The Return of the Snakes (Part II): Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker HD Review
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
Editor’s Note: Because this is the first appearance of the Metal Gear Solid series on the Xbox console, and because this is the first appearance of Peacewalker on any console other than a handheld, we decided to split the review into two parts. This review covers MGS Peacewalker. Blair’s review of MGS 2 and 3 can be found here. ~W75
Knock knock knock. “What was that noise?” It’s Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker HD! Originally released in 2010 for the Sony PSP, it has now been remastered for consoles in stunning high definition as part of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection. Slap on your eye patch, tie up your bandana, and get ready to march in the name of peace!
The year: 1974, ten years after operation “Snake Eater”. While the era of disco runs rampant in the U.S., the legendary Naked Snake (a.k.a. Big Boss) is wandering Central America. Having left the States behind, he started the mercenary army: Militaires Sans Frontieres (Soldiers without Borders, MSF), a military force under the control of no single nation.
During a routine training session, MSF is visited by a Costa Rican professor named Ramón Gálvez Mena and his student Paz Ortega Andrade, who are in dire need of help. Paz had stumbled upon what appeared to be a C.I.A. outpost and was captured and abused by the staff there until she was lucky enough to free herself. Ramón fears that the C.I.A. aim to take control of his country, since Costa Rica has no army to call its own. After hearing that the legendary Big Boss is head of the MSF, Ramón looks to hire them, offering the mercenaries an abandoned off-shore oil plant to use as a base, as payment to drive out the C.I.A. invaders. Moved by Paz’s ideals of peace, and the idea of a place for MSF to call home, Big Boss agrees to look into it. However, upon invading a radio outpost, he discovers that there is much more than a hostile takeover going on, and gets sucked into something bigger than he bargained for. The story for Peace Walker is on par with other titles from the series, bringing the usual stealth action, emotional scenes, and a good twist or two, all while maintaining a unique and fantastic feel, filled with freshness.
This stellar and gritty tale is accompanied by equally stunning gameplay divided into two main parts: missions and Mother Base, each with its own unique aspects. Missions are the central part of play, seeing players sneak or shoot their way through enemies to complete various objectives such as meeting with persons of interest or capturing enemy soldiers to expand your work force. Aside from the main storyline assignments (which usually involve Snake) there is a wealth of side missions which can be played by other members of MSF. At the selection screen, there will be a line of text stating who can or can’t partake in a specific assignment, and a list of any required items or weapons. Each undertaking is a little on the short side, as they were designed around a portable device, but the sheer number of them makes up for it and gives the console version an arcade feel. This also makes Peace Walker more accessible to casual gamers, or gamers with busy lifestyles, as they can whole missions in a short session, whereas players with more time can simply play several missions in a row.
The mission counterpart, Mother Base, contains several business-like elements for MSF. Players are able to assign members to five specific areas: research and development, the combat team, the medical bay, intelligence, and the mess hall. R&D allows the creation of new weapons or items, and improvements to ones currently owned. The combat team is where you need to place soldiers before they can be sent out on missions. Characters in the med bay work to prevent sicknesses, help anyone who does become ill to heal, and can develop better working tranquilizers. Intelligence operatives allow for supply drops and artillery strikes, and can scout areas up ahead to determine how many enemies are present. Last but not least, the mess hall crews help feed everyone to make sure morale stays high. Depending on their placement, your teammates will gain experience for their work, making them more proficient at their jobs, thus allowing for more options for upgrades, new tools, food, and supplies, expanding the overall quality of MSF. This mode compliments general gameplay extremely well, making for a nice break between each mission and offers elements new to the MGS series, making Peace Walker a truly unique experience.
Peace Walker also supports both co-operative and versus multiplayer modes. Co-op allows you and up to 3 other squadmates to tackle the various missions together, either to relive favorites or help each other through challenges. Don’t have a mic? Well, no problem, as there are several pre-recorded dialog choices for just about any possible situation. These vocal snippets are even customizable, so your favorite commands can always be mapped exactly how you like them. Not every mission supports co-op though, as the story sometimes calls for a solo job, but there is by no means a shortage of levels to play with pals.
