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Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker super review

Great

Despite what you might have heard elsewhere, this ain’t Metal Gear Solid 5. Realistically, how the hell could it ever follow PS3’s Guns of the Patriots? After all, Peace Walker runs on a bit of portable plastic that’s less powerful than a PS2.

Thankfully, though, it does beat seven shades of stealthy shit out of it’s two PSP predecessors, namely the turn-based car crash of Acid and mega fiddly Portable Ops. Put simply, this is a proper, hugely ambitious Metal Gear game… just one that can’t quite match its console cousins.

If you’ve never snuck into Snake’s skin tight sneaking suit before we should probably explain what you do in Peace Walker. Basically, you play hide-and-seek with baddies, you judo throw said baddies into walls if they spot you and you watch long-ass cutscenes.


Above: Peace Walker hospitalises Acid and Portable Ops

While the game has a traditional story-driven stealth adventure at its heart (which can be played with up to four players all controlling Snake clones via wi-fi), there’s also a pretty robust resource management sim (whoa, control yourself) in there, too. But we’ll get back to this a bit later.


Above: Two Snakes are better than... it's no good. We can't type it

Some like it plot

For those who think La-Li-Lu-Le-Lo is a designer Swedish sofa, we better give you a quick rundown on where the game’s plot fits into the series mythology. Set ten years after the events of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Big Boss (that’s Solid Snake’s one-eyed old man, who confusingly also gets called Snake) is on a rescue mission in Costa Rica to save a smoking hot French girl who's been kidnapped. Along the way he discovers a sinister plot to build a walking nuclear tank (that’s Peace Walker), and hilarity ensues. Well, not so much hilarity as loads of shooting giant robots in their metal mugs.


Above: This guy's called the Chrysalis and he's a bitch to beat

So it’s not exactly the Grapes of Wrath, then. Hell, it’s not even as interesting as MGS4’s ridiculous globe-trotting yarn. Most of the characters Big Boss meets are introduced in lengthy cut-scenes, then are pretty much never heard of again. But while it doesn’t involve you emotionally <sniff> like Snake Eater, the plot is at least told in hellavu purdy style.

It mainly unfolds through animated 2D cut-scenes, with the occasional QTE to make sure you don’t slip into a coma amidst all the 10 minute plus conversations. Essentially, it’s like a graphic novel. And the striking visual style partially makes up for the curious lack of homicidally unhinged characters that usually populate every Metal Gear (there’s not a single baddy to touch Snake Eater’s electricity-spouting Colonel Volgin or undead Latin Lothario Vamp).


Above: Yes, Tex Avery Wolf. We love the cut-scenes, too

While the way Peace Walker tells its story differs from the console versions, the actual sneaking about works in almost exactly the same way. Alright, a few features are cut away here and there (most annoyingly the ability to crawl), but the basic gameplay is a smart combination of most of MGSIII and IV’s mechanics. More specifically, a simple take on Snake Eater’s camouflage system, coupled with Peace Walker’s streamlined controls and over-the-shoulder aiming.

Lost in translation

Kojima Productions has mostly done a bang up job translating Metal Gear’s complex controls onto a handheld with limited buttons. The analogue nub moves Big Boss, while the face buttons control the camera, as well as your aim when you fire any of his exhaustive array of guns that include tranquiliser pistols, missile launchers and… eh, a gun shaped like a banana. For basic movement and camera control, it does the job admirably. But when you’ve got to get your murder on, the lack of precision the face buttons offer makes aiming feel as arthritic and slow as a 93 year-old woman stuck in a tar pit.


Above: Aiming, especially with distant targets, is a bit of a pain

We don’t know if it was a conscious design decision to compensate for the stripped down controls and cumbersome guns, but enemies are now incredibly short sighted and thick like Porky Pig’s excrement. Seriously, they can’t spot you if you’re further than 20 feet from them. And even when they think they might have seen you, they rarely investigate. It means the series’ stealth has never been more straightforward, but it’s also less satisfying as a result.

