Hands-on / Metal Gear Online

Undoubtedly one of the longest lines at this years NYCC was for Metal Gear Online. The former offshoot title, now multiplayer component of Metal Gear Solid 4, was the biggest game convention-goers were allowed to get some time with. After playing two rounds of it and watching numerous others, I can say that it’s … a mixed bag.

Four on four deathmatch was the name of the game. After a brief tutorial of the controls (standard for a Metal Gear game: L1 is enter aim mode, R1 is shoot, O is close quarter combat, etc.) we were let loose.

The first thing you notice is that the game is gorgeous. Player models are highly detailed, environments look vibrant, lived-in, and explosion effects are amazing. The map was a traditional urban setting – with lots of concrete blocks to find cover, a high up structure complete with catwalks and towers and an underground tunnel system.

MGO’s weapon system is much like Counter-Strike and a host of other tactical shooters. At the start of the game, you select your primary and secondary weapons along with a grenade type and you can switch those in between respawns. The weapons were pretty standard fare, ranging from sniper rifles and shotguns to machine guns and riot shields (!). Secondary weapons were merely two different pistol types, but they served their purpose. Grenades were a bit more varied, ranging from stun, flash bang and good old frag.

One aspect that took getting used to and will only improve with more play-time was character movement. Your character moves very slow and methodical – this is not Halo 3. You will enter a painfully slow crouch while walking up stairs and even moving upright feels sluggish when compared to other multiplayer titles. Granted, this is a “stealth” game, but it will take more than a few rounds to get moving effectively down pat.

Another problem I had with my time with MGO was that it took way too many shots to down an enemy. This resulted in a lot of awkward close-quarter situations, with people facing their backs to one another trying to hit each other with the butt of their gun or slowly backtrack reloading. The close quarters combat aspect of the combat needs some work.

A welcome wrinkle to gameplay was the advent of the iconic Metal Gear cardboard boxes. There were empty boxes scattered throughout the map and at the push of a button, players could don their own box and spring a hilarious trap on unsuspecting foes. Although I never saw this pulled off effectively (not for lack of trying) as cautious players were shooting empty boxes, just in case.

Right before I got my play session in, there was a 10-15 minute delay while the server crashed. While this can be chalked up to bad luck, it’s worth noting. Especially when, right before, fellow editor Matt turned to me and said “I wonder if the game can run this well online” with all those pretty graphics.

MGO is a game that cannot be mastered with one, two or even five hands-on plays. I only registered a few kills in my two rounds and felt pretty incompetent controlling my character. Many of the battles felt awkward and poorly fought – but maybe that’s because of the overall inexperience from the crowd. The game sure does look nice and will be a delight to many long-time Metal Gear fans. Will it be enough to pull people away from GTA IV or even the Metal Gear Solid 4 single player? I am not so sure.

But you’ll be able to find that out for yourself soon enough. In case you haven’t heard yet, the open beta which was originally supposed to start today was delayed because of technical difficulties. But, new details are expected to be announced tomorrow and hopefully it won’t be too long until Konami gets things working on their end.

[See also: Metal Gear Online gallery]