I just got back from the New York Comic Con where many comics were being hyped, Grant Morrison was being interviewed by me in a skybox and "Metal Gear Online" was making its American playable debut.
Why "MGO" was at the Con is beyond me. But I don't mind. I was able to continue a late-week personal "Metal Gear" festival that began with five minutes of hands-on with "Metal Gear Solid 4" on Thursday evening.
A Konami representative told me that the "MGO" build on the Comic Con show floor was a simplified version of the closed beta that will launch this coming Monday. There were two multiplayer maps, though the beta may have a full three.
If you're like me and didn't really understand what "MGO" is, it's basically multiplayer "Metal Gear Solid" set in the world of "MGS4." And it's not a separate game. Not really. It will ship with "MGS4" and is in fact going to be on the same Blu-Ray disc, according to the Konami rep who played "MGO" with me at the convention. The game will be amplified with later expansions.
Like any other "Metal Gear" game, "MGO" has a mix of the conventional and the absurd.
The "MGO" game supports 16 players who can split teams however they'd like, including eight on eight or one on 15. Controls are the same as "MGS4," utilizing a left shoulder button for aiming and a right for shooting. Close quarters combat (CQC) is done with a right shoulder button as well. Selection of weapons and items is available through the other two shoulder buttons (L2 and R2, if memory serves), via a interface that resembles the one in "Metal Gear Solid 3."
Your customizable character moves like a standard "Metal Gear" protagonist, with a couple of extra abilities. For example, you can lie on the ground and, as was shown by "Metal Gear" designer Hideo Kojima in demos of "MGS4" last year, you can shoot your machine gun while lying on your back.
Combinations of taps on the d-pad activate voice signals to teammates, telling them to proceed, fall back, etc.
The two sessions I played were four-on-four team deathmatches. I played on both maps available at the Con. One was set in and around a warehouse that was too big for our eight players to find each other effectively. One was set in a smaller military base, with a few walkways and an underground area adding some detail to a relatively small dirt playing field.
I was told there will be many modes and lots of customization, but I wasn't given much detail. I did cycle through an arsenal of weapons -- players can choose one primary weapon like a machine gun, shotgun or sniper rifle, one pistol, and one type of grenade. Players also have a knife and some other equipment.
It was easy to see how the game may enable more stealth than other deathmatch games. Enemy players are not visible on the mini-map, and they do not cause blips or any other visual feedback on the mini-map when they make noise, as they did in "Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops."
The game runs on the"MGS4" engine and looks great. But my first impression is that the game is very meat and potatoes.
Thankfully, it showed at least a few oddities.
Because it is a "Metal Gear" game, you can hide in a cardboard box that is available in your items menu. You can walk and run while wearing this box. I tried this, but I guess I wasn't acting like a box, because another player shot my character dead.
Holding down the triangle button makes one's character stand at attention and salute. Why this happens, I have no idea. It's kind of amazing.
The game features ridiculous character-tossing catapults that function like the "Halo 3" man cannons, sending player-characters flying and flailing across the map or, in the moment I tried it, to the top of a warehouse.
I have a hunch that CQC will be a stand-out feature and a lot of fun. It is much harder to do against a human player who sees it coming and circle-strafes away than against a computer-controlled enemy in a standard single-player "Metal Gear Solid" game. But it also looks to be a differentiator in "MGO." When executed with skill, it could add a novel degree of complexity to the type of close-in fighting that is usually very simplistic in major multi-player deathmatch games.
One other somewhat unusual element is that the game features upgradable experience and skills. That alone is not unique, as it's in games such as "Call of Duty 4" and "Rainbow Six: Vegas." But the impression I got is that players will be upgrading skills like hacking, which sound different from the norm. And what's this "nanomachine" thing mentioned on the game's Wikipedia page? Why didn't Konami tell me about that? It seems a bit different too.
"MGO" looks solid, but didn't seem extraordinary. I may have been missing some of the depth, and the skilled stealth players may get much more out of it than people like me who played it like a straight-up action game.
Gamers can check it out for themselves when the beta goes live on Monday. To get key for the beta, players need to pre-order "MGS4" or go to Konami's "Metal Gear Online" site to look for announcements about free alternatives.
The beta will run a minimum of two weeks, possibly longer, according to the Konami rep who showed me the game.