There has always been a struggle in the realm of portable gaming: how does one make a title that is both easy to pick up and play, and stand beside full-length console titles? Oftentimes, portable systems are inundated with quick, fairly easy titles that are meant to kill ten or fifteen minutes when on the go. The portability of the system has bled into the design of its library, in other words.
With Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, this trend is not only broken, but has been turned almost completely on its head. With serious effort put toward making both a full Metal Gear experience as well as a portable-friendly design, Hideo Kojima has assuredly outdone himself with this newest entry, and possibly changed the way we see portable gaming.
How exactly does this one title stand to change the portable gaming scene? Read on to find out.
From its outset, MGS: Peace Walker stands to show the player that the PSP is capable of some truly extraordinary things. The tutorial, which takes place on a rainy beach, is an impressive display of visual quality that is only improved upon as the game progresses.
The game takes place in 1974, wherein Big Boss and Kazuhira Miller have formed the organization “Militaires Sans Frontieres”, or “Soldiers Without Borders”, an independent military force based in the Caribbean. As with Portable Ops, the game focuses heavily on the building and maintenance of a mercenary army, which entails capturing new troops, researching new weaponry, and keeping everyone fed and in good health.
This is accomplished through missions, and it is in the setup of these missions that Peace Walker shines as both a portable title and as a faithful successor in the Metal Gear saga.
Story missions, referred to in-game as “Main Ops”, usually involve sneaking past various soldiers while either gathering items or other particular bits of intel. The experience is very much in line with any other Metal Gear game: you stay low, move slowly, and can take down enemies in a number of ways. Tranquilizing, CQC, and hold-ups are all valid strategies when making your way through each mission.
Some, however, require you to fight enemies head on, and these battles can be quite intense. Thanks to the separated structure of the missions (you can select which one you want to do at any time), you are able to prepare yourself for each fight as it presents itself.
Instead of possibly winding up with nothing but a useless pistol and a tranquilizer gun when a boss shows up, you’re able to change out your entire loadout to better adjust to whatever you’re faced with. Nevertheless, players will find a fresh, decently-challenging experience with each fight, with an epic conclusion only Metal Gear Solid could pull off.
As with any Metal Gear game, the plot twists and turns in what are now the usual ways, with strange technology and crazy twists waiting around every corner. Admittedly, the game does have a few groan-worthy moments toward the end, but overall the whole experience fits well within what any regular player would consider a typical Metal Gear experience.
Cutscenes are done in the same style as Portable Ops, though there has been a marked improvement in the artist’s ability to portray each character. Several are interactive, prompting various button presses at appropriate moments in the scene.
Controls are, considering the PSP’s single-analogue-stick configuration, adequate, though they can be frustrating when moments get intense. There are a few options to change the control scheme, from “action type” (ala Metal Gear Solid 4), to “Shooter type” (similar to Siphon Filter: Logan’s Shadow), and “Hunter Type” (ala Monster Hunter Freedom).
To put it simply, the graphics are top notch – from the rainy beach to foggy forests and abandoned ruins, Peace Walker never slips up when it comes to its visual presentation. Character models all have excellent detail, and move with a kind of fluidity that leaves little (if anything) to be desired. All of this is complimented with consistently-solid voice acting.
Each character, from the most minor to Big Boss himself (voiced by none other than David Hayter) is blessed with a performance that is both convincing and unique. Though some characters may come across as exasperating or shallow, it is certainly no fault of the voice actors/actresses that this is so. Even the strangest of lines is delivered in a solid, convincing manner.
Beyond their lines, each character is elaborated upon through various “Briefing Files” – tapes that the player can listen to at any time to gain both intel on a mission as well as insight into each character’s personality. From a Sandinista commander to a French scientist, each character has several tapes that yield plenty of information on their background, motivations, and personality.
The only downside to this approach is that a few characters feel either shallow or almost unnecessary. The aforementioned French scientist is useful for one particular mission, then promptly disappears with regards to the main story. Others come and go, and only a handful really play a large role in this particular story.
However, this seemingly lack of involvement is made right with excellent gameplay and the plethora of extra missions and items. Almost every mission unlocks another, with everything from “perfect stealth” (get to the goal without being seen) to “ghost photography”, wherein you must stalk dark corridors and forests looking for ghosts of both MSF and enemy soldiers. There are even several Monster Hunter themed missions available once certain actions have been performed.
I’m not kidding when I use the word “plethora”; there are more than 120 individual missions to complete, only a fraction of which comprises the main story. At the longest, some of the hardest missions can take upwards of thirty to forty minutes to complete, but most take less than twenty, giving the game a structure that is both friendly to the PSP as an easy-to-pick-up title as well as a lengthy, content-ridden adventure comparable to any standard title, Metal Gear or not.
Of course, the missions are only the tip of the iceberg. Each mission can unlock different items depending upon the player’s performance, and these rewards can range from upgrades of existing weaponry to completely new items, such as camouflage and a gun that turns people invisible. Nearly every mission allows for two to four players via ad-hoc, or you can play online via the PS3′s Ad-Hoc Party function: and this includes almost all of the main story.
Of course, as with any Metal Gear game, different methods of playing yield different achievement-type awards, including various insignias and items. Building up these achievements increases your overall “heroism”, which in turn leads to higher-skill soldiers and better weaponry. Unlike previous entries, each mission stands alone with regards to the rating of a player’s abilities, and allows for as many attempts at retrying as the player wishes. There is no overall ranking at the end of the game though.
Outside of the primary mission structure, there are “Outer Ops”. These missions allow for you to send up to eight of your soldiers on various missions around the world, earning supplies and new unlockables along the way. Mechs and vehicles during the main story can be captured for use in these missions as well, which includes even building your own Metal Gear unit.
Overall, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker delivers an absolutely enormous experience. More than 120 missions, with tons of weapons, items, and other content to unlock grants the player an experience that can take easily more than forty or fifty hours to complete. At the time of this review, I’ve played fifty-seven hours, and I’m still not done with all the extra missions.
At no higher a price than any other new PSP release, MGS: Peace Walker is simply a must-have for any PSP owner. It’s incredible length and breadth of content makes it an experience few could turn down.
The PSP has certainly been pushed to its limits, and while that may not impress everyone, those of you used to the system will be more than satisfied.
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From the tried-and-true stealth gameplay to hunting giant monsters, Peace Walker feels solid all the way through.
Great voice acting and even greater music keeps the player immersed in the action, despite the PSP's tiny speakers.
More than 120 missions, each anywhere from a few to over thirty minutes long, makes for an exceptionally lengthy experience. All missions are co-op too!
A fantastic title that shows off the power of the system as well as the possibilities open to further developers. It proves once and for all that portable systems can stand beside consoles.