In other respects, MGO pays homage to the big hitters on the online action world while including plenty of distinctive Metal Gear elements to keep the MGS fanbase happy. Like GRAW2 or CoD4, MGO uses a system of persistent characters for the players. First you choose your skills and outfit your character. Then you earn experience for kills, captures and team wins and eventually accumulate enough experience to level up. Level up and you boost your skills further, giving you advantages in terms of speed or accuracy or the use of particular gadgets or weapons.
Weapons and items, meanwhile, cover the full gamut of military hardware that you’ll be familiar with from single-player Metal Gear games, but also leaving room for such Solid Snake favourites as the cardboard box and the girly mag – which has the same effect on other players as it does on patrolling guards on the main game. Cleverly, MGO also incorporates the SOP system that’s such a crucial plot point in MGS4. Salute a team-mate by pressing the triangle button and you connect via nanomachines embedded in your bodies. Your SOP-connected allies become visible through walls, and you can also see Solid Snake if he’s in their view. Used properly, SOP plays a major role in winning team-based games. In addition, Drebin Points cross over from the single player game, basically affecting what weapons you can afford to load out with at the beginning of each round. As in good old Counter-Strike, the better you do the more DP you’ll have, and so the more chance you’ll have of doing better next round.
Now, Konami has obviously spent a lot of time and effort first designing the game and its maps, and then tweaking both. The maps are reasonably small – MGO only supports 16 players, after all – but they’re packed with alleyways, secret passages, rooftop hideaways, crawlspaces, windows to roll through and other goodies. You also have to love some of the more amusing touches, like the catapult that hurls players from rooftop to rooftop in the Urban Ultimatum map.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always quite come together, and it’s partly a result of the way people are generally playing the game, and partly a result of the way it handles. Unsurprisingly, MGO uses the same control system as MGS4. This was designed for stealth, a carefully considered, tactical brand of gunplay and close player immersion, and when you’re doing those things, as you might in a really good game in the Sneak or Team Sneak modes, it all works brilliantly. The problem is that a lot of the time everybody plays MGO as if it were any other online action game. When you play it in this way, with everyone racing around blasting everyone else, the control system begins to fall apart. You feel slow. You can’t turn fast enough to shoot someone before they’ve blasted you to kingdom come. You can get a lock-on easily, but targeted aiming feels cumbersome. In fact, it’s not unusual to see two players caught in a duel racing madly around each other in a desperate attempt to draw a bead, then resorting to close combat – which is equally as finicky – just to get a kill. It’s not a game-breaker, and even played on these terms MGO is a lot of fun, but it does have a negative effect.