History of Metal Gear: On the Go (Portable Ops & Peace Walker) - ArticleTaneli Palola , posted on 28 May 2018 / 2,952 Views
This is the fifth entry in a series of articles looking at the history of the Metal Gear franchise. You can find the previous articles below:
- History of Metal Gear: Building the Foundation
- History of Metal Gear: Becoming an Icon (Metal Gear Solid)
- History of Metal Gear: Bait & Switch (Metal Gear Solid 2)
- History of Metal Gear: The Catalyst (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater)
By 2006 the PlayStation 2 was slowly being phased out and a new console generation was beginning to take over the market. Over the previous several years the Metal Gear Solid series had become synonymous with Sony's home consoles and carved its place as one of PlayStation's heavy hitters, alongside the likes of Final Fantasy, God of War, and Ratchet & Clank, among many others.
As a result fans were eagerly awaiting the next big chapter in the Metal Gear saga on home consoles. However, before the series would make its jump to the next console generation it took a slight detour in the form of a series of titles for Sony's PlayStation Portable, starting in 2004 with Metal Gear Acid and an eventual sequel. Those two games are essentially non-canon spin-offs. In this article I'm going to focus on the two main PSP titles that are seen as part of the series canon storyline - Portable Ops and Peace Walker.
Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops & Peace Walker – Shadows of the Past
Up until 2006 the main canon storyline of the Metal Gear Solid franchise had stayed firmly within the confines of the various home console titles in the series. This changed with Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, the first major handheld title in the entire series that was considered part of the established storyline instead of an inconsequential spin-off.
The basic concept for Portable Ops was born when Hideo Kojima had the idea of a system where the players could recruit allies with wi-fi, which in turn led to the logical choice of using a portable system as the game's platform of choice. This naturally brought about a new set of challenges as the developers had to adapt the series' gameplay to a completely new environment, with various restrictions such as the lack of a second analog stick.
Portable Ops also marked the first time that Hideo Kojima wasn't responsible for writing or directing the story for a game that is considered part of the series' main continuity. At the time Kojima was busy working on MGS4, so his duties were taken over by Masahiro Yamamoto as the director, and Gakuto Mikumo as the writer. The rest of the team consisted largely of people who had previous worked on Metal Gear Acid.
Taking place in 1970, six years after the events of Metal Gear Solid 3, Portable Ops once again follows Naked Snake on a mission to stop his former FOX unit, which has gone rogue and is looking to establish its own military nation. As a result of his former unit's actions Snake is accused of treason and must clear his name by apprehending the new leader of FOX unit, Gene.
In terms of gameplay Portable Ops draws heavily from MGS3, while also adding some new elements into the mix as well. Among the notable additions is the ability to recruit allies during missions by capturing them. They can then be sent to missions alongside Snake as part of his squad. A similar system would later be used in both Peace Walker and Phantom Pain, where the player was also able to recruit allies during missions.
Portable Ops was originally released on December 5th 2006 in North America and two weeks later in Japan. The game received positive reviews upon release and was generally considered an impressive technological feat for a handheld title. It was also fairly successful commercially, selling well over 1 million copies on the PSP, though naturally that is nowhere near what the series usually does in terms of sales.
However, it did open Hideo Kojima's eyes to the possibilities the platform represented for the series, and at least partially led to him taking a much larger role in the development of the next major handheld title in the series – Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. Originally he still intended to leave its development to other people, but he eventually took over as both writer and director even though he was still working on Metal Gear Solid 4 at the time.
Peace Walker takes place in 1974 and is set between the events of Portable Ops and Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. A mysterious army has taken control over parts of Costa Rica and Snake is asked to investigate the situation. As he does so, Snake discovers a plan to use nuclear weapons to influence international politics, in the form of a fail-safe walking nuclear tank called Peace Walker.
Peace Walker's gameplay is split into two categories: missions and base management. Missions consist of main and side missions, the former progressing the overarching story and the latter allowing the player to take on more complex tasks such as retrieving important documents or capturing specific soldiers in the field. Doing the side missions generally provides some type of advantage to the player, from better soldiers to new vehicles and various other perks.
