MGS Peace Walker, Facebook Games and ‘The War Economy’

In the run up to the release of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Hideo Kojima promised many things; shifting battlefields, NPCs with emotions, the ability to play the entire game in first person – anyone who followed the game’s development, gobbling up every morsel of info on the ‘Final Entry in the Metal Gear Solid Saga’ (cough)  will have gotten a serious case of “the Molineuxs” when they got their paws on the finished article. I sure did. I even came up with the phrase “A Serious Case of The Molineuxs” to describe how I felt.

I’m not here to rag on MGS4 but one particular unfulfilled promise must have bugged Kojima enough to make him explore it further, and on the PSP of all places. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker delves deep into one of MGS4’s more intriguing unfinished thoughts – the war economy. In doing so Peace Walker adds further depth to Big Boss and the hitherto slightly ridiculous concept of ‘Outer Heaven’ – the MGS series’ Valhalla-ish mercenary state that so many of the series villains seem to want to create or destroy or fund or something.

MGS4 depicts a world in which Private Military Companies (or PMCs) keep the world in a state of constant conflict buoyed by the War Economy…  and Liquid was there… and he still has Ocelot’s arm, no wait it’s the other way round. Anyway, in gameplay terms this War Economy translates into Snake picking up weapons from fallen enemies, selling them and buying various items from a weapons dealer named Drebin. The prices apparently fluctuate slightly, depending on how heated battle is in a particular area (there’s also a sale on Sundays) but it’s not enough to really impact on gameplay. The trouble is, it’s pretty easy to pick up weapons, buy ammo and unlock ID tagged guns (did I mention guns are all ID tagged now?)  and even when you do, there’s not much need to use any weapons other than the tranq gun and the multi purpose assault rifle that Snake gets as a freebie early on. Outside of the tortuous, muddled main story, The War Economy has little impact on anything in MGS4, it’s not until Peace Walker that Kojima and his team fully explore the idea in a satisfying way.

And boy do they. Pinching liberally from sources as diverse as Monster Hunter, Pokemon and Facebook games, Peace Walker creates an almost Farmville-esque Feedback Loop that describes the war economy better than 2 hours of Cutscenes ever could. And fittingly, it does so in a game that tells the story of Big Boss creating the mercenary business/state that may or may not be ‘a bit evil‘. Every character he meets is recruited (with the best intentions) into his rag-tag army without much care for their wellbeing. (Interesting contrast; Solid Snake spends most of MGS1 and 2 telling people they shouldn’t be fighting… Big Boss doesn’t feel quite the same way)

The way Peace Walker creates this loop is deserving of a Flow Chart far more resplendent that I could ever muster with MS Paint. All the games modes and side quests and RTS-lite minigames feed back into each other in the most engrossing, but never confusing way. By the time the story has wrapped up (no less than twice) some strange compulsion keeps the player replaying missions, sending squads out on ‘Outer-Ops’, upgrading weapons and using salvaged machine parts to make thier own ‘Metal Gear ZEKE’. It’s the same compulsion that keeps people clicking on cows, checking on crops and clogging up people’s social media feeds with updates about ‘Mob Strength’.

But where Facebook games use this sort of feedback-loop compulsion for nefarious purposes (microtransactions, advertising and the aforementioned updates/requests) Peace Walker weaves this cycle into the fiction of the game and in doing so, casts the rest of the series into a different light. It’s something that could only be accomplished on a portable system, where the ability to send out a few squads on a morning commute made the PSP my travelling companion for the first time since I bought it.  By the end of Peace Walker, Big Boss has resigned himself to a life of constant war, a swirling vortex of conflict that drags in everyone that comes near – be that 12-year old Boys, Bird Watching pants-less French Chicks or the player, firing up their handheld to scan Wifi access points for new recruits (and if you’re me – ruining a holiday by playing every spare minute of every day).

And they say Kojima can only tell stories in Cut-Scenes.

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