Saturday 20 April 2013

Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker

Can you tell I've got a job yet

Time to conclude these solid, high definition gears of metal with Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. This one was a PSP game - that's a fine recipe for success on the big screen I'm sure.

Now that 2D games are no longer exiled from home systems, handhelds have been forced to justify their existence with new forms of play - touch screens, gyroscopes, cameras - technology less than ideal for sofas and televisions. The Nintendo DS understood this in 2004 - one day Sony and its PlayStation Portable derivatives might get the message too.

This is 2010's Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, a game that needn't exist. Modernised controls, clean visuals, less objectification of women, auto saving, button mapping - how can we complain? Turns out the answer is "quite easily", because we have quick time events, unintuitive bloat, repetition, throwaway characters, the PSP, a loose understanding of "high definition" to balance things out. These are all ingredients for a rather horrible gaming cake, and though I would never attest to Metal Gear Solids 2 and 3 being the tastiest snacks on the shelf, but they're a damn sight more filling than this mess.

Peace Walker is a central American adventure set in 1974, tracking down nuclear weapons and silly robots to prove something to somebody. Budgets are tight so corners are cut - the game is now split into short bursts of action spread across a selection of extremely small and frequently recycled environments, and the difficulty curve is once again all over the place.

Although neither the camera nor control schemes are as problematic as they were a decade ago, the menus are more desperate than ever to break the game's flow, and the stealth mechanics are now completely broken. In their place, exciting new redundancy such as people management and an emphasis on social gaming. Ignore the former and some optional missions stop being optional, while the latter seeks to answer questions nobody asked.

That being said, I guess it's only logical for a "one man against the odds" franchise such as Metal Gear to feature co-op multiplayer, and hey, why not put in a world police simulator too, constructing Metal Gears and solving global problems through force? Detracting from the series' aims with poorly thought-out game design? Surely not!

But even with these elements taken out of the equation, Peace Walker is devoid of "atmosphere", never really feeling like a stealth game (unlike MGS3, which merely failed to play like one), and being excessively padded with backtracking and stupidity. The update brings 60FPS to the table (remember when that was a given?) but it fails to address the lack of quirky writing or clever easter eggs the series once thrived on. Talking is reduced to screechy radio calls and THE BOSS, while the cutscenes now opt for a stylised look, neither of which live up to the methods of the past.

Too often this game turns into a third-person shooter thanks to the wonky stealth mechanics, and between the constant interruptions, the recruitment of stereotypes and and singing robots, it's a mind-numbing chore to extend Peace Walker sessions past a couple of hours. Konami didn't gain anything substantial from putting this on a handheld, yet it lost out in almost every conceivable aspect of game production - Metal Gear Solid HD Collection gives you the opportunity to see those negative effects in 720p, and you can imagine what a great idea that turned out to be.

Still, at its core, Peace Walker a good enough game. It's a different set of design choices ruining your day this time, and as a PSP release, chances are it still achieves more than most. But its existence will be forever marred with poor life choices and corporate pressure - had it the sense (and budget) to be released on a home platform first time around we might be dealing with greatness, but as it stands, it is merely above average, falling too far short of its predecessors to be taken seriously on its own.

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