Kojima’s last handheld Metal Gear came at a strange time in the PlayStation Portable’s life cycle. Despite having enjoyed a solid run of half a decade, expectant eyes were gradually turning in Sony’s direction as it beavered away on the awesome yet underappreciated PlayStation Vita.
Even in 2010, when Peace Walker launched, the PSP was hardly on its last legs. In Japan the console continued to thrive under a constant barrage of role-playing games, visual novels, and Monster Hunter mimics. Overseas, however, things had slowed down a fair bit. Though games such as Ghost of Sparta and Invizimals helped to keep the platform afloat, the growing sparsity of big-name, AAA titles stalled its appeal somewhat.
For many PlayStation fans Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker did well in filling this precarious void, at least temporarily. For others, though, it seemed a little out of place, especially after 2008’s fairly conclusive Metal Gear Solid 4. Still, time-hopping and intertwining narrative threads aside the game was ambitious within its own framework and pushed Sony’s portable to the very limit.
From the onset, it was clear Peace Walker wouldn’t follow the conventional Metal Gear blueprint. Whether simply down to hardware limitations or Kojima’s vision of alternate stealth action experience we can’t say for certain though it was likely a combination of both.
Going into Peace Walker the Metal Gear team had already been kicking around some fresh ideas in Portable Ops and its subsequent expansion. Ultimately these concepts would be expanded upon and enhanced with better visuals, larger environments, and improved online multiplayer.
One key feature that really stuck out was the simulation and progression system in Peace Walker. During this particular chapter in the Metal Gear timeline, we knew Big Boss was about to amass a mercenary army which would later be succeeded by Outer Heaven. Instead of simply filtering in friendly NPCs, Kojima Production’s turned the recruiting and training of soldiers into its own well-thought system.
When in the field, players could use a gadget to send downed soldiers and prisoners back to Mother Base. Upon returning from a mission, players could then filter these mercs into groups such as combat ops or the medical team, unlocking sweet new gear along the way. The fact that some of these soldiers had better stats than others meant that players would continually sweep levels over and over for S rank recruits or those with special abilities. It was addictive and almost like a mercenary Panini sticker book.
One thing I have always loved about Metal Gear Solid is the cast of outlandish yet well-developed villains who make an appearance. From Vamp and Ocelot, to The End and Psycho Mantis, each has its own unique boss encounter. Sadly, this wasn’t so much the case in Peace Walker.
Instead of pitting Snake against a band of misfits, players had to contend with a horde of Metal Gear wannabes: war machines with no face or character. What human antagonists the game had to offer played non-combat roles and were only ever seen in Peace Walker’s comic-style cutscenes. Even Portable Ops had a engaging line-up of villains, making the omission even more inexcusable.
Though occasionally fun, each boss fight became its own small-scale war of attrition. Bullets, grenades, and even rockets, would do little to sap their health bars, resulting in drawn out firefight that would often require more than one re-supply drop.
Peace Walker is certainly a worthy addition to the Metal Gear saga and one that’s even more accessible thanks to the recent HD remasters. Naturally, given its status as a spin-off, it ranks lower than the series’ mainline instalments but that is by no means a bad thing. The game took what worked well in Portable Ops and developed it, creating a handheld title that wasn’t just trying to emulate its console counterparts.