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 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.