Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
For: Playstation Portable
From: Kojima Productions/Konami
ESRB Rating: Teen (blood, drug reference,
language, suggestive themes, use of
By Billy O'Keefe
From the optional-but-recommended pre-game data installation to the offering of three imposing control schemes to the tutorial and eventually the game itself, "Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker" stakes its claim as perhaps the most demanding game in the PSP's five-year-old library.
But if you're part the intended crowd, and if you have company, the good news is that Kojima's latest wholeheartedly justifies that demand with an experience that's as filling as any of the big-screen "Metal Gear Solid" games.
Out of necessity, "Walker" — which sets itself 10 years after the events of "MGS3" — also plays like a cross between that game and "MGS4." The lack of a second analog stick and extra set of triggers, and the control freedom those afforded, makes it hard to run and gun to the extent "MGS4" allowed on the PS3. "Walker" makes generous concessions to counter the button gymnastics needed to accommodate the PSP's limitations, but it also encourages players to just stay out of trouble by avoiding enemies and using close-quarters combat the way older "MGS"
games practically mandated. There's an unquantifiable but noticeable easing up of enemy A.I. and the damage their weapons cause, but Kojima tunes it just right, accounting for the system's deficiencies without dumbing the game down, stripping players of weapon/gadget depth or making the journey a cakewalk.
"Walker" plays like it should, tells another winding story that covers yet more ground in the bizarre "MGS" timeline, and it manages once again to stretch itself over 25-plus hours of playtime without being dog tired by the time the credits roll.
As usual with this series, though, that's not all — and this is where it might get confusing.
"Walker" complements its primary gameplay with a surprisingly deep tool for managing Snake's base of operations. Snake can make allies out of enemies he non-lethally neutralizes in the field, and the tool lets players put them to work researching intelligence, developing technology and even assisting in battle. "Walker" packages the tool inside a byzantine interface it doesn't explain terribly well, but players who figure it out will find a strangely engrossing management game that regularly improves the action in the field.
Even with the presence of that tool taken into consideration, though, "Walker's" biggest surprise has to be its co-op support for up to six players via local wireless play. The availability of co-op and the number of players allowed varies by mission, a nice consideration that shows Kojima values the story's integrity over shoving six soldiers into every mission.
Unfortunately, some of the missions that do support co-op — in particular, fights against boss characters that take an army's worth of bullets to defeat — practically require it for all but the most skilled "MGS" players. Given the series' traditionally single-player leanings, this little surprise is bound to frustrate some, especially because players have to seek out other players who also have PSPs and copies of the game instead of just look online for willing partners. (Players with a Playstation 3 can use the free "Ad Hoc Party" app to jerry-rig an online session, but the number of players doing so is bound to be smaller than if the game supported online play on its own.)
(c) 2010, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.