Before the release of Ground Zeroes, Peace Walker was the last time we’d seen Big Boss in action. In fact, it was the latest Metal Gear Solid game, coming out in 2010, 2 years after Metal Gear Solid 4. It’s surprising that a game so closely linked to the main series was released on the neglected PSP, but that didn’t stop it from landing with steady feet on the console. Peace Walker received glowing reviews, was one of the best games to feature on the console, and is the only portable game of the franchise to make it back onto home consoles, via the HD collection. In this collection it sits between MGS3 and MGS2, its events having happened in between these two titles, but it does little to make these two closer in the series’ timeline. It’s clear that Peace Walker is a stepping stone between MGS3 and Ground Zeroes, the second act in the story of Big Boss. So, for my build up for The Phantom Pain, I decided to finally explore what happened after Snake’s trip to Russia.
Our reunion with the gruff, hard as nails protagonist begins with him walking onto a stormy beach, marked with the same scar as his mentor, to meet with the soldiers who are part of his new organisation: Militaires Sans Frontières (MSF) (Soldiers without Borders). It’s instantly clear that Snake is not the innocent soldier we met in MGS3. He’s filled with grief and spurns the title he’s been branded with: Big Boss. Nevertheless, he’s a hero within his organisation, and his soldiers, as well as close friend Kazhuhira Miller, follow him with undying loyalty. Their enthusiasm is understandable since you’ve already seen what Snake can do, you know what he’s gone through, and following such a man from MSF to Outer Heaven doesn’t seem like an insane thing to do.
And make no mistake, this is Outer Heaven, but yet untainted. Unfortunately, war is never so clean cut, and the mission MSF is offered seems just, but it’s tainted by a sickly-hued film of deception. Paz, of Ground Zeroes notoriety, appearing here as a schoolgirl, later revealed to be a triple agent, requests that Snake rid Costa Rica of a rogue CIA unit, which has brought a new type of Metal Gear to the country. Despite reservations, Snake agrees to take on the mission, in no small part convinced by a recording – taken in Costa Rica – that contains the voice of The Boss.
The story plays out within unorthodox black-and-white comicbook cutscenes. Understandable considering the hardware, but it may take time for fans to warm to it. Nevertheless, some scenes seem all the more poignant because of style; the torture scene is both horrifying and beautiful, and flashbacks to the battle with The Boss in MGS3 reinvigorate much of its grandiosity.
In comparison, the graphics in-level make it clear that this was a handheld title, but the HD renovation smooths out some bumps. Textures are flat yet quite lively, trees look lush and full, and some areas are surprisingly beautiful. The level design is also quite clever, and there are a variety of ways to avoid enemies. While you won’t be climbing any trees, you will be crouching behind fallen trunks, wandering through darkness, and hanging from the sides of bridges.
Peace Walker distinguishes itself with its gameplay mechanics, and there are strong indications of areas the series would explore further in MGSV. There are two parts to the gameplay that are intertwined to a certain degree; organising Mother Base, and fighting your way through missions. The missions are split into two types, Main Missions and Extra Ops. The former follows the story of Snake complete with cutscenes, and advances the main story. The latter gives opportunities to face trivial and outlandish challenges for rewards, and can be completed as Snake, or as a soldier from Mother Base. Both types of missions can also be played online with two-to-four players, and there’s a Versus Ops mode in which you can face friends in a variety of challenges.
Before jumping into any mission you’ll need to prepare your supplies accordingly. Your character doesn’t have bottomless pockets here, so you’ll need to strategically choose which gadgets and weapons to bring with you, bearing in mind that poor choices can make a mission unmanageable. In-level, most sneaking strategies are the same as the rest of the series, but with a few interesting twists. Support from Mother Base can come in the form of supplies or air strikes, and CQC has been revamped so that it’s satisfyingly easy to take down a group of foes. Also, the fulton recovery system (AKA the balloon abduction apparatus) makes its first appearance in the series. Unfortunately, unlike MGSV, you won’t be capturing lions or cars, but enemy units and prisoners of war can extracted back to base.
The organisation of Mother Base can be taxing, consisting of a wide range of tasks. Its population will swell exponentially when new recruits and abductees fill out your forces. They’ll have to be assigned to whatever area you want them to work in, and depending on their stats, you’ll receive different perks (for example, mess hall staff will increase the morale of your troops). Those who are in the combat unit can be sent off in squads on Outer Ops, which play out automatically, and can take captured tanks and choppers with them. Another major asset for Outer Ops is the constructible Metal Gear Zeke. Though it’s one of the worrisome signs of things to come for the MSF, it’s a valuable asset. Overall, Mother Base is a brilliant idea, but at times it can seem more of a painful distraction, especially if you want to continue with the main missions, in which case the base’s tasks are near mandatory.
This is painfully evident in the boss battles, which act as the biggest downfall of the title. Firstly, the bosses are uninteresting, consisting of tanks, vehicles, and choppers that all require the same tactics to defeat them. Then there are the mech battles that are unbearably long; this is where the problem with Mother Base kicks in. It’s hard to know how much work you need to put in to defeat a boss, so tediously organising your base and replaying missions in order to develop new weapons/items can overpower you for relatively easy encounters. An alternative is to keep calling in supplies, stay underpowered, and eventually pass the mission through sheer perseverance. What’s depressing is that this ruins what should be important battles and turns them into an agonising bore.
However, the story does motivate you to persevere, for the topics explored and discussed mingle the seriousness and silliness we’d expect from the Metal Gear series; nuclear deterrence, the benefits of AI-controlled missiles, and how an AI can have a heart. In the tale’s finale we get two endings: Peace Walker’s AI (modeled after The Boss) destroys itself, and we witness Paz’s betrayal that sets the events of Ground Zeroes into motion. The latter creates one of the game’s most harrowing moments, Snake still holding onto who he believed Paz was, even though she’s aiming Zeke’s weapons at him. After this final battle – which manages to outshine and avoid the problems mentioned earlier, and has one of the series’ best, and outlandish, songs – things seem even more harrowing for Snake. He and Kaz are left contemplating the precarious position MSF has fallen into, how it’s bound to clash with the government. We, as the player, know it’s inevitable.
Peace Walker sees Snake walking that bit closer to the edge, looking over the cliff, and the plunge from hero to villain seems even closer. It’s recommendable to play this before The Phantom Pain as it explains so many little parts of the series that I haven’t even had the chance to touch on in this piece. Cipher, Huey Emmerich, Dr Strangelove, and the hugely important Chico all make appearances, and Kazuhira Miller establishes himself strongly through his bromance with Snake. It’s a journey that hits a few snags, that faces many more problems than any of the main four games of the franchise, but, as a Kojima game, it was bound to innovate, and expands the diverse universe of Metal Gear Solid in meaningful ways.
Sadly, this is where our Metal Gear Week comes to a close. For writeups on previous entries in the series, please see here for MGS1, MGS2, MGS3, and MGS4. All that remains is for us to play Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, so keep an eye out for Power Up Gaming’s review of Kojima’s final outing. Thank you for reading, and please let us know in the comments if you have enjoyed this series of articles.