Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker is the 8th canonical game in the Metal Gear franchise (7th if you don’t count Portable Ops). It takes place ten years after the events of MGS3: Snake Eater, which was a prequel to the entire story up to that point. The year is now 1974, and Snake has taken on the role of “Big Boss” recruiting his own army – an army without a country who’s base is somewhere in the ocean, off the Caribbean coast. Big Boss learns of plans to build a bipedal tank (a tank with legs, such as the series has revolved around from the start) that is capable of launching a nuclear missile. The tank’s name is Peace Walker. The faction responsible for it’s conception claims it can single handedly bring any nuclear-armed country to back down from firing nuclear missiles due to the threat of an automated A.I. retaliation thus bringing the entire world to a stalemate which it’s people can imagine as the closest thing they will ever have to true peace. Hence the name Peace Walker. But in order to prove to other countries that this crazy tank can actually retaliate with nuclear force, it’s missile must be demonstrated. Big Boss and his army are determined to not let that happen. While in favor of the illusioned world peace Peace Walker could provide, they are strongly opposed to the demonstration of force on a helpless country. The game follows Big Boss and his army as they attempt to bring down Peace Walker.
As you can probably tell, I’m a big fan of the story of the Metal Gear series. It’s so complicated, but rewarding when you’re able to comprehend it all. To put Peace Walker simply, the story (for people who loved Snake Eater and enjoy detailed narrative) is killer, but the gameplay is just okay.
It certainly still falls under the category of “tactical espionage action” and overall stealth, but in a very condensed manor. Originally designed for PSP, it clearly compensates by simplifying the experience. Though I was playing on PS3, it still felt like I was playing a PSP game, it’s that noticeable. Various features were taken out of the stealth action that I missed from MGS3. The simplified level design and slightly cartoonier character models made it feel graphically very similar to older IO Interactive games like Freedom Fighters or Hitman 2, which hurt the experience just a little bit. But I can’t hold that against the game, and I really don’t. I understand it was making do.
What I can hold against the game is the boss battles. The series has traditionally had amazing boss battles with amazing antagonist characters. The battles in Peace Walker feature neither interesting mechanics, or interesting characters. The story bosses are all A.I. tanks, and they are frankly a bitch. They were, for me, nothing but a hassle and couldn’t wait to be done with them. Along with the story bosses, there’s also a slew of mech battles that are just as time-consuming, but feature even less interesting opposition – like a group of heavily armed soldiers and one of their tanks. These tanks can take about seventy RPG shots, I swear. They are way too lengthy. And most important of all, these battles (which are such a heavy part of how the game works) are so disconnected with the stealth action that is supposed to be most prominent. A lot of Peace Walker is all out action, and that I didn’t like.
Peace Walker in large part tries to make use of the PSP’s ability to interface and connect with other players. Any of the story missions can be played co-op, and the even in the campaign, players are encouraged to experiment with using online interactions, like by trading items and war assets. There are even pieces of the environment encountered in the main story that can’t be accessed without a helper, like an extra-tall ledge. Preferring solo game experiences, I couldn’t help but feel like the co-op options were forced down my throat. I didn’t want to take part, but the game keeps on reminding. The Metal Gear series has constantly tried to innovate and take advantage of new technologies like this, but I don’t think this instance particularly was successful. At least, not in keeping tone with what players expect from the Metal Gear experience.
There’s one more aspect to Peace Walker’s gameplay I need to mention: the interface of running the base. The Boss, commander of his own army, one would expect to have some priorities in dealing with the army’s regime and keeping them happy. I would not have expected this game to actually give some of those options. I think their purpose in conception was to add a little more bulk to the gaming experience since the PSP’s tactical espionage wouldn’t have been enough. So, as The Boss, you are given options as to how to use your army, and where to place recruits in your organization. It actually gets quite complicated, and I was surprised to find just how deep in running this army base. At first, I assumed I wouldn’t have much interest in that aspect of the game, but quickly I started getting a feel for it and found it actually got kind of into it. Although I still have no clear view on what rewards and/or punishments could result in making different decisions, it was still kind of fun to pretend to build up this army. Plus, I always got a kick out of the recruit’s nicknames (always named after birds, monkeys, or sea creatures for some reason).
But I want to be done talking about the gameplay, because I don’t think it’s all that important to this game. It is usually the most important thing to any game, but not this one in my opinion. Peace Walker knows its capabilities and picks its battles. It doesn’t have the best action style, but what it lacks there, it makes up for with story. Peace Walker knocks its story out of the park, delivering a compelling, at times emotional, exciting addition to Metal Gear’s canon.
One of the most striking innovations Peace Walker makes is its cut scenes. Metal Gear Solid is known for its elaborate cut scenes, but this game throws that notion for a loop by illustrating them all with a comic-book flare and an immaculate taste for design and noir-ish color. Being an artist myself, I really enjoyed this aspect of the game. It may fall under the category of another compensation for the PSP system, but I think it totally worked for the story, especially since Metal Gear comics have already been an established part of the franchise’s media output.
Now getting to the most personally satisfying thing about Peace Walker: the characterization and plot. I’ve always considered the Cold War my favorite war. The concept of nuclear deterrence is so fascinating to me. So this story having so much to deal with that context was a joy for me. Plus, revealing more of the hidden details about the plot of Snake Eater (one of my very very favorite games) was very exciting. The characters in Peace Walker, I thought were really fun, too. I am excited to see if and how they are reprised in The Phantom Pain.
All said and done, I like the game. It has obvious flaws, but I like it.
My rating for 2010’s Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker HD Edition for PS3 is…