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.

Manage Gear Solid

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

Big, broken boss

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.


Hey, good lookin'

It’s a relief, then that even during the sections you scream at the screen in frustration, it’s nothing short of a technical marvel. Easily the prettiest game on PSP, Peace Walker’s world is sharp, detailed and vibrant. The variety of locations also never fails to impress. OK, so some of the Costa Rican jungles are similar to those seen in Snake Eater, but there are also barren shanty towns, eerie swamps and fog-filled valleys filled with Aztec architecture.


Above: Shanty towns are so back in season

Hideo Kojima’s latest title is arguably his most ambitious and technically accomplished yet. Throw together all the side missions outside of the main story (which includes a not so secret Monster Hunter mode) and Peace Walker could last you upwards of 30 hours.


Above: Not exactly Monster Hunter Tri, but it's a decent substitute

Even though it falls short of the invention, epic set-pieces and brilliant boss battles seen in Snake’s console titles, this is still comfortably the best handheld Metal Gear out there. And for what it manages to squeeze out of Sony’s ageing PSP, it deserves your attention. Just don’t expect Metal Gear 5.

Is it better than...

Metal Gear Sold: Portable Ops? Yes. Peace Walker's controls are far better suited for PSP. The concept of recruiting soldiers has also been greatly expanded and refined from Portable Ops, where you previously had to drag guards half way across levels just to evacuate them at predetermined points. That said, Portable Ops bosses are less frustrating and the story's arguably more interesting.

Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow? Yup. Gabe Logan's mega generic story isn't a patch on Big Boss' mad Costa Rican adventure. Peace Walker is also a far prettier, more vibrant game. If you put us under Jack Bauer-style interrogation, though, we'd have to say we prefer Filter's aiming system.  




Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots? Hell no. Don't listen to anyone who says otherwise. MGS4 is still the daddy of the genre. Beautiful, wonderfully inventive and with incredible set-pieces, it remains one of our favourite games of the generation. While Peace Walker is a fine achievement for PSP, its stripped down stealth can't hope to match Solid Snake's PS3 swansong.

Just for you, Metacritic

Metal gear Solid: Peace Walker is huge, diverse and beautiful. Sadly, some awful boss fights and simplified stealth means it’s not quite essential.

June10, 2010


More Info

Available Platforms: PSP, PS3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Published by: Konami
Developed by: Kojima Productions
ESRB Rating:
Rating Pending
PEGI Rating:
Rating Pending

25 comments

  • Darkhawk - January 24, 2011 5:43 a.m.

    So, wait... Just to clarify: Can you play the narrative in single player, then activate online multiplayer for a boss? Or do you need to play through the whole campaign in multiplayer in order to co-op against the bosses.
  • spacemonkey086 - August 10, 2010 5:44 a.m.

    lol I still think the original for psx was the best all around. I didn't like that they turned mgs4 into an action game.
  • stiliom - July 7, 2010 2:49 p.m.

    hi, i found a another great review. Check it. http://www.gladriel.com/reviewFull/content/2771/Metal-Gear-Solid-History/
  • ScruffMoney - June 13, 2010 2:14 a.m.

    PS. Does anyone ever use all 5000 characters?
  • ScruffMoney - June 13, 2010 2:14 a.m.

    Hey, I'll have you know me and my cousin went on a blind date and it wasn't awkward at all! We got married, just like our inbred parents before us, and our children love their flippers! As a PSP owner, and confused Metal Gear fan I'm definitely going to buy this... when I get some money. You see, I'm a poor college student, but I have a dream! One day, I will work a job where I make more than 9 dollars (Canadian) an hour and I will be able to pull my money sock out from under the mattress in my trailer and afford to purchase this! I WILL SUCCEED! The black man can't hold us down forever! We will have our day! Wait... I'm Canadian...
  • lovinmyps3 - June 12, 2010 5:37 p.m.

