Standing Tall and Peace Walking High

Well, this is it. After having only known it for half a year, I’m finally breaking up with a dear friend of mine.

Goodbye, Metal Gear Solid series! *Sniff*

Hahaha no, let’s not be melodramatic. The great thing about a video game franchise is how you can take the parts you like and stuff the parts you don’t away in a box, or a bag, or up your cat’s ass, and just not play them if you hate them so much. Which is kind of what I’m going to do with Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. Here kitty kitty…

Now, keep in mind my opinion about the series so far has been this:

Solid 1 – Loved.
Solid 2 – LOVED!
Solid 3 – Initial hate, but warmed up to.
Portable Ops – Liked
Solid 4 – Don’t have a PS3, haven’t played.

So I went into Peace Walker expecting that it would at least be the best one on the PSP. Instead it’s the one game in the series I can’t find it in me to love, no matter how much I want to. If you want to know what’s wrong with it, well, here’s a list and I’m gonna try to be brief:

1. The camera controls absolutely suck. No matter what control setup you have, either the camera controls are uncomfortable or they cause other things to be. Portable Ops had this problem too but in that there were convenient ways to get the camera into a good place (and most of the time it would automatically default to a following-behind-you view), in Peace Walker the camera never repositions of its own accord which means its never showing you what you need to see, and in pitched situations it can be a pain to try and run and also swing the camera around.

2. Opening your inventory no longer pauses the game, I kid you not. While I’m on the subject, your inventory is extremely limited–you can only carry two guns with you. Every other weapon has to be thrown or placable (like a grenade or a mine). You also can’t carry duplicate items like you could in Portable Ops. This isn’t much of a problem in the sneaking levels, but in boss battles its a pain, especially as it makes you dependent on supply drops because you’re almost garaunteed to run out of ammunition.

3. Recruiting soldiers, and all the crap that goes with it, has gotten more convoluted since Portable Ops. In that game, recruiting people was fun and profitable but it didn’t dominate the game. In Peace Walker, it does. You effectively can’t even find certain items unless they’re developed in MSF’s labs first. An example: In Portable Ops, if you needed more Big Rations you could raid the hospital. In Peace Walker, five-star rations automatically downconvert into whatever you’ve teched up to. There are some items you actually have to develop for the plot to advance, but you can’t develop them until your levels are high enough, and this leads to lots of grinding.

4. In Portable Ops all the missions were single-map affairs, which meant they were compact enough for a portable experience (and pretty forgiving if you messed up and had to restart or abort). Peace Walker seems to think its a console game and all the main missions are multi-map affairs. And if you fail or have to restart, you go all the way back to the beginning of the first map and lose any items or prisoners you picked up (Portable Ops let you keep these things if you aborted instead of restarted). Peace Walker is pretty unforgiving, in other words.

5. The Surround Indicator (Portable Ops answer to the Soliton Radar) has been turned into an item that you have to equip, meaning you can’t use it at the same time that you have, say, rations handy anymore. I’m not sure at what point Hideo Kojima decided he didn’t like radars (MGS3 had a similar problem) but I dislike the way he actively discourages their use.

6. Some of the cutscenes are interactive. This isn’t so bad, except some of them you have to “interact” with to get past them (by pressing the right button at the prompt, similar to Dragon’s Lair). What’s worse is, when you replay an area you also have to rewatch all the associated cutscenes. You can skip them sometimes, but if they have an interactive part then you can’t.

7. And this is the big one: a lot of core changes have been made and really, Peace Walker doesn’t actually feel like a Metal Gear Solid game anymore. You can still put your back to the wall but there’s no more scootching along it or peering around corners (well there is, but in a far more roundabout way), no more first-person view, no more climbing into vents or crawling under houses. Now the only “stealth” seems to consist of hiding behind stuff, or else of more action-based stealth such as throwing magazines and causing distractions. To be honest, with the large amount of options it gives you for traps and weaponry, not to mention the revised CQC system, it almost feels like you’re not supposed to be sneaky anymore, but rather like you’re supposed to subdue the bejeebers out of everyone. And then there’s the bosses. Bosses in previous MGS games always had a sort of “arcade” feel to them. Here, they’re slow and ponderous, and not especially fun to fight–especially as most of them have the exact same pattern.

I’ve read comparisons that claim Peace Walker was trying to be Kojima’s answer to either Call of Duty or Gears of War. I’ve never played a game in either of those franchises, but if Peace Walker is really anything like them then I don’t believe I want to.

One closing thought: In the past, I was able to stick with Metal Gear, even when it was going in directions I questioned (such as Metal Gear Solid 3), for two reasons: One, the games were fun, and two, the storylines are some of the best in gaming history.

I think it goes without saying that Peace Walker fails at the former. As for the latter, here’s all I’ve got to say: after the thirty-third time a kidnapper caught me from a blind spot during the Chrysalis battle, I gave up. I took the UMD out, put it away, and haven’t touched the game since then. That was it. The storyline was really going nowhere, and I didn’t care. I didn’t care about Paz, I didn’t care about Chico, I didn’t care about Big Boss or his obsession with his mentor, I didn’t care about the future of the MSF, I didn’t care about any of that. It wasn’t interesting, it was dull and pointless. If I really wanted to nitpick, I could point out the millions of ways Peace Walker contradicts the series canon. But who cares? The bottom line is, there was nothing in this game that made me want to continue. My brain kept saying “turn this dog turd off.”

And that is exactly what I did. And then I put in Portable Ops, to convince myself that I wasn’t just imagining how good it was. Not only was it actually good, but the sour taste from Peace Walker made it even better! The funny thing is that Portable Ops was a game with a rushed development cycle which was intentionally geared towards Multiplayer with the solo campaign pretty much tacked on, and yet it somehow turned out much better than Peace Walker, the game that was given a kingly treatment in development! It just goes to show you that time does not equal effort and haste does not always make waste.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go play a few VR missions in Solid 2.

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