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The Out of Place Artifact - A Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker Retrospective

The Out of Place Artifact - A Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker Retrospective - Article

by Issa Maki , posted on 17 January 2022 / 2,569 Views

Hideo Kojima was finally free – or so he thought. Guns of the Patriots was a technical marvel that closed out Solid Snake's story, the fanbase was placated, and the small, critical successes of Ghost BabelAc!d, and Portable Ops were proof of concept that Metal Gear could survive without his watchful eye. Though it wouldn't take long for Kojima to see that he was going to get dragged through the blood and mud yet again, even he couldn't have foreseen what was about to happen next.

Problems quickly surfaced: the Metal Gear Rising project encountered numerous setbacks as it tried to live up to its initial premise, while the youthful Peace Walker team lacked the historical context needed to relate to the game's setting. Stepping onto the battlefield, Kojima took command: Rising would be immediately shelved until an eligible suitor could be found (Platinum Games), and he would personally take over directorial, production, and writing duties for Peace Walker. The next year proved to be a labor of love whose affections can still be felt today.

Even to fans, the thought that a T-rated game could rank as the greatest is virtually unthinkable; how could the best Metal Gear possibly be a handheld title on a system less powerful than a PlayStation 2? Because it had to be – necessity is the mother of invention. Not only is this a full-fledged Metal Gear, the fresh spin on the gameplay draws from several sources outside of its wheelhouse. Peace Walker somehow manages to be less like its predecessor, Portable Ops, and more akin to Metal Gear Solid V. What boggles the mind is that it would be over five years before The Phantom Pain would release, an entire generation later.

A decade has passed since Operation: Snake Eater. Having forsaken his homeland and the title bestowed upon him for his world-saving actions, Naked Snake retreats to Columbia, establishing the Militaires Sans Frontières (Military Without Borders) in the process. Initially commissioned to defend Costa Rica (the country without a military) by 'Professor' Galvez and the mysterious, ephemeral university student Paz Ortega, Snake is further enticed by evidence that his former mentor, The Boss, has seemingly survived their fateful encounter in 1964. Unsure of how to best follow her philosophies and desperate for any kind of closure other than the one afforded by the cold forests of Russia, Snake marches forward once more. The Cold War has found a way to raise its temperature.

Peace Walker's story is among the best in the series and is by far the most personal. Able to eclipse Sons of Liberty's ongoing cultural relevance and Solid Snake's confrontation with mortality in Guns of the PatriotsPeace Walker effortlessly steps over its foremothers. Most of the auxiliary information is delegated to cassette tapes (a practice that would carry over to The Phantom Pain), streamlining the narrative and distancing itself from the 47-minute cut scenes of old. Rest assured, that seasoning is still there, it's just applied at the customer's discretion instead of the chef's. Part of its success comes from the supporting cast: Paz and Chico are two of the more endearing characters in the franchise, and Master Miller from Metal Gear Solid elevates far beyond the mere plot device he became in 1998. However, in the end, it all boils down to what entrenched Metal Gear Solid 3 within the fanbase: the relationship between Snake and The Boss.

Similar to the shift of focus in Star Wars from Luke Skywalker to Darth Vader, Metal Gear eventually moved the spotlight from Solid Snake (David) to his 'father', Naked Snake (Jack). And while Dave's story came to its conclusion in Metal Gear Solid 4, Jack's still had room to grow. Even though he's now the leader everyone is looking up to, emotionally and spiritually, Snake is vulnerable in a way that none of the previous protagonists have been. Caught in a flood of conflicting emotions and surrounded by liars, Snake is far more complex than he was in Snake Eater – emphasized by David Hayter's final performance as the character. Hayter turns in his finest work for Peace Walker, an irony considering he had to audition for every subsequent game after MGS2. For spoiler purposes, I can't say much about The Boss; her presence throughout the story is just as strong as it was in MGS3, and similar to Dave in Sons of Liberty, you see the profound impact she had on those around her. Hearing Lori Alan reprise her role is surreal enough, but listening to her sing lullabies as Snake is being shot to death is simply haunting. If you claim to be a fan of Snake Eater, you owe it to yourself – hell, you owe it to The Boss – to play this game.

Aside from the wonderful opening tutorial, what's most striking about Peace Walker is how much more closely it resembles Guns of the Patriots (a PS3 game) than Portable Ops (its PSP predecessor) – and it's legitimately disturbing. Aiming is done with an over-the-shoulder camera system, camouflage is automatically calculated, and Old Snake's notorious 'crouch-walk' makes a powerful return. The ability to crawl while laying down has been removed to compensate for this, serving as a homage to the original 1987 classic, which also lacked the feature. CQC has had all pretence removed in favor of actually being useful for once, and in the right hands is a highly effective tool. A 3D camera has been mapped to the four face buttons, and though it's a far cry from an analog stick, I've always felt this innovation to be one of the more underrated from the Dreamcast era. What this adds up to is a slower, more methodical and thoughtful type of gameplay. Kojima was clearly aware of this, changing its designation from 'Tactical Espionage Action' to 'Tactical Espionage Operations'. Amusingly, the controls in the PSP version of Peace Walker are superior to the Metal Gear Solid Collection on Vita, and their innovation shows the disparity in talent between developers.

