What a topical, if irrelevant, title :)
Metal Gear Solid, for the most part, has always been about the singleplayer experience. Not until Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, did fans of the series see an introduction of a multiplayer element, and I’d say that it was still just an afterthought when compared to the main game. I had a friend that played the original Metal Gear Online when it came out for the PS2, but unfortunately for me, I never got the chance to experience it for a multitude of factors. The main reason being that, at the time, I was still pretty young and had no clue what Metal Gear Solid was, let alone its online component. Thankfully, however, in 2008 I picked up Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of The Patriots for my PS3 and instantly fell in love with the game, which persuaded me to go back and play through each one in the Solid series to fully understand the story. After playing through the main games (I still haven’t played Metal Gear or Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake yet) I decided to give Metal Gear Online, the version that came with Metal Gear Solid 4, a go. Anyone who has played Metal Gear Online knows that simply playing it wasn’t simple at all. Setting up an account through the Konami website was more than a pain and time sink; it was a hurdle that a lot of people failed to jump, but for those of us that made it over and across the finish line, we were rewarded with one of the most enjoyable multiplayer experiences to be had on a console.
Metal Gear Online was, at its most basic elements, a third-person, squad-based shooter. Games modes, including classics such as deathmatch and team deathmatch, could be played with up 16 players. But Metal Gear Online was so much more than the average third-person online shooter; it was unique on many different levels. First of all, it didn’t play like any other third-person shooter because, well, it played like Metal Gear Solid. If someone were to argue that Metal Gear Solid 4’s--for this example I’ll be sticking with Metal Gear Solid 4 because it most closely relates to the Metal Gear Online that I’m referring to-- control scheme was somewhat convoluted, I’d say that they could make a pretty good case supporting that argument. Metal Gear Online controlled exactly like Metal Gear Solid 4, for better or for worse, so a pretty high learning curve was accompanied with its extremely unique style of play. Game modes like Team Sneaking --a mode in which one team is invisible, save for their shadows in direct sunlight, and only armed with a tranquilizer pistol and a knife, are pitted against a visible team armed to the teeth with lethal weapons such as assault rifles and hand grenades-- are what made Metal Gear Online a one-of-a-kind experience. I could go on about the many other unique game modes, the codec commands that let others communicate with their teammates regardless of if they had a headset or not, the intuitive implementation of text chat (for a console based game), the level of character customization, the skills, the level design, etc., etc. But I won’t. I’m here because, just recently, Hideo Kojima announced that on December 5th, during the Video Game Awards (if that’s still what they’re called…), the new Metal Gear Online will be unveiled to the world. This, for fans of the previous Metal Gear Online, is extremely exciting news. It has been over 2 years since the last Metal Gear Online was shut down, and I’ve been craving it ever since. So, with the new one swiftly on its way, I thought I’d share my hopes and expectations for the new iteration.
The new version of Metal Gear Online will most likely be shipped with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, which, earlier this year, was prefaced by the prologue Ground Zeroes. From the many gameplays that have been released of The Phantom Pain, I think that it’s safe to assume that it’ll play almost exactly like Ground Zeroes, just with many more features, but the base gameplay should be the same. From here I think it is also safe to assume that the new Metal Gear Online will control like The Phantom Pain, and thus like Ground Zeroes. I believe that this is a very good thing, because Ground Zeroes has arguably the best control scheme of any Metal Gear Solid game to date. Unlike Metal Gear Solid 4 (or any other Metal Gear really), Ground Zeroes’ control scheme is very intuitive and simple, but capable of great depth if the player spends enough time mastering it. Everything feels natural and realistic while sneaking around in Ground Zeroes, and I think that most people that pick it won’t have trouble learning the controls as many did with Metal Gear Solid 4. I’m making note of this because as someone who enjoyed, and still does enjoy, the control scheme in the previous Metal Gear Online (also 4’s control scheme), I believe that it was a barrier that stopped a lot of people from picking it up. Personally, I had a friend that I wanted to play Metal Gear Online with; so I convinced him to go through the arduous process of creating an account and we finally played together… for a few games. After which he gave up and said that the learning curve was just simply too high, and that he’d rather stick to other multiplayer games that he had already mastered. With the change in the control scheme for Metal Gear Solid V, I believe that many more people will stick with the online because they aren’t being forced to relearn how to play a third-person shooter. Instead, to be successful, they will have to use the knowledge they have of how third-person shooters control and adjust it to the play style of Metal Gear Online.
