I anticipate Metal Gear Solid games. Back in 2006 when I bought my PS3, I chose it over an Xbox 360 because I wanted Metal Gear Solid 4. When I first got a PSP, one of the first games I made a point of purchasing was Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops Plus (which I quickly traded in for the original, superior Portable Ops). So let it suffice to say that I was looking forward to Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. Not just a negligible side story in the franchise, it bore the personal stamp of series guru Hideo Kojima himself and was played up as a full fledged entry in the franchises. To my understanding they were actually this close to calling it Metal Gear Solid 5, but wussed out.
So how does it hold up? For the most part, Peace Walker is a superior PSP game and in the years to come will likely rank as one of my favorite entries in the franchise. It does so many things right, and in some cases, even better than its bigger console-based brothers. That said, the limits of the PSP and more so, some poor design choices hold it back from the true heights it could, and should have soared to.
Peace Walker plants you back in the shoes of Naked Snake/Big Boss/Solid Snake’s Daddy. Ten years have passed since the end of Metal Gear Solid 3 and our hero is at a crossroads. The leader of the mercenary group Military Sans Frontiers, he seems a bit lost. Then at the pleading of a KGB agent and a young woman he decides to intervene in a CIA backed invasion of defenseless Costa Rica. The story is one of the most straightforward and simple in the franchise, and as a result is actually one of the best.
It helps that rather than focusing on uber-complex paranoid conspiracy, it centers in on the development of Big Boss and how eventually becomes the villain of the original Metal Gear games. Surprisingly, especially considering Mr. Kojima’s track record on long-winded storytelling, the plot isn’t as much of the focus here. Peace Walker is a game that is undoubtedly meant to be played, and to its credit it is abundant with content. Aside from the main story, there are more then a hundred side missions, a fun battle mini-game, base management and even a bit of monster hunting thrown into the mix. It’s easy to waste hours replaying missions to capture/recruit enemy soldiers for your own army. There’s so much to do that one often genuinely wonders how they fit it all onto a single UMD.
And now we come to unfortunate parts. Portable Ops was at times awkward to control. Peace Walker has received a revamp in this regard. That said, even with multiple control schemes to choose from, it still feels awkward. Some of this is because of the PSP’s limited buttons. Aiming and controlling the camera with the face buttons never feels entirely natural. That said, some of the issues just come from odd design choices where the developers chose to dumb down things that didn’t really need changing.
You can no longer crawl, for instance. You can lay down, but you can’t crawl. You can perhaps rationalize the way they simplified CQC but you just have to wonder at one point they thought crawling was gumming up the works. While playing Portable Ops I don’t think I ever thought to myself, “This would work so much better without that damn crawling.” It just comes off as a notable exemption and lessens your escape options should the franchise’s trademark stealth fail you. In previous games, if you were spotted you could either fight or flee. Fleeing would often mean finding a safe spot (hole, air duct, etc.) to crawl into until the danger subsided. With crawling removed your only real option is to fight your way out of any engagement. Perhaps as a bit of compensation the enemies in the game were given the intelligence of a box of rocks, but I doubt that was intentional. Sneaking around is still very satisfying but it lacks a bit of luster when compared to other entries, Portable Ops included.
More troublesome are the boss fights. Whereas previous Metal Gear Solid games have generally shined in the area of creative boss battles, the boss fights in Peace Walker are straightforward wars of attrition. You and a heavily armored foe pound away at each other until one side wins. This is made worse by the fact that many of the bosses were clearly designed to be played in co-op. The final boss in particular can take so much damage that I had to shoot it for almost forty-five minutes straight before I even got close to bringing it down. Count it as another victim of poor co-op integration.
Which isn’t to say the co-op isn’t fun. Most of the game is built so that it can be enjoyed perfectly well on your own, but playing co-op is interesting as well. Communication can be handled via several pre-programmed conversation options, and things like the ability to link up physically or even use a box together give it weight. The biggest problem I had was actually finding someone to play with. This sort of co-op may be popular in Japan, but I personally had trouble finding anyone to join me.
I won’t dock it too many points for this though. That may just be my area and more importantly the game as a whole, even with co-op problems, is a Metal Gear fans dream. The credits have rolled but I’m still coming back to it. Whatever its flaws may be, Kojima and company have easily succeeded in creating a game that in some ways is just as good, or even better than its console siblings.