    I will definitely have to dust off my PSP. Portable Ops is one of the only two PSP games I bought (other was Monster Hunter, ironically), and I just love Metal Gear!!
  • philipshaw - June 11, 2010 9:57 a.m.

    Good review and I get this game on the day I get a operation on my nose, the pain will be worth it to get a new MGS
  • BlackElement17 - June 10, 2010 11:10 p.m.

    To bad I'm PSPless
  • Arucard04 - June 10, 2010 10:37 p.m.

    After playing it, I'd have to say it's the second best in the entire series for me, only bested by the brilliance of MGS3. I've seen more than one reviewer make similar claims. This game is amazing. Also: Ac!d 1 (but mostly 2) were amazing games.
  • Cyberninja - June 10, 2010 10:24 p.m.

    yes webswinger i just beat a tank that way and it was hard as a rock. but this game is still realy fun most of my week has gone to it so far
  • flyingtissues12 - June 10, 2010 9:28 p.m.

    You are the messiah. Meiks and Mild! OHHHHH! Only said that for the frankly abismal pun. Good review though except.... some like it plot?
  • TheWebSwinger - June 10, 2010 9:03 p.m.

    I was reading somewhere that, if you're going up against bosses solo, you can take out enemy soldiers surrounding the area, then lure out/kick the shit out of the vehicle/tank/mech's commander. Are they still nigh-impossible to beat when done this way?
  • skynetiscoming - June 10, 2010 8:11 p.m.

    A very fair review, although I did think the story was a great way to transition from MGS3 to MG/MGS1. I also like how they cut down the codec calls and put them into the audio tapes that you can listen to at your leisure. I also think the boss battles are still better than most out there, even if they are a little shy of MGS standards.
  • metalgatesolid - June 10, 2010 7:54 p.m.

    Ummmmmmmmmmmmm...It has Metal Gear Solid in the title. Like anything with Metal and Solid in it isnt awesome. Wish i had a PSP to play this on though.
  • slimjim441 - June 10, 2010 7:04 p.m.

    I almost forgot about this game. Good thing you guys did a super review, I was so close to selling my PSP. Now I can wait for a friend to buy this game, borrow it, enjoy its awesomeness, then sell my PSP. It does seem kind of disappointing that the boss fights aren't cool unless you do them in co-op, because with MGS, half of the fun was in the boss fights, especially in Snake Eater. The End is by far the best boss in that game.
  • Guardian88 - June 10, 2010 6:43 p.m.

    whw...you guys jus love looking for the shit beneath the oil huh?
  • allthegoodnameswheretaken - June 10, 2010 6:06 p.m.

    I thought there were two control schemes I've played the demo and you get used to the controls
  • Conman93 - June 10, 2010 5:45 p.m.

    I getting a psp for my birthday (hopefully). Having not played the other mgs games (forgive me) would this be a good place to start??
  • breener96 - June 10, 2010 5:07 p.m.

    @Afgefy: Thanks, and you're so lucky! I have to wait until the 17th of June to play it :( @Dave: No, I wouldn't expect it to be as good as previous 3 and 4. I'm glad about that, then. I may ragequit a few times, but I'll make it through the bosses eventually. After blood, sweat, tears and ammo. Lots and lots of ammo :P
  • Games_Radar_DaveMeikleham - June 10, 2010 3:30 p.m.

    @breener96 It depends on your expectations. If you go in looking for it to match Snake Eater or Guns of the Patriots, you'll be disappointed. But if you just want a slightly simpler, though still thoroughly decent Metal Gear for your handheld, then you absolutely won't be. Just take a couple of rocket launchers with you when you fight the bosses. That and loads of long, deep breathes. You can't listen to TalkRadar UK if you go and have yourself an aneurysm.

Showing 1-20 of 25 comments

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