Today we have Konami’s latest opus and entry into the Metal Gear Solid series to review, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. This has a been a hotly anticipated title since last year’s E3 when it was announced at the Sony Press Conference. That fact along with the knowledge that series creator Hideo Kojima has worked particularly closely on this project and has gone so far as to call it the true Metal Gear Solid 5 explains why expectations are very high for this game. So it’s a good thing that the game lives up to these high hopes with only a few minor exceptions.
Before we get started let me say that I’m not going to talk much about the story as that is this game’s bread and butter and I’d feel horrible ruining it for any body. All I will tell you about the story is the basic premise which is that you are Big Boss (Naked Snake) on a mission in Costa Rica and in the process of creating Outer Heaven, the legendary base from the very start of the Metal Gear series. While I’m not going to talk anymore about the story I will talk about the writing which is as always with this series, spectacular. All of the codec conversations and cut scenes have a distinct flow to them and when paired with the stellar voice acting and great presentation style this game has, a truly engaging narrative experience is created. To go a bit deeper into the presentation, all of the cut scenes are done in the style of the Metal Gear Solid motion comics and drawn by that artist. This creates a very complex yet technically simple look to the cut scenes which one would assume greatly helps the PSP handle this game on a sheer hardware level. With a comic book style presentation you wouldn’t expect there to be quick time events yet somehow they’re there and unbelievably actually improve the game. The surrealism of controlling the game when the comic style is up on-screen is very engaging and by the third cut scene you’ll be looking forward to those little bits of interactivity. I will admit though I have a sweet spot for the QTE’s in this game as they enabled my new favorite MGS easter egg. I won’t ruin it for you but just make sure to select the truck labeled Centro America 63824 Peace Sentinel when you have the chance, you won’t be disappointed.
Moving onto the actual in engine graphics, things are a little less grand though still very competent. In general things look very good and are striking similar to MGS3 which is what the game seems to going for, so mission accomplished. The only problem with the graphics is that there are some textures that don’t look all that great and while you won’t notice them too much regularly, when you’re sneaking or carefully lining up a shot you’ll probably catch one out of the corner of your eye. That one flaw stated though this is easily the best looking PSP game I’ve seen in a long time and it really does show what this device can do even now in its old age.
The music is as always with this series (I feel like I’m saying that a lot in this review) wonderful, with the standard sweeping heart heavy scores, jazzy exposition time music, and the various themes that have long represented this series all out in full show. The various sound effects and ambient noise all sound particularly nice in this game, helping to make the jungles feel more vibrant and the fire fights feel more intense. I mentioned the voice acting earlier and it is amazing in this title, David Hayter (Big Boss) delivers a great performance with all of the growl and grit you’d expect from the character coming out in full force. The other members of the cast, some series regulars along with some new faces, also put on a great performances with every character feeling very alive and interesting. The only real issue of note in this area is that in order to get voices during the codec conversations a data install is required (you can do a small one at around 300MB or a large install at just under 900MB which will help shorten load times as well). The sound design in this game is top-notch and I’d expect nothing less of Hideo helmed Metal Gear Solid game.
Now we come to the most important part of any game and that is the gameplay. For the most part Peace Walker manages to do a lot with the somewhat limited PSP controls and it does deliver a true MGS game play experience if you’re willing to be patient with it. As anyone who has played any PSP game with a gun in it can tell you moving and accurate shooting at the same time seems to be something the system simply wasn’t designed for and this is true for Peace Walker as well to an extent. In the standard control configuration camera and aiming controls are mapped to the face buttons and while this allows you to move and shoot simultaneously it makes precision aiming incredibly difficult. This means that until you find the weapons and control style that work for you comfortably, things can go a little roughly. That said figuring out what works for you doesn’t take too long and once you have things down it controls extremely well, particularly for a PSP game.
The basic structure of the game is mission based (for story and side missions) , similar to the Monster Hunter series, which is very different from past incarnations of this series however it suits this title perfectly. The length of a mission can range from anywhere between 1-15 minutes and that makes it perfectly suited for it’ s platform allowing you to quickly run through a mission while you’re on the go. Alongside the missions you can go on there is a plethora of other things you can mess around with back at the base, all which benefit the main game in some fashion. Of the activities outside of the missions you can do none factors more into your experience than that of managing the Outer Heaven base. Through a variety of ways you will collect soldiers and while you’re in base you can assign them to different teams. Once assigned a soldier will add to that team’s level and the higher the level of a team, the better stuff they can make for you to use on your missions. There are simply too many different things to do in this game to list them all here but I can say with confidence that they all contain their own special bits of entertainment and are surprisingly varied.
A big point of the advertising for this game was the multi player which makes me very sad that it’s one of the few issues I have with this title. The problem I have with the multi player is simply that I didn’t get to try it as it’s only ad-hoc and not online. While I can understand that with no voice chat on the PSP online multi player could be tough to manage, not having that option seems like a missed opportunity. The PSP is sadly not as well a distributed system among the consumer base as it should be and as such I really don’t know many people who have them and even less that have this game. That makes coordinating a multi player session for this title incredibly difficult if not impossible. Thankfully though almost all of the game’s content can be played single player (only the versus mode and item/soldier trading mode is strictly multi player) so you don’t feel like you’re missing anything super important by playing it alone.
All in all this game is a stand out entry in the series and I would recommend it to any and every MGS fan as well any PSP gamer who feels their system of choice has been lacking good games of late. I give this game a 4.5 out of 5 stars and if not for the minor control issues and the only ad-hoc multi player I would have given it a full 5 stars. If you want a good PSP game then go buy Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker right now!