Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker Review
I need to start by saying that I'm biased. I'm a hardcore Metal Gear fan past the point of mere obsession. I literally fantasize about being Big Boss. I listen to the MGS series soundtrack on my iPod and see myself, as Snake, doing ridiculous things. I walk around doing a bad impression of Snake's voice all the time. I could go on for a while about how into this franchise I am but that wouldn't exactly be reviewing the game.
So now that that's out of the way I'd like to say that Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker is one of the best games in the series bar none. Yeah, it's a PSP title. It doesn't feel like it though. I would get really invested in the game and it felt as good if not better than some of the console games in the series. There are limitations to the controls on the PSP (lack of a second analog nub be damned) but even with these limitations the game controlled well enough that I wanted to keep playing it.
I played it for a long time time too. As of the writing of this review I've clocked in at about 117 hours. That's more time than I've spent with some RPGs and I'm still playing it. So why am I still playing it? I'll break it down for you:
It's Pokemon. It's X-Com. It's Monster Hunter. It's Metal Gear. It's all of these things and it's addictive as hell. The game is broken up first into menus. These menus allow for the management of Mother Base (the precursor to what would become known as Outer Heaven, the base Big Boss establishes in the 1980's in South Africa), soldiers who are members of MSF (Millitiares sans Frontiers), and your R and D department. Mother Base actually acts like a hub menu for everything else in the game. This is where you'll assign members of MSF to different teams. These teams include the combat unit, the R&D team, the mess hall team, the medical team, and the intel team. Assigning staff to each of these teams allows for a number of different things to happen. For example, putting more people in your R&D team allows for development of better weapon and equipment. Assigning staff to the combat unit makes it so you can send troops on missions known as "Outer Ops". The mess hall team is in charge of making food and keeping the morale of all your troops high and the medical and intel groups do what you'd think they'd do.
Outer Ops is part of the game that reminds me a bit of Pokemon. It's nothing as in depth as Pokemon gameplay-wise but it does add to the overall experience. As you progress through the game you can capture enemy soldiers. Once they're convinced to join your cause you can send them on missions in the Outer Ops section of the Mother Base menu. Not only can you capture soldiers though. In some specific instances you can also capture enemy vehicles which add greatly to your ability to finish outer ops missions. You don't take direct control over anything in Outer Ops. You pick the mechs (tanks, helicopters, APCs, etc) and the soldiers that you want to send on these various missions and then you leave it alone. Once you return from one of the main story missions or an Extra Ops mission you can check on the results of the Outer Ops. You can choose to watch an animated depiction of the battle or go through a list of statistics to find out how the battle played out in your absence. Afterwards you gain items and experience for your soldiers.
That brings me to the missions where you do take direct control. These missions are divided into Main Ops and Extra Ops. Main Ops are all the missions that are a part of the games story. Extra Ops are the hundreds of extra added missions that unlock both as you beat Main Ops and Extra Ops missions. These missions add hours of replay value to the game. When you select a mission, either Main or Extra, you're taken to another menu where you can then choose to listen to briefing files (this is where you'll get the bulk of your classic MGS style codec conversations and there are hoursof recorded character dialog in here) or select your load out for the mission. It's left mostly up to you how you play through these missions and there generally isn't a wrong or right way to do it. That is of course if you aren't a crazy person who likes seeing that they've gotten an S ranking on a mission. I'm still trying to S rank all the missions in this game. A great number of the missions in this game allow for local co-op with a friend or online via adhoc party on the PS3 but because my only other friend that has this game broke his clavicle I had to finish the damn thing by myself. The later boss fights are most certainly designed with co-op in mind. My final fight against Peace Walker took me 46 minutes and 15 seconds. There are also unlockable Monster Hunter missions in the game and while I managed to take down two Rathalos by myself I don't think I'll be able to do the same with the Tigrex that came immediately after them.
I've gone on about menus and management but how does the game actually play? It's a third person stealth action game. It has elements of a third person shooter mixed with gameplay elements from the previous Metal Gear Solid games. Particularly Snake Eater and Guns of the Patriots. The camouflage system from MGS3 is in here. When you choose your load out before starting a mission you can also choose your camo type. A list of rating based on the camo and environment it's best used for are available but after you unlock both the battle and sneaking suits there is little need to use anything else. Use the sneaking suit for every mission requiring stealth and the battle suit for boss fights and when you want to kill everyone in a level.
The shooting is lifted from MGS4 and for the most part it works really well. You move with the thumb nub on the left of the system and you hold the left shoulder button to go into aim mode. You then use the face buttons to aim and the right shoulder button to fire. It takes some time getting used to using the face buttons to aim but it ended up being the most accurate and comfortable of the available control schemes.
Graphically the game is amazing. I don't think I've seen a game on the PSP that looks as good as this one. The character models all look great and some of the characters can even be examined in a model viewer mode (strangely, only the female characters) where they can be panned and rotated. The environments also look nice. Not as nice as the character models but still pretty good. Sometimes you'll spot the occasional muddy texture or texture pop in but those things can be overlooked. The frame rate seemed consistent enough and didn't drop at all from what I could tell. It's almost on par with Snake Eater in the looks department.
Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker also has some excellent sound design. It has a great soundtrack and a few moments in particular actually made me get emotional. I'm not going to spoil anything but I will say that if the sound design and song choice had been different I wouldn't have reacted the way I did to a helicopter battle near the end of the game. The game's AI boss battles are also made better by the fact that each of the bosses is equipped with a vocaloid module and sings some of the most haunting music ever. If you find yourself crying manly tears while playing this game, blame the music.
Oh yeah. The story is pretty damn good too. It's the most straight forward story in the Metal Gear Saga thus far. It's a simple set up. Big Boss founds MSF and is one day approached by a young girl and her teacher. He is asked to bring peace to her country and he refuses at first. Then they play him a tape with a voice he hadn't heard in a long time. The voice of someone who should at this point be dead. This is what really spurs him onward through the story. Finding out what really happened to this character (I really don't want to spoil anything) is one of the high points of this game. Having played through MGS3, Portable Ops, and now this... I can tell you I have a much greater respect for Big Boss than I did before.
That's Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker. It's amazing. Excellent gameplay, sound design, story and graphics. There is so much more I could write up about the game and maybe I'll write an updated piece on it in a year or so to see if my opinion on the game has changed but I have to go ahead and end this. I hate giving a numerical value for a score but I suppose if I had to I'd give Peace Walker a one billion out of five and I'd award it game of forever. I know that's how long I'll be playing it.