For over a decade, the Metal Gear Solid series has been the premiere franchise in the stealth shooter genre. Tackling heavy subject matter such as nuclear proliferation, genetic engineering and more extensively, the human cost of conflict, the series has delivered some iconic characters and unforgettable action sequences. Each installment has transitioned incrementally more towards the shooting aspect, rather than tactical espionage. I can attribute this to the fact that the need for stealth alienates those looking for a solid (ha! MGS pun) shooting experience. Further to that, the development of combat in the series, from first-person shooting to Close-Quarters-Combat (CQC for the uninitiated) has ultimately led to more compelling action and generally speaking, better review scores. The process of improving the series' combat mechanics appears to have come full circle with the release of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. While you are empowered with the tools and abilities to sneak through every mission (with the obvious exception of boss battles and one very memorable sequence), you could just as easily shoot your way through every base, jungle and outpost. Big Boss, or Naked Snake as he prefers, makes his return in what is the best portable entry in the franchise, and one of the better in the series as a whole.
Very little lost in translation - This is for all intents and purposes, a true Metal Gear Solid title, complete with all the trimmings you would expect and some that are completely unexpected. Towards the end of the game, the scope and quality of the visuals is unbelievable: brilliant set-pieces, huge mechs and explosions aplenty. Most cut-scenes (everything save for boss mechs exploding) are presented in a stunning, comic-book style illustrated by Australian artist, Ashley Wood. These sequences are directed expertly, and quick time events are employed to great effect (with the sole exception of the obligatory MGS torture sequence). The quality of the voice-acting is also on par with the series' best, and leagues ahead of any other game released on the PSP. The script is also mercifully succinct when compared to other Metal Gear Solid titles, and entirely suited to action on the go. The score, particularly towards the end, adds dramatic weight to the action on screen. MGS - Peace Walker is just as polished, beautiful and sensational as its console forebears.
Shooter Type - After the horrendously awkward Portable Ops, the option to pick from three control types in Peace Walker is appreciated. Shooter Type plays like your standard third-person shooter, with the camera being mapped to the four face buttons. While you will miss the accuracy afforded by a second analogue stick, the scheme is functional and will empower you to defend yourself during the more fierce of firefights. The PSP's analogue nub is sensitive enough to have you sneaking at a snails pace or double-timing between conflict zones. The CQC system has also been revised and the combo system makes for some satisfying knockouts. Depending on how you move the stick, and the timing of your input, can perform less powerful takedowns, or restrain enemies and then throw them to the ground with brutal impact.
Depth - As I've touched on in previous posts, through the assignment of recruits to various teams at Mother Base will give you access to new gear, allow you to dispatch squads to conflicts across the globe, and even have you developing your own bipedal battle tank. As your troops gain combat experience (Combat Unit via Outer Ops) you will earn more money (GMP) which can then be spent on new equipment, or upgrades to existing gear (R&D Team). Your Medical Team will treat any of your combatants that are wounded in Outer Ops and your Mess Team will keep your recruits well fed and maintain morale. Your Recon Team is linked to the quality of support you receive on the field, which is crucial to your success in some of the more difficult conflicts later on in the game (especially if you are playing solo). For action heros, you can jump right into each mission and let bullets fly, but for any micromanagers out there, there is more than enough to consider off of the battlefield.
Structure - Missions in Peace Walker, both story missions and Extra Ops (non-essential missions and challenges) are just the right length for a bus trip or lunch break. This installment has all the drama and action of its console predecessors, but it is structured in a way that works on the PSP. Understandably, towards the end of the adventure, some story scenes run a little bit over time, but the missions themselves (as in gameplay) rarely exceed 10 minutes in duration. The only exception to the previous statement is boss battles, which typically run from 20 minutes to half an hour. For those of you put off by a supposed lack of narrative that the series is famous for, have no fear, each mission is accompanied by several audio logs with dialogue between Snake and the supporting cast which better prepare you for the action ahead. Anything that isn't covered in cinematic sequences will more than likely be discussed in these logs and effectively serve to develop the central characters.
