In Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, a battle-hardened, wiser Big Boss (who still prefers to be called Snake) embarks on a mission to restore peace to Costa Rica. As one may expect, the story becomes more complex and sinister as the plot moves forward. Peace Walker features simplified techniques, interesting side missions, and a robust and engaging base system.
Refined Espionage Action
Gameplay is crisp and more fluid than ever. As usual, Snake will be sneaking through the wilderness, knocking out sentries, fighting seemingly unwinnable battles, and hiding in cardboard boxes. Though it doesn’t introduce anything exceptionally innovative to the Metal Gear formula, Peace Walker is quite possibly one of the most well refined tactical espionage action experiences that Hideo Kojima has brought us.
Control-wise, Peace Walker does as well as it possibly can, given the hardware. Perfectly executing Metal Gear-style controls with an absence of a second analog stick seems impossible, but Peace Walker pulls it off quite well. The game gives players three very different control schemes to choose from, the ability to tweak camera sensitivity, and several aiming assist options.
The ‘shooter’ control type uses the over-the-shoulder aim mode from MGS4 and the face buttons for camera control; the ‘action’ mode feels more like MGS3, and the ‘hunter’ mode takes a page out of the book of the Monster Hunter series for its control scheme. The in-game camera adjusts well; the player never loses control. Objects in the foreground rarely, if ever get in the way.
A few minor changes were made to Snake’s available sneaking maneuvers. First of all, there is no crawling this time around. You still have the option of lying flat to evade detection, but no more snaking around on your belly. I couldn’t help but have the urge to slide under a truck or crawl through some brush, but the crouch option is a viable substitute.
Also, you can no longer shimmy across the wall with your back on it. Again, the crouching position works in these situations. It was difficult to say whether these features were removed because they didn’t fit with the control scheme, or because they simply weren’t necessary. Either way, sneaking around feels simplified without making any severe concessions to gameplay flow or challenge.
Not Just a Box
Snake’s specialty, Close Quarter Combat (or CQC), has been masterfully enhanced. After body slamming or hip tossing an enemy through a CQC grab, an icon will appear on the screen if another enemy is within range. With a quick tap of the CQC button, Snake will hop to the next enemy and subdue him. This can continue until none are left standing. The takedown process happens seamlessly within the flow of combat, and is quite a treat to watch.
We’ve seen Snake take down four or five soldiers in various cutscenes throughout the years; now he can actually do it during gameplay. This is an incredibly welcome addition, indeed, as CQC hadn’t seen much overhaul since its inception. Whether it was intentional or not, I am not sure, but the absence of a throat-cutting knife was quickly noted; the fact that our hero is carrying around a stun rod this time around rather than a survival knife may be a subtle commentary on the man he has become.
One thing that’s definitely not missing from Peace Walker is the ability to be creative in your approach to each mission. As usual, you can choose your own way to tackle a situation. You’ll have to be extra selective this time around since Snake can’t carry an entire arsenal in a magic fanny pack. Of course, rocket launchers, smoke grenades, magazines, tranquilizer guns, and all the weapons you’re used to seeing in Metal Gear will be available.
Run into a tank? Hide and snipe the support soldiers from afar until the commander rears his head, or mask yourself with smoke grenades and choke them out from the shadows so you can pound the tank with RPGs. There’s often more than one way to win: if facing an armored vehicle, tank, or the like, you can pick off all of the support troops, take out the pilot, and send the unit back to Mother Base for repairs. Once repaired, vehicles are available for sortie in the Outer Ops mode, where you send your troops on out mercenary missions.
Difficulty is variable; there are a few high spikes here and there. Missions aren’t terribly long, but if you die you must start the mission over. Because of this, each step you’re forced to exert a little extra caution. This effectively creates a relative sense of trepidation without totally overdoing it. Given this, you’re less likely to gallop into unfamiliar territory with wanton disregard for the consequences.
I had slightly mixed feelings about the side missions and base development at first: on one hand, they’re an interesting distraction from the main game and generally yield decent rewards; on the other, they’re just that: a distraction from the main narrative that sometimes seemed break immersion early in the game.
The solitary feeling of Snake vs. the world that is projected so well in most Metal Gear games is once again absent from Peace Walker, as it was in Portable Ops; however, it later became clear to me that this story is not meant to be a one Snake show. As the familiar protagonist begins his transformation from the ousted hero Snake to the notorious Big Boss, the player is tasked with the allocation of resources, assignment of soldiers, and development of weapons within the menu-based management system of “Mother Base”. This mode can be accessed in between missions and continually improves upon itself as missions are completed.
Early in the game, the development of Mother Base felt more like a chore, but as more and more options open up and the game progresses, management becomes an integral part of the Peace Walker experience. Extreme micromanagement isn’t necessary. And if you pay enough attention, you’ll reap some nice benefits – almost everything you do at Mother Base will have an impact on gameplay.
Side missions, a rather intriguing multiplayer mode that rewards cooperation, and the ability to access previously completed story missions are all available, as is the option to play as other soldiers you’ve recruited along the way. By the second chapter of the story, when more options start to open up at Mother Base, I became completely immersed. There’s more gameplay packed in than ever before. Even better, almost all of the optional material can be accessed through the course of the main game, rather than waiting until completion of the main story.
Thankfully, the recruitment of soldiers is no longer tedious and downright frustrating as it was in Portable Ops. Endlessly dragging around limp bodies is replaced with the Fulton Recovery System. As ridiculous as it sounds, all you have to do to send a sleeping, unconscious, or wounded soldier back to base for recruitment purposes is tether a balloon to him. It’s quick, efficient, and never becomes a chore. It even works indoors!
Naked Snake to Big Boss (that’s what she said)
Further expanding the story surrounding the accession of Big Boss, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is a piece of the Metal Gear saga that needed to be told. Despite the fact that this is a portable game, it is by no means a small part of the story; Peace Walker is no gaiden – Metal Gear fans must experience this one or be deprived of an essential part of the tale.
Cutscenes are mostly portrayed in similar fashion as Portable Ops: through moving, audible comics. Beautifully drawn and animated, the scenes move at fair pace without a lot of useless banter. Everything from the art style right down to the animated sound effects is visually appealing and stylistic.
Often a criticism of Metal Gear games, Peace Walker succeeds in terms of gameplay and story balance. With no lengthy codec conversations and no overblown cutscenes, the game surpasses its predecessors in terms of pacing. With each passing, Metal Gear games have improved on some aspect of the established formula. As good as the series has been, there’s always been plenty of critique on one aspect or another. With Peace Walker, not even extreme mother-in-law-powered scrutiny can find anything significant to criticize. It’s that well done.
From its sleek presentation to its overhauled, yet simplified gameplay mechanics, Kojima has harnessed the most memorable aspects of past entries in the series and streamlined it into perhaps the best portable experience to date, regardless of platform. While not as revolutionary as MGS1 or as technically advanced as MGS4, Peace Walker will be remembered as the most well-polished and robust Metal Gear ever made
Often, we want to see developers push the bar with new, innovative ways to approach gameplay and storytelling. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker reminds us that with masterful refinement and fine-tuning of a tried-and-true concept, a perfect gaming experience can still be created.