Review: Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (Sony PSP)

Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
Developer: Kojima Productions
Publisher: Konami
Genre: Action
Release Date: 06/08/2010

The saga of Big Boss, aka Naked Snake, continues in this latest installment of Metal Gear on the PSP. A sequel to Metal Gear Solid 3 and Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops, the game picks up 10 years after the third installment and four years after Portable Ops. This time around, Kojima was at the helm on the portable title instead of acting as producer. Does this version of Metal Gear Solid continue the long-weaving story trend, or is this a return to a slightly more simple Metal Gear story? Well the answer to that is yes and no.

Story/Modes
The single player missions play out just the same as the multiplayer ones, as this is the first Metal Gear game to be co-op. You can have people join in on any of the missions (that allow more than one person) to help you defeat them, and it asks you before each mission if it’ll be single or multiplayer. The downside is that this can only be played co-op through ad hoc and not on the actual network, so unless your friends are into it, be prepared to brave some of the more daunting missions alone if you don’t have a third party solution to get your PSP games online.

Our story starts out in 1974, with Snake/Big Boss, at one of his training camps for the soldiers in his Soldiers Without Borders (Militaires Sans Frontières, the precursor to Outer Heaven) group, headed by the guy that gives you most of your MSF missions and updates, Miller, who was introduced in Metal Gear 2, and was Solid Snake’s ‘contact’ in the first Metal Gear Solid. Word comes in that someone wants to hire the MSF, Costa Rica. It appears that they’ve been invaded by a hostile force and since Costa Rica’s constitution won’t let them have a military, they’ve decided to send out emissaries to hire the MSF as a private army to eliminate the threat.

At first Naked Snake isn’t interested at all and is ready to send them packing until Galvez, one of the two people looking for help, brings up The Boss. Supposedly she’s still alive, which would mean that Snake’s mission and battle with her in Metal Gear Solid 3 was not all it appeared. Using Paz, the girl Galvez brought with him as an excuse, Snake accepts the mission to go into Costa Rica, while secretly hoping to find out the true fate of the Boss.

After infiltrating Costa Rica, Snake meets up with a resistance group of guerrilla fighters, led by Amanda Libre. Her brother Chico gets captured by some kind of AI controlled machine and Amanda chases after. Snake helps her out and vows to help get her brother back and runs into the first of the real AI controlled machines, the Pupa, and the father to Otacon from Metal Gear Solid, Huey Emmerich. Snake takes out the Pupa and recruits Emmerich to stop the launch of a tactical nuke from the device that Huey constructed, Peace Walker, the precursor to Metal Gear.

At the same time, the beginnings of Outer Heaven start with Snake building up the MSF with a base, its own weapons development, training, military for hire operations, and its own Metal Gear development line. There are a LOT of references here to the various games throughout the series, more from the first Metal Gear Solid game than anything as the situation really echoes what went on with Solid Snake in Alaska. While there are parallels, this is very much its own story, not bogged down by the weirdness introduced in Metal Gear Solid 2 with the Patriots and the La-Li-Lu-Le-Lo and their further craziness in Metal Gear Solid 4. It’s a straight up sneaking action game with a straight-forward plot and surprising depth on the MSF base construction end of things and the usual insane boss fights typical to the Metal Gear series. My only real complaint is that the echoes of Metal Gear Solid seem blatant and wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t so in your face about it. At one point Huey mentions that this all seems familiar and Snake comments that it must just be deja vu. It’s a funny bit, but really it’s the cornerstone to the series, taking down a renegade group with their Metal Gear, and there could have been a bit more to make this one stand out a bit more and possibly more references to what happened in between this and Portable Ops.

Story/Modes Rating: Great

Graphics
This has to be one of the best looking games on the PSP, with a few exceptions. While the cutscenes are mostly done using the paint and line art with motion added to them, the combat looks great, the textures, effects and lighting are all well done. And if you move into the MSF section you can get a look at the models of different weapons and characters and all of the people models up close look absolutely stunning. The only thing I have to ding it for are the cutscenes done up in the art style instead of the full blown scenes we’ve gotten from the series before. It’s an interesting style that tells a story well, and so far unique to the series on the PSP, but there was just enough of a tease moving into boss battles where the cutscenes were fully realized that left me wanting to see what they could have done with the PSP’s hardware.

