Metal Gear Online
Last time we saw Metal Gear Online, it was released in beta form earlier last April to test the online capabilities and push the network to its limits in advance of the final release. While this newer MGO was not very similar to the original version included with Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence, it certainly captured the spirit and main ideas presented in the previous iteration. After playing through quite a bit, my final thoughts were along the lines of the game being worth looking into despite the few networking issues that plagued it last time. Now that Konami has had time to tweak everything, how did everything finally turn out?
To summarize for those who need a quick overview, Metal Gear Online is the online multiplayer component of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, though it is treated as a stand-alone game, much like Counter-Strike: Source was with the original release of Half-Life 2. Players create their own character and fight in one of the variety of gameplay modes, including Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Sneaking Mission, Rescue Mission, Capture Mission, and Base Mission. Once you’ve got your character all figured, you can then choose from a list of skills that can be leveled up, giving them new abilities and enhancing old ones. The game itself plays very similarly to MGS4, with non-linear means to fight and complete objectives.
The core gameplay tends to consist of the red team and the blue team fighting each other, or over objectives across five different maps. Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch are straightforward, but the other gametypes have a bit more meat to them, especially Sneaking Mission. In Sneaking Mission, a randomly chosen player takes the role of Old Snake and must collect three dog tags from KO’d enemies, while the red and blue team try to fight each other in regular Team Deathmatch, though killing Snake on the way also tends to happen very often. Rescue mission is similar to 1-Flag CTF, with one team defending an objective and the other trying to capture it. Capture Mission consists of both teams trying to collect one or both objectives and defending them for a set period of time. Finally, Base Mission is similar to King Of The Hill, with each team competing to capture several bases spread throughout each map. Overall, there’s a nice selection of modes to choose from, and hopefully more will be added in the future.
Controls in Metal Gear Online are quite standard and easy to grasp, with one of the only problems being the first-person mode coming off as too sluggish, something I hoped would have been fixed from the beta. The auto-aim system also feels a bit random and if you’re not using the skill that enhances the view distances it works within, its only good use is with the Stun Knife for easy stabbing or shocking. Weapon and item changing is sure to be annoying at first, but once you choose and customize one of the three ways to do them, it becomes a lot more manageable. Most of the standard movement and gestures from the Metal Gear series is still present, such as hanging, crawling, forward rolls, and crouching. The d-pad is used for giving voice commands, which allows players without mics to communicate with their team, if only in a very basic manner.
As for getting into a game, you have three methods to choose from, including Free Battle, which is just a server listing of all present games, Automatching, which is just a matchmaking service that references players’ stats and connections to match each other up, and lastly, Training, which is a good way to figure out how to play when you’re just starting. In general, Automatching is clearly the best route to go, as you’ll find games with very minimal lag in comparison to finding one in Free Battle, which gives absolutely no indication as to whether or not the game will lag other than a rudimentary system in which other players rate a host out of five stars, which stays with their profile forever, much like the feedback system on eBay. Still, it just doesn’t make sense to not include even basic icons like a green, yellow, and red circle to indicate how good your ping is, especially in the year 2008. Lag itself is indeed a big problem, and while Automatching tends to alleviate most issues in this regard, you’ll still run into matches where you’ll seemingly die randomly, only to realize that the client-side hit detection is out of wack and the game assumed the whole situation.
Another issue with MGO is with the actual interface itself is your friends list. Instead of using the standard PSN friends list, Konami makes use of their own, meaning you have to add everyone again. And they sure didn’t make it easy to do, either, as the person you want to add has to be online in order to receive the request. Not only that, but the other person must reciprocate by sending you a request as well. The Konami ID is also another ordeal, as you must create an ID for Konami services as well as MGO itself, all the while being signed in on your PSN account. There is absolutely nothing standardized about the way you operate the game’s online features, and it’s a shame that this route was chosen in lieu of just using the same PSN ID that nearly every other game uses. For an online-based game, this is unacceptable, and one of the biggest things holding it back from being as good as it could be.
Once you get past these problems and finally just start playing, you’ll no doubt be a bit confused about how you want to play. With a number of skills to choose from, it’s really hard to figure out what you want to play as when you first start, and it can be incredibly frustrating those first few hours. Once players finally start leveling up their skills, it becomes clear what works and what doesn’t, and that’s when the fun truly begins. Skills are not permanent, thankfully, and players can swap them out at the beginning of each match, though you must stick with them for the duration of the match once it’s begun.
Skills play a major role in Metal Gear Online, with each character can have up to four skill slots, but the catch is that in order to use skills higher than Level 1, they require more space. For example, one setup could consist of one Level 3 skill and one Level 1 skill; another could be four Level 1 sets, etc. Some of the more interesting skill choices include CQC, Blades, Scanner, and Sixth Sense. One of the more important skills in everyday combat is CQC, short for close quarters combat, is the fighting style introduced by The Boss in MGS3 and used in sub-sequent Metal Gear titles. One of the best results (and examples of mixing skills together) is when Level 1 CQC is used in conjunction with Level 3 Blades, which allows players to grab enemies and slit their throats for an instant kill. Scanner and Sixth Sense are examples of skills that work with the SOP (Sons Of Patriots) HUD system, which is similar to that of the one used in the recent Ghost Recon titles, and is shared with other players. Scanner allows small tracking devices to be injected into enemies while in a CQC hold, which keeps tabs on the enemy, and Sixth Sense shows nearby traps on SOP.
Graphically, everything is quite good, though a bit mixed in some areas. The character models and most of the other in-game models look great, but sometimes the environments can be inconsistent in terms of texture quality and model detail. The framerate is also a bit inconsistent, with it usually running at 30 FPS, though there are cases where it will speed up and slow down when transitioning from a big area to a smaller one, and vice versa. It doesn’t seem to dip below 30 FPS, though, so it is very much playable. The music is also great, and the player is given the option of choosing from a myriad of selections, including pieces from all the major installments of the Metal Gear series.
One of the cooler features that seems to be included in a lot of newer games these days is the ability to snap screenshots in-game, allowing you to share your exploits online with your friends. You can upload the screens to your profile on the Metal Gear Online Community Support site, or save them in a higher resolution onto your XMB, with the ability to mess with the colors, brightness, and contrasts. Other online features include personal stats, rankings, match history, and the MGO Shop. The MGO Shop is set to be a place where new downloadable content will be available for purchase in the future, though for now there are only two things, which are character slots and more voice commands.
Metal Gear Online has a lot of potential for an online-only game, but it just seems incomplete at the moment in regards to content. Character customization is one of the high points, with a lot of different ways to choose the appearance and skill sets of each character, though only the latter is able to be changed after the fact. With a hinted standalone release in Japan this Summer, one can only hope the same happens for the rest of the world. It would be great to see it released on the PlayStation Store as well, like Warhawk. Despite the fact that Konami prematurely killed of all support for the original Metal Gear Online, I don’t see this happening with the current iteration due to the sheer popularity and availability. I would like to see more effort put into the netcode, and add an indicator to show your ping in the Free Battle server list. The gameplay itself is very balanced, and has a nice pace from starting out to mastering different skills, and perhaps the only bottleneck is just the networking and the features that go with it.