|System: PSP||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Kojima Productions||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Konami||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Jun. 8, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Steve Haske
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is a game that arguably few fans of the series saw coming. After the bombast of MGS4, it seemed that series creator Hideo Kojima would be moving on to an advisory role, allowing the next generation of up-and-comers at Kojima Productions to take up the reins on the venerable tactical stealth series. What was even more surprising about Peace Walker's out-of-nowhere debut last year was that this purported "true" sequel to Snake Eater would be landing not on any HD console (or even the Wii), but on the PSP.
Despite the game's incredible visual quality, it seemed hard to believe - even given Kojima's pedigree - that Peace Walker would be able to deliver the in-depth MGS5 experience Kojima himself was saying the game would have. It does seem a little strange to place what is essentially the next core game in the series on to Sony's oft-unloved portable, but frankly, once you get used to the idea, it doesn't matter. With Kojima in the cockpit, the question of whether or not Peace Walker would be a great game never really came into play - it was more a matter of asking how an underpowered sequel could possibly live up to and surpass the complexity and mechanics of MGS4. Metal Gear fans, do yourself a favor: stop asking. Of course, the PSP can't even come close to matching the power of the PS3, but that hasn't stopped Kojima and his team from crafting the best damn portable MGS ever - and one that could have easily earned a spot as the next numbered entry in the series.
That being said, Peace Walker is probably best thought of as a hybrid between MGS4 and Portable Ops. From a design standpoint, the game is much closer to the former than the latter, though the military-sim elements of Metal Gear's first PSP outing are alive, kicking, and vastly expanded. Being a true sequel to Snake Eater, it also more or less makes you forget about the events of Portable Ops, though it still features the series' blend of historical events with plenty of fiction intrigue. The year is 1974; ten years after Snake inherited the title of Big Boss at Groznyj Grad, the hardened warrior has left the United States and formed the "Militaires Sans Frontieres," a mercenary group whose only loyalty is to themselves and their causes.
From the MSF's base in Central America, Snake finds himself embroiled in a threat that could end in nuclear war, courtesy of the titular Peace Walker Metal Gear (though Peace Walker happens to be a nuclear deterrence system, designed to change the paradigm of the cold war). What makes Peace Walker a true sequel to Snake Eater, though, is that it chronicles in detail the lingering trauma Snake carries with him as a result of carrying out his mission to kill his mentor, the Boss, at Groznyj Grad. I'm not going to spoil anything here, but it's as involved, if not quite as long-winded, as any console Metal Gear outing. Kojima clearly was not finished with the legend of Big Boss, and it shows in Peace Walker's involved narrative.
Peace Walker's design could be called an evolution of MGS4's, as well, given its dual mechanics of stealth fieldwork and military simulation. First, the bad news: given, one would assume, the limited amount of memory available on the PSP, some standard stealth mechanics that have been an integral part of Metal Gear since MGS2 have been dialed down or cut away altogether. Snake's basic move-set still applies, and he can perform basic CQC, but don't expect to do anything fancy like peek out or shoot from behind cover or crawl while prone.
However, this isn't entirely cutting moves out for the sake of saving processing-Peace Walker actually plays slightly differently from past MGS titles, with the possible exception of MGS4. Like Old Snake's final run, you will be spending most of your time viewing any combat action from a behind-the-shoulder cam, with a rotatable camera when not in aiming mode. Unlike MGS4, though, the emphasis is still mainly on stealth (and the game isn't designed to make it nearly impossible to get through any given area without resorting to loud, explosive violence); CQC-streamlined so that Snake can only throw enemies to the ground in a particularly abrasive takedown-is now far easier to pull off without alerting your enemies. But, what really changes things up is Peace Walker's enemy recruitment system: rather than tranquilizing your enemies or having to drag them back to a truck for forced recruitment à la Portable Ops, you just attach a weather balloon-like device to an enemy for instant extraction. The goal of each mission becomes not just to avoid detection, then, but to capture as many enemies as possible.