Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is the latest venture for Kojima and his merry band of developers at Kojima Productions. It touts to be the next story in the Metal Gear canon and picks up after the events of Operation Snake Eater and Portable Ops. That's right, Big Boss is back and he is packing every punch into this next epic adventure for the PlayStation Portable.
It's been 10 years since Operation Snake Eater and Snake has started up his own organization. A military without a state, nomads of the battlefield dubbed as Militaires Sans Frontiers. An army with no borders willing to fight anyone with the right price. One fine day, Snake is visited by a "professor of peace" and his student, and they plead with him to drive out an invading army in the nation of Costa Rica.
This is where Peace Walker really kicks off. There is just so much backstory and history involved that the game leaves little to no details in the dark. As characters are introduced, so are their reasons for fighting and as the plot progresses, Snake discovers that both the KGB and "la CIA" are at the root of the conflict in Costa Rica. The armed group occupying the country isn't just bringing in the latest in armaments and warfare, but nukes as well. It certainly wouldn't be Metal Gear without the nukes and as per Metal Gear lore, theories of nuclear deterrence are thrown left, right and centre.
A good chunk of the story is told through codec conversations between characters as well as animated graphic novel style cutscenes. While the main plot is delivered through these conversations, a good amount of backstory can be heard as well and is completely optional. However, they do add a good amount of depth to the game should players be patient enough to listen to them since they do get quite lengthy.
Peace Walker is very much a mission-centric game with every mission lasting about ten minutes and boss missions a good while longer; moreover, there are also Extra Ops missions which usually involve target practice, demolitions and rescue/kidnapping missions. Each and every mission can be replayed at any point throughout the game. Before each mission, players will get a chance to pick their item and weapon load outs as well as listen to the mission briefing. Gameplay has been built with limitations of the PSP in mind and the controls are miles better than what Portable Ops offered. Much like Metal Gear Solid 4, players can zoom in over Snake's shoulder while aiming and move at the same time. Unfortunately, Snake can no longer move while prone or against cover, but thankfully this doesn't detract from the experience. One niggling issue is the sensitivity between running and walking. At times, players may find themselves breaking into a sudden run and right into the sights of the enemies.
In addition to the missions, players also get to build upon Mother Base, Snake's base of operations. However, in order for Mother Base to properly operate, manpower is needed and this manpower can be found throughout the entire game in the form of enemy soldiers and prisoners of war. A handy tool in Snake's arsenal just happens to be the Fulton Surface-to-Air balloon, a tool that players can abuse and kidnap pretty much every single soldier and haul them to Mother Base. Of course, not everyone will be so willing and some will need time for convincing.
Soldiers can be assigned to different departments depending on their stats. The game has a convenient user friendly option of auto-assigning if players don't exactly want to spend their time micromanaging Mother Base. Assigning troops to the combat unit increases GMP, points used to develop items and weapons by the R&D department. Other faculties include the mess, medical and intel departments, all of which affect the the progression of Mother Base to a certain degree. That's not the end of it though as players can even send troops out on Outer Ops missions, fully automated skirmishes between the MSF and enemy units that usually yield rewards like unique items, weapons and even volunteer troops.
All of this simply adds to the immense amount of things players can do with Peace Walker and keep in mind that cooperative play has yet to be mentioned. Speaking of which, coop is sometimes essential when taking on some of the more ruthless bosses. Each mission can be played with up to two players and up to four for the boss missions. Kojima Productions has really nailed it when it comes to coop as playing locally with friends is quite the adrenaline rush. Players can also trade items and soldiers.
From a presentation standpoint, Peace Walker does not disappoint. From the lush green jungles of Costa Rica to the sprawling infrastructure of Mother Base and even to Snake's beard, the visuals are impressively detailed and stunning, making the game really look a lot more than what a handheld title usually has to offer. It's worth pointing out that the real treat is in the sound design. Creatures of the jungle have their own distinguishable cries while the eerie singing of the AI weapons easily make hairs stand on end. It's quite rare for a portable title to offer such audio fidelity and playing with headphones is recommended in order to fully enjoy it.
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is certainly no small game. In fact, even though it's on a portable system, the sheer scope of it rivals that of Metal Gear Solid 4, if not even larger. The controls have been streamlined to be more user friendly and the core mechanics improved upon. Thankfully, the majority of lengthy conversations are mostly optional and completely up to players should they want to listen to them. The game is built specifically to take advantage of the PSP so missions are playable in short bursts, making it great for gaming on-the-go. Cooperative play is fun, exciting and a very welcomed addition to the Metal Gear universe. All in all, with exceptional game mechanics and stunning presentation, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is definitely a game worth buying. Once picked up, there's more than enough to keep players busy for a very long time.