Graphics Rating: Great

Sound
The sound design on this game is superb. With a stellar voice cast including David Hayter and Steve Blum and a number of others, some returning to play the younger versions or ancestors of characters that come later in the series, the game has this solid Metal Gear feel to it. While we don’t get a musical score by Harry Gregson-Williams, the one we do get from the Kojima Productions is far from sub-par and in fact is extremely well done. The theme that the AI units plays isn’t terrible, which is a huge saving grace as each time one of the units shows up it’s blaring it from its speakers.

Some of the boss battles actually incorporate being able to track the sound, which is helpful to know when the next attack is coming from. It’s great to see a company putting so much effort into a PSP game where usually the result is well below any acceptable standards of actually wanting to listen, or is such an assault to the ears you have to turn the volume off. Peace Walker does an amazing job visually and excels that with its audio.

Sound Rating: Classic

Control and Gameplay
The game controls are customizable in several configurations, but the one I found worked best was what some people have referred to as the ‘stripped down’ version of Metal Gear Solid 4. It may be stripped from that game, but the controls feel right at home on the PSP. In the set-up I’m using you move around with the analog stick, the face buttons are how you look around, you fire by pressing the left button to go into weapons look mode and then press the right button to actually fire at your targets. The directional keys handle moving into your menus. The left brings up your secondary items like rations or the FRS or the sound analyzer. The right directional button brings up weapon selection. Pressing up reloads your weapon while pressing down puts you in crouch mode or allows you to lay down.

My one single complaint about the controls is that you can’t adjust the turn rate of looking around with the face buttons. There is an auto-aim feature, but it doesn’t auto-target the head, which makes it a bit difficult when you’re trying to go for no kills in a mission or no alerts as pegging someone in the head is the only way to guarantee the sleep dart knocks them out in one hit. It would have been nice to be able to up the rate at which the face buttons move your view around so it’d be easier to keep up with the movement of the enemy soldiers.

Gameplay has changed up a bit from the last entry into the series on the PSP. Instead of going in a team you go in solo, that is unless you decide to co-op it. Yeah, that’s right, this version of Metal Gear Solid has gone co-op. The only issue I had with this is it’s not infrastructure, so if you want to play it over a network you’ll have to use a third party means to do so. Playing with friends though is sheer awesome. Most of the missions allow for a number of friends to join in co-op and it makes missions that much easier, but as much as I’ve heard complaints about not being able to do it solo, you just have to find a strategy that works. I did over half the game without help, and the boss fights can be tough, but you just have to manage your resources carefully.

So while you can’t swap over to another team-mate if you’re alone, they’ve given you the option to call in for a supply drop, which can be very handy in a boss fight when you’re out of rations, out of ammo and running low on hope. One of the things that really separates this one out, though, is the depth that goes on outside of the main storyline missions, all of which are repeatable. There’s also training missions you can go on or side ops, most of which you either gain experience with your weapons on or you can pick up resources like more soldiers for the MSF, or even vehicles.

The MSF mother base is also expandable. You start having a combat team and then they add in a mess team, and R&D team, a medical team and an intel team. In missions you have a Fulton Recovery System, a system much like in The Dark Knight that’s based on an actual CIA practice to get men out of tight situations which is a godsend from Portable Ops where you had to drag your ‘new recruit’ back to your truck. Here you just knock them out, grab them with the Fulton and send them back to Mother Base to consider joining you and the MSF. As you expand your teams and raise their levels, you unlock things your R&D team can research and build for you using your GMP, or Gross Military Product. You GMP is based off the ratings of the men you’ve put in your combat unit and it goes up as they gain experience in the unit and on Outer Ops.

