Big Boss indeed
Lead by the now legendary Big Boss, Outer Heaven begins working with a pair of mysterious pupils of peace in a symbiotic relationship that helps turn Outer Heaven into an industrial giant while trying to prevent any further destruction to Costa Rica during the mid 70's. The story is told through interactive graphic novel cut scenes drawn by Ashley Wood. The look and style are breathtaking to watch and help keep the pacing of the game on track without slowing down the action considerably--a dilemma found in other Metal Gear titles. Although heavy-handed at times, the story has an authentic quality when referencing real world geopolitical organizations and events while still holding on to the crazier fiction that makes this universe feel like a wonderful hallucination. The voice acting is as strong as ever with great performances all around. David Hayter, the actor who plays Big Boss, still growls out his dialogue delivering the same conviction and rugged confidence from 1997.
The game is gorgeous from a technical standpoint as well and is easily one of the best looking titles for the PSP. Every soldier is well detailed from helmet to boot while maintaining that future soldier-ninja art style which has become the signature look in all of Hideo Kojima's Metal Gear projects. Explosions look particularly impressive and add a great deal of weight and depth that helps the game feel like a vast war zone that fits in your hands. The user interface is slick looking as well as easy to navigate which comes in handy when trying to run your own mercenary company.
Peace Walker grants the player more responsibility this time around. You are not only in charge of carrying out highly dangerous military operations but also for researching new technologies, providing food and health care to all your troops, gathering intel on the enemy and recruiting a steady flow of soldiers to engage in missions abroad. This can all sound intimidating, but Peace Walker does an excellent job of introducing your new responsibilities piece by piece so you can learn each system as they become relevant. This also helps explain how some decisions affect other elements of running Outer Heaven. The whole package gives you a sense of managerial importance that makes you feel quite literally like a Big Boss. It is a refreshing gameplay mechanic that effectively adds resource management in an enjoyably rewarding and addictive way.
The primary focus of the gameplay is when you are controlling Big Boss. You will have to use a mix of stealth and quick reflexes to sneak around structures and incapacitate enemy combatants. The primary game is cut up into bit sized Metal Gear missions that require you to rescue prisoners, find key items, blow up targets, get from point "A" to point "B", etc. Each mission is no longer that ten minutes which is ideal for a portable system that requires quick transitions from gaming to real life. Most missions even allow you to gather friends online via ad hoc to help defeat a boss or just to generally provide support in some of the more difficult scenarios. The game continues the idea of your PSP as its own military company, and as such, allows you to openly trade and deliver troops and supplies to your friends' PSPs/companies. If co-op is not your idea of fulfilling war games, Peace Walker offers a rich online versus mode that pits you against your friends in a variety of challenges.
Controlling Big Boss becomes the only significant problem with the game overall and is an issue inherent of the PSP's lack of a second analog stick. Aiming your weapon takes some getting used to even with both aim assist and target lock enabled. To make matters worse, you are given an "action" button that will accomplish several different tasks depending on the situation. You will find yourself sidling up to a wall or vaulting off of a railing accidentally when attempting to reload you weapon. Selecting weapons and items can also be a hassle due to its cumbersome design and the fact that the action around you does not pause while you are fiddling with your night-vision goggles or your rations. When playing stealthily, these problems are mere annoyances. During full alert, guns blazing, kill-or-be-killed times, these control issues are magnified and lead to frustrating and foolish deaths. The game does offer three different control layouts but none really rectify the issues listed.
At the end of the day, Peace Walker exceeds expectations of what is capable on the PSP's hardware visually. Its the game's inability to deliver super accurate controls that hinder the experience just a tad. With that said, those of you that take the time to overcome the controls will find a small epic of a game that is soaked through with quality and attention to detail. No other experience on a handheld system has come close to matching Peace Walker's sense of scale and illusion of power which is sure to garner some PSP game of the year talk later in December.