Hideo Kojima lacks boundaries. His creativity, japanimation roots and desire to please crowds run wild and he always ends up going overboard. “Peace Walker” bears that burden from the get go, for after swearing and promising and vowing never to lay his delicate hands on Snake ever again, Kojima goes on to design yet another “Metal Gear Solid”. Just what everyone needed! Not content with his succumbing, he doubles the folly, and for the first time, creates a game for a portable console. However, in theory, “Peace Walker” could have been the right opportunity for Kojima’s redemption. Here was, by necessity, a technologically constrained videogame, released in a secondary platform, which meant a smaller budget and also less commercial and fan pressure. All would appear to in favor of more creative leeway for Kojima to suck some life into the decrepit halls of the Big Boss lining… but do we get anything more than a half-living recollection of past “Metal Gear Solids”?
Initial impressions are misleading. The return to the time-period and setting of “Snake Eater”, allowed Kojima to remain in familiar territory and to revisit his team’s greatest aesthetic accomplishments. In a technical tour-de-force, the natural environments of the third “Metal Gear” return once again and are made a delight to simply inhabit in, just sinking in the glorious atmosphere of those opressive hot jungles, barren mountain-tops and eerie dense forests. Exploring them has also become more accessible this time around, for after previous “Metal Gear” debacles, Kojima adopted a very slick control scheme which is only hindered by the lack of a second analog. These were small signs that platform limitations were actually pushing Kojima in the right way – focusing on a more immersive, relaxed, aesthetically evocative experience.
However, past the initial moments, imposed limitations start to push the game to new territories which we simply cannot abide with. It starts when it dawns on you that “Peace Walker” is less of a stealth game as much as it is an action game. Looking to ease in the game design for new players and make it more accessible for byte-sized, on the go gaming, the difficulty level was diminished to the point in which you can fly by the game’s levels by simply crouching and shooting tranquilizers left and right, barely pulling a sweat or employing any degree of tactical reasoning. There are very few penalties for not being stealthy, thanks to the game’s AI’s being as near-sighted as incompetent. Further underlining this contemporary action vibe are the only remnants of a challenge, the game’s bosses: massive beast-like gears, whose gameplay segments feel like grinding battles with mechanical replicas of “Monster Hunter”. “Monster Hunter”. “Metal Gear Solid”. We refrain from further comments. The final blow in this exercise is directed towards Kojima’s remaining saving grace: his narrative antics. For “Peace Walker” all the chit-chat about political intrigue, conspiracy theories, eccentric characters, etc. has been completely stripped of context and side-lined to a generic batch of audio files which you can listen in between missions. People always said they hated codec talk! Even Kojima team’s glorious real-time cutscenes are replaced by Ashley Wood’s handrawn vignettes, which though impressive and worthy of merit on their own right, still feel displaced in a “Metal Gear Solid” game.
Alas, once again Kojima bows down to the mob, and offers everything the masses pray (and prey) for: more action, more combat, less stealth, less talk. If any more proof needs to be put forth of this populist stance, let us end with a mention of the asinine addition of a casual Facebook-like meta-management game, in which you click, click, coins drop, drop and experience blows up, up, with players coming a-back, back for another fix of endless bars filling, filling and numbing pleasure rising, rising. Sure, everybody rants about Facebook and Farmville, but when something like this comes along in a “Metal Gear”, suddenly it becomes not only acceptable as it is applauded with big cheers by reviewers, for being extremely addicting and fun. This free reward based gameplay – zero-gameplay, as we would coin it – has zero-substance, zero-challenge, zero-narrative, and despite this, it is slowly becoming the new icon for the current state of videogames. Hideo Kojima, who should know better, didn’t fight this new paradigm one bit. He knelt, begged, and then apologized for ever having wanted to make decent videogames in the first place. He is defeated, without vision, without ideas, without soul, and above all, without courage, even in the one fleeting moment of his god-forsaken career in which he was awarded a tiny bit of freedom. He is a prisoner of his past and he will never be free.