Snake's latest tactical espionage adventure takes him into strange new territory. We refer not only to his new career as a stateless, morally ambiguous Cold War mercenary, but the market segment his new PlayStation Portable game is aimed at: co-op hand-held gaming. To put things in perspective, the last Monster Hunter game on PSP sold something like four million copies, and the superpowers of Japanese games development are all scrambling to reverse-engineer the secret to its success.
Konami has nailed it with Peace Walker. The game mechanics are straightforward, yet deep, and there's oodles of economic management and gear-leveling to obsess over on the side – and while solo play is addictive and rewarding, the game only reaches its full potential when you team up with your mates.
This is one of the best
games ever made for the PSP...
Peace Walker introduces new characters, weapons, gadgets, maps, and mechs, but the core of the game will be instantly familiar to series veterans. Controlling Snake from a third-person perspective, you have to sneak through convoluted, enemy-patrolled environments, ever-aware that you are out-numbered and out-gunned. But on top of this tactical espionage action, there is a meta-game that pokes its head up between missions; the soldiers-for-hire business that Snake and his ‘Militaires Sans Frontieres’ chums are running out of an oil rig off the coast of Costa Rica.
Accessing the Mother Base option from the main menu, you can assign each of your personnel to the team that best suits their talents. A strong R&D team is essential for developing better sniper rifles, more nourishing rations, smokier smoke bombs, and so forth. Your sick bay will need skilled medics, and without top cooks preparing top grub, team morale could drop so far that your men will start to quit.
Building up your team is crucial – and the easiest way to recruit new staff is to kidnap them. No kidding. One of Snake's handiest gadgets is the Fulton Recovery System; little helium balloons that can be attached to unconscious soldiers. Simply stroll over any stunned body, press the Triangle button, and he'll be whisked away to the brig back at Mother Base. After a spot of re-education, he'll become a productive member of your team – we can't recall the last time the Stockholm Syndrome was used so effectively as a game mechanic.
The graphics engine is a beast, rendering huge levels in stunning detail. One mission puts you in a sniping battle in an open-cut mine, with enemies firing from hundreds of metres away. The character models sport intricate detail, and the lighting is eerily atmospheric – few PSP games look this good.
The animatic cut scenes are long, but bearable, thanks to the incredible drawings of Ashley Wood (who did the Metal Gear Solid graphic novels), and the top voice talent (including, amongst others, Tara Strong, who played Bubbles in The Powerpuff Girls...). All the campaign missions can be re-played in co-op, and there are substantial incentives for doing so – capture equipment instead of destroying it, and your lab boys can use it to craft new gear. Co-op opens up new tactical possibilities as well, and the kidnapping never gets old.
Kojima has boasted that Peace Walker has hundreds of hours of gameplay, and we doubt he’s bluffing. This is one of the best games ever made for the PSP, though if you want to enjoy it to the full, you’ll need to persuade some of your friends to pick it up as well – by hook, or by crook...