Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, essentially Metal Gear Solid 5 in all but name, according to Hideo Kojima, releases in Australia next week. I played the first hour and here's what happened.
This is perhaps an unusual "first hour of" post. Normally I play a game for one hour exactly, writing down pretty much everything that happens as I go, while adding in some commentary whenever random thoughts occur.
I planned to do the same for Peace Walker. But I didn't - foolishly, naively, in retropsect - count on the sheer quantity of cut-scenes that would occupy that first hour. But I couldn't extend my play time beyond the first hour. That would be disingenuous.
So, here it is,
warts cinematics and all, the first hour of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker.
00:00 - I hit New Game and am presented with a choice of three control schemes. Two are similar to Monster Hunter and Metal Gear Portable Ops, offering movement on the analog stick and camera control on the d-pad. The third seems tailored for Western tastes with its movement on the stick, camera control on the face buttons, and aiming and shooting on the bumpers. After pausing for thought, I decide to go for the third - the so-called "shooter" type - to see how different it feels.
00:02 - It's now time to do the old data install routine. When presented with the option to do a small or large install, I choose large and it proceeds to copy nearly 1GB worth of data onto the PSP memory stick. This, it helpfully informs me, will take between 14 and 18 minutes to complete.
17 minutes pass.
00:19 - The game begins with a quick text summary of the events preceding Peace Walker, which Metal Gear fans will know was actually detailed in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Anyway, it's the 1970s, a decade after Snake Eater, and Big Boss is heading up a small mercenary group in South America.
00:20 - A cut-scene shows Snake (or Big Boss or Naked Snake or whatever his name is) parking a motorcycle at a beach. It's pouring rain, but it doesn't stop him from lighting a cigar. A sign reads: Militaires sans Frontieres. Snake strides down onto the beach where a group of balaclava-clad soldiers are training in CQC. Thus, the game's tutorial begins.
00:22 - A very shouty man talks me through how to move the camera, how to change Snake's stance between standing, crouching and lying down, how to run and roll around, how to punch and throw and use the stun rod. There's a particularly cool move where, when surrounded by multiple enemies, you're able to grab and throw them in succession by timing the combo precisely.
00:28 - Another cut-scene shows Snake (I'm going to call him that from now on) being approached by the Costa Rican government to investigate a private military group that has recently formed in the country. It's told in graphic novel style, using illustration techniques familiar to anyone who's seen Metal Gear artwork. Occasionally you get to interact with the cinematic by scrolling around a certain scene or zooming in to examine something in more detail. In this instance, when a young Costa Rican woman named Paz is introduced, fresh from ecaping the clutches of said private military group, you can zoom in through her clothes to see the tortue marks she still carries. Oh, and her underwear. Hmm.
00:33 - Needless to say, Snake and his Militaires sans Frontieres accept the job. They're given a platform off the Costa Rican coast to act as a base of operations (ie. "Mother Base") while Snake himself heads to the facility where Paz was imprisoned. You're given time in a secluded beach area to practice shooting and throwing grenades before heading inland to the facility. I'm a little put off by how tricky it is to move Snake at a walking pace, but a quick dive into the options allows me to lower the sensitivity of the analog stick. Snake now won't run until I push the stick almost all the way. I also fiddle with the auto aim: when it's on, you'll auto-target enemies, obviously, but you won't be able to make fine adjustments to targets individual body parts. You can hit select to switch to auto aim on the fly, so it's right there when you need to take down enemies quickly. Neat.
00:39 - Another cut-scene plays, once again in the same graphic novel style and once again well over five minutes long. It flashes back to the meeting where Snake accepts the mission and fleshes out more details on the political situation in Central America. Snake realises his Costa Rican contact is with the KGB and the private military group is backed by the CIA. It seems Central America is poised to become a pivotal region in the Cold War. And there's also the matter of an old friend of Snake's, presumed long dead but now seemingly alive and in Costa Rica...
00:46 - The first mission then starts with a short jaunt through the jungle outskirts of the facility to reacquaint you with sneaking. Simply put: crouch, move slowly (with the gentlest nudge of the stick - not the easiest thing to do on the PSP, I admit) and hide behind stuff. Snake wears camo gear and can blend in quite well to the surroundings, although it's not quite the high-tech suit found in Guns of the Patriots.
