War talks, peace walks.
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker was the first handheld title—practically the first title of any description, period—I made my way toward on the floor of September's Tokyo Game Show. And it was a darn good thing we had those front-of-the-line overseas media privileges or the wait for hands-on with this forthcoming PSP title could have been epic, even by game show standards. Even with the relative depopulation of the show floor the last time around factored in, there were serious lines of fans waiting for this baby.
[image1]In Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, the first portable game in the Metal Gear series actually directed by designer Hideo Kojima, the Metal Gear 'verse has once again made a nonsense of the natural order of game/sequel progression. Players take the role of Naked Snake [I just figured out my porn star name! ~Ed], only this time in the mid-1970s—having founded a merc army of his own called Militaires Sans Frontières, or Soldiers without Borders, the predecessor group to Outer Heaven—our hero is quietly, covertly tasked with freeing Costa Rica from unknown, fearsomely-equipped invaders whose military meddling could wreak havoc with the East-West balance of power in the region. Of course, this enlistment of Snake and Friends has been done under the table, a little practical-business get-around of the Costa Rican government's inconvenient constitutional ban on State-created armed forces.
Solid Snake's long, strange, and spectacular saga may have been bookshelved into history with the conclusion of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, but Naked Snake hasn't cleared retrospective minimum safe distance quite yet. According to Kojima-san, the game story will touch on real-world issues of the period, such as nuclear deterrence, the moral ambiguities faced in a world where individuals are manipulated by forces bigger than themselves, and even quite specific historical events such as U.S. President Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974.
A prominent theme seems to be a simple-yet-profound notion, practically a truism, explored in far too few video games: That, rather than being inherently “evil” or “good” by way of alliances or even documented deeds, certain persons and/or factions (particularly, in this case, during the Cold War era) were and are effectively made to be “good” or “evil” by circumstances beyond their control. Kojima-san just doesn't feel right unless he can lay some heavy, brooding, extra-chunky philosophical chili on us gamers with every Metal Gear Solid outing, does he?
[image2]Since this is a game for the PSP, some mechanical changes have been applied to the familiar MGS control scheme, and it will take some getting used to. The analog stick handles character movement, of course; the 'L' button is used with the 'R' button to control weapons; the 'R' button by itself is assigned to melee strikes/throws; and other actions such as crouching or any co-op activities (more on that in a minute) are the jurisdiction of the D-pad.
It sounds pretty awkward 'on paper', and the PSP's control-set is definitely pushed to its limit; in fact, unless something has radically changed since September, players won't be able to pause the game, in the familiar sense, while the menu is onscreen). Further, the proposed setup means than Naked Snake will not be able to lay prone and and move about at the same time.
Peace Walker works a strong cooperative play angle—two players for primary missions and up to four when it's time to take down Bosses. The various Snake loadouts mean that players can choose characters with special characteristics—for example, Naked Snake is more mobile but more physically vulnerable than 'Armored' Snake, who packs more serious armament but falls short in both the movement and stealth departments.
[image3]Cooperative actions include: the ability of players to sneak about while keeping their hands on the player in front of them, with one Snake leading the way (I refuse to refer to this arrangement as a 'Snake-in', no matter what the designer says) in the manner of an assault team doing a sweep-and-clear in a building filled with hostiles; the ability to swap items, naturally; to hold doors open for others; and even to 'bird-dog' (spot) for players who don't currently have line-of-sight to see what they need to.
There's also an updated, more context-sensitive Close Quarters Combat (CQC) scheme, the ability of players to crouch and move at the same time, and some new takes on the classic, beloved cardboard box as well. (Can we interest you in a bromantic Box Built for Two? Impromptu step-ladder, anyone?) [No Snake bro-fistbumping? ~Ed.] Finally, Snake Eater's Camo system is also featured, albeit in a radically streamlined form. In all, the stealth element is still present, but considerably less-prevalent, allowing players to more readily get on with the missions at hand. We haven't seen any evidence of kabuki makeup... but that doesn't mean it's not skulking around in there somewhere.
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is scheduled to ship exclusively for the PSP, in Japan on March 18, 2010, and in North America in May 2010, and will sneak into gamerspace with both single-player and coop-multiplayer agendas. To tide you over until, um, 'P-Day', you can gather a little more preliminary intel here.