Gravity - Outside of the usual Metal Gear-flavoured melodrama and Cold War tension is the account of a man without a country, coming to grips with the loss of his mentor. Finding others similarly disenchanted with their own governments, or those without the impetus to defend the will of their own countrymen, Snake's army and arsenal grows to meet the threat of nuclear armageddon. Forced to reflect on the trauma of events passed, Snake and the supporting cast learn the heartbreaking secret of Metal Gear Solid 3's memorable anti-hero, The Boss. I'll be one hundred percent honest with you, I cried when the story concluded. I haven't yet been able to decide whether it was a hard day at work, the shock from the final confrontation with a beloved legend, or the beauty and betrayal from the game's final scenes. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is the powerful story of deterrence and the legacy of past wrongs.
I used to be able to do this - While the action is slick, and the controls responsive, abilities from previous game have been stripped away. Most notable is the ability to shimmy across walls and the tactical advantages that presents, such as shooting from cover and gaining a better view of your surroundings. You can also no longer crawl. You can only lay prone, unable to fire.
I've seen you before - While the visuals are technically and artistically impressive, you will notice that most enemy combatants look and sound exactly the same. Sometimes (rarely) they will be wearing different outfits, and you could almost dub this game Attack of the Clones. In additon to clone troopers, you will find that most Extra Ops take place in locales from story missions. Also, environments do tend to repeat in the story missions themselves.
This is war isn't it? - I understand that in Metal Gear Solid 3, Kojima san, through the boss battle with The Sorrow portrayed the cost of war in lives. Any enemies you lethally dispatched were there to haunt you, forcing you to reflect on how you got to where you were (as in how many men had to die), and how you could have done it better (as in only killing when necessary, if at all). It was a powerful message that was not lost on me, I guarantee it. Peace Walker also penalises you for killing your enemies. The penalty is not so much having to live with yourself after taking a life, but copping a deduction on your mission score. There are some conflicts where eradicating a few enemy soldiers is just short of a necessity. With the only weapons capable of tranquilizing your foes being a semi-automatic pistol, a bolt-action rifle and a melee weapon; sometimes you need to use lethal force.
Questionable characters - Dr Strangelove (sigh). I don't get how she fits in. The character, and their implied relationship with another was completely unnecessary. Even after the final revelation, that conclusion could have been reached with stronger, better established characters.
Multiplayercentric - MGS:PW is a co-op action game. The single player experience is obviously an option, but not the way it was intended to be played. Fact of the matter is, I know very few people who own a PSP nearby (let alone within Australia), and even less (read: none) who own a copy of this game. With this in mind, I could only dream of how the events of Peace Walker would have unfolded with a friend in tow. There are very few missions that are exclusively a solo affair, and I would sorely have liked to have explored the comprehensive suite of multiplayer options on offer here. In addition to cooperative play, you can also face off against friends in competitive action which I regret to say I have also been unable to playtest. Seeing the amount of content that I simply could not explore, I felt as though I had only played through half the game.
You didn't answer my question - Just as Metal Gear Solid 3 fell short of making sense of the baffling final scences of its predecessor Sons of Liberty; Peace Walker's implications, save for the establishment of Outer Heaven, are not immediately obvious, especially when you consider installments set in the future. There is no passing of the guard to Solid Snake, and this feels like a missed opportunity. This could of course be what the inevitable Metal Gear Solid 5 explores, but given that this was originally touted as the fifth game in the series, I do feel somewhat cheated.
9/10: Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is the genuine article. Despite the less capable platform, Kojima Productions have delivered an essential part of Metal Gear Solid lore with all the visual and narrative flair of its console brothers. While I lament the fact that I may have only experienced half of all that was on offer, the single player experience is still an essential one, and definitely worth playing.