Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker "Boot Camp" ImpressionsBy Sterling McGarvey - Posted May 03, 2010
I’ve gotten into the habit of walking into game previews completely blind as of late. Call it tunnel vision, call it too much attention to games when they’re done and sent to me with a shiny plastic case, but I haven’t been keeping up with Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker as much as my compatriots, and only made slight headway through the downloadable demo. But that didn’t stop me from attending Konami’s Peace Walker-themed "Boot Camp" a few weeks back in San Francisco. Boy, was I in for a surprise.
Tactical Espionage Operations?
As I fired up my game, Konami’s Ray Hiyoshi explained that there’s a reason that the usual Metal Gear Solid subhead (“tactical espionage action”) has been replaced with the subhead you see above: it’s a big transformation for Kojima Productions. He then informed us of Peace Walker’s basics: there’s plenty of upgradeable content, you can replay levels to gain more experience, and most importantly, if you’re stuck, call on someone to cooperatively tackle a stage with you. I had no idea how much the latter statement would come to affect my experience with the game.
Peace Walker has three control schemes: Action (think MGS: Portable Ops), Shooter (which feels more like Western-designed PSP shooters like Syphon Filter and Resistance: Retribution), and most tellingly, Hunter. And that, in my opinion, says legions about what you’re getting into with Peace Walker. In the same way that Metal Gear Acid tapped into the handheld trading card game craze, this new game evokes the latest handheld gaming trend to hit Japan: hunting down massive opponents with friends a la Monster Hunter.
One slight problem: I had no idea going in that I was going to face down huge tanks with massive XP that would require a group effort. Consider this a warning if you don’t have any friends with a PSP. As this near-final build stood, you’re going to suffer (horribly, I might add) at the hands of Peace Walker if you don’t have people to play with.
If you played the demo, you’ve got some idea of what’s going on. If not, Peace Walker feels like a true sequel to the events of MGS3: Snake Eater. It’s 1974, and Snake/Big Boss is in Central America, where he and Militaires san Frontieres, his mercenary group, are heading off an uprising (which the game telegraphs as the eventual Contras/Sandinistas conflict). But, of course, it's Metal Gear…and there’s significantly more than meets the eye. A lot more.
I Want You. And You. And You...to Join Snake’s Army!
I’ll refrain from spoiling plot details, since the elements I saw were grand, to say the least. After a few hours of play, I noticed that Peace Walker’s approach to tactics is more organically woven into the experience than before. Like Portable Ops, you’ll recruit soldiers into your organization, but the micromanagement feels different. Yes, you’ll still stick different abductees into different areas (tech, combat, meds), but it’s more streamlined than the last game; menus and symbols are more intuitive, and there’s more room to experiment. More importantly, the Fulton Recovery System lets you recruit unconscious soldiers by instantly airlifting them (which beats Portable Ops’ exercises in body-dragging). You’re limited to a certain number, so you’ll have to recruit wisely.
There are quirks and trade-offs (no crawling, for example) but Peace Walker -- despite its RPG-like elements -- feels a lot more action-packed than any of the other handheld MGS games. The Portable Ops-style controls can’t keep up with the pace of action, and overall, it feels a lot more like a shooter. You’ll need to quickly shift the camera to keep up with the onslaught of action.
You’ll Never (Want to) Walk Alone
And it’s when Big Boss runs head-on into the likes of massive tanks that you’ll really see the difference between Peace Walker and all of Kojima Productions’ past MGS games. Mostly because at that point, you’re going to want some friends to play with. The mega-weapons that this game tosses at you are brutal, unforgiving, and merciless (although some media were able to get through the game with minimal assistance, good on them); I battled fruitlessly for over an hour to beat a tank before teaming up with another player.
It was after beating said mega-weapon that I learned from Hiyoshi that as you play through Peace Walker with a friend, you’ll share XP, weapons tech, and even captured soldiers. It truly benefits you to find a group of friends, a living room, and an empty Saturday afternoon to sink time into mutually building up your characters and stats. Prior to teaming up with other players, I was exceptionally frustrated with Peace Walker and its oppressive difficulty. But upon learning that everyone could pair up -- two-player co-op for nearly every mission and four-person for mega-weapon battles -- the game truly opened up.
Case in point: I joined three other writers in an arena battle to tackle the Pupa, a tank that rivals a Metal Gear for size and scale. The Pupa has plenty of deadly ways to snuff you out, from electric pulsewaves to machine guns to missiles. Also, it’s loaded with rocket boosters that can send it along the arena’s side walls at high velocity. With four ways to kill you, it helps to have one person attacking each element. In these battles, you also get a glimpse at Kojima Productions’ heavy emphasis on teamwork. No, it’s not just the fact that everyone’s taking down a tank together. When two or more players fight within close proximity, their health will fuse so that collectively, everyone shares a huge health bar that keeps other players alive throughout the fight. Factor in the ability to order up supply drops and you’ve got the makings of some grandiose firefights.
And like Monster Hunter’s system of using the spoils of a vanquished beast for your benefit, one player can sneak into the Pupa’s core to steal computer parts, which you can use for…other perks. Those perks are spoilers, though.
At the end of our two-day Boot Camp, the Konami team asked me for feedback, and I was very candid about what worked and what didn’t. I played the competitive multiplayer, and it feels fairly disposable and weak (not unlike Portable Ops' multiplayer, which quickly devolved into an imbalanced headshot-fest) compared to the co-op multiplayer. If, as it stands now, Peace Walker doesn’t support Infrastructure and you have to use adhoc Party to play online with friends, it’s going to be exceptionally disappointing.
That said, after my initial issues with the game, I came to love it by the end of the event, and leveled up my Snake as much as possible before Konami pried the PSP out of my hands. But if you’ve got friends who love Metal Gear as much as you -- I’m already planning to recruit Andrew Pfister for post-E3 leveling up -- then Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker could very well open doors to the co-op driven role-playing action that Monster Hunter has made so popular, minus the swords and dragons.