Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker

Without trying to sound too despondent, why oh why Mr. Kojima is this on the PSP? Considering that originally it was called Metal Gear Solid 5 and had all the trademarks of a blockbuster sequel, surely a home console outing would be more fitting?

Regardless of format, how Kojima Productions have managed to squeeze so much into Sony’s now modest handheld is a remarkable achievement. Nearly all the Metal Gear games of recent times have been audio and visual masterpieces but not since Sons of Liberty has an MGS game left such an OMG!-like impression.

The fact that Peace Walker is set during the same timeline as the best MGS to date — Snake Eater (or Subsistence to be exact) — with all its Cold War and jungle trappings is a real sweetener.

As a sequel to both the aforementioned game and also set four years after Portable Ops, the plot sees protagonist for now and antagonist to be, Naked Snake, hired by the Costa Rican government in 1974 to rid their nation of the Peace Sentinels, a CIA-backed military force created to unbalance the scales of power supporting the capitalistic West on one side and the communist bloc on the other. Due to Costa Rica’s inability to create an armed militia, they’ve no choice but to turn to Snake and his group of guns for hire, the Militaires Sans Frontières (Soldiers without Borders).

What follows is a more grounded (by MGS standards at least) story. However, by being so “normal”, the proceedings often become predictable. You know what’s going to happen before it actually happens, which leaves you with all the other problems one encounters with the MGS way of telling a story.

Yes the lengthy, soul destroying, press the “skip” button now if you want to live cutscenes. Cutscenes that in some instances actually last longer than the main missions! Told through some pretty slick pencil drawn comic book panels, the dialogue is as useless as ever. The pretentious, convoluted, boring script with all its silly in jokes, the “not so novel now” fourth wall-breaking humor, the childish, cheesy, cultural references, the pervertedness, and the casual sexism is now so cemented into the MGS formula that without all of that it simply wouldn’t be MGS anymore.

As a sort of pick n’ mix of the series best gameplay bits, the back to basics jungle levels recall the more realistic stealth of MGS 3. The game encourages you to be sneakier instead of relying on gimmicks, rewarding with you with more points, which of course also means prizes. It also encourages being stealthier and KO-ing your foes, instead of killing them, which allows you to recruit them to your cause by having them airlifted back to your “Mother Base”.

A Pokemon-like collection obsession ensues as management of the “Mother Base” becomes its own game, as does assigning your recruits to everything from research to combat and crafting new, shiny, and often priceless weapons for you to use in the main game. You can also assign your collections to the medical team to care for the wounded. There’s even an option to put their culinary skills to the test and make them cooks, thus ensuring that you have enough Delia Smiths in the Mess Hall to feed all those hungry troops.

As time goes on, more and more of the base and the near infinite amount of things you can get do open up. The levels of customization, leveling up and menu fiddling, borders on Monster Hunter territory, a game clearly influencing Peace Walker, as even one of the control set ups is based on Capcom’s monster slaying behemoth.

To fund all this base building and micro management,, Snake sends out his soldiers to combat zones all over the world. These are known as “Outer Ops” missions. He, meanwhile, goes about saving Costa Rica during the “Main Ops”. Once he returns, he gets to view how his subordinates have performed via some strange turn-based bits, which you have no control over. So it’s kind of like watching chess, only with guns and tanks, and just as boring as that might sound.

The whole “Mother Base” management is sure to divide opinion. The obsessive amongst us will love it and will probably spend more time twiddling and fiddling there instead of shooting people in the face. However, some may view it as a chore, much like Snakes’ recruits, participating in it because they’ve been forced to, rather than out of any real desire to do so.

But it’s the main missions that are sure to cause the most headache, heartache, and fanatical pleas for a PS3 release. Yep, it’s that same old problem with any 3rd person shooter on the PSP — the bloody controls. Irrespective of which of the three control schemes that you use, none of them can successfully replicate what the good ol’ twin analogue set-up has done so well for years.

MGS has always been a tad fiddly, but even trying to do the simplest things, such as walking instead of running, is a test of patience due to the terrible PSP analogue nubbin. Controlling the camera via the face buttons is simply not an adequate substitute.

However, credit where it’s due, as Kojima Productions have clearly tried their best here with what they’ve got. But the constant battles with the controls always leave you wondering what could have been if this wasn’t on a handheld that is so ergonomically flawed. You will learn to cope after a while.

Single player missions are another cause of upset, as this generation of consoles has become more and more obsessed with multiplayer. The cost today is that even traditional single player games are sacrificing what they do best just to appease the LIVE generation. This wouldn’t be a problem if single and multiplayer were kept separate, but the unnatural breeding of the two result in offspring like Peace Walker where playing alone is an option, just not a viable one.

The levels have clearly been designed for co-op, thus making them at times bone crushingly difficult when playing alone. Kojima, clearly presumes that we in the West all love our PSP’s as much as our Japanese brethren do and can happily and easily find another PSP player for a bit of co-op. Well, sorry Hideo, we can’t because no one likes the PSP and no one buys games for it either. The horrendous difficulty spikes wouldn’t be a problem if I had two or three friends playing alongside me, but I don’t even have one!

On your own, you’re in for one hell of a fight, and it’s a real pity Kojima and company didn’t take my complete social retardation into consideration. You can play the game online, but you’ll require a PS3 to do so via this Ad-hoc thing, which happens to be just as fiddly and as hostile as the controls are. But think about that for a second — to play the game properly and fairly, one requires a £250 console on top of everything else — simply put, they’re taking the piss.

Though the game seems to shout and scream boastfully about being on a handheld, it also at times forgets the nature of handheld gameplay. You need checkpoints and save points; it has neither. So once you’ve committed yourself to a mission, you best hope that you’ve got enough time on your hands to see it through to the end.

Finally, the boss battles, the benchmark of any MGS game (remember The End from MGS3?). Well, all you get here is some stupid vehicle-based scraps, in which you simply kidnap some enemies and wait for the boss to rear his ugly head before you crack his skull open with a sniper bullet. Good luck, however, doing all of that on your own though, because if the controls or the difficulty hasn’t killed you by then, you most likely would have done it yourself.

It really is a marvel how fully fledged Peace Walker is, but years of series decay and a console not up to its creator’s ambition have failed the game and more importantly my precious reader . . . you.

RATING 5 / 10
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