There is a certain weight on the shoulders of anyone reviewing a new Metal Gear Solid game. The series has such a rich back-story, such a heritage of quality that you can’t help but go into it with high hopes. Perhaps even the most risky thing when approaching a review – high expectations.
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is set soon after the events of MGS3: Snake Eater and it follows the tradition with MGS games to have a winding, complicated plot which is crammed with pseudo-spiritualism and amateur philosophy. Don’t get me wrong, those are not criticisms of the series. The anguished emotional delivery and over-the-top Sun Tzu-mimicking quotes are what has defined the presentation of the Metal Gear Solid series. Peace Walker has it in spades.
The narrative is just as complicated, just as intricate as anything to come before in the series. The cut-scenes, delivered via stylish ink-and-watercolour graphic novel-style animations, are fairly long and descriptive. Installing 800+Mb to your PSP memory stick (if you have the UMD version) will give you audio for the speech but without the larger install (there is a 300+Mb option too) it’s all text in speech bubbles.
The game plays like Metal Gear Solid. I can’t emphasise this enough: this is MGS. It’s not a “Metal Gear Solid – Light” or a portable version to sate your stealth urges when you’re on the road. A few control niggles aside, this is a proper Metal Gear Solid. Not only that, it’s MGS like Snake Eater rather than like Guns of the Patriots.
I’ll clarify that for those of you who aren’t die-hard fans of the series: You are heavily encouraged to go stealthy rather than tranquilize or kill your foes. Peace Walker tells you to sneak where Guns of the Patriots told you how to fight. Aside from the fantastic boss battles and a few forced combat sections it is always more preferable to attempt the stealthy route.
Not that there isn’t combat in the game, close-quarters stuff is covered alongside firearms and, although it is more difficult to control using the PSP’s face buttons, it’s all well-implemented and responsive. The accommodating auto-aim system makes up for the lack of pop-out-and-shoot mechanics in the wall-hugging and with the emphasis firmly on surveying your enemies rather than just wading in with your guns blazing you won’t mind too much.
The plot, without spoiling anything, is based around the usual compelling mix of conspiracy, espionage and betrayal. Some of the cut-scenes are long, although they are easily skipped if you’re replaying a section or, for whatever reason, you don’t want to experience them. The narrative elements are set between bite-sized chunks of gameplay which revolve, for the most part, around a kind of “challenge room” system.
You start at one point in an area and you have to make it to another point without getting killed or captured. At the end of each level you are returned to base with a healthy collection of experience points and hero points (which you win for stealthy solutions and lose for indiscriminate killing). This is the part where Peace Walker adds massively to the franchise. Those points can be spent at your home base on managing research and development of new weapons and otherwise building your own private army (and eventually commencing work on your own Metal Gear!).
These RPG elements encourage a more strategic way of playing. You will try to get through levels in the most rewarding way so that you can finish research on that new weapon or gadget. You’ll spend time building your teams (from the aforementioned private army) and dispatching them to conflicts. The management elements are ostensibly between-gameplay-filler but they will actually take up a fair amount of your time and consideration as you strive to get everything just right. If you just want to get back to the war you can auto-manage these parts and the game will take care of it for you.
The environments are reasonably similar to each other. Much of your time will be spent looking at jungle floors and industrial warehousing. The layouts and enemy patrols do vary enough to make each mission individual enough to be fresh in the way it plays, if not always in the way it looks.
In addition to the main story missions there are short “Extra-Ops” which can be repeated as Snake or any of your recruited combat staff. These are very useful for building up your points for extra research but they’re also very useful for those shorter periods of gaming when you don’t have time to dedicate to a full mission.
Much has been made of the multiplayer aspect of Peace Walker and it seems to be quite intelligently implemented. Up to two players can cooperate on story missions, with up to four able to take part in the boss battles which are made easier with the addition of team-mates. There are no ramping difficulties in Peace Walker so an extra gun can be a big advantage.
For the competitive side there are team deathmatch and base-defending modes which don’t show off the game’s core mechanics to their fullest but are, nevertheless, a nice addition. You can compete with up to six players in the versus modes and during cooperative games you can trade gear and recruits with your partner.
What Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker has is heritage, class and, above all, value. The main story will take over twenty hours and the addition of the Extra-Ops missions and the multiplayer will encourage plenty of replayability. The fantastic design, pacing and presentation are precisely what we’ve come to expect from the Metal Gear series and for fans this is a stunning instalment.
- Exceptional level design.
- Perfectly in keeping with the tone of the series.
- Great pacing and plenty of replay potential.
- Controls are slightly hampered by the PSP’s limitations.
- There could be more save points in story missions.
- Environments are all fairly similar.
To say that Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is one of the best games yet available on the PSP may seem bold but it would be a massive understatement. This game is a league above in terms of design quality, direction and production. The stealth-based gameplay might not appeal to some but it is the core that this series was built on and to see it return to that form is a joyous thing. The narrative does drag in places due to the protracted delivery but even that is just perfect for the feel of the series. This game is not only one of the best on the PSP; it’s probably the best Metal Gear game in the whole series. How’s that for a bold statement?