TGS '07: Metal Gear Online Hands-On

That other new PlayStation 3 Metal Gear is also up for grabs on the show floor, and we took a shot at it...literally.

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TOKYO--Last year, Kojima Productions proved it could take Metal Gear Solid's shooting gameplay into the multiplayer space with the online component of Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence. Now, the developer is working on a full-fledged multiplayer offshoot of the series for the PlayStation 3 called, appropriately enough, Metal Gear Online. The game was playable for the first time at Konami's Tokyo Game Show booth, and we jumped into a rather brief six-versus-six team deathmatch to see how the competitive Metal Gear experience is evolving in its second iteration.

The core gameplay here will be quite familiar to Subsistence players because you still run around and shoot in third-person much like in the single-player MGS games. Gone is the stilted, immobile first-person aiming mode, though. In fact, the controls and basic shooting mechanics are lifted right out of Metal Gear Solid 4, the gameplay improvements of which we detailed in our hands-on report yesterday. So here, you'll use the triangle button to perform a lot of environmental interactions, like vaulting over obstacles and backing up against flat surfaces to take cover.

More importantly, you've got the new shooting controls in here as well. The auto-aim that we found a little easy and unnecessary against MGS4's artificial intelligence opponents seemed much more useful in this multiplayer setting because you can use it to shoot at other players while you're fleeing from them or trying to dodge their shots. Like in MGS4, you'll hold L1 to lock your aim to the enemy most directly in your line of sight, then you can fire at the enemy at will while moving. Also like in MGS4, you can turn the auto-aim off and use the L1 button to switch to a Gears of War-esque over-the-shoulder aiming view for precision shots. This makes you move more slowly, so you'll have to use it somewhat sparingly to avoid getting blasted by other opponents due to your sluggishness.

We found the aiming mode difficult to use in fast firefights because it currently seems to snap to the direction your character is facing, rather than the direction the camera is pointing. It's disorienting when your guy is facing to the left but your camera is centered on the enemy pursuing you, and you hit L1 only to find yourself aiming at a dead end while your enemy is suddenly to the right of your perspective. Hopefully, the developers will change this behavior to make the aiming more intuitive before the game is released.

Just prior to the match, we were able to choose a primary weapon from a group that included a couple of rifles, a shotgun, and a submachine gun. It also included a GSR pistol or silenced pistol, and a number of tertiary items, including claymore explosives, as well as various types of grenades. We jumped into the map, which Konami has shown off in demos before, to find a battlefield covered with tightly packed buildings and massive bombing damage. We're talking missing roofs or entire walls, so there were a lot of hiding places and vantage points. We were instructed on some basic tactics, but amid the overwhelming din of the TGS show floor, the match quickly devolved into a haphazard frag-fest with members of both teams mixing it up inside and outside the many buildings.

Before we sat down at the controls, we were briefed rather sternly by an attractive Japanese woman in faux military duds on some of Metal Gear Online's more advanced features, which we unfortunately didn't get to try out during our roughly five-minute match. First, there will be 15 specialized skills that you can equip, which will give you benefits like steadier aim or a faster run speed. From what we could tell, you can have four of these skills equipped at one time. Then there's the SOP system (still no word on what that stands for), which allows you to establish a link with your nearby teammates that lets you share some sensory information and even your special skills--though we didn't get to confirm exactly how that worked in our entirely Japanese-language demo. The SOP link seems to have a limited range and will be broken when you die, requiring you to reestablish it after respawning. Hopefully, we'll get to try out an English demo of the game soon to clarify the details of these unique customization features.

Other than the above new controls and unique mechanics, it was pretty much kill or be killed in Metal Gear Online. We expect there will be some more involved modes in the final game, but as mentioned, we only played a vanilla team deathmatch (with our team coming out on top, natch). The game runs more smoothly than the MGS4 demo we tried yesterday, though to be fair, frame rate is much more important in a multiplayer setting than in a single-player game. We also couldn't confirm what resolution MGO was running at, whereas MGS4 was definitely doing its thing in full 1080p. No information was available yet on when the previously announced MGO beta program will begin in Japan, but when it does, we'll do our best to get on it and deliver more detailed information, as well as some of that sweet HD direct feed your heart so desires.

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