Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (HD) Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 3Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360
This was the first time I have played Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker and I didn’t have high expectations for it. After all, how could a game designed for a handheld system possibly compare to the other games in this HD Collection or have the rewarding and immersive gameplay that the series is known for. I was in for a very pleasant surprise because Peace Walker is a superb game that was both a remarkable achievement to fit onto a PSP but which I am certain is even better on the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. It obviously utilised Sony’s Playstation Portable device well but converting it to be played on large HD televisions, better camera controls with a right analogue stick, easier access to online features and even some good use of rumble support help to make this the definitive version of the game.
Ten years have passed since the events of Operation Snake Eater and you again play the same protagonist who is now in command of his own mercenary group called Militaires sans Frontieres (MSF). Snake is approached with a request for his “Soldiers without Borders” to help Costa Rica who are effectively a country without a military. The year is 1974 and Central America has become a territorial pawn in the battle to control the direction of the Cold War and Snake is asked to intervene when an unknown military presence in Costa Rica threatens to destabilise the region. Initially he is reluctant to get involved but Snake is offered an abandoned offshore research platform to use as a base of operations and is given a piece of information which is a hook that he cannot ignore... The story is told through animated, fully voiced and often interactive comic book style cutscenes. The interactive elements often add to the experience but there was a specific interrogation and torture cutscene (the third one) that was exceedingly unforgiving because you had to repeatedly tap the triangle button with little margin for error and failure results in ‘game over’ with you having to repeat the scene again until you get it right.
The one major difference between Peace Walker and the other games in this collection is the way everything is broken down into shorter missions. This was obviously to match the quick play sessions you would expect to have on a handheld device and all missions can be replayed to gain a better rank, giving the player more freedom because you don’t need to worry about not killing anybody during the entire story. Part of the challenge comes from the absence of any sort of save option within a mission. There is a wealth of content in the game with more than 30 story missions (Main Ops) and 128 additional missions (Extra Ops). These can be played in single player or you can choose to host a game and play with others online (Co-Ops). There are many missions that encourage stealth but also some that enforce combat which is usually in the form of boss battles.
The Extra Ops missions tend to use the same locations as the story but with different objectives or challenge types. For example, one area you might sneak through on a Main Ops story mission might be used as a marksmanship challenge where you need to shoot cardboard cut-out targets within a time limit and then reach the extraction point. You might choose to repeat these missions using different weapons to gain experience and level them up. Other Examples of Extra Ops mission types include rescuing researchers or prisoners with the Fulton Recovery System, retrieving all classified documents in an enemy base, destroying a target container and stealing its contents, neutralising armoured vehicles and there are even quite a few Monster Hunter missions to unlock and complete.
Obtaining an ‘S’ rank which is the highest available requires meetings certain conditions and this makes the missions that encourage stealth very rewarding and replayable. However, the boss battles are not as inventive as those in the other games and mostly require taking out a vehicle, mech and/or supporting soldiers. While gaining an ‘S’ rank in a sneaking mission is attainable in single player, some of the boss battles or combat heavy missions make it difficult to achieve this goal without teaming up with other players online. Ammo can be limited in boss encounters and requesting a supply drop will automatically lower your mission ranking and having more players attacking a boss also helps to defeat them more quickly. The game is perfectly enjoyable playing solo and if attaining ‘S’ ranks for all missions doesn’t appeal to you then rest assured playing with others to clear these stages is purely optional.
The environments are not as large or detailed as those found in Snake Eater and this is due to the restrictions of the original PSP platform but they are very well designed and I am surprised they look as decent as they do on a large HD television. As you move between areas a map will appear showing the locations in each region as a series of connected nodes. This is actually more useful than it was in Metal Gear Solid 3 because you never got this helpful regional overview before. The gameplay takes many elements from Snake Eater but streamlines the controls to make it the most user friendly game in this collection. Holding up guards is as easy as pointing a gun at them at close range and they will automatically surrender and lay flat on the ground where you can then get extra items from them. You are unable to move while lying prone or if you are pressed up against an object for cover but thanks to the excellent camera controls with the right stick and the ability to walk silently while crouched this was never an issue.
As with Snake Eater the game features a Camo Index at the top right of the screen and the colour or pattern you are wearing helps with blending into the surrounding environment. It also reflects how much harder you are to see based on your stance and movement. Lying prone and staying still will make you harder to spot while running will be the least stealthy option. Staying crouched and moving slowly is the easiest way to remain undetected while navigating through enemy territory and this is when Peace Walker is at its best because you always feel in complete control of your movements and aware of your surroundings. As with other games in the series, many soldiers will predictably follow their assigned patrol routes if they aren’t aware of your presence but you will still need skill, timing and even some patience to deal with them. However, other soldiers will adopt similar tactics to Snake himself and will try to blend into the environment, lying in wait and ready to ambush you. Here it is better to equip your Night Vision Goggles because it will make these sneaky motionless enemies easier to detect. Unlike Snake Eater you will not be able to switch between camouflages during a mission so choose wisely.
