Peace Walker is supposed to take place 10 years after Snake Eater, but strangely almost pretends like Portable Ops never happened. There is barely any mention of the events that occured, and none of the familiar characters from PO even appear in Peace Walker. Since the events of Snake Eater, Naked Snake (now known as Big Boss) has started an organization called Militares Sans Frontieres (Army without Borders). MSF is an arms-for-hire organization, made up of soldiers without countries or ideals. It is Snake's interpretation of The Boss's will. They are approached by a "professor" from a Russian university and his student, a young girl who is studying peace, to investigate an unknown armed force in Costa Rica. This leads to the discovery of nukes being moved into Costa Rica, and the eventual crisis that results from the discovery of a Metal Gear-esque machine called the Peace Walker.
The story is, once again, told through stylized drawings in motion like in Portable Ops. I never really liked this style, and would've much preferred regular in-game cutscenes, but the illustrations are very well drawn and work to some degree. At least the voice acting is still there (which is excellent as usual). Something new to Peace Walker, though, are quick-time events. During a cutscene, you might have to press the R button to shoot a rocket or press left to avoid an enemy attack. This was kind of unnecessary, as I like just putting the PSP down during the long cutscenes. Still, it adds some flavor to the cutscenes. Fortunately, there are actually several cutscenes that use in-game graphics, which is a great bonus.
The story mode revolves around MSF's base of operations, called Mother Base. In between missions, you'll be at the Mother Base menu. Here, you can organize your recruits, research new weapons and items, and send your soldiers on Outer Ops missions. Let's start with your army. Like in Portable Ops, you can recruit soldiers to join MSF. This has been greatly simplified and actually made addictive with the Fulton Recovery System, which is an in-game item. When you stand over an unconscious enemy soldier, you can use the Fulton Recovery System to send him flying into the sky with a balloon to be recovered by a helicopter and taken back to Mother Base. That means no more dragging bodies to your damn truck. There will also be random POW's throughout the missions that you can rescue with the Fulton, and the occasional volunteer will join your army based on your heroism, which goes up as you perform well during missions. Your army is divided into divisions, which include the combat, R&D, medical divisions and the mess hall. Most soldiers have strengths leaning toward a certain division, and putting soldiers in these divisons raises the level of that department, unlocking new weapons and items to develop.
When you are ready, you can access the missions from Mother Base. Story missions are nicely divided up to be very short, so you can advance little by little and won't have to retread if you die. There will be large regions of the environment that several missions will span over, but there are restrictive barriers to prevent you from entering areas of the region that aren't a part of the current mission. That being the case, the missions are very linear so there won't be any getting lost or looking for stupidly small details. Aside from story missions, there will be plenty of optional missions to extend play time. There is even a section for cutscenes, where you can view cutscenes again.
Gameplay is way more comfortable and responsive than in Snake Eater and Portable Ops. Something I really appreciated was the improved accessibility of CQC (close quarters combat). I had no idea how to work CQC in Snake Eater, but now all you need to do is get near the enemy and hold the R button. You can either get the enemy in a choke-hold or throw him into the ground. If there is another enemy near you after you perform CQC, you can push the R button to immediately move onto the next enemy and enter a stylish slow-motion sequence to ruin a group of nearby soldiers. I really like this new feature, it encourages close encounters and adds style to the gameplay.
A strange omission to gameplay is the ability to crawl on the ground. I've always liked crawling like a snake, but now you can only lie flat on the ground and not move. You can equip a selection of items and weapons to your preference, but switching up weapons and items during missions is a bit finicky. Gameplay doesn't freeze when you access the item menu, so switching out a weapon that has run out of ammo may cost you your life in the middle of a heated fire fight. Camera is also quite a bother, considering there is no second analog stick on the PSP. I use a control configuration that makes the main buttons control the camera, and the control pad access the item menu. I feel like there could have been a better way to configure the controls, but I've gotten pretty used to it.
As you may have read in gaming news and reviews, there is a huge focus on co-op play. It is possible to solo the entire game, but the epic boss battles almost seem designed to be played by a number of people instead of just one. Later on, boss batttles get increasingly difficult and you will be running out of ammo very quickly. I don't like this focus on co-op play at all, since you should be able to beat every mission and boss by yourself. Though on the topic of boss battles, these are some of the largest boss battles I've ever seen in the Metal Gear series. There isn't only one Metal Gear-esque machine, but four. Each is unique and equally enormous. The battles are incredibly epic and difficult at the same time.
And finally, graphics and sound. The graphics are some of the best on the PSP thus far, and really push the machine's limits. They may have tried to pack a bit too much detail on a limited amount of polygons so it seems a bit fuzzy at times, but in the end it is still quite impressive. The soundtrack is excellent, as usual. Epic, orchestral pieces for the game's action sequences are amazing, and there isn't much else to say about that.
(MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD)
Peace Walker is packed up the wazoo in content. Along with the countless optional missions, there are some surprise extra missions involving the Monster Hunter series. As you may have read in countless gaming news sources, there are Monster Hunter missions that you can unlock during the game. These missions are battles against the epic dragon beasts from the Monster Hunter games, and they are incredibly epic. These battles are a nice change of pace from regular gameplay, and the cameo is epic to say the least. Aside from this, you can also, *gasp*, construct your own Metal Gear! Yep, after certain boss battles, you can collect parts to make your own Metal Gear, which they call ZEKE in the game. If you complete the Metal Gear, you can send it out on Outer Ops missions, fight it in an extra mission, and unlock the true ending of the game. I won't say anymore since it might spoil some major details, so there you are.
The high hopes I had in the beginning were pretty much fulfilled, though I wish the story mode were a little longer. Still, you won't get a fuller Metal Gear Solid game than this on the PSP. Forget Portable Ops, Peace Walker is the definitive portable MGS and an amazing game in its own right. It ranks up there as one of the must play games on the PSP, and really gave life to the PSP as it has been rather quiet these days. Packed with content, Peace Walker should give you over 40 hours of play value.
[C.Jin's Overall Score: 9/10]