Warning: This Review Contains Spoilers from MGS3. The Spoiler is marked with underlining and bold.
Ever since the PSP launched big budgets, AAA games that we were used to seeing and playing on our home consoles have been trying to make their way onto Sony's portable system. Games such as God of War: Chains of Olympus, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories are what you would expect to play on your HDTV, but on the go. Metal Gear Solid and Kojima Productions did this with Portable Ops back in 2006, and now they're doing it again with Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker.
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker manages to captures the look of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, as it takes place around the same time and in a jungle setting, with the feel of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. It tries it's best to deal with the PSP's control limitations and it adjusts very well to only having two back buttons and one analogue stick. After having completed the game I can, however, tell you this: There was not one moment while playing MGS: Peace Walker that I thought that the game wouldn't be better if it was on the Playstation 3. The controls aren't ideal, but they've tried there best to replicate the Metal Gear Solid experience from the consoles that we've all came to know and love on the PSP.
As with any Metal Gear game, you can expect the game to put a real heavy focus on story. This is no exception. The story takes place 10 years after the events of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, during the events of the Cold War. I can tell you one thing: In my opinion, this is the best Metal Gear Solid story yet. The premise is simple, like it usually is in Metal Gear games. A college professor named Ramón Gálvez Mena and his student Paz Ortega Andrade are in need of Naked Snake's (Big Boss') help with maintaing peace in Costa Rica. Big Boss is the leader of an organization called Militaires Sans Frontières (MSF) or "Soliders Without Borders." Galvez promises to give Big Boss an off-shore plant in the Carribean for MSF. On top of this he gives Big Boss a listen in on a tape in his possession. This tape has what is believed to be the voice of The Boss on it, Big Boss' former mentor that he murdered in MGS3. Because he may be able to find out if The Boss is alive, he accepts.
The story is very much unlike other Metal Gear stories for one main reason: It's not that complicated. Usually Metal Gear games start out rather easy to understand and they all have a point where the plot takes a drastic turn and more than likely confuses a lot of it's audience. If anyone else has played a Metal Gear game and been completely lost when it comes to the story, that shouldn't happen this time around. While it's still probably more complex than the majority of video game narratives, by Metal Gear standards it's actually quite simple and much less reliant on you having played other Metal Gear games, making it easily the most accessible Metal Gear story to date.
Cutscenes have always been infamous in Metal Gear Solid. They're definitely something that have turned many people off of the series since you're generally watching as much or more as you are playing. While there are still plenty of cutcenes, there are far fewer than any other installment in the franchise. Since it's on the PSP, most of the cutscenes aren't in-engine and are presented as a beautful black-and-white digital novel with incredible voice acting, like always.
Metal Gear fans can also expect a fair amount of fan service. Hal "Otacon" Emmerich's father, Huey Emmerich, is in the game with the same exact voice actor as his son. Also McDonnell Miller (aka Master Miller) helps Snake along on his mission throughout the game. Plus, Kojima's humor isn't exactly scarce.
Peace Walker breaks up all of it's story missions into somewhat brief experiences making it easy for you to pick up and play on the go. If you've ever played a Metal Gear game before, not a whole lot has changed when it comes to gameplay. Most of the time your objective will simply be to get from point A to point B without being detected. They equip with a fair amount of lethal and non-lethal weapons and gadgets to help you on your way. Other times they'll give you information through the codec and not really point you in any direction. These are the sections that I really enjoyed. Also, to keeps things fresh with missions that are "fight your way from point A to point B" as well, where you won't have to worry about stealth.
There's a nice tutorial at the beginning of the game teaching you most of the basics with CQC, camera control, and aiming a gun. For those who want to play the Peace Walker as a stealth game, the controls won't frustrate you often (except, of course, in those missions where stealth isn't a priority). For anyone who wants to run and gun there way through the levels, well, the PSP won't be too friendly to you. While they offer you three control styles, the most effective is "Shooter Type" which has the aiming and camera mapped to the face buttons and and all the actions mapped to the D-pad. Some corners have been cut with the gameplay that anyone who played MGS4 will instantly spot. The depth in the CQC has been reduced, and you can no longer crawl. Also, don't expect the game to be ultra-realistic like MGS4, you can make quite a racket and the enemies won't react. The AI is probably on par with that of MGS3, not MGS4, but most of that is probably intentional.
