How Peace Walker Took a Few Steps Backwards from Portable Ops
By Ravi Singh, Posted on October 4, 2011
It's no secret that Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops is one of my least favorite installments in the Metal Gear series. During the development of the second canon Metal Gear title for the PlayStation Portable, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, I had very low expectations for the end product. When it finally rolled out, Peace Walker actually ended up being one of my favorite entries in the series despite retaining a lot of elements from Portable Ops which I did not enjoy.
To make a list on what Peace Walker did to improve Portable Ops' formula would consist of an article that would be far too long for anyone to bother reading and at least for me would be simply pointing out the obvious: "Of course having a rich briefing section enriches the plot. Extra offline content adds replay value without relying on servers and a userbase that may disappear? No shit!" …and so on. What I would rather do is point out how Peace Walker actually took steps backwards from Portable Ops. As much as I greatly prefer the former over the later, it would not only be unfair to completely disregard Portable Ops' merits over it's successor, but dishonest.
IN MSF YOU ARE EITHER BIG BOSS, A WOMAN OR SOME GUY
One of the things Peace Walker vastly improved upon was the system of recruiting soldiers. The entire concept enraged me in Portable Ops so much that when it was announced that similar mechanisms would be present in Peace Walker I believed this doomed the game. I was mostly wrong. Sure, we essentially traded a magic truck for magic helicopters, but it was far less irritating as a result.
With that said, some of the more admirable features Portable Ops packed with it's Pokemon-like character roster was gone. You didn't really try to get a diverse collection of soldiers because asides from sex, it was all about stats, period. Should you decide to actually play as someone, you realize that they all look the same. They tried to make this less of a big deal by hiding them in face masks but the truth comes out when they are made to wear something that doesn't use one like the Tuxedo.
Sure this woman looks legit, right? But that's not her, look at the forehead. Seriously though, that's not her.
See? All women look the same.
Oh, look, Hideo Kojima is actually some white guy.
…so is this black guy who should look like Ed Brown from Policenauts.
In Portable Ops, not only did every single soldier look like they were supposed to as opposed to looking like Generic Male or Generic Female, but it also introduced the chameleon system where you can get by certain areas faster by making sure your character is wearing the same uniform as the enemies. Sure, like the recruitment it was implemented poorly; drawing your gun causes enemies to instantly trigger an alert and centering the camera requires the use of the button that also draws your gun, for instance. It was still a cool feature and could have been tweaked in Peace Walker where characters including Snake can change their outfits.
Portable Ops contained a rather large list of unique characters, many with unique weapons. Even Cunningham with his peg leg is playable. As cool as playing as Huey would be in Peace Walker, I won't bitch about that. Even the absence of Chico and Paz I can understand. But everyone else, including Kaz and Strangelove, are unselectable as well for the missions. While Portable Ops gave new characters to mess around with, the folks at Kojima Productions decided to spend time on the bodies of the female characters in the roster instead, solely for viewing purposes.
VILLAINY STRAIGHT OUT OF SATURDAY MORNING CARTOONS
Or: Oh Wow Who Would Have Thought She Was Acting This Entire Time!
Portable Ops' Gene is a mere foreshadowing of Big Boss in Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. Yet he manages to have a sort of charisma that Liquid Snake, Solidus Snake and The Boss have. In fact, I think it's safe to say that Gene had far more charisma than The Boss did and I'm not sure if it's because of Steve Blum's brilliant voice acting or Lori Allan's less than stellar performance.
Peace Walker actually has a more complex antagonist in that there is no single individual. At first it's Coldman. Then it's Galvez, or Zadornov which is his real name. Then it's Paz, sort of, but really Paz following the orders of Cipher aka Zero aka The Patriots. Also, Miller is a spy. Okay, nothing wrong with this. In fact, there were definitely things going on in the background of Portable Ops as well with the Department of Defense, the CIA, The Philosophers and so forth.
But let's slow down things a little bit and start with Zadornov… the guy is already suspicious when we are first introduced to him as Galvez. Within minutes after using a sob story about his sixteen year-old student having been captured and tortured, Big Boss confronts him and then he reveals that he's actually a KGB agent and doesn't really give a fuck about Paz. Within minutes into the game, we already have an untrustworthy "ally."
Zadornov does not hold a candle to Coldman though, who is introduced to us by pushing a paraplegic man down a flight of stairs. Holy shit. This isn't the first of Coldman's dick moves though. Remember how in Snake Eater Big Boss had to kill The Boss? Yeah, that was all his fault. Oh, and he wants Peace Walker to actually fire a nuke. Why? Because he wants everyone know not to fuck with Peace Walker.
Wait! Zadornov wants to launch a nuke too! (And when Zadornov reveals that firing a nuke at Cuba was his plan all along, Coldman actually had the audacity to ask him, "Have you lost your mind?!") It's okay though, after a scuffle, Coldman, despite being shot, used the last bit of energy in him to activate Peace Walker and have false trajectory data sent to NORAD with the intent of nuking everyone at Costa Rica because shit son, if Coldman's going down, everyone's fucking going down.
