Monday, March 31, 2014

Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker review

    Metal Gear is one of my favorite video game franchises. I played the original Metal Gear on my Nintendo and tried to keep up with the series as it progressed from console to console. It hasn’t always been easy, being the die-hard Xbox fanboy that I am, but I managed. Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker, though, is an odd entry into the franchise and one I want to give my opinion on despite the fact it only recently became available on Xbox via the Metal Gear HD collection.

    It should be noted the game was originally available on the Playstation Portable and is an adaptation rather than a work meant for home consoles.The premise of Peacewalker is that John a.k.a Naked Snake a.k.a Big Boss has left the service of the United States government after the events of Metal Gear Solid 3.

    While this game chronologically taking place after the events of Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, only one rather dismissive line references its events and I’m comfortable saying they’re either non-canon or simply irrelevant to the larger saga as a whole. Big Boss is currently the head of a massive mercenary organization called the Militaires Sans Frontières or “Army without Borders.”

The graphics are quite good despite being a port from a handheld.
    The implications being that he’s sort of running his own version of the A-team, doing good work for nations without military power. Big Boss’ good-guy status is almost immediately called into question when he accepts a job from the KGB, though, in order to investigate the possibility of his slain mentor (The Boss) still being alive.

    Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker has a dismissive attitude to the Cold War’s moral element, highlighting how both superpowers treated other nations as pawns to be used and discarded at a whim. American players, in particular, will probably be surprised by the sympathetic attitude given to Panama’s Sandinista movement. Assuming they’ve even heard of it. 

    In 2014, the Cold War is a distant memory to America’s youth and more than a few subtleties of the conflict are going to be relayed by games like this rather than personal experience. With a game series so focused on ideas like memes and information control, it’s interesting to realize a lot of our perspective will be shaped by folk like Kojima who care enough to weigh in on events. The game even throws in positive commentary on revolutionary, Che Guevara, who is like most lionized historical figures in that he possessed elements of both a hero and a monster.

The codecs, as always, are the primary source of character development.
    Big Boss is explicitly compared to him and I find this an appropriate comparison. Peacewalker also highlights an element of both Che and Big Boss in both men became more legend than reality as time passed. Big Boss in Peacewalker is a man, not a god, but his men elevate him to the status of demigod by the end while his enemies want to make him the avatar of evil worldwide.

    While no great sympathizer to Soviet-style communism, I appreciated the uncompromising treatment of how US foreign policy and imperialism affected Latin America in this game. I’ll discuss it further in “The Social Satire of Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker.”

    Really, the politics are the most intriguing part of the game with issues like deterrence and the role of military forces in achieving peace discussed at length. It’s what moves this game from a disposable storyline like Portable Ops into the realm of high art like Metal Gear Solid 2 (my favorite of the franchise).

    The characters are delightfully quirky with Paz, Doctor Strangelove (yes, like the movie), and Kaz Miller being quite entertaining. The villain Hot Coldman, as indicated by his unfortunate name, is a cartoonish caricature of the CIA but no more so than Colonel Volgin was of Soviet-style military officers. The KGB doesn’t come off much better, either.

The cutscenes are in a beautiful B&W style.
    Still, outside of Spec Ops: The Line, I can’t think of a nastier portrayal of the US foreign intelligence agency. Depending on where one sits on the political spectrum, this may be a bonus or a negative as far as you are concerned. The gameplay is the area where Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker becomes troubled and this is obviously the result of being a port.

    Really, I think they should have made this game as Metal Gear Solid 5 and the world would have been better off as a result. There’s over a hundred and twenty missions, usually taking about fifteen minutes each, but crippled by the fact the original game is meant to be played as a co-op campaign. What do I mean by this? Well, the simple fact that one of the first bosses is an Armored Troop Vehicle (ATV) and is meant to be fought by two or three Big Bosses.

    When it’s fought by a single Big Boss, the battle becomes almost impossible as there’s no way to sneak past the thing or blow it up with heavier weapons which aren’t available yet. What should be a fun run and gun with buddies becomes damn near impossible cherry-tapping while dozens of smaller soldiers swarm around you. The fact that Big Boss must restart his missions from area one in multi-area missions is also immensely frustrating. If the game had started you from the area of where you died or given you heavy weapons to counter the bosses when playing singular, my gaming experience would have been much more enjoyable.

    Unfortunately, it didn’t and my advice to gamers is to find someone to play with for bosses or it will never be any fun. The Mother Base system is one of the more intriguing elements to come out of the game and a way of rewarding the style of gameplay the developers desire. Big Boss wants to recruit the disenfranchised soldiers of his enemies to his private army so he's encouraged to not kill them. If you don't, you win them over to your cause and can use them to build up your forces on an offshore oil rig. Once I got the hang of getting soldiers carried away by helicopter, it proved quite entertaining.

     In conclusion, Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker is a worthy addition to the franchise. Unfortunately, it is marred by the changes from a port to a console. Given so much else of the game is AAA, I find myself unable to forgive the format problems. With a bit of jimminying, this could have been one of the all-time greats.



  1. Che is only a hero to those who are ignorant of what he actually did. Talk to any person that lived through the Cuban revolution. There is a reason why he was called The Butcher of La Cabana. He just happened to be more photogenic and die relatively young. He didn't get the chance to be the Stalin, Mao, or Pol Pot of the Caribbean but it wasn't from lack of trying.

    1. It's the trouble of the world that even when you're facing horrific regimes and working to bring them down, there's always a chance you'll bring about something equally bad or worse. Castro's regime has centered power squarely in the hands of his family but his partner was the perfect figure for symbolizing the very real complaints Latin America had about their governments. The dying young part also makes him conveniently silent for those who wish to use him as an icon.