Kojima-san! You don’t have to make Metal Gear anymore! T_T
That said, while Peace Walker may appear to the fans as some sort of money grab made by Konami, that’s not to say that the latest title in the series isn’t welcome. The biggest concern however, wasn’t that Kojima was being forced to make another Metal Gear game, but rather, after the stunning game that was Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, why was the next game in line being produced on the PSP?
I can only assume that MGS4 didn’t sell as well in Japan where handhelds dominate far more than consoles, so to boost sales, a PSP release was required (a la Valkyria Chronicles 2/Dragon Quest/everything else out of that country). However, the biggest question remains. Can Konami really produce a good Metal Gear game on the same level as Metal Gear Solid 4 without the power of the PS3?
Well, at least it was their best attempt ever.
Peace Walker chronicles Naked Snake’s exploits since he was last seen in Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops. Along with Kazuhira Miller (Master Miller), he goes forth to found the Militiaires Sans Frontier (Soldiers Without Borders, sorta like Doctors Without Border but with a lot more shooting and fighting rather than saving lives), commonly referred to as MSF. The game begins with Snake following up on a request to save a young girl who was captured by mercenary forces being deployed in South America. In typical Metal Gear Solid style though, the story is much more convoluted and deeper than it appears initially.
Changed from previous MGS games is the continuous story structure, replaced by a sub-divided mission-based structure where you select missions. This effectively converts hour long segments of gameplay into small sections that require 10 minutes or so to complete, sort of like a checkpointing system. Due to how the game was designed where unlike previous MGS games, where Snake mysteriously carries multiple rocket launchers (though… technically, he still can.) along with 50 different guns, now you can only select a limited number of weapons for Snake to take into a mission. In addition, it is also possible to select a uniform type before heading into a mission, as the various uniforms have different properties, such as the Sneaking Suit which holds less ammunition, but offers a greater camouflage index as opposed to the Battle uniform which holds more weapons and ammunition at the cost of speed and camouflage index. This structure conveniently allows the player to change loadouts as required, and the mission durations and sequences are split up effectively so you never end up bringing only tranquilizer darts to fight a Tank.
As with previous MGS games on the PSP, there is a recruiting system for recruiting other non-story characters (usually acquired by a system called the Fulton Recovery System, or as I like to call it, the drug-n-abduct system). These recruited characters can be used in non-story missions, and also macro-managed into various teams among MSF. In fact, one of the things I spent the most time doing was the macro-management and distribution of personnel into various teams to improve the operating efficiency of MSF. As you assign members to these teams, the teams level up, and you can improve team morale, raising the stats of your soldiers, or unlock R&D items to be developed to acquire new gear to be used in missions. A surprisingly addictive feature by the way.
As with all Metal Gear games, the voice acting and storytelling are superb, with the cutscenes done in a comic book style animation, similar to Portable Ops if I recall correctly. The story missions are generally very well done and interesting to play through, however, the extra ops missions which aren’t ever required to be completed, aside from in the final chapter of the game, tend to be very boring, dull, and repetitive. In fact, my file probably has over 40 hours invested, the most I’ve ever put into a Metal Gear game, because I spent so much time going back and constantly repeating the same missions over and over to abduct new personnel or acquire new vehicles or upgrades. Of any Metal Gear, this game has the most grind to it, almost a ‘Monster Hunter’ factor if you will.
Speaking of Monster Hunter, the greatest concern regarding bringing a MGS game to the PSP, especially after MGS4, was the issue of controls. With the fewer buttons and one less control stick, it was assumed (and not addressed until after TGS 2009, I believe) that the game would most likely control like garbage. Thanks to the newly implemented Shooter control scheme though, which maps camera control to the face buttons to simulate a second stick, this was far less of an issue, though inventory management and item use was made worse. However, the greatest ramification of the use of a handheld versus a console to deliver the game on was made apparent. The enemy AI in the game is incredibly dumb. In order to make the game playable, controls were simplified to adapt to the fewer buttons of the PSP. Given that all aspects of character control became rougher, navigating levels as Snake became rougher as well. Konami sought to balance the issue by making enemy AI incredibly stupid. Often times, enemies won’t hear any footsteps, and the sight ranges of enemies is rather short. Heck, it’s possible to go through nearly the entire game by exploiting how enemy AI reacts to a moving box. That aside, the game is well-balanced for handhelds, and still an enjoyable experience to play through, if only for the story.
Unfortunately, I can’t comment on multiplayer CO-OPS as I know NO ONE ELSE who owns this game. Makes me a bit sad inside that I’m sure it’s fun and a blast, and greatly extends the replayability of the game, but I’ll never know.
If you’re into the Metal Gear lore and all, this game is definitely a must get for the story alone. If you’re looking for a great co-op game on the PSP, this probably fits the bill too. If you’re new to Metal Gear, start at MGS1 (you can buy it off the PSN Store on your PSP for like 10 bucks?) and look into getting Portable Ops or something first to immerse yourself in the story. If you’ve never cared for Metal Gear… well… you may or may not appreciate what the game focuses on, but do give the game a shot, as it is easily one of the best PSP games available right now.