TOKYO--For what seems like years now--wait, it has been years--the words "Metal Gear" and "online" have engendered lust in the hearts of diehard fans everywhere. But until recently, the thought of employing Solid Snake's trademark stealth maneuvers against real people was just a pipe dream. Finally, Hideo Kojima's mammoth stealth action series will deservedly hit the online space early in 2006 with a multiplayer mode in the imminent Metal Gear Solid 3 remix, Subsistence. At the Tokyo Game Show, Konami is letting a select few try out Subsistence's competitive mode for the first time, and we couldn't resist slinking in to snap some necks with the best of 'em.
There will be a number of modes included in Subsistence's competitive multiplayer, among them deathmatch, team deathmatch, and a capture-or-defend game type called rescue. But perhaps the most compelling--or at least, the most bizarre--is capture the frog, a quirky, team-based game type that has each side vying to score points by delivering a hapless amphibian to the appropriate goal point. Naturally, Konami has chosen capture the frog for Subsistence's online debut. To veterans of common shooter game-types like one-flag capture the flag, the mode will at once seem familiar, but also unique enough that its own idiosyncrasies will emerge only after you spend some quality time with it.
Of course, before you get a handle on the quirks of capture the frog, you'll have to get used to engaging in the core Metal Gear Solid style of gameplay, in a multiplayer setting and against other live people. We've previously only employed Snake's stealth moves--which include backing up against walls to peer around corners, silently sneaking up behind foes to snap their necks, and going for headshots from covert locations--against computer-controlled enemies with notoriously poor senses of sight and hearing. Subsistence will obviously make Snake's entire repertoire of moves available in the multiplayer mode, but when your opponents can see everything you do, the focus shifts much more onto out-and-out shooting action.
Luckily, the MGS style of gunplay seems to translate well to a multiplayer setting. Subsistence is also the first Metal Gear game to offer a player-controllable third-person camera, and we got to use it when we played the game online. This basically works like in most third-person action games--you'll use the right analog stick to move your viewpoint around, which naturally makes it easier to see enemies than with the standard MGS fixed-overhead perspective.
Aside from this revised camera scheme, Subsistence multiplayer controls just like the single-player game in Snake Eater--you can shoot from the hip without any sort of onscreen targeting indicator, or you can switch to first-person view for precision aiming. Each has its pros and cons. When shooting from the hip, you can keep running while firing, but you won't have any decent way to aim at enemies (though a very loose autotarget will help mitigate this to a small degree). In first-person, you can aim precisely enough to even score the occasional headshot, but you won't be able to run at the same time, leaving you a sitting duck for anyone who's not directly in front of you. After about an hour with the game, we found it required a little finesse to know when to shoot in first- or third-person to get the most kills.
Weapon of Choice
Of course, choice of weapon is just as important. Before each match, a selection screen will pop up that lets you pick your loadout, including primary weapon (shotgun, submachine gun, sniper rifle, a number of assault rifles); side arm (silenced pistol, tranquilizer gun); and peripheral item (a variety of grenades, a girly magazine). All of these weapons and items are straight out of MGS3, so returning players will be familiar with their designations and handling. You can change your armament each time you die, to help counteract whatever tactics the enemy is using. The use of all these items is straightforward, though the magazine bears explanation: It acts as a trap of sorts, in that any player who goes near it will be forcibly stuck gawking at it for a good long moment before being freed. Naturally, it makes sense to mine the area around your base with the magazines, not that we're giving strategy tips or anything.
Finally, you'll have some basic combat moves for your use if you should run out of ammo or the situation simply calls for them. The close-quarters combat system seen in Snake Eater will be available here, and again it'll require you to switch to a sidearm, like a pistol, to use it. You'll be able to perform the same throws that Snake used in the original game to knock down enemies, and while they're on the ground you're free to shoot them and deplete their life as much as possible. You'll also be able to take a flying leap and roll at enemies, which will knock them down briefly if you orient yourself correctly before you jump.
So about that capture the frog. This game type starts the two teams off in random positions, with a small green frog toy distributed somewhere in the level. Your task is to get to the frog before the other team does, carry it back to your goal point, and then defend the goal for 20 seconds to win the match. Each player is equipped with a heads-up radar that shows the location of the frog and both goal points, and the game makes it clear who has the frog and what they're doing with it, so there's no mystery involved in sneaking the frog from one place to another. That means a capture-the-frog match will typically boil down to a war of attrition between the two teams, as each one vies for possession of the frog and subsequently the strong base defense that will result in a win.
The maps in Subsistence's multiplayer mode will be composed of a mixture of original creations and levels adapted from Snake Eater's single-player mode. The maps we saw were set in a mixture of wooded and industrial settings, so in some areas you'll be able to hide in the underbrush or behind trees and rock outcroppings, while in others you'll have more man-made tunnels and small buildings to use for cover. All the maps were thoughtfully designed with team play in mind, with choke points, easily defensible bases, and so on. It also seems like most maps will feature some interesting secrets. In one, we were able to climb a ladder to get onto the roof of a small house, where we found the previously unavailable M63 heavy machine gun waiting for us (we proceeded to gleefully mow down the opposition from our uncontested position). Another map made it difficult just to secure the frog, since it spawned on top of a large crate that was initially impossible to climb. We had to climb up onto a nearby building and then take a running leap toward the box just to get to the goal. There's no word yet on how many maps will be in the final version of Subsistence, but we like what we've seen so far.
The online mode will contain plenty of other features that Konami hasn't really talked about yet, such as the ability to unlock specific story characters, like Revolver Ocelot, for use in multiplayer skirmishes, or the sneaking mission mode, in which one player takes control of Snake and attempts to infiltrate a position being protected by player-controlled guards. But even the small slice of Subsistence online that we've already played has left us wanting more, which is certainly a good sign for the final product. The game isn't due out until 2006, so we'll undoubtedly be back with more before then.