I’ve been a fan of the Metal Gear series ever since the first title hit U.S. shores for the NES with a box art protagonist that was very reminiscent of a certain futuristic soldier sent back in time to ensure the survival of humanity from killer robots. The series has certainly gone through a number of changes and ups (Metal Gear Solid 3) and downs (Metal Gear Solid 2) over the years, but I’ve been through it all and enjoyed the whole trip. Throughout all of Snake’s adventures, I never really thought of making them a cooperative affair.
The feeling of being all alone in a jungle, hiding in the dirt and grass with some rudimentary camouflage, sometimes dining on a tree frog… That is how I first was introduced to the series (to a degree), and that was how I expected the series to continue. That is, until I played Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, a game I enjoyed equally when playing by myself on the road, or on the couch with a friend. With the announcement of an HD collection of two of my favorite entries in the series, and one that is - at the very least - an interesting experiment, I couldn’t wait to return to the 1970s and fight off the communist threat with a friend.
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker did a few things differently from the other entries in the series, aside from just the inclusion of co-op. Perhaps one of the boldest moves it made was to do away with the usual long-form gameplay/narrative methods in favor of brief missions punctuated by dialogue and cut-scenes. These morsels of sneaking action made Peace Walker a great amusement for on-the-go gamers as you could play through one or two missions on the way to school/work, and then pick it back up again without that feeling of pausing in the middle of the action. They also made boss battles separate from the missions themselves, which brought the welcome relief from stumbling into an encounter only to realize it had been an hour or so since you last saved.
Sure, the other soldiers help Snake out, but none of them dare tell him he's going to have a hard time aiming with that patch
The other, relatively, new aspect of the game was the ability to recruit stunned/sleeping soldiers, or rescue POWs, into Snake’s Militaires Sans Frontières (MSF) group by using the Fulton Recovery system (basically, hooking them up to a balloon, which takes them up to a helicopter that recovers them). These recruits can then be assigned back at home base (yep, “Outer Haven”) to one of five different teams: combat (provides income for research to develop new gear), R&D, mess hall (keeps morale up), medical (heals wounded soldiers and researches new recovery items), and intel. Each soldier or POW that you recruit has varying level of skills in these different areas and assigning them to the right one helps advance it faster so you can gain access to better equipment sooner.
All of these features return in Peace Walker HD since the only two big changes to the game itself are the graphics, which have seen a slight polishing and smoothing, and the controls. The original Peace Walker was definitely designed for portable gaming – from the series of missions that you took on as opposed to one continuous adventure, to the easy to navigate menu screens, and the ability to scan for other nearby handheld systems and in order to recruit random soldiers into your ranks. The controls too, unfortunately, were designed around the limitations of the PSP and, as a result, could be a bit awkward at times due to a lack of a second thumb stick that could be used to control the camera. That’s been greatly alleviated now that it’s been transferred (transfarred?) to the PS3 and Xbox 360. With a better method of input, Peace Walker HD handles even better and some of those unfortunate/awkward moments in the original where you couldn’t swing the camera around fast enough, or pressed a button without holding down another first to enable its alternate action, have all but disappeared.
While the overall game has seen an improvement, how has the co-op fared? Is it improved by being on systems that natively support online play? On the whole, Peace Walker HD’s co-op system is improved by its move to the console. Finding other gamers to play with is much easier and nothing’s changed with how the co-op itself works. Between two and four players can still team up on missions, whether they are story missions or “extra ops,” and work as a unit to get past the enemy soldiers and complete the objectives.
That's right... Pay no attention to the shirtless guy behind you...
Items gathered and soldiers/ POWs recruited during the course of the mission are shared amongst the players, so everyone benefits equally. The addition of another player, or two, provides more than just another gun (though for boss battles, that’s just as important), as he or she can act as a spotter for another player that’s attempting to sneak into a facility, or be a distraction to pull a guard away from his post while the other player sneaks up behind and knocks him out. The difficulty on each mission can also be increased to provide the players with more of a challenge and better rewards.
The major trade-off to Peace Walker’s move to the console, from a co-op aspect, is its lack now of the ability to play locally. The PSP may have been a bit frustrating at times due to its controls and lack of real online play mode, but the AdHoc mode that allowed you to play with anyone nearby was a great feature. You could go over to a friend’s house for a little help on a mission, or just to try and tackle a harder difficulty, and then just pick up right where you left off the next time you had a moment to play again. Peace Walker HD has dropped any form of local co-op, so you are limited to just online play. While you can still team up with your friend for a mission or two and then pick up where you left off with potentially better gear, there’s something missing from that interaction of being in the same room and being able to tell one another “soldier approaching from your flank.”
As a package, the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection is an excellent buy for MGS fans, be they PS3 or 360 gamers. In addition to Metal Gear Solid 3, Metal Gear Solid 2, and Peace Walker, you also get MSX versions of the original Metal Gear 1 and 2 that have seen a little bit of polish as well. The overall tweaking to the graphics on all of these games isn’t jaw-dropping amazing, but it’s enough to make them feel modern again. As for the co-op play in Peace Walker HD, it’s still as solid (no pun intended) as it was on the PSP, though the removal of local play has dampened the experience to a degree. For a series that has gone this long without any form of co-op, though, Konami pulled off an incredible experience in its very first go.
Editor's Note: The Co-Optimus Co-Op Review of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker HD was based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.