Peace Walker introduces a few new things into the Metal Gear Solid franchise. First, there's co-op. Depending on the mission, the game supports either two or four player cooperative play. Also, there's a lot of new things in this game that you would normally only expect in RPG's or RTS's. I believe they started introducing some of these features in Portable Ops, but it's fully fleshed out here.
We all no what comes with co-op, don't we? Intelligent and intuitive enemy and boss difficulty scaling based on the number of players, right? Well, you do get that luxury with some games. Sadly, MGS: PW isn't one of them. The first boss fight you come across is a tank. The first thing you'll probably do against this tank is shoot it with a rocket. Perhaps throw a grenade at it. When you see that neither of those things will even take a noticeable chunk out of it's health you'll probably rush over to your computer and go to an FAQ site immediately. Everytime you come across a new boss you'll experience the same thing, as they get harder every time. I can't stress this issue enough because it is, without a doubt, the game's only glaring flaw.
Frustation. Infuriation. Irritation. Indignation. Aggravation. Those are all of the emotions you will experience throughout your playthrough of MGS: PW. You'll fight various armored vehicles, tanks, choppers, and AI controlled mechs. These fights can sometimes take up to 15-20 minutes long if you're playing alone and depending on your skill level, could stop you dead in your tracks, allowing you to not finish the game, which would be a travesty considering how incredible the rest of the game is. Boss fights have always been one of Metal Gear's strengths. Unfortunately in Peace Walker, if you're playing solo, you will sigh every time you realize there's another boss fight. One of the reasons is because they're so damn awesome! All of the mechs you fight look and act incredibly cool, it's just a shame they're to f*cking hard. I must admit though, if you have three buddies who can jump in with you whenever you'd like then this won't be an issue at all for you and I would guess that the boss fights would be quite enjoyable.
Next are the "RPG elements." Big Boss, along with MSF, are trying to create "Outer Heaven", Big Boss' dream for a nation. In order to achieve this you must recruit soldiers from the battlefield. Yes, the battlefield you are on. If you knock an enemy out you can attach the "Fulton Recovery System", which is basically a helicopter. He'll fly into the air, get picked up and sent to MSF headquarters. Then you can distribute them among certain teams, such as the Combat team, Research and Development, Medical, Mess Hall, or Intel. All of this is done in menus and provides lots of fun down time between missions.
By assigning soldiers to the R&D team, you will unlock and upgrade weapons and items for use in battle, then use GMP that you acquire from assigning people to the Combat team. All of this must be done thoughtfully, because by not assigning people to the mess hall team MSF will run low on food resulting in death or by not assigning enough to the medical team people injured in battle will die. The game claims the intel team is designed to gather info on other places of the world, but honestly I wasn't able to find it's use.
Once you beat the lengthy campaign (15-20 hours, depending on your playstyle) you can try to improve your rank with the Main-Ops (single-player) missions, as well as try to earn any of the hundreds of titles, unlock new weapons and guns, recruit more soldiers, level up your teams, or jump into any of the extra game modes and missions Peace Walker offers.
Extra-Ops are another thing to keep you busy long after the credits roll. In these, you will typically spawn in an area from the single-player and be given an objective. It could be rescue the prisoner, destroy the target, or you could just go hang out in a shooting range. There are over a 100 of these!
Outer-Ops are missions that allow you to dispatch your troops and any mechs you own to the battlefield. You can't fight these battles, but over time they will finish and you can "watch" the fights, which basically play like a turn-based role playing games.
At times you'll feel like you're watching and infomercial with this game, simply because there's always that "But wait, there's more!" factor. The game also has Verus-Ops, which is more or less Metal Gear Online on the PSP. This takes absolutely nothing away from the game, but it's not fun at all. On top of all this, you can build your own Metal Gear by collecting parts from AI mechs you meet throughout the game.
There are two type of people who are going to play this game: The kind that is going to have to play it by themselves, and the kind that will be able to play co-op with three other people. For the latter this game is near-perfection and a must-buy. If you're like me and (I presume) most people out there with PSP's and fit into the former, expect a difficult game that you may find unbeatable.