So, with the creator himself reclassifying the genre Peace Walker fits under, we're left to determine what type of game it actually is. Aside from pulling the best elements of the past, Peace Walker draws from a number of sources, including PokèmonMonster Hunter, and Advance Wars. At the very least, we'll be able to prove that Kojima was going through a handheld phase at this point of his life and enjoyed every minute of it.

We've touched upon the effect that previous Metal Gear titles had on Peace Walker, though more compelling is the influence it would have on The Phantom Pain. Recruiting enemies, a holdover from Portable Ops, is still central to the gameplay, but with a more direct approach than before. Gone are the days of dragging limp bodies to networks of allies hiding in cardboard boxes; in its place we now have the Fulton Extraction System. Originating in Snake Eater, the Fulton balloons have become a 'character' in their own right. No longer does it take 20 minutes to set one up, and those with fond memories of delivering haymakers to sheep and extracting bears in MGSV might be interested to know that the system derives from Peace Walker; a quick knockout, some Fulton, and a little re-education back at camp (think Superman's Gulag from Kingdom Come), and you'll soon have your very own recruit to do with what you will. The best part is that they're not even complete creeps, though some do bear monitoring:

This is where the Pokèmon inspiration starts to kick in, as every soldier gained comes with their own stats and skills to add to the equation. A significant portion of the gameplay comes from optimizing these units and assigning them to the proper divisions within Mother Base.

For example, one might have the 'Green Beret' perk, making them more apt for CQC and extraction, while another could have 'Engineer', giving them a damage bonus against mech-class foes – these would make ideal candidates for your Combat Unit. Someone with '4-Star Chef' is destined for the Mess Hall, allowing more powerful Rations to be crafted. Those with 'Gunsmith' or 'M134 Design' are a natural fit for R&D, where new equipment can be developed if the pre-requisites are met. Medical assists with item creation and healing the wounded over time, and the Intel Team provides strikes and supply drops during missions. Including the Brig, Sickbay, and the Trade Waiting Room, there are eight potential locations a candidate can be assigned to; and once the revolving door of hires and fires starts rotating, it quickly becomes an addictive cycle of perfection, where hours can be spent fine-tuning Mother Base and its components.

Boss battles against vehicle-class mechs are a large part of the Main and Extra Ops, whose importance cannot be understated. For it's here that the Monster Hunter influence rears its head and the synergy between game modes starts to shine through.

If players can utilize their Metal Gear instincts and extract every soldier without being detected, they can bypass the scenario entirely. Alerting the vehicle transitions the encounter into a prolonged 20-minute ordeal where breaking various parts of the mech limits what actions it takes, and the environment can be altered and taken advantage of. Successfully defeating a vehicle without destroying it allows Snake to add their strength to Mother Base's ranks. And if you don't believe me about the whole Monster Hunter angle, there's an actual Rathalos flying around out there for players to find.

Capturing soldiers and vehicles allows for their use in Outer Ops. These missions bear a resemblance to the minigame 'Kenway's Fleet' from Assassin's Creed: Black Flag, using a faint scheme in the vein of RTS titles like Advance Wars. Armored vehicles have a high defense (but low attack) and belong on the front lines, while helicopters and soldiers benefit highly from the back row. Certain tanks fire anti-aircraft rounds and vice-versa, requiring the farming of certain mechs to maintain efficiency. The Combat Unit takes part in these missions and can use the weapons acquired from R&D if they're able to. You might not need that upgraded rocket launcher right away, but it could make all the difference to someone out in the trenches. Up to eight teams (composed of eight units) can be sent out at a time, and victory nets additional uniforms, ammo, and plans to craft new equipment. Some of the best gear for use in the main game is only acquired from playing Outer Ops. Besides, said missions are the only place where ZEKE can roam with relative impunity.

You heard that correctly – for the first and only time in series history, players have access to their very own pet Metal Gear! Dubbed 'ZEKE' by creator Huey Emmerich, this powerful bi-pedal arsenal is made from parts gained from defeating AI-class bosses. Numerous head pieces, armor, a radome, jet-pack, and railgun can be installed to improve its base stats. AI memory boards also alter its behavior, offering Snake a constantly evolving final boss to spar with at his convenience. Be warned: should ZEKE be decommissioned during an Outer Op, its circuitry is wiped completely, requiring hours of reassembly. My personal ZEKE is only about 70% of his original glory, and I fear he'll never be the same again. I also fail to comprehend why pink wasn't adopted as the official color for Metal Gears; people are expecting to be shot by grey robots, but when they see mine... they hesitate.

Also unique to the series are the multiplayer options that are still operational to this day. Aside from the opening tutorial, every Main Op can be played with anywhere from 2-4 players and ~80% of Outer Ops follow the same suit. Alternate pathways open up for those working as a team, allowing for tactics that can't be done playing alone. Since Peace Walker's servers are P2P, people can still play together in 2022 – and they're still out there. I've matched up with approximately 19 different players online and subsequently added six of them to my friend's list. There's even an entire Versus Mode to explore, but interest in it will probably be limited to local gatherings, if my experiences are anything to go by.

