Guest Author - James Shea
The online multiplayer accompaniment to Metal Gear Solid 4, Metal Gear Online is packaged with MGS4 and not a separate game. However, the gameplay is different enough to need its own review. For the most part, Metal Gear Online takes the online gameplay established in Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence and Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops and adds key touches from MGS4 to the mix.
Instead of the pre-made characters of the previous game, the player now has the option to customize his own character with one of four different voices (pitch can also be changed), one of several faces, and a wide array of gear and clothing. Every piece of clothing on the body can be picked; helmets and hats, jackets and shirts, tactical vests and harnesses, gloves, pants, and accessories like sunglasses, headsets, and balaclavas can all be chosen and customized with different colors. One thing that needs to be mentioned is that, currently, the clothes you pick at the beginning are the only clothes your character can wear (though he can take off some articles) unless you delete him and make a new character. This isn't mentioned in any of the documentation, and it was a bit of an annoyance when, during character creation, it said that clothes can be changed later on.
The other major choice of customizations is less cosmetic. There are different skills that a character can possess; these are divided into personal bonuses and SOP-related bonuses. Personal bonuses provide you with increased abilities in certain fields; for example, the "Assault Rifle +" skill gives you less recoil and reloading time when you use assault rifle. The "CQC +" skill gives you a wider range of attacks in CQC than the standard throw attack that all soldiers have. "Runner" lets you move faster.
SOP-related bonuses are based on the Sons Of the Patriots system, a nanomachine interface that allows players to "hook up" (by pressing the salute button, defaulted to triangle) and share information. When players are hooked up with SOP, they can see each others locations in the game world as represented by pulsing lights in the game screen. Furthermore, if an ally that you are hooked up to SOP with is put in some sort of condition (knocked out or killed, for example), you receive a notification of it and the ally's direction. In some cases, this allows you to revive your fallen comrade (if he is knocked out), while other times it helps you discern the location of a dangerous area. SOP-related skills include things like "Monomania", which allows you to highlight an enemy that you have hit for a brief time; allies that you are linked to with SOP also see the highlighted enemy. Another SOP-related skill allows you to use CQC on an enemy and inject them with a nanomachine probe that hacks into their SOP system, allowing you to see everything that they can see with SOP. If done properly, this can give away the location of an entire enemy team and turn the battle against them. The SOP system allows for and supports a larger amount of teamwork and coordination than was possible in previous online MGS games.
Skills can be upgraded with use, like in an RPG system. Using assault rifles a lot with the "Assault Rifle +" skill equipped will increase the level of that skill - from level 1 to level 2 to level 3. There are four slots for skills, and each level of a skill takes up one slot. So you could be a "Jack of all Trades" with four level 1 skills, or you could balance it out two level 2 skills, and so on. This system ensures that you can specialize in a skill without it unbalancing the game. There's no limit to how many skills you can upgrade, so you can either be content with working on skills that you like, or you can try to level them all up so you can change them as the need arises.
There are several different modes of play. "Team Deathmatch" and "Deathmatch" are traditional killing matches, where whoever gets the most kills wins. "Capture Mission" is a tug-of-war battle to retrieve either one or two objects and bring them back to your base while preventing the enemy from doing the same. "Rescue Mission" is an attack/defense scenario; one team must try to take an object from the enemy base and bring it back to their base, while the other team must stop them. In this mode, there's no respawning, so it's much more of a survival game than other modes. Finally, "Sneaking" mode has three teams: Red team, Blue team, and Snake's team. Red team and Blue team must fight each other and watch out for Snake, who will try to separate soldiers from their groups, knock them out, and take their dog tags. If Snake collects 3 dog tags in one life, he wins, and if a team kills Snake 3 times, they win. If time expires and neither of those conditions are met, the team with the most kills wins. Also, if there is a large number of players in a match, Snake is given a helper in the form of the Metal Gear Mk.II (controlled by another player).
As far as in-game action goes, one of the main new changes is the "Drebin Points" mode. With Drebin points turned off, the game is similar to older Metal Gear online incarnations - there's a variety of available weaponry that the player can choose from with fairly balanced stats for each. With "Drebin Points" mode, the player gets points for killing enemies that can be exchanged for more powerful weapons not otherwise available. Things like scopes and grips can be added to weapons for a low cost, but things like grenade launchers and heavy machine guns are more expensive. You don't have to spend all your Drebin Points at once, either; if you get a lot of kills one round, you can buy a mid-quality gun for a few rounds, rather than spending it all on the biggest, most powerful gun (which you'd lose if you died). If something causes you to die with zero points (say, you had 1000 points and you spent them all and you died without getting any kills) the game gives you 1000 points - enough to keep you in the game, essentially, so that you aren't completely trapped by your mistake. The Drebin Points mode works well for the setting and the theme, and the fact that it's optional (rather than an enforced new gameplay setting) is also a feature that I like.
In more technical matters, there are also two kinds of matching systems. The first of these is an auto-matching system similar to Halo 3: you specify the game type you want, and the game automatically groups you with other players around your level. The other type of matching is the more traditional system, where players host customized games and other players may browse through them and join them depending on the specifics they are looking for. Again, the fact that both options exist is something that I think works very well.
Communication between players has been improved, as well. In addition to the SOP system, there are also more direct means of communication. The option to use a headset for direct communication has been added, as well as the more traditional means of either typing out a message (with a controller or a USB keyboard) or using pre-recorded messages. In MGS3, there were some messages that could only be accessed by a keyboard (which uses phrases like "/g" instead of "select-left-up"). In MGO, the messages assigned to the Playstation controller can be changed and customized, which allows the player to choose the specific messages that he would need in the game.
Gameplay uses MGS4's new over-the-shoulder camera. This is an improvement from old games, where fighting was dominated entirely by people who managed to get into first-person mode, and auto-aim was almost entirely useless. The new over-the-shoulder camera makes action much more frantic and interesting. Another good touch is the fact that weapons like sniper rifles and RPGs no longer put you into first-person mode immediately, which allows them to be used more like normal weapons.
The only problem I have with the game is the Playstation Online Network framework. Registration requires 2 different IDs (a Konami ID and a Game ID) and is a pain to go through, and documentation regarding how IDs are connected to individual PS3s is worryingly scarce. There are some things available through an online store (the game that comes with MGS4 is described as a "Metal Gear Online starter pack"); these currently include more character slots (3 for $6.99) and a Codec pack that gives 32 more phrases (that can be assigned as described above) for $4.99. It's also been hinted that much of the new content (new characters, clothes, and maps) will be available in this online shop. The system is in general fairly worrying, as many of the new micropayment systems have been. The most worrying part is the new characters, which may result in an imbalance in fairness. It would be better if the new characters were introduced in new modes, like with the Snake vs Everyone sneaking missions.
As a whole, Metal Gear Online is, at the current time, a solid game with good controls and gameplay. The system as a whole works well, and I like that a lot of features were added, but did not replace the old style of gameplay. The online system is a little worrying, and a lot of its quality depends on how the online shop's contents progress. As a whole, though, the game is fun and encourages a lot of thinking and teamwork.
Metal Gear Solid 4 Walkthrough
Metal Gear Online Walkthrough