When Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker was officially announced in June of 2009, it was touted as a full sequel in the Metal Gear franchise by Kojima himself. Many found this hard to believe; how could a portable version of the series live up to the scale of MGS4 or the perfection of MGS3? In short, despite the inherent shortcomings of the PSP, it lives up to the expectations and is one of the best games on the platform.
Set In between the events of Metal Gear Solid 3 and the original Metal Gear, Peace Walker continue Snakes’ journey into his eventual re-birth as Big Boss. The game is framed in the 1970s in Cold War era Costa Rica. Snake is adjusting to being referred to as Big Boss and he is forming his Militaries Sans Frontières (Soldiers without Borders). This army has no home and fights where and when Snake tells them. He is approached by a professor at the Costa Rica University, Ramón Gálvez Mena, and his student, Paz Ortega Andrade, who want to have Snake and his men come in and help liberate Costa Rica.
Of course, being a Metal Gear Solid game, all is not what it seems and, despite some unsettling revelations, (or because of them) Snake agrees to help the two of them and travels to Costa Rica. The story is told both through in-game cutscenes and semi-animated graphic novel style panels. These cutscenes are unique in the fact that you can zoom and pan the camera as well as see through clothing occasionally (on women) generally to see how they are injured or been mistreated. The graphic panels also integrate some QTE elements such as zoom, move, and shoot. I found myself really engaged in these scenes because of the great art style and it was a fresh, new way to present the story.
The story itself is a great one, if not quite as elaborate and fantastical as the previous Metal Gear Solid games. This is partly because of the bosses in Peace Walker, instead of human(ish) characters like The Pain, Psycho Mantis, or Vamp, we have Mechs and vehicles to face. This makes sense in the context of the story, but I could not help missing these creative and unique bosses. It is fun and challenging to take out a super tank or Metal Gear, but Big Boss used to face people who could make weapons and shields out of Bees! This minor quibble aside, the story is really well presented with efficient and engaging cinematics to flesh out characters and scenarios. The evolution of Big Boss is as satisfying as you could hope.
The gameplay presented in Peace Walker is mostly perfect and represents what you expect in a Metal Gear game. I say mostly simply because of the limitations of the PSP when presenting control options to the players. There are three distinct control options: one that matches Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, one that matches most shooters on the PSP (Syphon Filter, Resistance), and one that matches Monster Hunter controls. You can change these on demand and between them there are some very capable control options. Some sacrifices were made to gameplay as a result of the missing controls between PS3 and PSP, notably moving when prone or in cover. The game is well aware of these limits, however, and never really punishes for these omissions.
The game plays in a slightly different manner then most Metal Gear games. Shortly into the game you receive a base of operations, and from here you can choose your missions, replay previous ones, or try the extra ops missions for bonuses and skill points. The game clearly labels what are extra ops (side missions) and story missions, so if you choose to just blaze through the game you could do so. Ignoring these extra ops missions would be a mistake though as they are quite fun and reward you with extra blueprints, skill points, and new recruits. That leads me to the other side of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, the X-Com style base sim.
During your missions you have the ability to extract any of the enemy that you have incapacitated using a Fulton Extraction Balloon. It is so easy and addicting to grab new “recruits” during all of your missions that I found myself angry when I killed someone. The base you receive, called Mother Base, is a constantly evolving place. Over the course of the game many nodes are added such as Mess Halls (help morale) and Infirmary (heals troops) among others. As you recruit new members they have a set list of starting strengths which decide where you assign them. As they work in their roles they gain experience and their skills increase. The goal is to create the Outer Haven army present in the very first Metal Gear game, and Peace Walker makes it an addictive pleasure to do so.
The missions themselves are presented in a Monster Hunter Style in the fact that you have a fixed objective and return to Mother Base after you complete it. The design works extremely well in this game as it is a portable MGS and the bite sized (and sometimes not so bite sized) missions are perfect for this format. The missions are varied and feature scenarios ranging from infiltrations and capturing enemies to rescuing people and eliminating everyone. The scenarios always fit the story and, thanks to the well executed and established gameplay, it is very enjoyable to not only play the scenarios, but also to replay them or engage in the Extra Ops unlocked after completion.
The gameplay is further helped by the sheer look, style, and sound of the game. Peace Walker is a joy to look at; there were times I was in awe at the visual look and style of the game. The models, backgrounds, voice acting, music, and art style makes it one of the best looking (and sounding) games on the PSP. This is the whole package and something other developers should look at with envy.
There is so much to Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker that I could write for pages more, but suffice it to say this game has it all. The engaging story, drop dead gorgeous visuals, great gameplay, incredible depth, and ease of play for veterans and newcomers alike make this a near perfect game. The only thing I wished while playing Peace Walker is that it was on the Playstation 3. If you are a fan of the series, or just a fan of great games, you need to get Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker; it is among the best games on the PSP and in fact one of the best video games of this generation.
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Blood, Drug Reference, Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Tobacco, Violence.