Big Boss on a Small Screen
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker continues the saga of Big Boss, expands on the back story of the Metal Gear universe and brings new, mostly enjoyable game mechanics to the series. It very nearly topples Snake Eater as my favorite game in the franchise.
Peace Walker begins when Snake and his growing army of mercenaries are recruited by an unlikely pair: a KGB agent (excellently voiced by Steve Blum) named Galvez and a "student of peace" named Paz. He initially refuses their offer, but is forced to change his mind when confronted with a recently made audio recording of the voice of the Boss, his former mentor. Ten years earlier, during the events of Metal Gear Solid 3, Snake found himself forced to kill the woman he loved as a mentor and mother amidst a complex set of circumstances that he still does not quite understand, and when offered this new chance to discover the truth behind the events of Operation Snake Eater, he is compelled to accept. He soon meets a group of local guerrillas, rescues a bird photographer, recruits the father of series favorite Otacon, and eventually clashes with a spectacularly evil CIA director and a scientist with her own complex agenda.
What follows is an enjoyable trek through picturesque Costa Rica that quickly escalates from a mission to get answers to a full-blown quest to save the world from--as always--nuclear devastation. The ending is ultimately satisfying, and I will not spoil the experience for people who have not yet played the game. Suffice to say, the story lives up to the series’ reputation, assuming you have enjoyed the games so far.
The game starts by offering a typically fourth-wall-shattering tutorial on CQC, and then tosses the player into a mission that offers a chance to explore the familiar-yet-different stealth mechanics that have developed throughout the series. Crouch-walking is stealthier than simply walking, which is in turn stealthier than crouch-running or running at full height. Guards can be held up for items, or CQC-ed into submission, or shot in the face with Snake's handy tranquilizer gun, or simply shot in the face with any of Snake's massive and growing armory of weapons--more on that later.
Living enemies can also be airlifted to the offshore base of Snake's mercenary army, the Militaires Sans Frontieres, where they can become a cog in the MSF's war machine in a variety of ways. They can work in the Combat unit, bringing in revenue through the mercenary work that is the backbone of the MSF's operations. Others will gather information in Intel, or help run the group's medical branch, or even cook food to keep the troops healthy and boost morale. Some will work in Research and Development, and this is where Snake's armory comes into play.
As the R&D branch grows, the MSF can begin to manufacture new weapons and tools for the mercenaries--and by extension, Snake--to use in the field. Sniper rifles, rocket launchers, C4 and pornographic magazines can all be produced for Snake to use to defeat or confound (or arouse) his enemies. This is convenient, because as Snake's journey across Costa Rica continues, he will find himself needing these tools--though it is, of course, always possible to simply sneak through enemy territory with nothing but a tranquilizer pistol and stealth. However, many of the tools that become available are incredibly helpful.
The game offers three separate control schemes, one of which, "Shooter," is far more manageable than the others. It may take a moment to acclimatize oneself to the controls--movement is performed with the stick, while the camera can be controlled with the face buttons--but they quickly begin to feel natural. Combat is rarely hindered by the controls, if ever.
Graphics and Music
This game looks and sounds like Metal Gear Solid 3 on a smaller screen. The sounds of the Costa Rican wildlife are very soothing, while the many tracks played during combat, alert, and caution phases are appropriately blood-pumping or stress-inducing depending on the situation. The PSP's graphical capabilities are pushed to the limit, and the results are often quite astounding. Ashley Wood’s motion comics are fun to watch, and do as good a job of conveying drama and emotion as any of the rendered cutscenes ever did in the console MGS games.
All of this combines to create an awesome gaming experience. Peace Walker stands on its own as one of the best games I've recently played, and is a worthy addition to the Metal Gear saga. If you own a PSP, this is definitely a game to consider purchasing.