After you recruit Huey to your team, things get even more interesting as you’re given the ability to begin designing and building your own, Metal Gear. It’s slow going when it first comes up as parts are hard to come by and the only way to get them is by taking down the AI bosses and enemies you fight and pulling their boards and equipment in the fight. At this point as well you get an option to send your combat teams and mechs out on Outer Ops, mercenary ops that help you level up your team and get resources, but the one big problem is that if you send untested troops in you may actually lose members of your team instead of gaining from it. The Brig returns from Portable Ops, where unwilling recruits go, but if your team is injured or sick, there’s a sickbay where they can go. The better your medical team is the faster people recover. There’s also a morale issue. If your Mess Hall team is terrible, be prepared to lose some people due to not being able to feed them and a general lack of interest in your goals.

There is a lot more to this game than appears when you first start playing, and there is a bit of thought to put into expanding your base, especially if you don’t have enough points at the moment to build new gear. Sure there’s a solid action game on the surface, but with the MSF and the way it’s set-up there’s even more depth to it than was present in Portable Ops. One bonus with this game is that in co-op mode, if you take down the boss and pull boards out of the AI, or capture another soldier for your team, both people playing in the co-op get those parts and that captured soldier. It was a welcome addition and I’m thoroughly enjoying building up what will one day become Outer Heaven and the first true Metal Gear.

I did mention co-op, but there’s a player versus player area as well that’ll keep you coming back, pitting your skills versus other players, but again, it’s ad hoc, so if you’re looking to play against more than just your friends be prepared to hop onto a third party method of getting that PSP online for play against someone across the country. Something else I should mention, as the single player enemies do this as well, is that you can heal team-mates that are down. If you plug away at someone and there’s another person around the downed man and you don’t take him out, he can revive the guy who’s near death, making things a bit challenging if you’re low on ammo and short on time. The same goes for your own team as well though. If your partner gets a little too out in the open and gets taken out by a tank, you have a chance to revive them.

The missions here are fairly short, which is good because you can’t save in them. One of the nice things that goes along with this having short missions is that you can choose your load outs very nicely. You’re limited to weapons and items on you. So when you get to the boss fight, you get a ‘to be continued’ message and that mission ends and the boss fight is a mission in and of itself that you can change your entire load out for including camouflage, something the designers of Final Fantasy XIII could have learned a bit on. It suits the handheld and more than makes up for not being able to save during a mission.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Incredible

Replayability
One of the perks over this game from Portable Ops is the co-op in the single player areas. You also get graded on each mission you do, but the beauty of that is that you can go back in and try for a better score, or to try to get more of the POWs or soldiers captured with your FRS, or if you want to grab more parts for your own Metal Gear. With the Story Ops, the Extra Ops and the Outer Ops all stacking up with building up your MSF Mother Base, there’s a lot to keep you coming back, especially as the game keeps going after the story mode is done.

There are POWs to find, there are different nicknames to unlock for completing different tasks, much like a built in trophy system and extra points to unlock to compete with your friends for rankings. While starting over will wipe out all that work building everything up, I can easily see people coming back to this game time and again for how solid it is and the whole idea of being able to build up your own Mother Base, and of course your very own Metal Gear.

Replayability Rating: Classic

Balance
While the game is fairly solid and follows the price point standard of the PSP, there are a few issues. It is tougher on single player if you’re not constantly working on unlocking items or doing the side missions if you’re not playing co-op. If you’re playing it single player be prepared to play it smarter and not be as gung-ho or reckless. You’ll have to be sneakier and a lot more creative if you’re not playing with friends, but then, that’s been the Metal Gear style for a long time now. Tactical Espionage Action was the name of the game only Operations is in instead of Action.

There is a ton of content in this game for the price. This easily has as much content in it if not more than any of the bigger console versions of Metal Gear Solid. You’re really getting your bang for the buck with this game and it’s well worth getting if you have a PSP and are a Metal Gear fan. Even non-fans could easily get in on the game without really having to know the history of the series with the way the game is structured. Would it help? Sure, but there’s enough there that you’re not going to be totally lost if this is your first foray into the Metal Gear world. And if you’re really clever there’s even a peak into the Monster Hunter world in some hidden levels.