While much of the action gameplay is still based on MGS3, it also includes certain mechanics introduced in MGS4, such as the over-the-shoulder aiming and the improved had-to-hand combat system. Peace Walker also replaced the truck with which players could capture and recruit subdued enemy soldiers in Portable Ops with the more convenient Fulton Recovery System, which was also later included in Metal Gear Solid V.
The base management side includes elements such as assigning captured soldiers to different teams based on their individual skills, and sending these soldiers and captured vehicles on extra missions called Outer Ops, where they gain combat bonuses and generate income for Mother Base. This also comes into play in normal missions as players can choose characters besides Snake to use.
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker was released on April 29th 2010 in Japan and a couple of months later in the west to great reviews. In addition, it sold over 2 million copies worldwide, a marked improvement over Portable Ops, but still notably below the series' most popular releases on home consoles.
Most Memorable Moment
Of the two games, Peace Walker always felt like the more consequential title. While Portable Ops comes off as more of a self-contained installment, Peace Walker has a lot of connections to both earlier and later games in the series, and as a result has a much greater emotional impact on the player. For me personally, the moment that remained with me the longest after playing the game was when Snake goes to stop the Peace Walker by ripping out the components of its AI.
What makes the scene great is the fact that the AI just happens to be based on the personality of his former mentor, The Boss, and she keeps talking to Snake throughout the scene as he is slowly destroying what little of her still remains within it. It's a beautifully realized scene done entirely through gameplay that leaves a lasting impact on the player.
Do Portable Ops and Peace Walker Still Hold Up?
For the most part, yes. There are naturally certain limitations that came from the games being released on the PSP, but on the whole both titles were able to work around those issues remarkably well. The lack of a second analog stick on the PSP is perhaps the most significant limitation in terms of gameplay, while graphically both games naturally give up some fidelity compared to their home console counterparts.
The story in both games is very well told and retains much of the unique style the series has become well known for over the years. Peace Walker especially - likely owing to Kojima's heavy involvement in its development - feels instantly at home with the series' continuity. In terms of overall style the greatest difference between these two and the various home console releases is the use of stylized drawings with minimal animation in place of in-engine cutscenes.
The anti-war and anti-nuclear themes once again feature strongly in both games, similar to many of the other titles in the series, and there's wide discussion of topics such as nuclear deterrence policies, international politics, and the cold war within the narrative.
The gameplay in both is very enjoyable, incorporating features from other games in the series while adding their own gameplay elements into the mix as well. Perhaps the most notable limitation in this regard is the heavier segmenting of the various locations, cutting them into much smaller areas compared to MGS3 and MGS4, for example.
Visually the two are impressive for their time, especially considering the limitations of the PSP. The HD re-release naturally improves Peace Walker's visuals significantly, but even in their original form both titles were among the most visually impressive games released on the handheld.
The music is once again one of the genuine highlights in both games, although this time Norihiko Hibino had a relatively small role in composing the scores. In fact, he provided just one track for Peace Walker, and even that was co-composed with Nobuko Toda. He did have a much greater role in creating the score for Portable Ops, however, with ten of the game's tracks being created by him.
In general both titles are still highly enjoyable to play even today, and what shortcomings the two have can generally be attributed to the limitations of the original hardware the development teams had to work with when making the games. They might not quite reach the same heights as the main numbered entries in the series do, but they certainly deserve their place as part of the beloved franchise.
For anyone who wants to play them today, Peace Walker is very easy to get as it was re-released as part of the MGS HD Collection in 2011, and the PSP version is also available on the PlayStation Store. Portable Ops should also be fairly easy to find, as it too can be bought from the PlayStation Store, and the original PSP version is still readily available in a lot of places.
During development Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker was actually considered by Hideo Kojima to be the next official mainline entry in the series, even being called Metal Gear Solid 5 at one point, though the number was of course ultimately dropped.
- Hideo Kojima Playstation Blog interview
- Hideo Kojima Gamespot interview
- Hideo Kojima interview with Geoff Keighley