Guest Author - James Shea
A sequel to the PSP's earlier "Portable Ops", MGS: Peace Walker is a surprising technical improvement when compared against earlier games. Focusing on the management of a larger mercenary organization, "Peace Walker" still has its share of stealth-based tactical action.
Peace Walker returns to the world of Big Boss, rather than the series' usual protagonist, Solid Snake. In the period between Portable Ops and now, Big Boss has left the US government and assembled his own mercenary team, the MSF. Peace Walker centers around managing the MSF by carrying out missions, recruiting new members, developing new technologies, and building up the off-shore platform used as the MSF's main base.
Gameplay is divided into story missions (main ops) and side missions (extra ops). The main ops constitute normal gameplay, broken up into segments. The extra ops are closer to the VR missions from MGS2 - short, timed scenarios with some twist or quirk to them, like "rescue the hostage" or "find the mines". Mission maps are wider and more detailed than in Portable Ops, and many missions take place in an area consisting of several connected maps, which makes the world seem larger. There are a lot of areas that are wooded or swampy, which calls back to MGS3 and its more natural environments. Another MGS3-like feature is the lack of a "standard" radar - items like sonar must be equipped in the item slot and have limited battery life, making players more reliant on their own senses to spot enemies.
Managing the MSF is one of the game's major features. New recruits can be captured in the field either by subduing enemies or rescuing hostages. These recruits have a diverse set of stats, and can be assigned to different units, like combat, R&D, or intelligence in a manner similar to Portable Ops. Unlike Portable Ops, every recruit wears the basic MSF uniforms; there's no difference between capturing a guard or a sniper. Characters are instead distinguished by portraits and codenames, both of which are randomly assigned. This allows for some level of identification, although it unfortunately doesn't carry over to actual gameplay. Every character is now represented by a generic masked figure (male or female) except for Snake himself. However, there are different costumes and camouflage uniforms (all of which have masks), and the uniforms have different stealth values and inventory slots. This allows for different types of gameplay depending on the uniform selected.
Bosses come in two main types: vehicles and mechs. Vehicles consist of things like tanks and helicopters. Vehicle fights often involve supporting troops - if they're out of the way, the vehicle's commander can be incapacitated or killed and the vehicle can be captured for MSF's usage. Mech fights are more traditional MGS boss fare; instead of capturing them, however, it's possible to salvage parts and AI cores to build your own mech. Both vehicles and mechs can be sent off (along with troops) to missions in other parts of the world. These "Outer Ops" are automatically resolved, but provide a way for the majority of your combat forces to get experience (since only one person can sneak at a time).
Peace Walker focuses a lot on multiplayer, as well. There's a fairly standard versus mode, but the main attraction of multiplayer is a cooperative mode. This allows for players to attempt missions, or even fight bosses, in groups of up to four. However, multiplayer is limited to nearby PSPs - there's no online match-making mode or anything of the sort, despite the presence of pre-written communication (which should only really be useful if you can't talk to the person in real life). The relative rarity of the PSP means that this feature will most likely go unused.
Overall, Peace Walker does a lot of things right that Metal Gear should do right. The bosses are fun, the environments are detailed, and the controls are tight enough to not be a problem. It's not quite the second coming of MGS3, detail-wise, but it's definitely a worthy successor, considering its handheld status. The management aspect is fun and addictive, though the actual logistics of the whole thing could have used some fleshing out. Peace Walker is a solid game both for fans of the series and for those who aren't usually interested in it.
Game purchased through Playstation Network.
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