Peace Walker contains multitudes of content and replay value never before seen in a portable title. A must-buy on PSP.

User Rating: 10 | Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker PSP
The Metal Gear series has a strange relationship with portable gaming platforms: whether its a card battle game or a cIassic-styIe iteration with nuances via RPG elements, Kojima's series has taken a few left turns on the PSP. However, Peace Walker is the first game to be developed in earnest by Kojima Productions, resulting in one of the greatest games to ever grace Sony's portable console.

Peace Walker bridges the gap between the prequel, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, and the first Metal Gear game created for the MSX. Throughout the experience, the story of Big Boss's slow descent into isolation and the creation of Outer Heaven (the stronghold featured in the debut title of the series) during an effort to preserve peace in Central America. By the time of the story's initiation, Big Boss has assembled a non-governmental organization called Militaires Sans Frontieres (Soldiers Without Borders) to distance himself from the United States. However, a ploy to help Central American Rebels takes Snake on a long trek through the region, all the while explaining how Big Boss became the villain in the first title. The cutscenes explaining the story are mostly done through beautiful hand-drawn art a la Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops as well as brief in-game cinematics. However, the cutscenes have been adjusted in a manner unseen in the series.

What has been done to tweak the enjoyment of cutscenes is the addition of quick-time events, which add a level of depth that adds some decent replay value (if only to see what happens when a button is missed). Although the addition of quick-time events in Metal Gear cutscenes mitigates a small portion of the lengthy exposition, the appearance of some can take the player by surprise and, due to the small window of time required for each press, will most likely be missed on the first try in the more abrupt prompts. Even so, the actual penalty for missing an action ranges from nonexistent to very small; resulting, in worst occasions, simply doing the specific press over again without having to sit through what has already been said. The difficulty of the prompts does increase after a while but the curve is fairly steady with no noticeable rough edges.

When reviewing a Metal Gear game, the story is usually what gets analyzed and criticized first, mainly due to the series being the archetype of a cutscene-heavy experience. Surprisingly, Peace Walker averages in at about 5-6 minutes per cutscene (with the exception of incredibly crucial plot points), which is very small compared to the series standard of 15-30 minutes. The artistic presentation of the lion's share of cinematics as well as only occurring in the beginning and end of a mission (if at all) serve to make Metal Gear more accessible to impatient players. Also, the story, though a little corny at times, is not nearly as convoluted thanks to only being required to explain the plot of only one previous title: Snake Eater. What is also surprising about Peace walker is how easy the controls are to learn, given how many actions are available.

A large concern of many who played the demo was actually controlling Big Boss and, in the full version, the controls feel a lot more eased to compensate for the lack of buttons between a PS3 controller and the PSP. Aiming is assisted automatically at close ranges, honing in on vital body parts when focusing hard enough. Also, the utilization of face button-aiming (aka using Triangle, Square O, and X as the right analog stick) makes combat easy enough for a system which lacks a second stick. Firing weapons is accomplished by holding the L button and hitting the R button, which works out quite well considering the series has always had this type of feature to simplify switching between hand-to-hand and weapon-based tactics. However, rolling (done by tapping R only while running) seems to work 50% of the time and, even after completing the game, is still difficult to figure out. On the bright side, rolling doesn't come in handy for many situations beyond boss fights which (more often than not) have enough cover scattered over the map to make rolling a second thought. In addition to the new control scheme, Peace Walker has gone through many improvements since Portable Ops.

By far the greatest improvement in Peace Walker is the soldier recovery system. In Portable Ops, it was a royal pain to slowly drag the soldier to the home truck, resulting in many time-consuming missions which were more frustrating than enjoyable. In Peace Walker, dragging an soldier to a certain point for recruitment has been completely taken out of the equation with the Fulton Recovery System which, essentially, ties a balloon to the incapacitated foe and whisks them away to Mother Base. Though the number of times this can be done per mission is limited, using Fulton balloons is infinitely more enjoyable than a 3-minute drag across the map. Besides improving on the recruitment system, Peace Walker has also made tweaks to the inventory system.

