Peace walking forward by traveling backward

Well look at what we have here: A review of Peace Walker. And a favorable one, too! Provided you’re not spoiling for a fight to defend the honor of a videogame from some mean ol’ reviewer who obviously hates Metal Gear, what you’ll take away from the review is:

  • This is a really good game! Surprisingly good, in fact.
  • There is a lot of substance to the game.
  • The emphasis on multiplayer can be distracting, but it doesn’t break the game.
  • The narrative probably won’t make you cringe, for once.

I still have a lot of Peace Walker left to play, truth be told. The story mode is probably a good 15 hours of play time, and if you’re like me and tackle all the side missions as they become available and focus on recruitment for your base, that’ll pretty much double the time to reach the ending. All of that and I’ve still only seen maybe… a third of the total game, probably? Granted, everything left to be done is extra, post-game content, but it’s all really fun and I’m looking forward to it. Just as soon as I’ve reviewed Dragon Quest IX….

What I find most striking about Peace Walker, though, is that Kojima Productions has largely revitalized the series by taking what could be argued as a massive step backward. Metal Gear Solid was an amazing game in 1998, largely because of how it seamlessly married interactivity to narrative. It was a game that felt like a dynamic movie in a way that no one else had ever achieved at the time, despite the existence throughout the ’90s of an entire sub-industry dedicated to accomplishing precisely that. Here in 2010, Peace Walker achieves greatness by distancing itself from its narrative, breaking the entire story into small chunks, dividing the game into discrete, self-contained missions, and basically emphasizing its intrinsic game-ness in every way.

It’s a weird sort of evolution for the series to take, although this certainly isn’t the first time Metal Gear has gone in this direction. Still, Peace Walker’s design and structure are significant, because it’s a game that has been treated, for all intents and purposes, as the next chapter of the franchise. It’s entirely possible that Peace Walker’s bite-sized design is simply a trend-jumping act of desperation to keep the series relevant in an increasingly unfriendly Japanese market, but I wonder if that’s really the case. More likely, I think we’re seeing an increasing amount of polarization in game design, with developers feeling pressure to make a choice between all-encompassing cinematic immersion or smaller, more manageable formats. Metal Gear helped pave the way toward the former, but the cost of entry to creating that sort of experience is growing steeper by the year. So, now Kojima and crew are exploring the latter.

Who knows; maybe Peace Walker is just a crazy, random abberation. Or maybe it represents the bigger picture, but only on the Japanese side of things. But I would be perfectly OK with it being part of an industry-wide trend toward developing games that focus less on being a Grand Blockbuster Experience and more on giving players lots of interesting things to do without trying to pretend that you’re doing anything more than playing a videogame.

This medium needs to take a little more pride in what makes it unique, and Peace Walker is the first time a major production helmed by Hideo Kojima — the poster child for gaming’s Hollywood aspirations — has taken an active step away from filmic narrative and immersion in favor of good old-fashioned playability. Nothing would make me happier than to see this sort of thing catch on and for games to get back to being games. Who cares if videogames are Art? As long as they’re videogames, they’re a form of entertainment wholly separate from any other. So here’s to Peace Walker and its bold act of self-acceptance.

16 thoughts on “Peace walking forward by traveling backward

  1. Imagine how I feel. My MGS4 review said something to the effect of, “This team has good ideas, but I wish they could be freed from Metal Gear, because it’s over and the baggage is just weighing them down.” And now here they’ve gone and made a fresh, entertaining, and generally great new Metal Gear game, baggage and all.

  2. While I absolutely love what Peace Walker does just based solely on the demo, I’m still a little torn, here. I’m more interested personally in a perfect blend between narrative and playability. Granted, MGS in its nature can’t do that in ways that games like Metroid can without being something that’s not Metal Gear, but you can balance it correctly in ways that MGS4 didn’t.

  3. I would guess that the focus on smaller, more mission-based gameplay is just a smart move by the devs who realize that they’re making a game for a handheld system. I’m surprised by the good review, and for some reason it reminds me of FFVII: Crisis Core. Taking a step back from the bloated, grand focus of the main console series and offering up an enjoyable side-story with plenty of handheld-friendly content.