After some butterflies and other bullshit as well as hide-and-seek sessions with Zadornov that ends with his his god damn peace sign attack ROCKET PEACE and death, the real enemy is revealed to be Paz who was never a sweet sixteen year-old school girl but a psycho bitch young adult. Don't blame her though, she's simply under orders from Cipher who is Zero. Did I mention that Miller is a spy?
Villains don't have to be likeable in any way. Volgin was a pretty despicable character in Snake Eater. However, asides from the lightning bolt shit, Volgin's personality wasn't over the top. He was the son of an important man in the Soviet Union and desires to increase his power and wealth. I cannot think of any redeeming qualities of the man, but his character as a villain just worked.
Coldman is just an asshole because he hates the world like some kind of emo kid. Zadornov is a little more realistic but his shady behavior and Dr. No inspired artificial hand was too obvious. Paz at least was an interesting twist, but then again, it almost felt like it was tacked on compared to Portable Ops' damsel-in-distress being the same character as her twin sister villian twist, which made sense.
As for Miller being a spy, fine, but it just complicates things. As I have explained in a previous article, this has created plot holes where there were not any before in regard to Miller's involvement in FOX-HOUND. Peace Walker also tries to connect this to Miller's death in 2005 but it does not go any further than mentioning it in the post-credits. However, Portable Ops' complete ignorance of the series canon by rewriting Null's backstory was far more damaging and the return of Sokolov was cheap to the point where I cannot give it credit over Peace Walker. Gene, though, was a much better character over Zadornov and especially the two-dimensional Coldman.
THE REGRESSION OF INTERNET TECHNOLOGY
Portable Ops seems like it was meant for co-op gameplay as players assemble Alpha Team or whatever and head out… only to have their comrades hiding in very protective cardboard boxes. Unfortunately though, Portable Ops' multiplayer function was simply designated to Metal Gear Online. However, unlike Peace Walker, all it took for me to get online was a WiFi connection.
Maybe things are different in Japan, but I personally know only a few people who own a PlayStation Portable. Out of these people, I know less who have a copy of Peace Walker. Further dilluting my prime candidates, none of these people live less than five miles away from me. None of these people go to the same university as me. None of these people go to work were I work. None of these people, including myself, would bring a PSP to a bar or something. I know I cannot be a minority here.
Yes, there's Ad-hoc Party for PlayStation Network which is exactly how I ended up playing Peace Walker with friends anyways. You have to summon fucking MacGyver to pull it off though. You need to have a PlayStation 3 connected to the internet through an Ethernet cable. You can in theory connect it to a laptop and then bridge it to a wireless connection, but the connection ends up being very laggy since, well, we're not done here. Next, you run the Ad-hoc Party application which is free and within it you create what is essentially a chat room. Then you have to use your PSP to connect to the PS3 wirelessly.
It's 2010, and I'm literally using my PlayStation 3 as a middleman between my PSP and the internet. Back in 2006, playing with friends (or strangers) was as easy as going through a few menus within the game and… well, that was it. With that in mind, you could play online anywhere with a WiFi signal. Ad-hoc requires people to be near you or a PS3 with a wired connection running Ad-hoc Party to connect to other people with the same set-up. Infrastructure might have been cut out of Peace Walker in order to cut development and up-keep costs (as I cannot think of any other reason), but that cheapness makes Portable Ops look that much richer, despite being a lower budget title.
THE SPOILED CHILD OF PORTABLE OPS?
Which brings me to my final note. Peace Walker is a very impressive game for the PlayStation Portable. This is to be expected though. The game more or less had the same development team as Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots for the PlayStation 3. That's around 200 people working on a handheld game. It was at one time supposed to be titled Metal Gear Solid 5: Peace Walker. The budget for this thing must have been fucking huge and while it probably didn't reach Guns of the Patriots' costs, it highly likely surpassed that of Portable Ops in a large scale.
Portable Ops started as a team-deathmatch shooting game unrelated to Metal Gear. Hideo Kojima decided that it should be Metal Gear themed and wrote a brief synopsis for what the plot it could entail. It was a small, low budget title. Does that excuse everything that I loathed of Portable Ops? Not at all. But it does explain the discrepancies in polish between Portable Ops and Peace Walker.
Yet Peace Walker had the advantage of being developed after Portable Ops. Elements from Portable Ops' expansion, Portable Ops Plus, was found in Peace Walker's code. Some beta builds of Peace Walker used the same HUD as Portable Ops based on screenshots released by Kojima Production. It's pretty obvious from these facts that Peace Walker was built on a heavily modified version of the game engine that ran Portable Ops Plus.
It's not just the fact that the huge development team with the huge budget already had a game engine to work with. It's the fact that they knew what people liked and did not like in Portable Ops. Maybe they heard that people hated having to drag every soldier to a truck or cardboard box. Most definitely they heard the complaints regarding the controls. Had Peace Walker been built without Portable Ops and Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots being in existence, it probably would have been quite different even with the same development team and budget. So while Peace Walker has a lot of improvements made, it should be noted that it also had a significant amount of advantages over Portable Ops.