Balance Rating: Amazing

Originality
This is the latest in a long line of the series. The control scheme is similar, the plot seems to be something of a retread with some totally new elements and some not so fresh. There’s been another in the series on the PSP with some similar mechanics. The one thing that really separates this game from the rest of the series, though, is the co-op. Being able to take a friend into main missions or up to four of them into boss fights really makes this game even more interesting. While you could build up your army in Portable Ops, this one ups the ante by letting you build your own Mother Base, send your troops out on Outer Ops to up their skills, and even building your very own Metal Gear. While the game tanks a little being in that long series of games, it really brings something fresh to the series and makes it much more accessible for the portable audience.

Originality Rating: Enjoyable

Addictiveness
I love games that tempt me to take my PSP everywhere. From the doctor’s office, to playing in the car waiting to pick someone up, even on a trip to the bathroom when you know you can get just one more mission squeezed in while you’re squeezing something out. Peace Walker is addictive as hell and I love it. While I’d enjoyed Metal Gear Solid 4, I like to play my games, and the installs between chapters was grating. This game has restored the fun I had with Portable Ops and the original Metal Gear Solid and I really want to see another entry in this series on the PSP. I know I’ve mentioned it a number of times, but I love geeking out like Otacon in a hentai shop while I build my own Metal Gear.

Addictiveness Rating: Unparalleled

Appeal Factor
A co-op Metal Gear game. Those words alone should have fans of the series interested. The game is smooth and polished, and the biggest complaint I had with Portable Ops in dragging new recruits back has been fixed with the FRS to swipe them out quickly wherever they lay by helicopter. Then there’s the sheer amount of missions in this game between the Extra Ops and the Story Ops. Peace Walker has a lot going for it and even though it’s on the smaller handheld and not the large system it really has that big game feel to it. Honestly, if we had gotten this on the PS3 instead of MGS 4, I wouldn’t have shed a tear. If this game had an infrastructure option it’d be damn near perfect.

Appeal Factor Rating: Classic

Miscellaneous
One thing that has been bothering me is something that was stated on the package that the memory needs of the game are 33 megs on the back of the package. That’s the minimum. To get full functionality of the game and cut down on load times you can install from 300 megs up to 800 megs onto your PSP memory stick, or on the PSP Go onto its internal memory. So if you’ve got a smaller stick, and don’t like load times, be prepared to sack something on your stick. I had to drop several games from my stick because I only had 138 megs left on a 4 gig stick. It would have been nice to know before I started the game that I needed to make the room to be able to play the game with all the bells and whistles.

Is it a ridiculous amount? No, it’s not, not really. Plus, I’d actually love to see more games utilize the install method to cut down on UMD load times, but be honest about it on the package not just in a small blurb in the instruction manual. Even then the instruction booklet only mentions the 300-ish meg install, not the full 800-ish meg install. Unlike MGS 4 though you won’t have to install different chapters to your memory card as you move through the game which is nice. The install size aside, the game is relatively bug free and I’m very happy to have it in my handheld at all times at the moment.

Miscellaneous Rating: Above Average

The Scores
Story/Modes Rating: Great
Graphics Rating: Great
Sound Rating: Classic
Control and Gameplay Rating: Incredible
Replayability Rating: Classic
Balance Rating: Amazing
Originality Rating: Enjoyable
Addictiveness Rating: Unparalleled
Appeal Factor Rating: Classic
Miscellaneous Rating: Above Average
FINAL SCORE: INCREDIBLE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
asheresize Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is an interesting entry into the Metal Gear series. While adding new depth to the game on the PSP, Peace Walker adds an element many fans including myself would have loved to see in the game, and that’s co-op. Take your friends into missions and boss battles and enjoy the mayhem an extra set of eyes and weapons bring. While the game seems like Portable Ops with co-op, the game adds a level of depth not seen in the other games by giving you the ability to build up your own base, send your army into mercenary battles, and for many fans, the holy grail, building and customizing your very own Metal Gear, and thereby tying Naked Snake forever to the events of the first Metal Gear. Naked Snake’s past is an interesting place to play and the characters that link to the other games pop up here again. Addictive as hell and highly polished, there’s enough for action fans, and for fans looking for a little more though that’s there too. Even better news is that it’s less of an interactive movie where you run the action sequences and more of a game.

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