    And while I do enjoy the art of Ashley Wood, I pretty much hated the way Portable Ops played. I guess I should go try that demo now.

  4. Well if it can do cinematics like MGS1, ie not take 5 minutes of nothing going on but the camera panning up and down a character, I’m all for it.

    @parish: I realize this isn’t a very important question, but for me personally in the last few years it has been an important issue. Can you pause during cutscenes? I’m not talking about skipping them, though that is a nice feature, but actually be able to pause. When I first play through a game like MGS I want to be able to “watch” the story the first time at least. After the first play through I don’t really care anymore, I just want to go find new and fun ways to torture the AI baddies. *Making ’em go in circles with the sniper rifle for the win:)*

  5. Do I need to have played other Metal Gear games to enjoy this one? I’ve played like an hour of the first one, and none of the sequels/prequels.

  6. Another A-? I fully expect a lengthy retrospective in a month or so about how terrible the game is. Don’t disappoint.

    Nice review, by the way!

  7. If only the world was sane enough that we could have both video games as cinematic-type experiences AND video games as just games. There is room for both in the world.

  8. I just found out this game was being released released today, and picked it up. I don’t know why, after I hated MGS4 so much, but something in my brain snapped.

    It’s good though. I’ve been one of TT’s only defenders of Portable Ops, though in retrospect, I’m not sure why. The levels were cramped, the visuals poorer than I convinced myself they were, and the missions were so simple that I can’t remember any of them.

    I bring this up because Peace Walker feels like what Portable Ops wanted to be. It has the bite size missions, the base of operations to build up, etc, but the controls and the level design are up to snuff, and the base expansion seems much more useful.

  9. I’m glad that you liked peace walker. From the demo I played and from the many trailers I saw it does seem to be that Kojima Prod. emphasized the game over the story, plus it helps that there isn’t as much expectations on the narritve side as there was with MGS4 being the end of the Solid Snake Saga (heck, back then it was supposed to be the end of the whole Metal Gear Saga). Conclusions are always hard to do and very divisive among fans.

    As for MGS:Rising, lets hope that Kojima Prod. makes it the Yoshi’s Island of the MGS series by taking the basic principle of the series(stealth), which is analogous to the basic platforming in the mario games, and intensifying it with a little bit of action and offensive abilities(where in Yoshi’s Island you could eat enemies and throw eggs or butt stomps and the fact that you can easily recover mario when you’re hurt,reducing the need of catious playing etc.). Incorparating a new radical artstyle won’t hurt either.

  10. I’d be surprised if Rising didn’t turn out to be MGS6. This is “5”, after all…and rightfully so, because it sheds a lot of light on Big Boss. I need to replay 1 to see where exactly he went wrong. : (

  11. “…giving players lots of interesting things to do without trying to pretend that you’re doing anything more than playing a videogame.”

    This is precisely why Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the game of the year.

  12. Parish I hope your review copy of DQ9 isn’t in one of those crazy lockboxed DS units. Losing my savegame in something like that would make me insane.

  13. It’s in a lockbox, but they’re transferring my save to a retail copy for me. They’re good people.

  14. “And now here they’ve gone and made a fresh, entertaining, and generally great new Metal Gear game, baggage and all.”

    ok, so you’re saying PW upholds the MGS tradition of being like the Star Trek movies excepting its the odd numbered sequels that are the good ones. This was the game that was secretly MGS5, wasn’t it?

    MGS:Rising can swing back to the bad side of Kojima production’s bi-polar quality with another bloated overwrought hollywood (or Bollywood… he did fight mooing robots with break dancing) style sausagefest written by Jerry Springer script writers. Raiden is the CGI Ted McGinley, MGS jumps the shark every time he plays a serious role. He really is. The even numbered games always turn out to be the Predator 2 to the previous’ Predator, and Raiden is usually a factor….

    At least T3|-| |{0j14 is playing it smart, because if MGS:Rising is secretly MGS6, it’ll be a terribly scripted “game” (involving lots of talking heads and non-interactive cut scenes) starring an MGS character that almost nobody likes.

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