Another great example of Peace Walker's ambitiousness is the ability to 'transfarr' game saves between the PSP and PS3 versions of the game. I've jumped a single file across two PSPs, a PS3, and a PS Vita! Because of the hardware's ad-hoc nature, all three handhelds can play local co-op with each other in spite of the fact that they're all clones of the same account (and a fourth is on the way!). This has allowed me to start my own Peace Walker parties, where my friends and I ritualistically sit on the floor at the cardinal points of a peace symbol and play together. And if you complain about having to wear the eye patch – you have to wear mine, too!

The last pieces of the puzzle are supplementary in nature, proving how much content was stuffed into Peace Walker. Detailed models of every weapon, mech, and certain key items with paragraphs of information exist to peruse over (there's more to learn here than you'd think), but the real meat and potatoes are the Briefing Files found throughout the Main/Extra Ops. By Kojima's estimate, around nine hours of audio was recorded for the game, and this is where the vast majority of it is housed. A ridiculous amount of back story, character development, and world lore comes from these logs. Those looking for an advantage in battle only need to take the time and listen; enemy detail and protocol recommendations can be learned, and particular missions are only accessible after examining the proper file. If you miss the extended cut scenes from older titles, their essence still remains, it's just been converted to a new form.

The final praiseworthy aspect of Peace Walker is the array of gameplay found in the Extra Ops themselves. Ranging from basic target practice to mech and Metal Gear battles, players can engage in ghost hunting, mine disposal, perfect stealth infiltration, treasure hunting, paparazzi photography, base defense, cargo demolitions, hostage extractions, homages to Missile Command and Konami's Pooyan, document retrieval... you can even go on a date with Master Miller! The amount of content in Peace Walker is matched only by its variety; few games are able to maintain this level of freshness or longevity.

This title has it all. Not since Sid Meier's Pirates! has a game impressed me with this much content, to the point where I willingly admit to having been enthralled by its grasp. One of my closest friends claims that this was the longest he's seen me play a single game. Considering that I already have a roster of 50 recruits on standby ready to trade to myself for a second run, he might not be wrong. I may very well be the last person on the face of the Earth regularly transfarring between my PSP and PS3; if I die, at least we go together. I've played Peace Walker at home and at work, with a cat in my lap and a dog in my bed; I've played it in the can, with a person from Argentina, and there was this one time on the expressway... I better not say anymore. Some people smoke cigarettes on their breaks – I capture LAV-G Customs. Between personal reports, extractions, mech maintenance, assigning brave men and women to Team Foxtrot (aka: the Suicide Squad), and people trying to hijack my damn robot, I'm not just playing as Big Boss – I am the big boss! Not only is this one of the greatest handheld titles of all time, it's one of the best games ever made, and barely anybody knows it. Releasing at the tail end of PSP's lifespan, and being sandwiched between Sons of Liberty and Snake Eater in a HD collection, hasn't done Peace Walker many favors, but time has allowed its merits to stand on their own.

Hideo Kojima called Peace Walker “the Metal Gear Solid V that was inside his soul”. By contrast, Konami refused to allow the next numbered title in the series to release on an aged system that came out before PlayStation 3. His biggest regret was that the game wasn't rated 'E', so everyone could have the chance to play it. Similar to the Antikythera mechanism, Baghdad Batteries, or those 'Ulfberht' swords, Peace Walker is the out-of-place artifact of the video game world that challenges established paradigms. Attempts to place it within historical canon fall upon deaf ears for reasons as petty as ignorance and fear, and to that I say: no more! If I have to start the Neuf Militaires Sans Frontières Discord channel to show the world the love that went into Peace Walker, I'll do it. If that's the step that needs to be taken to find truth, I'll tie on my headband and we will walk the path.

Peace.


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8 Comments
KratosLives (on 18 January 2022)

i wish this game would get a ps5 remake

  • +6
Iveyboi (on 17 January 2022)

Peace Walker was an outrageously amazing game. Great article

  • +6
Mr Puggsly (on 17 January 2022)

This game was great. I originally completed it on PSP. Then gladly bought it and played through it again on Xbox 360 for better graphics and controls.

  • +4
UnderwaterFunktown (on 17 January 2022)

I won't say Peace Walker wasn't at least an interesting game, but ultimately I can't say I enjoyed it very much. To me it's a 6/10, signficantly lower than any mainline games

  • +3
Spike0503 (on 18 January 2022)

It's a solid game, better than Portable Ops and an excellent way of setting up the events for Big Boss' fall. I don't rate it quite as highly as this writer due to some flaws like the frankly ridiculous twist at the end, but I did enjoy it very much.

That torture scene was pure pain though. At least you could skip the one in MGS1 and the ones in MGS2 and 3 weren't as hard. This one with the little buttons on the PSP was so hard to beat.

  • +2
V-r0cK (on 18 January 2022)

Great read. I really enjoyed Peace Walker and it was so fun to play coop! I would love another MGS campaign coop experience like that.

  • 0
m0ney (on 17 January 2022)

This game just another proof that this outcast film director is a sh*tty game designer.

  • -8
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