Metal Gear On­line

How Ko­jima Pro­duc­tions aims to counter a do­mes­tic back­lash

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360, PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox One

Ko­jima Pro­duc­tions’ Los An­ge­les branch (KPLA) has quite the task on its hands. The stu­dio put in charge of the third it­er­a­tion of Metal Gear On­line has been asked to find a way of mak­ing its se­ries de­but ap­peal to a broader au­di­ence, with Ko­jima re­veal­ing his dis­ap­point­ment in the per­for­mance of the PS3 pre­cur­sor out­side of Ja­pan. It can’t help to learn that many Ja­panese play­ers have ex­pressed dis­plea­sure that the game is be­ing de­vel­oped in the US, nor that news of a new class sys­tem has up­set hard­core MGO play­ers. At least the team doesn’t have the sham­bles that was Kon­ami ID to con­tend with.

Still, it’s not as if the core game didn’t have plenty of room for im­prove­ment. Though PS3 MGO re­tained a sub­stan­tial enough player­base for Kon­ami to keep the servers switched on for a year longer than an­tic­i­pated, it was blighted by poor com­mu­nity support, few sub­stan­tial con­tent up­dates, and costly pre­mium ad­dons. Though its tac­ti­cal, team­based ap­proach won it a num­ber of fans, by the end the game was dom­i­nated by small groups of very ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers. Al­ready un­for­giv­ing to late­com­ers, it left it­self open to abuse, with those in the know ex­ploit­ing its CQC abil­i­ties and gen­er­ous auto-aim. Another frus­trat­ing glitch al­lowed play­ers to re­peat­edly hide in boxes to avoid fire.

The ev­i­dence so far from the lat­est ver­sion sug­gests KPLA has taken what did work last time and broad­ened its range. What we’ve seen of an eight-on-eight base as­sault could well take place within The Phan­tom Pain’s sprawl­ing sand­box: it’s a large map with mul­ti­ple points of en­try, though it’s also dense and de­tailed, tiny dust clouds whipped up by the wind as the at­tack­ing team sprints into po­si­tion. Vis­ually, it’s a close match, too: there’s no no­tice­able loss of de­tail on character mod­els, and you’ll see ma­chine-gun fire sweep a card­board box across the floor as its rounds bite chunks from stone walls. Turn fire onto an op­po­nent and you’ll see blood spurt from their bod­ies in messy arcs.

Main­tain­ing the all-im­por­tant bal­ance may be the de­vel­oper’s might­i­est chal­lenge. With more ex­pan­sive maps, it’s no sur­prise to learn that var­i­ous modes of trans­port are planned, though the clos­est thing to ve­hic­u­lar com­bat shown is a de­ploy­able Metal Gear, a Gekko-like mech that can be pi­loted and, nat­u­rally, hi­jacked. Its legs can kick through riot shields, though with­out the abil­ity to sprint or dive for cover, it’s at risk from RPGs.

Kon­ami is re­main­ing coy over the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the class sys­tem, too, beyond sug­gest­ing it will al­low for greater def­i­ni­tion of in­di­vid­ual skills, which could mean any­thing from class-spe­cific abil­i­ties to dis­parate load­outs, weapons and perks. Venom Snake and Ocelot are the only two con­firmed cam­paign char­ac­ters so far, and it re­mains to be seen whether, as with the PS3 game, they can only be used in spe­cific matches rather than all game modes. What is clear is that Ko­jima’s off­beat sense of hu­mour re­mains. A de­ploy­able plush husky pup that cap­ti­vates guards with its cute­ness is a typ­i­cally goofy Metal Gear idea; like­wise, mo­tion-ac­ti­vated tur­rets that fire Ful­ton bal­loons at in­trud­ers, car­ry­ing them up and away from the bat­tle­field un­less a team­mate shoots them down in time. And a short-range tele­por­ta­tion de­vice al­ready looks im­pos­si­bly cool, al­beit pos­si­bly over­pow­ered.

We’re left with a few con­cerns. While it’s nat­u­ral for a pub­lisher to ramp up the ac­tion in pro­mo­tional footage, some of th­ese items sit at odds with the prom­ise of tac­ti­cal stealth op­er­a­tions, even if the pres­ence of cloak­ing de­vices and tran­quil­liser darts sug­gests you can al­ways play more sneak­ily if you pre­fer.

A more press­ing ques­tion is whether it can meet Ko­jima’s ex­pec­ta­tions. With even seem­ing dead certs such as Ti­tan­fall fail­ing to re­tain a sub­stan­tial au­di­ence, MGO has a fight on its hands to win the western mar­ket. Still, KPLA doesn’t have far to look for in­spi­ra­tion: Snake thrives un­der pres­sure, after all.

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