Rather than create a Metal Gear experience that somehow works within the confines of the handheld's capabilities, he and the Metal Gear Solid 4 team at Kojima Productions seem to have been inspired by them. The result is a game that is very much a "true" Metal Gear Solid that fits in your pocket, and much more. It's almost as if Kojima, compelled to make just one more game in the series -- wasn't there something about MGS4 being his last? -- looked at the PSP and said, "Let's show them everything we've got."
To say Peace Walker is the "truest" Metal Gear Solid experience on PSP to date wouldn't be quite right. More accurately, it's a Metal Gear Solid game, faithful to its non-handheld predecessors in every respect and, if released for, say, PS3 (yes please!) would be held in the same esteem. The production quality -- visuals, voice acting, audio -- is everything you expect from the series. Some aspects, such as the story and structure, however, are not.
I can hear you now: "The story -- what's wrong with the story!" Nothing. It's great, in fact. It's just so very not convoluted. We got so many loose ends tied up in MGS4 that Peace Walker's tale serves as a much more personal story of Big Boss, how the events of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater had a profound effect on him and how this heroic soldier became the final boss in the original Metal Gear. Some things that make Metal Gear Solid ... Metal Gear Solid are not here, though, most notably the oft-whimsical boss characters. I missed them, but their absence made sense in the context of the story.
There are some lengthy cutscenes -- the majority illustrated by artist Ashley Wood (Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops) -- but, by and large, they're saved for the really big moments, and the most verbose codec conversations are presented as pre-mission briefings. I have to say, though: I was a little surprised at the amount of time it takes to load cinematics, even having performed the "large" memory stick install (approx. 900MB, which enables voice-over for all radio conversations and supposedly speeds things up in general). It's obviously not a deal-breaker, and I can only think, given the talent of Kojima's team, it was simply a hardware limitation they couldn't surmount.
I said the structure is not what you'd expect from a Metal Gear Solid game. You might have seen this coming if you played Portable Ops, but Peace Walker is mission-based. There are story missions and secondary missions, you can equip various suits to (ahem) suit each one, as well as customize your weapon/item load-out (with capacity tied to the suits). The main storyline only makes up a portion of this framework, yet still offers 12-15 hours of play. The optional (fittingly titled) Extra Ops, the accompanying Mother Base and the ability to play through every mission cooperatively (2-4 player Ad Hoc, depending on the mission) give the game a degree of replayability I couldn't have imagined.
It walks all over some of the greatest console games.
Between missions, these soldiers can be assigned to various tasks at the Mother Base, such as R&D (they'll build new gadgets and weapons) and combat operations (you can send them on missions for you). The addictiveness of this game-within-the-game sneaked up on me, and I can easily see myself coming back to it for weeks. There are also a couple of other neat bonuses that I'll let you discover for yourself.
Through and through, Peace Walker is easily the best game on Sony's handheld, and walks all over some of great console games I've played, too. Worth buying a PSP for? I can honestly say, "Yes, without a doubt." Now, if you'll excuse me, I have an army to attend to.
This review is based on a retail version of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker provided by Konami.