Earning resources to research new weapons is a massive part of the game, but it feels like grinding.
Let's talk about controls. Some believe the failure of the PSP in the West is in part due to the lack of a second analogue nub. When it comes to third-person shooters, which Metal Gear Solid is in part, this is particularly troublesome. Without a second analogue nub, camera control is mapped to the face buttons (the default scheme, called Shooter Style), or, if using the alternative control schemes, the d-pad. Either way, you're in for a world of hurt. Trying to accurately aim a targeting reticule with the face buttons is almost impossible. Trying to keep an enemy helicopter in view when soldiers surround you is an exercise in frustration. The controls are better than they have been in previous Metal Gear games, not least in Portable Ops, so Kojima scores points for trying (you can move and shoot while in the over the shoulder view). But, frankly, the PSP is an awful console for third-person shooters. In Peace Walker, you're not just battling the camouflaged snipers and bipedal robots you can see in the PSP's lovely screen, you're battling the shiny plastic you're holding in your hands.
After extended play, however, you do start to cope - never to the point of satisfaction - but you start to cope. It's at this point Peace Walker's fatal flaw presents itself: co-op, or, as will be the case for 99 per cent of Western players, the lack thereof. Peace Walker is a game designed from the ground up to be played co-operatively, either two-player or four-player. As such, the levels have been crafted to suit more than one sneaky snake slithering around their virtual nooks and crannies.
The influence is clear: Monster Hunter. For those not in the know, Monster Hunter is a co-op focussed third-person fantasy action game which has seen huge success in Japan. In Japan, players connect their PSPs wirelessly at train stations and in parks, teaming up to battle huge dragon-like creatures for shiny new loot. In Japan, Monster Hunter is a phenomenon. Obviously Konami and Kojima Productions have noticed.
Peace Walker works similarly to Monster Hunter, warts and all, and it's not ashamed to admit it. One of the alternate control schemes is called 'Hunter Style'. One of Snake's chums, a brain-meltingly annoying young Nicaraguan boy called Chico, bangs on endlessly about mythical beasts. The sneaking missions are divided up into maps linked by lines, like in Monster Hunter. When you're playing with friends you can share items on the battlefield, resurrect other players and even drive cardboard boxes that work like little tanks (that last bit's not in Monster Hunter, obviously).
The problem is not that you can play the game with others. The problem is that the game is at times unplayable on your own. In designing Peace Walker's missions to be challenging for multiple players, Kojima has made some of them incredibly difficult to solo. This is no more apparent than during the boss fights, or, as I like to call them, the soul-destroying battles of attrition that are so hard they make you long for an existence spent rocking back and forth on a chair made of a material you're allergic to and with spikes coming out of the bit you sit on.
An example: I spent over two hours dying against a tank. After seeking out a video of the fight on the internet (it was more a cry for help), I learned that the best tactic is to throw a smoke grenade at the soldiers that protect it, run up to them, make them eat dirt by aiming my tranquilliser gun from right behind them, then tie balloons to them to extract them from the battlefield (a fun new feature called Fulton Recovery). Then, hopefully before the tank spots me, I should run away and hide, waiting for the next set of soldiers to spawn. Rinse, lather and repeat until all the soldiers are extracted and the tank driver pops his head out of the impenetrable armour, allowing me to put a bullet through his very penetrable skull.
That boss fight, though, was a walk in the park compared to the one against a Hind chopper. It circles a jungle clearing, bombards you with missiles while spawning soldiers that move in for the kill. Again, after hours of endless death, I headed online for salvation. And again, I discovered that the best tactic is to chuck a smoke grenade at the enemy troops and Fulton them away. 20 soldiers later, the pilot should pop his head out. That's where the sniper rifle comes in.