Game Review

As has happened with other popular video game series (perhaps the name Halo might ring a bell) game creators have a knack for keeping a narrative going long after it seems the storyline has reached its final resting place. And so it is with Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, a PSP title that slips back into the MGS storyline somewhere in the 1970s, shortly after the events of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.

At the core of things is a cigar-puffing military pro dubbed Naked Snake, who had recently been ordered to kill a former mentor when she turned to the dark side. After fulfilling this distasteful mission, though, Snake takes off to South America to establish his own group of mercenary fighters called Militaires Sans Frontieres (Soldiers Without Borders). He's happily training those forces and waiting for some world event to happen that might earn him a little coin, when a client shows up begging for assistance.

It seems that the American CIA and the Soviet KGB have been playing their Cold War chess games in Costa Rica. And that army-less nation is in desperate need of a little help if it hopes to avoid nuclear atrocities in its own backyard. Snake is hesitant to get involved with such powerhouse nations, in spite of the offer of an abandoned offshore military base that his group could have as payment. But when evidence pops up that his mentor may still be alive and involved somehow, Snake's passion to find the truth seals the deal.

A Slippery Snake
As is common with other Metal Gear titles, gung-ho run-and-gun combat is not the focus here. Trying to blow everybody away will result in having to restart levels again and again. Rather, gamers, in single or co-op play, take Snake through a variety of tense, strategically challenging missions that call for lots of sneaking around. Some fancy gadgets such as a sonar vision device help out in this regard. And even the low-tech skill of hiding in an always-handy cardboard box can help avoid a crowd of trigger-happy foes.

When force is necessary, you can often get by with a tranquilizer gun or some hand-to-hand moves that knock your opponents out. In fact, the game rewards stealthy nonlethal play with special upgrade points and later a chance to recruit fallen guards and foes. A special balloon system lifts unconscious opponents into the sky for airlift to the Mother Base offshore and, voilà, Snake's private army gets a new recruit.

Actually, the Mother Base adds a whole expansive resource-management side to the title's gameplay. As Snake's army grows, he can send squads off into battle while he's busy on a separate mission. This action strengthens the troops and brings in cash for upgraded weapons and gadgetry. You can even eventually build your own giant Metal Gear Solid combat bot.

There's a Snake in My Army Boot
Of course, having a Gatling gun-equipped giant robot at your disposal implies that big guns and lethal force will at some point be required. And, indeed, they are. There are missions involving tanks, robotic mechs and other level-ending big bosses that demand firepower such as machine guns, grenades and rocket launchers.

In the face of this kind of high-caliber weaponry, defeated foes fall with a spray of blood. The red stuff also flows in a couple of the storyline cutscenes—including one that features Snake being tortured with a cattle prod.

On top of that, some of the soldiering language can get problematic at times. Uses of "b‑‑tard," "a‑‑," "d‑‑n," "h‑‑‑" and "bulls‑‑‑" pepper the rough-and-tumble dialogue.

Probably the oddest negative of the game requires a little digging to find. Snake's Mother Base management offers up mini-games and sundry (unamusing) amusements. For instance, players can tap into personnel files at the base to ogle pretty female fighters from all angles while they're stripped down to their bikini briefs.

Snake can also go to a local beach with a male or female cohort where he takes pictures of his companion (who wears trunks or a bikini depending on gender). Then he can put on his tough-guy act and batter his friend, threatening him or her with a knife—or he can choose to be nice and complementary, actions that will eventually coax his partner to join him for a little snuggling under a cardboard box built for two.

I guess that just proves that even a tough-as-nails hero with a drive for truth and justice can have his share of flaws and flake-outs. Even a hero with an all-American name like … Naked Snake?

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June 8, 2010

On Video

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Bob Hoose Kevin Simpson