Snake's back, except it's not Snake, it's his clone, or dad, or boss, or something... our heads hurt.
Peace Walker is more than a game of two halves; it is a game of two cultures. It is the perfect Japanese PSP game, but the imperfect Western PSP game.
We're told it began life as Metal Gear Solid 5, but was later condensed to fit Sony's portable console. Certainly, the plot bears all the hallmarks of a main Metal Gear yarn. Naked Snake, circa a Cold War-fuelled 1974, is the leader of a band of mercenaries called 'Militaires Sans Frontières', or Soldiers Without Borders. He is hired to help a rebel force boot the CIA out of Costa Rica, but ends up having to stop a demented professor from blowing up the world with a nuclear missile-carrying bipedal tank.
Missions come in two flavours: Main Ops are story missions, which are either sneaking missions or boss battles, and Extra Ops are repeatable challenges, designed to test your skills. Separate from the third-person sneakery pokery is a resource gathering management sim. After around about the first hour of play, Naked Snake and his cohorts settle down in an oil rig called Mother Base. As leader, it's Snake's responsibility to sort the new recruits that turn up on his doorstep into one of five teams: combat units, R&D, Mess Hall, Medical and Intel. Duties include making sure there are enough cooks in the Mess Hall to feed your workforce, tending to wounded soldiers in the sick bay and sending the riff raff to the brig.
As you progress through the game, Mother Base expands and new features are unlocked. Outer Ops, for example, is where you send combat units to fight other combat units in conflict zones across the world. Each unit has six slots, which you can fill with infantry and mechs (tanks and helicopters and unmanned bipedal robots, that sort of thing) before dispatching them to fight the enemy team. After you've progressed time by finishing a sneaking mission, your units return from the battlefield and you get to watch the fights they've had as weird turn-based scraps over which you have no control. Hopefully, your victorious team returns with the spoils of war free from injury (you get funny messages like 'Red Seabream transported to Sickbay due to post traumatic stress disorder'). But watching this play out is like watching someone play a really basic version of Advance Wars. Or, in other words, like watching paint dry.
Managing Mother Base is essential to your success during Main Ops missions, and it greatly extends the game's lifespan, but it feels like mindless work - a bit like stacking shelves. You care about the level of your Intel team because the higher it is, the more supplies you can call in when the going gets tough out on the battlefield. You want your combat teams to win Outer Ops missions because if they do they bring in loads of GMP, the currency used to buy research, which unlocks essential gadgets like night vision goggles and upgrades for the tranquilliser gun. But it's all necessary, rather than fun. You engage with Mother Base, but it's never engaging.
The main missions are where it's at, then. And this is where Peace Walker is sure to divide opinion.