Selecting items from the inventory is done in real-time, meaning the action still happens as the player digs out a weapon or item. Although this feature is frustrating at first, half because the button layout takes getting used to and half that the enemy can land a cheap hit, enough practice will make changing equipment at vital times a bit easier, though it still results in a few annoying moments. An actual pause exists, a major improvement over the demo, and allows the player to view maps and confirm mission objectives without having to worry about the enemy landing a cheap shot. Using the codec is done through the pause menu (or the Select button when options are adjusted), offering advice in a few instances and, sadly, resulting in useless information the rest of the time. Although most missions are easy enough to figure out without any outside assistance, it would have been better to have a greater amount of helpful information. Even so, there are still more positives to drown out the negatives, mainly the base management system.

Using a simplified formula with self-explanatory jobs, managing Mother Base is enjoyable without ever being frustrating. Assigning competent staff to each occupation (Mess Hall, Combat, Intel, Medical, etc.) allows for more equipment and weapons to be developed. Developing weapons is as simple as a press of a button, provided enough staff and money is present to create, and the finished product comes out after doing one or two missions depending on the degree of the invention. Shields, SMGs, handguns, rifles, improved rations, radar equipment, and more can be developed to make missions easier which is vital considering the difficulty.

Peace Walker's difficulty is unusually high considering the past few entries. Instead of being able to select the level of difficulty, the challenge is adjusted on a mission-by-mission basis Monster Hunter-styIe. Although the curve is a nice, steady increase, the average difficulty level is a solid "hard." Dying is fairly easy due to having little defense and means for escape but, since Metal Gear is a stealth series, its befitting to the experience. However, missions which stay in alert mode become quickly infuriating as hiding from enemy bullets is nigh-impossible. A good way to get around such difficulties is to simply return to Mother Base and complete some of the optional missions until enough confidence (as well as gear) is obtained to give it another go.

The optional missions in Peace Walker have some decent variety to them: Defending bases, protecting prisoners, recovering a soldier for recruitment, fighting (and hopefully obtaining) armored vehicles, and a few more types of activities combine to create the massive amount of optional missions. As with the story missions, each optional endeavor has its own difficulty and thankfully coincides with the curve of the main story. Benefits gained from completing an optional mission are satisfying; from new uniforms to new equipment specs for development, the rewards gained are always a treat. On top of base management and optional missions, Peace Walker also has some fantastic new features which are much-wanted firsts in the series.

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SPOILER! SPOILER! AVERT THINE EYES!
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At a certain point in the story, Big Boss is allowed to construct a Metal Gear for his forces. Accomplishing such a feat requires taking parts from mechanized bosses and piling up enough materials to create each portion of the walking tank (legs, head, power cell, etc.) and can be painted in a decent variety of colors...even hot pink. Although the Metal Gear can only be activated late in the experience, using it on the battlefield via the Outside Ops activity adds some much-needed "oomph" to deployed forces.

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SPOILER HAS ENDED! LOOK BACK AT THE SCREEN!
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Being able to deploy forces around the world adds a small bit of thought to base management, if only to decide whether or not risking troops is worth the pay. To be honest, defeating enemy units in Outside Ops is ludicrously easy and, even after how much of it I've played, not one unit, troop or otherwise, has been lost. Maybe its because of recruiting almost every soldier in my path, but Outside Ops feels more like an easy source of capital rather than a legitimate challenge. Speaking of which, there are a couple major issues that need to be addressed.

One noticeable problem that comes up from the get go is the size of the install data, which takes up 330MB for a standard package and 880MB for a complete version. Although a lot of data is required for either install, the results are worth the space; adding sound to codec calls, making the frame rate buttery smooth, solving nearly all graphical issues, and making very short work of load times lets the player know that the space was well-used. Also, the system data contains reserved space for add-ons which, presuming they work out the same as in Guns of the Patriots, will be free and up some time in the near future. Although the install data issue has a legitimate reason for existing, the Co-Op issues do not.

The largest flaw in Peace Walker is the construction of the much-publicized Co-Ops, which can only be done via Ad Hoc. Why no wifi is present is beyond me but, being a person who is not too concerned with multiplayer gaming, this feature is inconsequential to my interests. Although it is certainly a disappointment to multiplayer-oriented folks, I am more concerned with the single-player experience at hand.

In all, Peace Walker is an amazing experience that no PSP owner should be deprived of. Boasting beautiful graphics, a deep story, and an excellent fill between the prequel and the first game, there are so many positives in Peace Walker that any legitimate complaints are snuffed by the overall level of enjoyability. With the multitudes of content and massive replay value, the latest in Kojima's long-running series is worth every single last cent of that $40 (US). If you own a PSP and have been itching to play something that will last you a long time, Peace Walker is the best answer.

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