As big a Metal Gear fan as I am, I have to admit I was not at all interested when Konami first announced Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker for the PSP. There were a few reasons for this. After playing MGS4 I felt very satisfied and complete with what Kojima and company created. Despite the winding plot line, I felt like I had a really good handle on everything that happened through the course of the series, and I didn’t need to know anything else. I have also heard from numerous sources that previous MGS games on the PSP have been less than stellar. Then, there is the matter that I personally don’t own a PSP. It’s just another mouth to feed in my dwindling video game family, so please do not read any bias into this, ok? Ok!
That being said, I was hardly keeping up with MGS:PW as it progressed. In fact, I was outright ignoring it. However, when it was finally released a few weeks ago, I started reading reviews giving the game praise, and suddenly I started caring about my old friends again. After splitting it with Phil and borrowing his PSP (hey, he gets to keep it!), and spending around 30 plus hours into it, I can firmly agree that its one of the best in series. There’s a lot to love about it.
At first, I found myself wrestling with the stripped down controls that are a necessary evil to port it to a hand held. I actually considered myself quite good at sneaking bad guys on the home console versions, so it took me some time to acclimate myself to the new button layout. One of the biggest adjustments I had to tackle was the placement of the Equipment and Weapons selections. This has traditionally been mapped to the shoulder buttons, however in Peace Walker (PW from now on) these are now relegated to the D-pad directional buttons. Re-locating almost over ten years of muscle memory from my index fingers to my left thumb took some getting used to. The shoulder buttons in PW are used for aiming and shooting much like MGS4 and the Resident Evil series, and that works just dandy actually. My other gripe, which actually never went away really, is getting used to the PSP’s analog nub. Its a horrid little beast and I find it not to be very responsive.
Once I wrapped my head around the controls, I started to find myself getting pulled into the game more and more. PW focuses more on game play and less on story telling, however there are a few lengthy cut scenes, done in a comic book fashion, that explain just what’s going. Of course, many of my old friends have reprise their roles, most importantly David Hayter as Naked Snake, A.K.A. Big Boss. I don’t know why, but I can listen to these guys ramble on and on all day about quetzals and A.I. Weapons. The story is no where near as convoluted as previous entries of the series, and that’s mainly because we know everything already. This is just filling in some holes of the back story that has very little impact on the events that come later in the series’ time line. The focus here is on Big Boss’s character and how Outer Heaven came to be in the first place.
As I was playing, I found that PW is closer in spirit to MGS3 than any of the others. We are presented with smaller, bite sized missions that suit a hand held, and the game’s maps offer a variety of ways one can sneak an enemy soldier. There is less of an emphasis on blending into the environment with the camo index, but instead you are given ample tree trunks and corners to hide behind. Still, I found myself laying in the grass while a soldier walked by on more than one occasion which for me is very satisfying when I CQC him to the ground.
I also couldn’t help comparing this to MGS4 as I played. MGS4 had its work cut out for it in terms of what it needed to deliver to wrap up our story. It needed to keep things on rails a bit in order to get Solid Snake to the point he needed to reach. Could MGS4 have sacrificed much of the cut scenes and gotten the same outcome? I would say yes. I enjoyed that MGS4 gave us a feature set, and then at times switched up the game play a bit to make us use those features in different ways. PW gives us a feature set, and once you master it, you basically employ it over and over again through out the game. MGS4 gave us massive set pieces and boss fights that delivered, where PW gives us a playground to run around in. They are two very different games which had very different goals for the player.
While I beat PW a few nights ago, I’m finding that the game just keeps on giving. This is where PW definitely out shines MGS4. The replay value is incredible. As you move along the game, you open up more and more side missions. Complete these and you get more GMP points to help make Outter Heaven grow, which in turn gives you more items and weapon and upgrades to your current inventory. As your army grows, you can send them out into the world in the Outer Ops section where they wage battle in semi mini-game fashion. This is all about stat building, and you use tanks and helicopters here that you can capture during the main missions. Its a fun little addition that isn’t too deep, but just satisfying enough as a side quest.
Much like Snake creeping through the Cloud Jungle, Metal Gear has once again caught me by surprise and CQC’ed the crap out of me. Just when I thought I was done with the MGS series as it was, I’m totally hooked again. I still have a ton of extra ops to play through as well as an on going, bonus chapter. Anyone with a PSP should definitely pick this one up. It is much more truer to the spirit of the MGS series than previous entries on the PSP. Sorry, Phil. Looks like you might have to wait a little longer before you get your hands on this copy of Peace Walker!