The past couple of weeks have been so busy, and not just because of E3. Sure, we’ve been hearing about the big guns like Killzone 3, the new Twisted Metal, and Portal 2, but that’s not exactly why we’ve been so busy. Rather, it might have something to do with Hideo Kojima’s meaty PSP stealth ‘em up, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, which arrived in our mailbox little more than a week ago. Still, it wasn’t the 15-20 hour campaign that occupied our time; it was the 100 or so side quests, and all the co-op that has kept us so busy.
The Metal Gear Solid world is one of the most revered in the PlayStation’s entire line-up. Sure, some of the entries have had their own little problems, but the series has stayed alive because Kojima creates compelling story lines, intense action and combat, and intriguing characters. Peace Walker diverts little from all those things the series does so well, and depending on your play style, the game actually offers improvements on the PSP.
The plot sets Naked Snake in the jungles of Costa Rica in the ‘70s, occurring after the events of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Snake – aka Big Boss – is your primary character, drudging through a heated Cold War climate. Snake works with the Militaires Sans Frontieres in Central America. The group sort of acts like the country’s military. The plot twists and turns through classically-stylized cut scenes, and missions that have you battling tanks, giant mechs, and generally inept soldiers. The game offers some comedy, with the typically heavy political overtones that past Metal Gear games have captured. The cut scenes offer a great graphic-novel style intermission between most missions, and they occasionally offer some interactive moments.
Metal Gear games are not meant to force you to run-and-gun baddies, instead your actions are methodical, and nearly every step must be calculated. Sure, you can kill enemies with various guns and grenades, but that only sets off alarms and swarms of other eager aggressors. This is a game that encourages its players to sneak around, and find quiet ways to eliminate (if necessary) enemies. You can do this with tranquillisers, various gadgets or objects, or good old fashioned hiding.
All of this silent action will be done in the stunning setting of Central America. As Sony has been running several ad campaigns showing off the power of the PSP, it’s clear why the first game image you see is Peace Walker. The game looks terrific for a handheld game, but does so nearly as quietly as the gameplay. This means that some of the best part of the presentation comes from the little things like birds or butterflies, water, leaves, and even the occasional bright colors from the sun. Otherwise, the game’s many levels are not overly diverse, typically filled with greens and browns and enemies that blend in all too well to the jungle setting. The sound is terrific, too, welcoming players into the jungle with faint insect noises, the quiet footsteps of Snake and his opponents, and the character’s voices, while a bit overdone, serve the game well
The game is split up into various missions, mostly short affairs that take about 15 minutes or so, although some are quite a bit longer. Your hub offers up the available missions, a full-fledged staff for research and development, and even cooks to keep your entourage well fed. This full team does everything from create new weapons and gadgets, increase your stealth ability, even heal your wounded party members. You’ll mostly grab new recruits through the Fulton balloon, which bags POWs or enemies into your base. You can also attract new members based on your heroism score (which is awarded at the end of each mission and depends on how ‘well’ you performed).
Where the game truly shines is in the co-op play. There’s just so much to do here. You can trade gear, soldiers, share missions, and track down big bosses. The game is pretty tough, and the ability to play with friends is almost a necessity. This is both good and bad. On one hand, we are happy to play a game that challenges us, on the other hand, we are a bit upset that a game practically forces you to play with others. It’s not like this is an MMO, but sometimes it feels like the missions need some ridiculously intense coordination with buds – Ad-hoc, of course. This is a game without a level setting, and it also doesn’t get harder when others join your game. So, like the good old days, if you find yourself stuck on a mission, play it with a friend for the shared fire power, and you’ll have a much easier time. Other multiplayer components include versus play, allowing up to six players to compete in death match and base defense modes. These modes aren’t quite as compelling as we hoped since the game is geared so heavily toward espionage, and as such just doesn’t quite translate well against human opponents.
The side missions, or Extra Ops, offer even more action for the wide-eyed player. Most of these are shorter missions, but they are extremely helpful in boosting your character. This is the ‘on the go’ experience the PSP represents. The game offers no checkpoints, and they aren’t really needed in the extra modes, but they could come in handy for the longer missions. This is sort of a downfall, but not a game breaker.
We hate to use this cliché, but we must: if you enjoy Metal Gear Solid games, you’ll likely enjoy Peace Walker. On the flip side, if you find yourself frustrated by the controls or camera angles, which we certainly do at times, you are not going to feel any different about Peace Walker. This is pretty much the only negative thing we found with Kojima’s latest effort– the controls can be a bit finicky, the camera is slow to follow you sometimes, and the difficulty (while great to see a nice tough game) pretty much requires co-op, and if you don’t have that ability, you are sort of screwed. Still, these niggles aside, Peace Walker is an exceptional stealth-action package and a must-have purchase for any PSP owner.