While the controls of the game being intuitive and easy to pick up are important, what I really want to see in the new Metal Gear Online is some familiarity. For starters, I want there to be similar game modes that keep the interesting and separate from the typical shooters. Game modes like Team Sneaking, which I described earlier, Sneaking Mission, Rescue Mission and so on. These types of matches are what kept me coming back over and over again. There’s nothing quite like playing as Solid Snake, sneaking around a map full of frantic players, searching for that one opportunity to snag their dog tags and win the game. Another thing that I want to see return are skills and character customization. Unlike most online shooters that allow some degree of customization --usually to the guns themselves with things like stocks, sights, and underbarrel attachments--, Metal Gear Online allowed for a level of customization that was completely foreign in console gaming. To start with, there were the skills. Now, these skills could be anything from how fast a player ran, how proficient they were with an assault rifle, or even how how far they could throw a grenade. Each player was allowed only 4 skill slots, and some skills, depending on their level, could take up all 4 slots. This made the player pick and choose how they wanted to play the game and what advantages they preferred. This, combined with the usual customization of field weapons, made for some very unique play styles that I’ve yet to encounter in another game. As for character creation and customization, Metal Gear Online again proved to be top in its class. The player could choose either a male or female character, choose what type of voice they had, and choose their entire outfit, from combat vests to shoes. The customization didn’t end after the creation screen though. Players could compete in weekly mini-tournaments and actual tournaments, known as Survival and Tournaments (surprise), respectively. Competing in these matches would earn the player Reward Points which they could use in the in-game shop to purchase new clothing for their character, the likes of which were often comical and never meant to be displayed on a battlefield. The final thing that I want to see return in the new Metal Gear Online is the ranking system. As the player progressed in Metal Gear Online, they leveled up and earned emblems that resembled what they were proficient at. However, the leveling wasn’t just a number that continued to go up and up and up until it reached a maximum digit, symbolizing virtually nothing other than that person has played that game for a really, really long time. Instead, the number could go up, or it could go down, depending on how the player performed each match. One game, a player could be level 16 and just get absolutely wrecked by the other team, and by the end of the game he might be level 15. For me, this made me want to fight to get that level back and maintain or improve it. I liked gaining levels because it meant I was improving my play, not just playing for a long time. To go along with this feeling of actual progression and improvement, an emblem system was implemented to show an overall play style of specific players. These emblems were often animals, and each animal represented a different achievement. Eagle: gains a high amount of headshots. Bear: performs a lot of CQC. Pigeon: prefers non-lethal weapons. The list goes on, but not all emblems were something to be proud of. Emblems like Sloth meant that a player took a lot of headshots, and Rat meant that they fell for traps often. Emblems, however, like leveling, were not permanent. If a player had the Sloth emblem, they could focus on improving their play and get rid of the blight on their name. It really was an elegant system of showing one's merit on the battlefield, and I hope it returns in some form in the new Metal Gear Online.
Yet, I know that not all of these things will return in the new Metal Gear Online, but I also believe that it’s healthy for a game to evolve and change with the times. I’m expecting that a lot of the features I mentioned above will not be present in this upcoming title, or at least that they will be heavily altered. Metal Gear Online will always hold a special place in my heart; it was the first multiplayer game that I sunk over a thousand hours into, and a lot of those hours were some of the best gaming experiences I’ve ever had. I’d be setting myself up for failure thinking that anything will replace those memories I have, but that’s not what I’m doing. I’m excited, giddy even, over the fact that the sequel to a multiplayer game I loved so much is being released (hopefully) within the next year, and whatever changes come with it, so be it. I have faith in Kojima and his Los Angeles studio to deliver a superb multiplayer experience for both new fans and old. I suppose we’ll all find out together in less than a week! So get your boxes ready; Kojima’s kept us waiting long enough.