Versus mode sees up to six players battling each other, or in teams of three to complete various goals. There are four gametypes: Deathmatch, a free-for-all gun fest; Team Deathmatch, where two teams fight for the most kills; Capture Mission, a capture the flag variant where players must capture a bird for points; and Base Capture, where one team defends bases while the other attempts to attack and destroy them. Though versus mode is indeed fun, there is nothing to set it apart from other multiplayer shooter games. While there is nothing inherently wrong with, or broken about, the multiplayer, it just feels somewhat tacked on, rather than bringing something new and exciting to the table. Co-op, on the other hand, is a major highlight for the title. It’s definitely not something that could fit into just any MGS title, but Peace Walker’s brothers-in-arms style and story allows it to truly flourish.
Control-wise, this remake excels by leaps and bounds. In the PSP version, players were restricted to a single thumbstick and a limited number of buttons, stopping it from reaching full potential. In the HD re-release, the previous version’s faults have been found and redesigned from the ground up for consoles. The resulting control scheme is exceptionally fluid and well placed, resembling more modern shooter controls, making for smooth and enjoyable gameplay. Should you prefer playing with the classic MGS scheme, you may switch controls in the Options menu at any point in time. One big change, however, is that Snake seems to have forgotten how to crawl, instead only being able to move from the crouched position. Laying down serves only as a way to hide, so players can’t worm their way under trucks or into vents anymore, taking away an element central to typical MGS gameplay.
Each step the terrific gameplay takes, the HD visuals march right along in formation. The game has gone through a serious overhaul with each texture, line, and shape buffed to polished glass clarity. There is absolutely zero texture pop to be found, all pixelation has been brushed away, the frame rate is high and never slows down, and all character design is authentic to the series. Although many shapes and polygons have remained unchanged, and text retains its pixelated look, I personally found this to mix very well with the arcade feeling present in the gameplay. Specifically, the in-game text often reminded me of the arcade title N+, as it was delivered in a very similar fashion and style while still maintaining a high resolution. Each piece of the in-game graphics has received incredible care, making the title one truly worth of being on current gen consoles.
The best part of the visuals in Peace Walker, by far, is the cutscenes. Each sequence is done as a motion comic, in the scratchy concept-art style that the MGS series often uses for cover art or pictures in game manuals. These scenes are not only beautifully drawn, complete with speech bubbles and Batman-esque sound effects in text, but also deliver a 3D feel to them, with characters standing off of the background instead of simply lying upon it. These wonderful events also take it one extra step further, often becoming interactive. In some instances, you may need to pull a trigger, or push a button to have animated Snake counter a punch and break the arm of some helpless fool, or aim a rocket launcher with a thumbstick to blast away something to save a person’s life. This may catch a player or two off guard the first time (myself included), but it brings extra depth and connectivity to an already brilliant visual experience.
The same brilliance that you see on-screen can be heard from your speakers or headphones, as every step and sentence is spectacular and substantial. Many sounds players will recognize: the ring of the codec, the exclamation of guards catching someone, the whisper of silenced weapons, or the beep of picking up items. Every audio detail is authentic to the series. Similarly, the musical score skillfully transports you into the game, with slow suspenseful sneaking pieces, followed by upbeat battle music utilizing orchestral hits. There is even an in-game walkman for players to use to listen to certain songs regardless of the situation. More music can even be unlocked through trades or R&D.
Of course, nothing can bring down a great game like bad voice acting. Thankfully, you can tell your ears to sleep easy tonight, as each line of dialog is delivered with skill! Reprising his role as Snake is David Hayter; however, this isn’t the usual serpent that your ears may recall. In Peace Walker, Snake sounds much older, more tired and grizzled, and a bit like he’s had one too many cigars. Sometimes, it almost sounds like he’s having trouble speaking at all, especially in more emotional scenes. This adds a great amount of believability to the character, and also helps to distinguish the current character, Big Boss/Naked Snake, from the modern Solid Snake. The rest of the voice cast delivers their roles with just as much conviction, with actors like Steve Blum (Urdnot Grunt, Mass Effect 2 / Spike Spiegel, Cowboy Beebop), Catherine Taber (Padmé Amidala, Star Wars: The Clone Wars / Jeyne Kassynder, Dungeon Siege III), and the incredible Tara Strong (Bubbles, The Powerpuff Girls / Timmy Turner, Fairly Odd Parents / Harley Quinn, Batman: Arkham City). Every line of every scene is a treat to listen to, and each actor brings their role to life.
Each element of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker HD is working together in an incredibly well-crafted mix of audio, visuals, story and gameplay. This game only deserves a spot in your library, but also gives other console titles a run for their money. Available as a part of the Metal Gear Solid: HD Collection, this is one piece of the MGS series you do not want to miss. March on, Big Boss, march on!
Final Score: 4.75 / 5.0
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