Metal Gear Solid bears similarities to a lot of different games, but the game it has the most in common with is probably X-Com. Not because it was an excellent first title followed by increasingly confusing and broken sequels culminating in a coming remake by someone other than the original developers that will most likely have nothing in common with it. GA Editor Joaby would fire me for saying that about the previous Metal Gear Solid games.
Metal Gear Solid is similar to X-Com because they are both series with easily understandable gameplay and yet a large amount of complexity for those who want a challenge. This has been true since the first Metal Gear Solid on the PSX, but it has never been more true than in Peace Walker.
Like Metal Gear Solid 3 and the previous PSP title Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker follows the exploits of Big Boss, also known as Naked Snake. Set in the seventies, it continues Naked Snake’s exploits during the cold war, building his mercenary army and fighting for and against peace and war and America and Russia.
While the convoluted story is ever present, it takes a back seat to the game, with cut-scenes playing out in the comic book style previously seen in Portable Ops. It’s a very stylish and pleasant method of delivery, and a clever way to get around the limitations of the PSP. The artwork is great, and the voice acting still dances between over the top and suitably dramatic.
But the story is very much incidental this time around, the focus throughout Peace Walker is on Stealth Action - with a capital Stealth. While not being seen was obviously the goal of the previous games, there was no real reward system in place for those who succeeded, outside of easter eggs and novelty bonuses. Peace Walker changes this up dramatically, thanks in large part to the inclusion of Mother Base.
Mother Base is the Militaires Sans Frontières (your mercenary army) headquarters. Recruitment for Mother Base is simple - by taking out an enemy soldier without killing them or being spotted you are able to hook them up to the Fulton Recovery System - a balloon that carries the unconscious soldier up to a helicopter, ready to join you in whatever the heck your cause happens to be.
The different soldiers you recruit have different stats, similar to Portable Ops but so much bigger and better. Sorting out Mother Base to have the best possible soldiers in each department is a game in itself and while you can set it to auto place soldiers, there are hours to be lost developing the best possible structure.
There are 5 different departments for soldier placement - Combat, Mess Hall, Medical, Intel and Research and Development. Soldiers assigned to combat carry out Outer Ops, automatic battles taking place while you go about your mission - your main source of funds. Better Intel gives you better and more frequent field drops - life saving when you run low on supplies, especially as death means restarting a mission from the very beginning.
Mess Hall soldiers cook, and those assigned to Medical fix up wounded soldiers - seemingly less important but still integral to your success, as you will find out fairly quickly if you ignore them. Finally, Research and Development is probably the most important placement, as better R&D recruits give you wider access to the vast array of gadgets and upgrades.
Unlocking the various weapons and gadgets is the other reason stealth is so important in Peace Walker, as completing your mission quickly, silently and non-lethally increases the Hero Points you gain at the end of each mission. Hero Points contribute to your unlocks, of both the tech tree and the various other bonuses featured in the game. It’s excellent incentive to replay through the game and missions and develop your skills and team.
Missions themselves are a mixed bag. The controls have been well thought out, with three different layouts depending on how you prefer to play - the Portable Ops control scheme, the Monster Hunter control scheme and a new, more action oriented control scheme built with Metal Gear Solid 4’s shooter style in mind.
Controlling the camera with the face buttons still fails compared to a second analog stick, but having constant control of the camera is definitely worthwhile. The various non-combat actions and inventory options have been moved to the d-pad, putting combat on the shoulder buttons - a brilliant decision.
While each map is fairly small due to the limitations of the PSP, missions are made up of several maps each, making missions a decent length throughout. The game is challenging throughout and unlocking and using the insane amount of gadgets and weapons is incredibly entertaining, especially with Kojima’s weird and wonderful sense of style pervasive throughout.
There are also a large amount of bonus missions in the form of Extra Ops. Similar to the VR missions, Extra Ops are short levels with alternative objectives - timed runs, CQC combat, marksmanship and the like. They are excellent if you are looking for a little on-the-go gameplay - and if you want to get your skills up without going through the main story.
The biggest problem with Peace Walker overall, is that it would be an amazing console title. The controls have been well worked out, but they would have been flawless on a DualShock 3 with a second analog stick for camera control. There is so much stuff packed into the game, with the Extra Ops, Mother Base, Monster Hunter Island and all of the other bonuses that it seems a shame to cripple it with the limited hardware of the PSP. Kojima Productions has really pushed the technical boundaries of the PSP’s capabilities however, making Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker a definite buy for any PSP owner and definitely any fan of the Metal Gear Solid series.