‘Another Metal Gear?’ That’s right Snake, you gravel-voiced bastard, you. We’re always amused by your confusion whenever another giant metal thing predictably waddles into your path – we’d have thought you’d have come to expect mechanised opposition by now. Still, Peace Walker gives Snake far more to question than just some recurring enemy types that he should probably know more about than he seems to. Kojima’s tactical espionage action series isn’t exactly renowned for making sense or doing things normally but as all the pre-release announcements have hinted, Peace Walker is among the silliest entries into the series yet. And frankly, we wouldn’t want it any other way.
While it follows on most directly from the events of Portable Ops, it’s probably higher praise to say Peace Walker follows on from Snake Eater. It feels far more canonical than previous handheld versions, odd seeing as how its perhaps the furthest removed from the usual MGS template since Snake stopped pretending to be a fan of collectible card games. But all the structural alterations just feel natural – though missions are 15-minute affairs bookended by the usual combination of off-the-wall conversations and unnecessary exposition, returning to base between outings doesn’t go against the grain of the classic MGS ‘more watching than playing’ flow. If anything, it actually does it a favour, giving things an interesting new tempo where each elongated and overly verbose chat has an action section one side of it and a spot of micromanagement the other.
The base of operations opens up massively as the game goes on, growing to incorporate equipment research and upgrades (like Monster Hunter), stat-boosting culinary practices (like Monster Hunter) and even the ability to procure and create mechs of your own (not like Monster Hunter). From this offshore base camp, you can also choose to replay older missions or newly unlocked bonus quests (like Monster Hunter) and meet up with other players to partake in cooperative operations (like Monster Hunter), here rather clumsily abbreviated to Co-Ops. Those keeping score in the Parenthesis Game will notice that it’s currently 4-1 in the favour of Monster Hunter similarities, which is a pretty fair representation of where Snake’s latest takes its cues from. But as well as borrowing from Japan’s most popular franchise, Peace Walker does a decent job of evolving the cribbed concepts.
For the most part, missions only support a pair of Snakes to avoid things getting too easy or confusing. But when a boss rolls into town – usually something made of metal and many times your size – the game cuts to a special boss mission where you can bring in another two players to help you out. An ingenious inclusion rewards players that stick together by combining their life and psyche gauges into larger meters, making it harder to lose allies as you take on whatever manner of mechanical death machine stands in your way. There are usually a few ways to deal with each threat too, so while a guns blazing approach will work better on some bosses, there’s also the ability to capture the hardware for better rewards. We make that 5-2.
The only major issue is the same one that affects almost every PSP game, namely the matter of controls. While Peace Walker generally works well and its three control schemes offer a variety of ways to play, none of the options is anything close to ideal. Even the ‘Hunter’ scheme (6-2 – game set and match to Monster Hunter similarities) doesn’t have one of the Capcom title’s staple commands in a button that immediately centres the camera behind Snake. This means that manual D-pad camera control is the only way to keep an eye on your surroundings and even that is a finger-twisting nightmare if you’re trying to move and scan the area at the same time. Otherwise, it must be said that the controls are well-mapped to the reduced amount of buttons Konami usually has to play with, plus several of Snake’s abilities (such as clambering over small obstacles) are now automated.
Enhancements to CQC mean that when you do inevitably get spotted – be it through a mistake or thanks to the tricky camera controls – it’s still not too hard to get away being spotted. Even when reinforcements are called in, the ability to chain together several CQC takedowns in a row makes short work of crowds, letting you sneak back into cover while they’re knocked out and try again. Downed soldiers can still be forcefully recruited, this time by attaching balloons to them in the ever-amusing Fulton extraction method and having been whisked back to base against their will, you’ll need to take a moment out from all the stealth and break in the new blood.
Fiddly as it is and despite copying many of its ideas from over Capcom’s shoulders, Peace Walker is every bit the Metal Gear game we hoped it would be. All the series’ trademark elements make it into the shrunken version intact, even down to the slightly archaic controls. Zing. Seriously, though, it’s a commendable feat indeed that Kojima’s crew has so ably downscaled something so epic and the proficiency with which Metal Gear takes to this new handheld-oriented format impresses from start to baffling finish. The Marmite of the gaming world as it is, you most likely already know which side of the MGS divide you fall on, and there are convincing arguments for both the ‘too ridiculous not to love’ and the ‘games should know when to shut the hell up’ camps. But if you want to see more of Snake – and want to see what the PSP is capable of, particularly if you’re looking to play with friends – then the fact that we’re willing to consider this a genuine canon entry into the series (as were Konami – the game was originally called Metal Gear Solid 5: Peace Walker, after all) is as sincere a compliment as can be afforded a handheld game.