Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (HD) for PlayStation 3 Review

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My quest to play the canon Metal Gear games in release order continues. I have to say I’m very impressed with Metal Gear Solid 4. Sure, it’s more cut scenes than gameplay but the gameplay that is on offer is amazing. Also amazing is the controls. It’s actually comfortable to play. After Metal Gear Solid 4 comes Peace Walker and much like the last Metal Gear PSP title, Portable Ops, it centers on building an army. Say what you want about Portable Ops, it may not be the strongest title in the franchise, but I really enjoyed its army or squad management concept and it presented some very cool ideas. It’s got some issues but I think it’s a fun game, overall.

Developed by Kojima Productions and published by Konami, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker was released for PlayStation Portable in June, 2010. It was later released as part of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in November, 2011. For this review, we played the PlayStation 3 version. I think Peace Walker is the first game that really caught my attention way back when. I remember seeing a screen shot or video of a character being lifted away by a balloon and when I learned about the army management, that really intrigued me.

Beginning in 1974, Snake and Kaz Miller have established a mercenary faction in Colombia. After the faction is hired to investigate a mercenary unit called “Peace Sentinel” which has occupied parts of Costa Rica, Snake discovers their leader, Hot Coldman, intends to launch a live nuclear weapon. Peace Sentinel has been developing AI weapons as part of a project known as “Peace Walker” and after one of the designers learns of the organization’s intent to launch a nuke, he defects to Snake’s faction and helps him on his mission to prevent the launch. Peace Walker feels like a typical Metal Gear tale complete with numerous exposition dumps, twists and turns and dramatic moments but I can’t say it’s my favorite plot in the series. I didn’t find any of the new characters introduced here to be all that interesting and the story doesn’t touch on any topics or themes that the series hasn’t already covered.

Peace Walker does feature a mix of cut scenes presented in comic style artwork similar to those in Portable Ops, and in-game cut scenes. As expected, there are a lot of cut scenes and some of them felt longer than the actual missions that precede or came after them. But it’s nothing as excessive as Metal Gear Solid 4. Some cut scenes are “interactive” and what that really means is quick time events. You’ll have to press specific buttons or mash them when prompted and it can affect your mission score and it is terrible. In fact, I felt one of these sequences in particular would have made for some cool actual gameplay.

Peace Walker feels like a bite size Metal Gear game and yet it features quite a bit of content. Missions are short and straightforward, most support cooperative play and the game definitely feels like it was designed to be played that way, the replay value is high, and the controls, at least on PlayStation 3, are excellent. While we enjoyed the game, overall, there are some negative aspects or just questionable design choices here. You’ll have to grind to unlock everything, some features and mechanics from the prior games are removed, the bosses are spongey, and I think this is probably the easiest Metal Gear game in the franchise up to this point. Well the HD version, anyway.

Most of the series core mechanics and features are present however you can no longer crawl or aim in first-person. This is a stealth game but you can shoot your way through situations if necessary. The alert system returns as does Psyche but I can’t say I ever had to worry about Psyche at any point during my playthrough. There’s plenty of weapons and items to utilize and I think the gunplay is solid, although it’s certainly not as good as that of Metal Gear Solid 4. I think there’s two major highlights of Peace Walker, the cooperative multiplayer and army and base management. You can team up with other players to tackle most missions and even though it makes them significantly easier, it is a lot of fun. Much like Portable Ops, you can recruit enemies to join your faction and place them in different teams to do different things. While I feel some aspects are better in Portable Ops, I think Peace Walker handles the army management concept better overall.

As you work your way through environments, you can recruit any of the enemies or prisoners you come across as long as you don’t kill them. But you no longer have to slowly drag them to a truck. Instead, you can use the Fulton Recovery System. You attach a balloon to the NPC and they’re immediately extracted to your base, Mother Base. Also nice is that any items you collect that you can’t carry on you are automatically sent to the base. In between missions, you can visit your base and manage your staff, access the Versus multiplayer mode, send your soldiers on missions known as Outer Ops, build your own Metal Gear, and research and develop new weapons and items. Each character you recruit will have different stats and you can place them in different teams, increasing the team levels which results in different benefits like unlocking new things to develop for example. These characters will gain experience and improve. Unlike Portable ops, you cannot switch between different characters during a mission, but most missions allow you to choose what character you want to play as and you can equip them with different weapons, items, and choose their uniform.

Most missions in the game are very straightforward and most mission locations consist of a bunch of very small and linear areas separated by load points. You’ll have move through the areas, evading, dropping, and/or recruiting enemies until you complete your objective and it usually doesn’t take very long. The missions get more challenging as you progress but many can be completed in under ten minutes. Some in under five. And one of my favorite things about the missions here is that you’re never forced into a radio interaction during a mission. You can use the radio to contact people in typical Metal Gear fashion but the gameplay is never interrupted automatically to force one on you.

