on the front tells me, that's Asda price!). Further, the Solid Eye is genuinely optional- you can leave it in the packaging and still play the game in its entirety. This cuts both ways, of course: in perhaps a fitting tribute to Metal Gear Solid, the Solid Eye 'accessory' is in fact a cardbox box.
The gadget itself
Well, not a box exactly- two sides are missing, so that it serves as a cardboard sleeve into which you place the PSP. The front face has two eyepieces (cheap plastic), and a second piece of supplied cardboard fits into slots on the top and bottom faces so that the PSP's screen is partitioned in two. Once a game is set to 'Solid On', it produces two slightly different images on screen, creating the 3D effect via stereoscopic vision rather than red/blue filters.
Promotional images suggested a somewhat more substantial plastic gadget, that would attach properly to the PSP: one instantly apparent limitation of the cardboard Solid Eye is that there's nothing to hold it in place or align the screen divider properly. It would appear that the Japanese release of the game is supplied with a superior version which, although still cardboard, bears more resemblance to the prototypes, but requires a mastery of origami to construct that must have been assumed too demanding for Westerners.
So far, Acid2 is the only game to support the Solid Eye; there have been no suggestions that future titles, in the Metal Gear line or otherwise, will make use of it. If more titles did appear (and proved sufficiently popular), I wouldn't be surprised if a better version of the accessory appeared on the market, as paying for it would be easier to justify.
If you wish, you can engage solid mode at any point during play. This then switches to the stereoscopic rendering, adding a sense of depth to the battlefield and causing menus to seemingly float in the air. The challenge is to then actually play the game- whilst I'm not one of the many who criticise the PSP's control layout, I admit it is much harder to use when held a few inches in front of your face. Besides being rather uncomfortable holding it in place, you can't see the buttons because the screen now fills your field of vision. This is slightly balanced by Acid's turn-based gameplay, giving you time to find the appropriate buttons, but its controls are complex at the best of times. Further, there are a lot of menus and important stats that can become blurred when viewing through Solid Eye. Undeniably impressive to look at, but perhaps better suited to simpler titles like Loco Roco, with its three button control system and uncluttered display.
So, with interactive content ruled out, why not sit back and enjoy a video instead? Various scenes from the Metal Gear Solid series of Playstation games (including a trailer for upcoming PS3 title MGS4) have been given the stereoscopic treatment, and become available as unlockable content as you progress through the game. For purists, these are in Japanese with English subtitles, so the blurring of text is still a slight issue, but each clip is short enough to prevent excessive discomfort and of course there's no need for the controls.
In addition to Metal Gear content, also included are numerous clips of Japanese girls from men's magazine Sabra lounging about in Bikinis, playing with guns, having water fights or simply standing around pouting at the viewer. Whilst there's nothing revealing enough to turn this into a Pornquest entry, this particular bit of fan service lends weight to the theory that any new technology will inevitably be applied to adult entertainment.
Of course, there's one glaring fault with the Solid Eye I've yet to mention. The main point of the PlayStation Portable is, well, its portability; You certainly can't use Solid Eye whilst moving around in the real world, and it seems to me that sitting on the tube hooked up to the PSP, Solid Eye and headphones is an invitation to get mugged. Plus you'll look ridiculous, and probably miss your stop. That said, Acid's complicated gameplay hasn't always lended itself to stop-and-start gaming on the move anyway, and an experimental vision system like this would work a lot worse if they'd tried to design it for your PS2 and whatever TV you have hooked up to it. Ultimately, whilst entertaining for a while, I think the Solid Eye is likely to start collecting dust long before I've grown bored of Acid2 as a game; and thus will probably be remembered as another flawed attempt at true 3D videogaming.
Virtual Solid Eye
The Solid Eye also features in Acid2's gameplay, where it enhances the character's vision in the dark; its card can be unlocked by entering the password tobidacid. According to its flavour text, we can expect it to perform this function in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots too.