Despite its flaws, I'm still in no doubt that Metal Gear Solid 4 is one of the few essential games on PlayStation 3. For all its mildly anachronistic gameplay and seemingly endless cut-scenes, it's one of the most compelling action games on that, or any other console. However, when we took a look at MGS4, we didn't really have the time or space to tackle one of its most important features: the online, multiplayer game.
Of course, this isn't the first time Metal Gear has gone online, The Subsistence remix of Metal Gear Solid 3 introduced the basic concept, while MGS: Portable Ops brought it to the PSP. Metal Gear Online, however, is different. This time Konami isn't pushing MGO as a secondary component to a single-player game, but as the starter pack for a separate, evolving online action game, set in the recognisable Metal Gear universe and to be regularly supported by downloadable content. This is Konami's attempt to stake a claim to the sort of territory conquered by Halo 3, Call of Duty 4 and GRAW/GRAW2.
It's a bold ambition, but MGO does have a lot of things going for it. For a start, it's based on the foundations of one of the most technically accomplished titles on the PS3. MGO looks great. The character modelling and animation is uniformly excellent, the game's various war-torn locations are almost overloaded with rich architectural and textural detail. Just in terms of the quality of lighting it's ahead of any title bar GRAW2 and CoD4. Sound is used expertly, with some savage gun-blasts and the sort of precision where you can partially track your enemies just by monitoring footsteps. As an experience, it's easily as immersive as its rivals.
It also has a fine selection of game modes. True, the Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes won't surprise anyone who has played an online FPS since 1997, while Rescue is really just Capture the Flag with some oddball little quirks. Base is a pretty standard control point capturing affair, though the small size of the maps makes it faster and more frenetic than most. However, the Sneak and Team Sneak options are serious attempts to bring the flavour of Metal Gear to the online action game. In Sneak, one player takes the role of Solid Snake (with another taking on his robot chum, Metal Gear Mk.II, if the server is busy enough to merit it). The rest of the players are split into warring blue and red teams. While red and blue troops still score points for killing each other, they score higher for spotting and dispatching Solid Snake. Solid Snake, meanwhile, is equipped with his Octocamo stealth suit, and earns points for stunning/killing foes and capturing their dog tags, or holding them up to the same effect.
Team sneak, meanwhile, pits one team of stealth-suit equipped players against another team of guards. The sneakers have to either incapacitate all the guards or liberate two markers (bizarrely, a rubber frog and duck) and return them to their goal area. The guards simply have to spot and kill the sneakers - and so a nice game of cat-and-mouse begins.