Since moving to the PSP, Metal Gear has experienced a bit of an overhaul. With Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, the most notable change is the inclusion of up to four player co-op. The story takes you through parts of Central America that have been secretly overrun by KGB, CIA, and militant forces that wish to store and use Nukes where they don't belong. Can Big Boss and his team of mercenaries co-op to save the world, or are we left a permanent state of Cold War tension?
As a part of the Metal Gear Solid series (10 years after the struggle in Russia), you don the role of Big Boss, aka Snake, aka Naked Snake. After Snake looses his mentor in the fight from Metal Gear Solid 3, he is a man without a country. Snake gives up everything to go into a sort of seclusion with a handful of other soldiers who have no place else to go. They take up residence on an island near Cuba, training and keeping their skills honed until a stranger shows up asking for their help.
Before we address the co-op specific aspects, let's take a look at a few of the all-around game mechanics that have changed. The first one that shows up on the screen is the additional controller layouts. A dual-stick control scheme is present to give players a sense of Metal Gear Solid 4, but the option to play like the Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops is also available. Both schemes have their advantages and disadvantages, but the option to change it as you see fit really adds to the games playability. The one thing removed from the game is the ability to crawl. You can lay flat on the ground to "hide" in the bushes, but you can't crawl under trucks or other things to escape or hide out.
Like Portable Ops, Snake has a handful of buddies with various skills to choose from. As payment for intervening in the KGB plot to infiltrate and use the Central American isles as a Nuclear storage place, Snake and his Soldiers without a country are offered a large, independent place to stay. This place is called "Outer Heaven." Soldiers that have been collected on the battlefield and convinced to join Snake's cause will be assigned to mess hall duties, technology research, medical duties, and even be put in the brig if they act up in the base.
The new gameplay mechanic for collecting soldiers is called the Fulton Extraction system. This system works by giving you a handful of balloons that are picked up by helicopter (like the Skyhook from the Dark Knight movie), so you knock out a foe, or tag a prisoner that needs to be extracted and they're carried off instantly. Fulton is a quick and painless way to collect new soldiers for your new base, as well as a humorous way to "save" prisoners as they don't seem to like being hoisted off by a helicopter and balloon combination. You're often scolded for such a brash action, but thanked for the rescue immediately after the verbal assault via codec.
Those familiar with the Metal Gear series should expect quite a lot of dialog and cut-scene action during their play time. Adding comic book artist Ashley Wood to the mix really gives the PSP cutscenes a style that is all their own. Peace Walker takes it one step further and adds quick time events to the otherwise enjoyable cut scenes. I for one loathe quick time events, but this is where the co-op gets its introduction. As a co-op pair, only one person needs to complete the on-screen prompt to complete the cut scene, so the other player can relax and enjoy the show.
I was fortunate in having a co-op buddy that not only seemed to enjoy interacting with the cutscenes, but was actually good at hitting the button prompts that flashed in red on the screen. I just sat back and enjoyed the story, where we met a few survivors of the rebel group called the "Sandanistas." Rescuing Amanda and Chico, the son and daughter of the Central American Sandanista commander (an ally of sorts), will give you valuable information on the layout, history, as well as intel on the land as you need it. You can call on many of the characters for help, as well as a solid history of how the Metal Gear project is progressing, and personal histories of familiar names like Emmerich. I won't give any more of that story away, because it's just loaded with interesting spoilers.
Playing co-op was a lot more interesting than expected, and worked very, very well. Most of the missions allow for 2 player co-op, though a few will make you go it solo, and the boss battles will allow up to 4 players. There is an icon on the mission select screen that lets you know how many players are allowed to play a mission, and either player can play as Snake, or select from your other combat ready buddies. I have to admit that having more than one Snake on screen was amusing, and makes sense because Snake has the best health and stamina stats of any of the characters I kidnapped using the Fulton system.