The game has a very helpful tutorial section that introduces the controls and other gameplay concepts such as CQC (Close Quarters Combat). Although stealth will usually be Snake’s preferred method of carrying out missions you will sometimes need to attack an enemy or group of soldiers more directly and using CQC techniques can be very effective. The tutorial section really helps familiarise you with these combat moves and you will learn how to throw enemies into other enemies while timing your attacks to chain CQC moves together into combos and these skills will be useful when groups of enemies are aware of your location.
It can take some time to get used to the way the HUD (Heads Up Display) works in Peace Walker. Information relating to weapons, life gauges and enemy info are displayed along the left and right edges of the screen and written vertically sideways making text harder to read. This was a design choice made because of the size of the PSP screen and it probably would have been better to change the way this information was displayed for the HD version because large screen displays don’t have this limitation.
Codec communications have always been a big part of Metal Gear Solid games but due to the shorter mission based scenarios these are handled differently in Peace Walker. You will still hear conversations over the Codec before you set out on a mission and you can always activate the feature in the field whenever you want to hear key staff personnel from Mother Base relay context sensitive information to you. However, this communication is something you have to initiate yourself through the pause menu rather than it being an intrusive feature and you can almost get into the habit of not bothering with it. In addition, there is also a lot of optional content recorded on audio cassettes in the game which is conveniently arranged into categories according to the staff member who recorded it. You can filter these recordings to include all available content or the briefing files that relate to the particular mission you have selected. There is a lot of background information about the game world, missions and the characters themselves. Listening to some of these recordings is also required in order to unlock hidden content such as the Monster Hunter missions.
Another huge part of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is the development of Mother Base and the building of your own private military. What you do in Mother Base between missions is extremely well integrated into the rest of the game. Any soldiers you hold up or POWs you find during a mission can be extracted to your base using the Fulton Recovery System which lifts them at great speed to a waiting helicopter and through the miracle of video games it even works within buildings. Each person has their own skills and stats and they can be assigned to Combat Units, R&D, Mess Hall, Medical and Intel teams. You can also use the Recruit function from your base to search for volunteers who want to join but you need to beat them in a very easy CQC (Close Quarters Combat) challenge first.
Combat Units (and captured vehicles / mechs) can be sent on missions in Outer Ops mode where you can assign them to eight teams to fight in various battle scenarios of increasing difficulty and watch the AI controlled turn based battle take place on screen. They will gain stats to become more formidable soldiers or they can even get injured and die but it is far more involving than the system in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood where you knew with 100% certainty they would all be successful.
The R&D team researches weapons and equipment you find during missions or that become available to develop as the team levels up and there is always something new to spend your money on. A Metal Gear Solid game wouldn’t be complete without all manner of gadgets and weapons and one of these is the Analyser which Snake can use to scan enemies and POWs to see what their skill specialisation and rank are to determine whether to use the Fulton Recovery System on them to bring them back to Mother Base. You will eventually stockpile all sorts of weapons including handguns, shotguns, assault rifles, machine guns, sniper rifles, thrown weapons. Since you will only be able to carry two or three main weapons (and one type of camo) for each mission you must choose wisely before commencing your operations and there is a non lethal tranquilizer pistol and sniper rifle to choose from.
You will need to recruit mess hall staff to ensure that morale stays high enough, medical personnel will treat the wounded helping them recover faster and the level of the intel team will determine the strength of your support or strike capabilities in the field. During some boss battles you will do damage to different AI mechs and depending on which parts of them you target, Snake can remove the related circuit boards. These can be used to help build your own Metal Gear and when this is completed it can be deployed in Outer Ops mode. Finally, there is Versus Ops which is an online multiplayer feature where the player can take part in Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture Mission and Base Mission modes. In Versus Ops you can use CPR to revive fallen teammates just as you can when teaming up with others for Main Ops and Extra Ops missions. There is also a ‘Transfarring’ system to transfer save files between the HD Collection and a PSP version allowing the player to take the game with them and retain any progress made however they choose to play it.
Peace Walker might have originally been released on a handheld device but it is definitely not a small game. I have sunk more than 30 hours into it already and still have a large amount of content left to plough through. Some people have clocked over 100 or even 200 hours playing the game. It is packed with an incredible wealth of single player and multiplayer content and I almost feel guilty for initially thinking this was going to be the poor relation in the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection family because I couldn’t have been more wrong. From a visual standpoint this probably isn’t the game you imagined playing on your Playstation 3 or Xbox 360 but it is a triumph of gameplay over graphics. What it lacks due to the limitations of the PSP is more than made up for with its immersive, interconnected gameplay and features. It manages to be a genuinely rewarding chapter in the Metal Gear Solid series while retaining that Hideo Kojima magic that fans appreciate so much and offering something unique of its own in the process.