Despite being on a portable system, Peace Walker is probably the biggest Metal Gear game to date in terms of sheer scope and content. But even though Peace Walker is one of the most well put together games for Sony’s handheld, Japanese gamers will be getting most out of this title as opposed to Western gamers.
What can be considered Metal Gear Solid 5, Peace Walker puts Naked Snake, aka Big Boss, back on center stage. Taking place about 10 years after Snake Eater, Big Boss ventures to Costa Rica to disrupt the CIA’s plans for nuclear distribution. Because Costa Rica does not have their own army, they turn to Snake and his group of mercenaries, the Military Sans Frontieres – or the Military Without Boarders – to prevent nuclear holocaust. In usual Metal Gear style, the story is filled with betrayals, bi-pedal tanks, and Snake’s noun repeating questioning dialog. Unlike other Metal Gear games, Peace Walker probably has the most straightforward and easy to understand story, but is still filled with finite detail that fans will devour.
Because the game is on PSP, some compromises had to be made and many things have been streamlined to make the game playable and more enjoyable. Camouflage is not as important as in other Metal Gears and crawling has been removed from the game altogether. Missions, for the most part, can be completed in bite-sized chunks (be carefully because there is no pause feature; you must use sleep-mode if you need a potty break). And the controls as a whole have been simplified from its console brethren.
Undoubtedly, players will need time to adjust to the control scheme and stands as Peace Walker’s biggest nuisance. However, this is more hardware related as everyone hates the fact that the PSP has only one analog nub. This means that aiming and camera control functionality have been mapped to the four face buttons. While it is not terrible but still definitely playable, tapping face buttons to aim a headshot just cannot take the place of a second analog stick.
There are many features in Peace Walker that separate it from all the other Metal Gears. The first is the co-op multiplayer component. Almost every mission in the game can be played cooperatively with two to four players. Sneaking around in a double-manned cardboard box, covering each other’s backs, and reviving passed out teammates makes for good gameplay, it ultimately causes the single player experience to suffer. Why? Because the game only has one difficulty setting and many of the later levels are clearly designed for multiplayer gaming. Some missions are almost impossible to complete without the help of another Snake, especially boss battles. Instead of scaling the difficulty and level design according to how many Snakes are on the battlefield, the unbalanced missions can become an inferno of frustration.
Missions are not the only aspect of the game’s ruthless unbalancing; boss battles are the biggest culprit. From a series that is known for creative boss encounters, Peace Walker’s bosses are low point in the Metal Gear series. Instead of fighting super villain-like enemies with quirky code names and special powers, Snake will only face off against tanks and other unmanned metal vehicles. An early tank battle, for example, pits Snake against a tank and a legion of foot soldiers. This only furthers the need for a second analog stick because focusing on four food soldiers and a tank, or helicopter, can become disorienting and screams for the help of a co-op buddy or buddies. Peace Walker’s controls are suitable for the game, but they are best used during stealth missions as opposed to heated firefights. Boss battles, however, are also impressive considering their sheer size – again further promoting co-op play.
The focus on multiplayer is well respected and appreciated, but not tweaking the game for the US market is definitely a flaw. Japan plays portable games much differently than American gamers. In Japan, portable gamers are everywhere. Here in America, it is difficult to find another PSP owner, let alone one that plays ad-hoc. But eliminating infrastructure altogether means that US gamers will probably never take advantage of Peace Walker’s co-ops. It is possible to link up through the PS3’s Ad-Hoc Party app, but it is quite finicky to work with and requires the purchase of a PS3 to play a PSP game.
The amount of side missions available actually overwhelms the amount of story based missions. Side missions, which are like a throwback to VR Missions, offer more than the opportunity to improve your Metal Gearing skills. Each mission gives the player a chance to add more soldiers to your army. Using the Fulton recover system, Snake can attach a surface-to-air balloon to any unconscious soldier or hostage to be sent back to mother base. This gameplay mechanic replaces the kidnapping structure of Portable Ops. Instead of dragging a soldier all the way back to your truck, the Fulton recover system provides instant results. The only quirky aspect of this system is that is also works indoors; seeing a soldier fly right through a ceiling is a little strange.