00:47 - I also note that the areas I've travelled through thus far are quite small. In fact, it's reminiscent of Monster Hunter in the way the overall map is a series of small areas, each linked by paths that double as loading points. They're smaller than the areas in Monster Hunter Freedom Unite (last year's PSP version), but contain more varied terrain and environmental detail.
00:48 - We leave the jungle behind and move inside the facility compound. It features two rows of large pallets, perfect for hiding behind while the patrolling guards move back and forth along their prescribed routes. At the far, eastern end of the yard is a two-storey building. Another guard is stationed there on the second floor balcony. That's my objective. Crouched, I guide Snake down one side of the pallets then cut across the centre in between the two patrolling soldiers. I continue down the middle aisle and, once the third guard has turned his back, up the stairs and inside the building. Easy.
00:50 - Another graphic novel cut-scene. Here, Snake surprises a man operating a radio transmitter. I'm asked to hit the right bumper and then mash the triangle button as Snake struggles with the man. He won't talk, so Snake hits him with the stun rod (another tap of the right bumper, mid-cinematic). But we've found enough evidence to realise that the CIA-backed military group are bringing nuclear weapons into the country. That's, uh, probably something we should stop them doing. End of mission.
00:53 - The mission results screen gives me a bonus for Heroism, earned through my efforts to not kill anyone. Peace Walker encourages a stealthy play style this way; you're not punished for making a mess, but you are rewarded for the taking a more patient and pacifist approach. You're also marked on a range of other things, from the use of various weapons to the total time taken to complete the mission. I also managed to unlock the design specs for two new weapons.
00:54 - Clicking through the post-mission wrap, Snake chats via the Codec with his colleague, Kazuhira Miller, back at Mother Base. They contemplate the political ramifications of the nuke discovery. Metal Gear fans will lap up all this stuff, filling in, as it does, much of the background story pre-Metal Gear Solid. As someone who has only a passing interest in the series - and even less of a grasp of the convoluted network of characters and conspiracies - I find it intriguing yet at the same can't help but feel I'm missing some wider significance.
00:56 - Ah! Here we are at Mother Base. This is our between-mission hub. There's a screen to "view your staff roster and form teams." Assigning staff to various tasks allows you to expand Mother Base's operations, including combat abilities and technology research and development. Each staff member has a raft of skills, each indicated by an assortment of icons that mean little to me at this stage. I flick through the list of fifteen members, trying to comprehend the impenetrable array of bars and stats, before finally hitting upon the "auto-assign" option. I take it. And am rewarded with an upgrade to my Mk.22 silenced pistol. Clearly this is a viable strategy!
00:58 - On the main Mother Base menu screen there's an option to view a 3D model of the base. The three platforms standing out in the middle of the sea fill the screen. Then you can zoom out... and out... and out until they're really tiny dots on the water. I suspect this means you'll eventually be expanding Mother Base with many new platforms as it increases in capacity and functionality.
00:59 - I skip over to the Mission Selector now. It's split into a number of tabs: Main Ops (the core story missions), Extra Ops (side quests, presumably), Co-Ops (for the separate, unlockable multiplayer missions), Cut-Scenes (to review any previously seen cinematic), and Regions (some sort of locations filter, I guess). I can now proceed with another Main Op or jump into the Extra Op I've unlocked.
00:60 - And time's up!
As I bravely admitted on the weekend, Peace Walker is my first Metal Gear game since Metal Gear Solid on PSone. I found the controls initially awkward, but that's generally not unexpected for a PSP title with pretensions of being more than a handheld game. Once I'd found a sweet spot on the analog stick sensitivity, it was fine. Although I'm not sure that aiming with the face buttons is going to cut it in a firefight, I am quite certain the whole point of the game is to avoid such firefights.
Having said that, the stealth seems a little more primitive than I'd like, being a diehard Thief fan and all. But I've come to terms with the fact that Thief is on its own level as far as stealth is concerned and it's unlikely we'll ever see its kind again. I can cope. Just.
I am, however, really looking forward to get my head around the Mother Base management aspects and seeing what impact those choices can have on your tactics in the missions. And the plot has piqued my interest, even if its moments of fanservice will be utterly lost on me.
So, who'd have thought? I'm actually enjoying Peace Walker. Maybe I'll be playing more Metal Gear games in future, after all.