E3 06: Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops Multiplayer Hands-On

The newly announced PSP-exclusive Metal Gear Solid 3 sequel showed up fashionably late to E3, and we ran, not walked, over to get our hands on it. It's very impressive--find out why.

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LOS ANGELES--Announced earlier at E3 this week, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops could also be described as Metal Gear Solid 3-II. This PSP game will continue the memorable storyline of MGS3: Snake Eater, chronicling what happens to Snake--aka Big Boss--some years after his last mission. He'll need to deal with some treacherous FOX unit operatives in order to clear his name, having been wrongfully accused of treason. The newly released trailer is suggestive of all this, and of how this is very much a pure Metal Gear Solid game, rather than a spin-off, like the Metal Gear Acid series. Knowing all that, we rushed over to Konami just hours before the end of E3 in order to get a chance to play a multiplayer version of the game behind closed doors. This first build of the game arrived as a late-breaking addition to the company's lineup.

Multiplayer, you say? That's right: Metal Gear Online, first introduced a short while ago in the special edition Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence, will be integrated into Portable Ops, with both ad hoc and infrastructure modes. So you'll be able to wirelessly compete against other players over the Internet, playing a game that looks as good and plays as well, if not better, than Metal Gear Solid 3.

We got to go a few rounds in a four-player deathmatch mode as the producer of the game provided some detail about some of the differences (often while shooting us in the face--he was playing along with three others). Essentially this is the Metal Gear Solid 3 gameplay you'd expect if you've played Metal Gear Online as part of Subsistence. The underlying mechanics are nearly identical to the PS2 version, and we were relieved to find that the camera controls already seemed quite good. The analog stick is used to run in any direction, while the D pad is used to rotate your view around your character. The left trigger snaps the view behind your back if you need to reorient yourself, and when the character would obstruct the camera angle (such as when his back is to a wall), he becomes transparent so you can see.

We noticed one interesting change to the controls, which is that the triangle button is used for sneaking. Pressing and holding it makes your character walk instead of run, and pressing it while moving toward a wall causes your character to flatten his back against the wall stealthily. Also as in MGS3, it's possible to shoot either from a third-person or first-person perspective, though you can't move while in first-person mode. Switching to first-person viewing is as simple as holding down the right shoulder button.

The biggest new feature we noticed in this version was the addition of an onscreen radar, but it's not what you think--it represents sound. As you run around, the middle part of the radar scrambles, implying that you're being noisy. And as other players run around near you, let alone fire, the radar scrambles in whichever direction the noise is coming from. It seems like quite a smart system--it's not nearly as blatant as a visual radar that simply points out enemy players, and it may give you good reason to sneak around rather than go stomping from place to place. We didn't find ourselves relying on it too much while playing, but then, it's a tool that probably becomes much more useful with practice. One other cool little twist we spotted that's related to this is, whichever player is in the lead during this deathmatch mode gets flagged with a kerotan frog--basically a toy froggie--floating over his head. (If you don't understand, don't worry about it.) The frog croaks every few seconds, generating some noise and making the winning player a little easier to spot, putting him at a slight disadvantage.

It's easy to switch between different weapons, and in the demo we got to try a silenced pistol, an M-16, a Dragunov sniper rifle, and some grenades, all of which seemed to work like their PS2 counterparts. Headshots are lethal in this game (plus they earn you more points than regular kills!), and the action takes on a tactical feel that's still very quick and intense. Close-quarters combat moves are also in here, so we were quick to test out our favorite Metal Gear Online tactic of slamming an opponent to the ground and shooting him in the head. There's no blood in the game yet, but this was about as satisfying on the PSP as ever, though we noted there are still some collision-detection issues with the CQC moves--one of the few bits of this early build that couldn't be described as looking ready for prime time.

Of course, this game still has plenty of time left in development, but it already looks remarkable. We noticed never so much as a hitch in the frame rate, and the level of detail visible in the character models is as impressive as in the PS2 game. We noticed Snake was decked out in a new outfit, looking higher-tech and more tactical, suggesting that this game takes place some time after MGS3. Other characters running around killing each other included Eva, the seductive spy from MGS3, a random GRU soldier like the kinds you killed in droves in MGS3, and a FOX operative--apparently one of the new bad guys from Portable Ops. Clad in a military uniform and distinguished by his red beret and headset, this guy looked tougher than the average goon, and looked a bit like MGS3's Ocelot overall. Other nice visual touches could be seen, such as smoke and dust kicking up from the battle. Metal Gear-style music also played triumphantly in the background, and sounded as great as the series' soundtrack tends to, though we could tell it was an original composition.

The one map we played on looked like your average military complex, complete with barbed-wire fences, transport trucks, control rooms, warehouses, and more. Trenches and ladders leading to rooftops create many opportunities for surprise attack. It seemed like an interesting map.

From what we've played and seen of Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, we got the impression that the game won't settle for anything less than the series' very high standards for production quality. It seems like a game that could just as well be available for the PlayStation 2, but the idea that Metal Gear Online, along with a brand-new story continuing Metal Gear Solid 3, will be available in a portable form is very exciting indeed. Stay tuned to GameSpot for lots more about this one leading up to its release later this year.

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