Kojima walks the walk
When Hideo Kojima said Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker was going to be a full blown MGS experience on the PSP, I'm sure more than a few people figured it was a little PR spin at work. But let's make this clear now, Kojima has not only done exactly what he said he would, but also delivered one of the best PSP titles to date. Using MGS Portable Ops as the framework, Peace Walker builds on it's PSP predecessor with more options and refinements taken from it's console brethren. A refined CQC system along with a more reliable shooting mechanic make the game more enjoyable to play, and gives you the option to go guns a blazing if you so choose. The bite sized missions are great for on the go play, and the extra ops side missions add more chances to build your forces and resources. An improved base mechanic has you balancing various areas of specialty to give you access to more gear and abilities in the field. Improve your research team, and get better guns and tech. Improve your intelligence team and your support drops and air-strikes get better. Add to this a small tactical mini game, and a build your own Metal Gear side project, and you have hours of things to do outside of the main fight.
From a presentation stand point the game also delivers. Peace Walker is easily one of the best looking games on the system, with detailed models for the main characters and some great (if limited) in game cut scenes. Picking up the majority of the visual story telling duties is artist Ashely Wood, who illustrates a lot of the longer story segments with some interesting interactive animated cut scenes. While some involve simple zooming around on things, there are other moments where quick-time events will pop up that can effect the outcome of the game. Luckily failure is rarely a big thing, and you are generally given a chance to do them again if you miss the timing the first time. Wood's style compliments the game well, and goes a long way to adding to the atmosphere of the game. Voice acting is solid as it's ever been, with series stalwart David Hayter giving a great grizzled performance for Snake/ Big Boss. A strong supporting cast including voice veterans like Tara Strong and Robin Atkin Downes help bring the whole story to life, while providing a familiar touchstone. Which is good because the story is pure Kojima, taking conspiracy theory, nuclear deterrence and geopolitics, and mashing it together with deep thoughts on love, war and loyalty. It can be a bit much at times, but for fans of the series, it's par for the course.
The game does suffer in some places though. Peace Walker takes more than a few notes from the super popular (at least in Japan) series Monster Hunter, which is both a good and bad thing. While teaming up for Co-op missions can be really fun, some of the difficulty tuning on the boss fights can be a bit much in single player, and either require distracting resource grinding to get better gear, or lots of patience. Speaking of the boss fights, some people will be disappointed by fact that most boil down to big Metal Gear battles. There are no Revolver Ocelots or The Ends in this one, all the big fights are man versus machine and, while exciting, will no doubt leave some feeling cold. Other features like competitive multiplayer feel underdeveloped, and really not worth your time. Additionally, as with most PSP games, the lack of a second analog stick creates control problems for this console type game. Three options are available, and they all do a good job within the systems limitations, but many players will probably be left yearning for a proper controller.
Even with all that, MGS Peace Walker is an amazing game, and fans of the series should find a way to play it anyway they can. It fills in a very interesting period of MGS lore, and offers a lot for fans of the series unique play style. Even after you finish the single player campaign, there is a wealth of extra ops to keep you busy. Add in some interesting features like recruiting from wireless access points, a vocaloid program for your personal Metal Gear, and tons of weapons and gear to unlock, and this game will keep you tied to your PSP for dozens of hours after the closing credits. Hideo Kojima talked a big game for Peace Walker, and it's nice to see that he has delivered on his word. This is Metal Gear Solid at some of it's best.