Best PSP game, but best Metal Gear game? Not out of the question.
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is to Guns of the Patriots as Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops was to Snake Eater; it takes the previous game’s fundamental gameplay features and packs it into a handheld game with some added RPG flare. The result is spectacular because it plays in the same fantastically designed manner while giving you enough varying features to keep you occupied for a very lengthy 20-40 hour time. Did I mention this game is on the PSP?
And that’s the zinger: this is one of the very best handheld games I’ve ever played and it’s on Sony’s PSP. I bet you can’t say that very often, huh? Peace Walker exemplifies Hideo Kojima’s dedication to Sony’s handheld—to give the platform the killer app it may or may not deserve. Peace Walker is that game the PSP has been looking for. Any fan of the franchise should give it a try because not only is a great Metal Gear Solid game in it’s own regard, but because it’s one of the deepest games in the entire series.
Taking place between Portable Ops and the original Metal Gear for the MSX2, you play the role of Naked Snake, otherwise known as “Big Boss.” As a mercenary working for no governing body, Snake and his crew are suddenly interrupted by some pretty interesting personnel. Giving you all sorts of compelling information, Ramón Gálvez Mena and Paz Ortega Andrade peacefully request for your assistance to investigate Costa Rico. As a country with no army, reports are surfacing of an unidentified military intruding on their territory and they believe that Big Boss, the soldier that killed “The Boss,” is the man they need to delve deeper into the mystery.
The timeline of the Metal Gear Solid series is so easily misinterpreted because of their insane stories and perplexing dialog, but Peace Walker perfectly fits into the slot prior to Metal Gear. This is where Big Boss finds and recruits his minions while giving you an explanation for nearly every lingering question you had going into the Metal Gear storyline. It’s not going to give you an answer for everything (you think Kojima wants that?), but you’ll definitely be satisfied when the credits finally roll.
But getting to those credits is easier said than done. Peace Walker is a gigantic game: you have tons of missions to do and enemies to recruit, plus there’s lots of side missions to complete even after you finish the main story arch. All of this while the recruitment and base building elements of Peace Walker will have you hooked for a long time.
As with Portable Ops previously on the PSP, Snake can take down an enemy then recruit them to your army. But unlike the previous game, recruiting is simple: all you need to do is take down your opponent in a non-lethal method, then attach a Fulton Recovery balloon to them and watch them sail into the air. And that’s it, that’s all you need to do. No grabbing and dragging bodies, and no more tedious gameplay. But recruiting an enemy is a much bigger deal however, as you need to them to build your army in each of the five different divisions: Combat, R&D, Provisions, Medical, and Intel, which will make your base bigger and better.
Each and every soldier you capture have certain statistics. Some will be great at combat, while others will be better at R&D. Once you recruit them you can assign them to their appropriate division. Combat personnel help you in side missions where Snake isn’t available, while the R&D team researches bigger and better weapons. As you progress through the story missions you’ll want to take down and recruit as many enemies as possible—basically, you want your army to be the best it can. But luckily Peace Walker is fun, even if the game’s controls could take some time to get used to.
Peace Walker is for the PSP, and since it lacks a second analog stick the face buttons are used for aiming and moving the camera. The analog nub is for movement while the D-Pad is used for the action button, ducking, and selecting your equipment and weapons. Holding either left or right on the d-pad selects your inventory, then pressing square or circle will move the cursor. Confusing, yes.
Basically Peace Walker is a game that will take time to master. There are different control schemes to fit your style but you’ll probably end up going with the shooter controls I mentioned above. But once you do get the hang of the game you’ll never find yourself getting contorted or selecting different items by accident. Even though some of the story missions will definitely test your skill with the controls, like the boss fights, the game definitely factors in the handicap of the PSP’s controls.
Peace Walker has a pretty seesaw-like difficulty system. The story missions will never feel impossible but boss fights may catch you by complete surprise; the difficulty can definitely sway pretty heavily. They have an unrelenting aspect to them, and sometimes soldiers will pile out of machines to accompany the boss while you’re sitting there thinking of the best way to proceed. But they’re not impossible, and if you use a bit of strategy you can proceed unscathed. This is where the co-op aspects of the game come in handy.
The cooperative play in Peace Walker is local PSP-to-PSP only, so you won’t be able to play online with people across the world. It plays pretty similar to that of the single player, but the game definitely becomes a lot easier to manage. And the difficulty doesn’t change no matter how many players are together, so the same boss will fight you alone or with 3 others people accompanying you. It’s disappointing that Konami decided to make the co-op nearly mandatory in some instances, but all missions, including the main missions, can be done by yourself.
All of the main missions will feel like previous Metal Gear Solid games: get from point A to point B without getting caught by guards. Getting spotted or shooting loud guns will alert enemies and the only way to get away is to hide. Basically it’s your typical tactical espionage Metal Gear Solid affair. But there’s no checkpoints in any of the missions, and long ones can become tiresome if you get killed repeatedly. Some of the later missions are very difficult as well, so having checkpoints or quick saves would’ve been nice.
The main story missions also have a side-quest-like feel to them because you can choose one mission then go back and play it over again if you want. While this is fine and dandy it does make for some pretty confusing instances where you go back to a previous mission you’ve already completed and Snake is doing the same, “You mean you KNEW!?” kind of thing. Basically, it feels like a video game whereas other Metal Gear Solid games try the movie approach. But Peace Walker still features its movie-like sequences too, even if they aren’t as flashy or coherent.
Rather than have in-engine cutscenes Peace Walker uses a digital comic-style of sequence that looks really nice. Like a comic book all of the characters are hand drawn and the action is done like a simple cartoon. But it works phenomenally giving you enough dialog and action while also giving you many quick time events to mix things up.
The overall production values of Peace Walker are outstanding, too. Visually the game is absolutely stunning at every moment. Character models has an insane amount of detail and the environments set a standard for handheld games on the PSP. The menus and the user interface are easy on the eyes while the textures and effects are pretty impressive. The game runs decently though there’s no getting around the frame rate that can dip below 30 frames per second constantly. This doesn’t mar the experience though because the game is slow paced.
Peace Walker also boasts a very intriguing soundtrack—one that is on par with some of the great soundtracks on the series. The voice acting is a again magnificent, and the sound effects are nice and punchy. Though, you’ll still get some pretty simple dialog like, “Who’s that? Oh, just my imagination” that make the guards seem like complete fools.
At the end of the day, Peace Walker is a fantastic game. It has lots of replayability and is a great addition to the Metal Gear Solid series. Fans may become tired with the complicated controls and unrelenting difficulty in some areas of the game, but it rarely mars the epic story and addictive gameplay. Peace Walker is truly one of the best handheld games on the market.