Peace Walker dives headfirst into The Boss and Big Boss again, bringing us straight up to Metal Gear Solid V in the timeline.
Back before Sony lost their handheld business plan between the couch cushions, Konami gave the PSP-that-could a pivotal entry in the Metal Gear Solid franchise. This was a first that Hideo Kojima and his team gave a handheld a canonical entry before any home consoles, even if that wouldn’t last long with the HD edition coming a year later. Time to take a look at what was originally pitched as Metal Gear Solid 5 but came to simply be called…
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (2010)
If any Metal Gear Solid entry has gone underappreciated, this is the one. Landing on Sony’s unpopular handheld didn’t help this entry gain notice, but it was also structurally different from most other Metal Gear titles in some good and bad ways. It should be mentioned that this play through happened with the HD version on PlayStation 3.
Moving along, Peace Walker is as close as this franchise has yet come to episodic gameplay. Whereas Codec chats and cutscenes would usually grant you a reprieve in the numbered entries, this one featured a landing page for your various available operations that included side ops, tapes and outfitting Snake before a mission. Mother Base version 1.0 was also introduced into the canon (Portable Ops technically did it first) with the Fulton Recovery System emerging as a staple in your inventory. “Hiring” and firing soldiers to build up your various branches brought you more resources, teams that could go against a static group of pictures and other bonuses that didn’t amount to much in-game but in hindsight laid groundwork for The Phantom Pain’s model.
While in mission, the gameplay, graphics, sounds and environments all recall Snake Eater. You maneuver Big Boss through bite-sized, connected zones that hardly ever last more than a few minutes with your choice of loadout to whatever end you’ve been briefed to achieve. The controls, given that very little is changed between this and Snake Eater, are solid and hardly give you any issues. None of the encounters seem particularly difficult or even different unless you begin to abuse the system, so to speak. Shoot too many guards in the head with a tranquilizer gun, metal helmets that can take your first shot without knocking them over become standard. Again, this ability to learn from the player seems to sneak over to The Phantom Pain with some refinements.
One area of concentrated ire from those that have played Peace Walker is the boss battles. You fight against Mammal A.I. pods on various death machines that can sing quite a tune when asked for some and armored vehicles flanked by waves of standard enemies for others. The variation and innovation just doesn’t seem to be there for the vast majority of these encounters, especially not when you think of a Metal Gear game. That being said, a defense could be mounted for two of the bosses: Chrysalis and Peace Walker. The former is the first A.I. pod battle and it feels exactly as difficult as all of them should be, demanding you to be ready before you enter the arena without feeling too grindy. The final fight is the only one that seems to mix thematic tones with difficulty as a timer stresses you with the threat of letting the world go into nuclear war unless you can get a rocket off in time. That’s a Metal Gear boss fight.
Peace Walker has a few crucial moments in its story that basically act as railway switches for the rest of the franchise. That’s not to say that the overall tale is lacking by any means, but this one builds off of Snake Eater’s bittersweet ending to rob Big Boss of his inciting reason and really bring he and Major Zero to odds. Big Boss and his Military Without Borders are hired to bring down Hot Coldman’s plan to test his theory of nuclear deterrence involving the Metal Gear Peace Walker, which happens to be infused with an A.I. copy of The Boss herself. Once again, Big Boss must free The Boss from her shackles to save the world.
What he doesn’t understand, and ultimately won’t until many years later, is that he lied to himself. During the final chat with Kaz in the first end credits scene, Big Boss says, “she betrayed me…In the end, she put down her gun. And when she did, she rejected her entire life up until that point…including me.” His false assumption is that The Boss absolutely needed him to free her, that she was incapable of doing so herself because of her loyalty to the mission. What he misses is that her loyalty already made her free; her perfect loyalty was an absolute law that made giving up her life, her body or her child for the mission seem paltry.
Peace Walker, with her psyche programmed insde, was willing to lay down its metaphorical gun for the mission, just as she did. Her putting down her gun was part of the mission in Snake Eater as well, but Snake’s mind already had its way out. No longer would he be burdened by The Boss’ weight and image. He’s broken loose now; he had to lie to himself in order to fully become Big Boss. Guns of the Patriots reveals this lie within the first few seconds of his return in the graveyard, making this lie seem petulant in retrospect.
Picture this game as an airless moon bounce to Metal Gear Solid V’s full carnival ride; The Phantom Pain seems to be the fully inflated, lit-up version of this gameplay model. The Fox Engine will undoubtedly make a graphical difference, but Mother Base, the episodic feel and so many other pieces seem to jump straight from Peace Walker. The story is about as direct a sequel as you can make with Paz, fresh off her failed attack on Big Boss, a central character given her knowledge of Cipher’s location. What’ll be interesting to see is if Big Boss is given any other drives now that he’s supposedly emptied himself of The Boss. It sounds like anger will be the name of the game, but it’d seem off if she weren’t at least touched on in the audio tapes.
That brings us all to 1984 and the precipice of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. There are some other Metal Gear titles – Ac!d and Portable Ops to name two – that weren’t a part of this because they aren’t main canon, but are still worth a look if you have the time. As for Peace Walker, there isn’t much better in the series when it comes to story, and this is the ramp that leads to both Metal Gear Solid V parts. If you want to get used to mission prep, audio tape listening and the episode-like structure, there’s no better place to study up.