Galvez (who’s soon outed asa KGB agent) has come to Snake for help, and the long and short of his problem is that the CIA seems to be starting its own equivalent of the Cuban Missile Crisis, by sneaking nuclear weapons and a sophisticated army of mercenaries into Costa Rica (which, as far as the game is concerned, is home to an awful lot of blonde people). That same mercenary army kidnapped and tortured Paz and her friend when they got too close to discovering their secret. And their secret, if an audio tape Paz smuggled out is to be believed, is that The Boss – Snake’s beloved mentor-turned-enemy – is still alive.
Like in Portable Ops, the story is told mainly through roughly animated, graphic-novel-style cutscenes (along with a whole bunch of codec chatter), although this time around, a lot of those cutscenes are actually interactive. Some of them turn into button-mashy quick time events, keeping you on your toes, while others actually let you aim and fire guns at targets. Still others let you zoom in and inspect hidden details on the characters to see (for example) broken bones or scars through their clothing. At one point, we were even tasked with finding a certain cargo truck within a cutscene; intentionally searching the wrong ones yielded some bizarre Metal Gear in-jokes, including an appearance by a certain well-known VIP (who then joins your growing army).
Much as the game’s structure has been borrowed from Monster Hunter, the missions themselves are vintage Metal Gear, and will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s played either of the Portable Ops (MPO) games. Snake creeps around, staying out of sight and doing his best to catch the guards unawares. If one of them sees you, they’ll radio for help, at which point an alarm sounds and you’ll have a handful of heavily armed guys in riot gear hunting for you.
Above: And if you want their attention, you only have to knock
Really, though, you don’t have to let that stop you. While Peace Walker offers the chance to sneak around as much as any other Metal Gear, it also makes allowances for those who just want to storm through and blast the shit out of everything that moves. As the game progresses, you’ll have access to bigger guns and more explosive firepower. You’ll also be able to trade in Snake’s camos and sneaking suits for stripped-down, Rambo-looking ensembles that enable you to carry more guns at the expense of your ability to stay quiet.
Like in MPO, though, there’s a big incentive to take your enemies down non-lethally, either with tranquilizer darts or close-quarters combat (which is now more badass than ever, able to take down multiple opponents at once if you time your button presses right): a KO’d enemy is one you can kidnap and recruit to your cause. While MPO forced you to drag the defeated “baddies” back to a truck for extraction, though, Peace Walker introduces the Fulton Recovery system, which is basically a big weather balloon for launching unconscious or wounded enemies into the air for extraction by helicopter.
Above: Before you knock them out, you can interrogate them at knifepoint for useful information, like "Please don't hurt me!"
So for optimal results, sneaking is encouraged, and players who want to keep it stealthy will have access to camouflage patterns (back from MGS3) that enable them to hide in plain sight against certain backdrops. The multidirectional sound-radar from MPO returns, letting you know when there’s danger nearby, as do the series’ iconic cardboard boxes, which are now built for two (it’s also possible to find a “box tank,” which not only looks ridiculous, but enables a second player to be the “gunner” in its cardboard turret.) As you play through the game, you’ll also unlock a slew of new gadgets that’ll help you stay off the guards’ radar, including a stealth suit that silences your footsteps while giving you less room to store weapons and items.
Above: BOX TANK!
You’ll also get a ton of gear that’s complimentary to both play styles. Remotely detonated explosives, for example, are useful whether you’re trying to blow shit up or create a distraction, and airborne supply drops – which you’ll likely find yourself using a lot during boss battles – are always welcome no matter what.
Remember how we said you could recruit enemies with the Fulton Recovery? When you do, they’ll be shipped back to Mother Base, a network of offshore oil platforms-turned-military base that will grow and expand over the course of Peace Walker. Between missions, you can visit Mother Base (actually just a series of menus in front of a rotating model of the base itself) and, among other things, reassign the people you’ve recruited to different jobs, based on their skills.
Above: Welcome home
Is someone you’ve kidnapped a strong soldier? Then they belong in your combat unit. Tech-heads, meanwhile, should get a comfortable spot in your research and development (R&D) department. As you progress through the game, new units will open up, including a mess hall (which can keep your army’s morale up and enable them to perform above their normal abilities), and an intel unit, which can scout for new missions and items. You’ll also have to staff your sick bay, which – in addition to healing your wounded troops – can keep random diseases from spreading through your base.