The Metal Gear series gets a lot of criticism for its labyrinthine story and ridiculous plot twists – AIs controlling the world by filtering the Internet, anyone? – and I’m no huge fan of it either, but my time with Peace Walker has convinced me of something.
Like how Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader is the real main character in Star Wars, the key player in Metal Gear is not Solid Snake but his ‘father’ and frequent antagonist Big Boss. Considering Kojima’s love of pop culture the similarities in structure can’t be a coincidence – great warrior with good intentions is manipulated into evil, while his son defeats the super weapons of the true villain’s powerful organisation before reconciling with the father shortly before the father’s death – but unlike Star Wars, I actually far prefer the prequels in the Metal Gear Solid series.
Snake Eater is the first stop, which is by far my favourite game of the lot. In its Subsistence form with a competent camera, at least – it’s not a coincidence that every MGS game since then has used it – it offers some restraint in its story, a Cold War setting where the series’ brand of nuclear paranoia makes sense, features some of the best boss battles in the series, infinitely more interesting environments than the generic warehouses of Solid Snake’s adventures, and, in Naked Snake and The Boss, has the series’ two best characters. Not to mention my favourite ending in any game ever.
The previous PSP game, Portable Ops, didn’t really do it for me, but Peace Walker is built as a full-on entry in the series that would be as at home on a home console as it is on the PSP. It was originally going to be Metal Gear Solid 5, in fact, but don’t let its demotion from the main series line-up make you believe that it’s any less than those entries. It’s up there with MGS3 in my opinion, and everyone should play it.
The only real loss in its conversion to the PSP is in its controls, which, in the default setup, put camera and aiming controls on the face buttons while you move with the nub, approximating dual-stick controls as well as can be expected on the PSP. There are other options, but once I got the hang of it I found it to be very workable, and the game does a good job of compensating for any downsides with a hint of aim assist. Some of the simplification’s a boon, as well, as this has what I reckon to be the least fiddly implementation of the CQC system yet.
Konami’s done a decent job of building the game around the portable format on the whole, diving it into relatively small, replayable missions that could often do with mid-mission checkpoints but can usually be beaten within 15 minutes. I wish the same could be said for some of the later cut-scenes, but this is Metal Gear, after all…
It’s loaded with stuff, from returning clever uses of the PSP like generating ‘volunteers’ from nearby wireless networks, to the ability to play almost every mission in co-op, and a pile of ‘Extra Ops’ bite-sized missions that really are properly suited for a bus journey. Not to mention a bizarre appearance from a certain popular Capcom franchise. It’s probably about halfway through the game where it stops randomly throwing new things to do at you between missions, from collecting parts for your own Metal Gear to pitching your accrued forces into Advance Wars-style battles for more R&D funds to help you out in the single-player missions. If there’s one thing that you can’t criticise Kojima for, it’s not cramming prodigious amounts of content into his games.
Gorgeous, unrestrained in both its scope and storytelling, deeply layered, and highly replayable – this is every inch a Metal Gear Solid game. Despite my love/hate relationship with MGS, which has been pushed more to the positive side with more recent games, this is a franchise that I’ll be disappointed to see ending. But since MGS4 was definitely the last and we’ll soon have second new game in the series beyond that point, it’s not something that I’m overly worried about yet.