It’s not just the enemies that have gone backwards, but also the quality of the set-pieces. Peace Walker’s bite-sized 10-20 minute story missions are more one-note than what’s come before. It’s all solid, sleek stuff, of course. But there’s nothing hugely memorable. No moment to match the imagination of switching pads to best Psycho Mantis. No amazing atmospheric touches like when you climb that huge ladder after beating The End in Snake Eater. Nothing to touch the emotional power of going back to a decaying Shadow Moses in MGS4.
While the main sneaking missions are a bit bland, it’s clear that loads more thought has gone into all the management stuff we talked about earlier. As you play through the game, you can capture enemy soldiers and send them back to your headquarters via balloon (no, really). Once you’ve done this, you can manage your troops in Mother Base, which acts as the main menu hub.
Above: Trust us, it's better than it looks
From here, you can split your soldiers into different teams, depending on their stats. These teams include a combat unit, research and development, a medical staff, a department that looks after food and one that handles intel. If Johnny Reformed Terrorist has high shooting stats you stick him in the combat unit. Likewise if he’s a good researcher, you plonk him down in R&D.
Above: Put a soldier in the wrong team and he'll soon start complaining
When you collect enough troops you can start to develop new items and weapons. It’s a superbly thought out system, which the game presents in a streamlined, intuitive style that’s easy for folk who’re terrified of RPG-style stats (like us) to understand. Even if you can’t be assed developing new ammo for that rocket launcher, the payoff of capturing soldiers just to see them fly into the air in an over-sized balloon is full of that sauce we like to refer to as awesome.
Above: This literally never gets old
Sadly, there’s no hint of that sauce in the game’s boss fights, which are all uniformly awful. Joyless war of attritions, each one can last over 20 minutes because of their stupidly long health bars. While the spectacle of a duel against a killer robot the size of King Kong is amazing for PSP, there’s none of the brilliant invention seen in past Metal Gear battles, like the Sorrow or Psycho Mantis. Worse, the actual fights are just plain broken. Well, at least if you play on your own.
If you play on your lonesome there’s a good chance you’ll run out of ammo before you can beat each massive A.I. unit. Despite the fact the game gives you supply drops to replenish your guns, these are limited. And it’s easy to find yourself in a situation where you run out of ammo, meaning there’s simply no way to finish these artificial assholes off. And to top off the pain with a rotten cherry on top, the bloody things also sing.
Above: Yeah, each boss hums while you fight. Urge to kill, rising
The trouble is, each encounter is meant for co-op. With four players all firing rocket launchers simultaneously, the metal leviathans that seem so invincible on your own suddenly become as threatening as a faulty George Foreman grill. This wouldn’t be a problem if the game was exclusively co-op, but so much of Peace Walker’s story mode is a resolutely single-player experience.
Lets be honest, who’s going to sit through twenty minute cut-scenes while playing co-op with a mate? The core of the Metal Gear series has always been single-player, narrative experiences first and foremost. And that’s how we’re going to judge Peace Walker.
Above: Despite co-op, Peace Walker is a single-player game at heart
In simple terms, there are certain parts of the game that just don’t work when played on your own. It means Big Boss’ quest suffers somewhat of an identity crisis. So much of the experience is geared toward single-player, but the small sections that almost demand extra players means the game’s difficulty spikes and pacing jar.