In order to grow and become successful, Big Boss must assign a job duty to every recovered soldier, giving the game a sort of SimCity-like approach. To prevent soldiers from coming unruly, there needs to be enough cooks in the kitchen to provide enough food. Soldiers must be employed in the infirmary to help the wounded and to create new health items. R&D soldiers will develop new items for Snake’s mercenary group to use in battle while other soldiers can be assigned fighting and recon duties. It is a constant rock-paper-scissors battle to balance out your team. Surprisingly, performing overseer duties never becomes tedious, in fact, it is more addicting than anything. Each time you send a knocked-out soldier back to Mother Base, you always hope for that grade-A new recruit to add to your ranks. Side missions can even be completed with non-Snake characters to grow their abilities and to become an even bigger asset to your team. Eventually, teams of soldiers can be complied and sent on extra mission, similar to the Dispatch Mission in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. If you put the right guys for the mission, you will see success. Choose poorly, and soldiers will come back wounded or dead.
The game’s wealth of extra side missions provides tons of replay value. Instead of simply replaying missions to achieve a better code-name, Peace Walker offers plenty of new and creative missions aside from the main story line. The biggest and most unique side missions are geared around Capcom’s Monster Hunter series. Monster Hunter has had a huge impact in Japan, selling millions of copies, and Kojima’s team has obviously taken notice. Having Snake take down dinosaurs is quite different from knocking out enemy soldiers, but it is welcomed event that fans of both games will surely enjoy. Rarely do you see a cross-over of games like this but fits the Kojima style of humor perfectly.
As Mother Base grows, which starts to look like the Big Shell from MGS2, the player will gain access to new weapons and items. Being able to hold stronger weapons and bigger ammo pouches becomes imperative especially later in the game. Some boss battles are more of an endurance match than anything else, and if you run out of ammo, you are screwed. This is another instance of the game’s single player balancing issues. Getting high ranks, like the coveted “S” rank, is also quite difficult to achieve when playing solo. And you most likely will be unable to create your own Metal Gear by the time the credits roll, but provides incentive to continue the quest once the game's story is completed.
Like Portable Ops and the Digital Graphic Novel, cutscenes are rendered from Ashley Wood’s beautiful pencil/charcoal drawings. Taking it one step further, Peace Walker has adopted God of War style quicktime events during these animated comic sequences, giving the player a new level of interactivity. And it would not be a Metal Gear game without high quality and extensive voice over work. Talented voice actors once again provide hours of quality dialog and surpass most Hollywood movies. Be sure to use a decent set of headphones.
If you do manage to find another PSP owner that owns Peace Walker, the safe bet will be co-op play. But there is a multiplayer versus mode as well. The developers even tried to make the best experience possible by giving the player the option to install parts of the game on a memory stick. For a little over 300mb, players can perform a partial install which will speed up some load times and segments with heavy dialog. And for over 800mb, most of the game can be installed on a memory stick to make the game run as fluid as possible. Alternatively, the entire game can be downloaded off the PSN. Either way, you are going to want to make some space on your memory stick.
Despite some balancing issues with the game’s difficulty and a control scheme that is limited by the lack of a second analog stick, Peace Walker is a high quality PSP gaming experience. Even though it is on a portable system does not mean that detailed gameplay was sacrificed. The game still carries heavy Metal Gear-isms that will naturally please fans while providing an unforgettable experience.
Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker is a fantastic game. For every paragraph that I wrote on how this game could be better, I could write ten for everything it does right. There is reason why is game is in the running for “best game on PSP” title.
Not As Good As: Metal Gear Solid (GBC)
Better Than: Metal Gear Ac!d
Wait For It: Metal Gear Solid (3DS)
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