Missions come in different types. Main Ops which progress the story and Extra Ops which are unlocked by completing Main Ops. Extra Ops consist of basic challenges and objectives to complete like recruit people, retrieve items, and destroy things, often within a certain amount of time. They’re just missions without a narrative. But there are a lot of them so if you enjoy the gameplay, then there’s plenty here to keep you occupied and if you’re a Monster Hunter fan, you might be interested to know there are Monster Hunter quests here which is kind of cool. Then there’s Outer Ops. Outer Ops are missions that Snake does not participate in. You place soldiers from your combat unit and what the game refers to as “mechs” that you’ve captured into different teams and send them on missions or Ops. Later on, your team will come back with random rewards including different items and ammo. Your soldiers can be wounded and even killed. Injured or sick soldiers will be automatically placed in the sickbay and remain there until they’re ready for action.

One thing I find interesting about Peace Walker is the bosses. I would say they’re the least creative bosses in the series so far and they’re spongey as fuck, I’m guessing to accommodate multiple players. Regardless, some of these battles can really drag on. Several bosses are the “mechs” I mentioned earlier. These are military vehicles and aircraft like tanks and helicopters. What’s cool about the bosses isn’t so much the battles, it’s that you can capture them and then send them out on Outer Ops. Then there’s the other bosses, the AI weapons. They can’t be captured but once they’re down, you can enter their “pods” and take their memory boards. These boards can be used to build your own Metal Gear which can be deployed on Outer Ops.

Peace Walker is a game for those that don’t mind grinding. The story is only a small portion of the game. There are over one hundred Extra Ops to complete and many contain bosses not found in the story. All missions can be replayed but the grinding can become a bit much. You’ll have to repeat boss battles to capture more mechs and get more parts for Metal Gear, repeat missions to recruit more and/or high ranking soldiers, and recruit enough so you can increase your team levels to unlock more weapons and items to develop. There is a lot to see, do, and unlock in the game but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t repetitive. You’ll see the same enemies, fight the same and similar bosses, and visit the same locations frequently.

When comparing Peace Walker to Portable Ops, one big difference I noticed is the environmental design between the two. I don’t necessarily mind the “short and sweet” style of gameplay on offer in Peace Walker but many areas are extremely small and aggressively linear. Portable Ops often throws you into small but open what I’ll call maps ripe for exploration and usually with multiple ways to infiltrate and approach situations. Peace Walker’s areas are much more claustrophobic and straightforward and while this design choice may help keep the pacing consistent, the areas don’t really offer much in the way of options. One thing I like about Portable Ops is how it lets you revisit locations without having to actually repeat a mission or objective. You can visit a location and do whatever you want to do whether it be recruit soldiers, retrieve items, etc. This is not an option in Peace Walker. Every Op is a mission with an objective or goal and that means you’ll have to repeat them, even if you’re just in it for resources. That said, if I was simply looking to accumulate more resources, I preferred repeating Extra Ops simply because they don’t feature narrative interference. And since many missions are short, you can get in and out rather quickly.

Visually, I think this HD edition looks pretty good. The environments may be small but they are well detailed, the character models and animations get the job done, and many visual effects look really cool. I did notice some minor eyesores like blurry textures and clipping from time to time but considering this was originally designed for the PSP, I think this is a good remaster overall. As for the audio, I think the soundtrack is quite good with several excellent tunes, many of which add to the intensity of situations. On the technical side, Peace Walker does run at sixty frames which will certainly be noticeable if you’re fresh off Metal Gear Solid 4 like I was. I did notice it dip when there was a lot of action on the screen but I can’t say it happened all that often in my experience.

I really enjoyed my time with Peace Walker despite its issues. It might just be the most accessible Metal Gear game up to this point. It controls really well, the HD edition mostly runs smooth, and tackling missions with buddies proves to be a lot of fun. In fact, I would say the cooperative aspect is the best thing about it. Peace Walker does deviate from the typical formula in several ways but it’s also a very easy game to jump into and comes with an impressive amount of content. Most missions are short and sweet, tight and focused. You will have to grind to unlock and see everything but it will keep you coming back and it can become addictive. Unfortunately, the gameplay does get repetitive, bosses are spongey and lack creativity, and in my opinion, the franchise has told better stories. Some of the issues can be alleviated or tolerated when playing with others but most are hard to ignore.

I would recommend Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, especially if you have friends to play with. I don’t think it’s the best game in the series but it is one of my favorites simply because of how easy it is to jump into. It’s easy to pick up and play, it’s got plenty of replay value, and it can be enjoyed with friends which I would argue is the best way to experience it. It’s far from perfect but it is fun. Definitely check it out.

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