Metal Gear Online is both good fun and extremely annoying

After playing Metal Gear Online for the past few days, I've come to a couple conclusions. First, if you don't already own MGS 5, this isn't really a reason to buy it. (If you're looking for a reason to buy it, try our review—you'll find lots.) If you do own MGS 5, get in there and try out its new competitive multiplayer: it's generally a lot of fun, and there are lots of cool ways to kill and embarrass people (see the gif above). But it's also got some big problems and minor frustrations.

You begin by choosing one of three classes—Enforcer (tank), Infiltrator (stealth), Scout (sniper)—and at the start you only have a single loadout for weapons and gear. No worries: within an hour or so of play you'll unlock two other profiles which you can use for the remaining classes, you'll gain additional loadout slots and access to some pre-made loadouts, and you'll start to acquire the fun MGS 5 gear. Each of your three profiles level independently, but the early stages of leveling happen quickly and at the end of almost every match you'll have something new to add to your repertoire.

There are three game modes. Bounty Hunter is a team deathmatch with a ticket system. Each team starts with a bunch of respawn tickets, and each death results in the loss of a ticket. However, make a kill and you get a bounty point, and if you Fulton a player with a bounty your team receives that bounty in tickets. Potentially, this makes for some late-game swings, though play with strangers who aren't communicating or coordinating and that's pretty rare. It's common to be in the process of Fultoning a high-bounty player when someone on your team just shoots them. Still, I've had some extremely fun matches.

For a little more structure, Comms Control is a standard control-point mode. It's a little easier than Bounty Hunter for team focus: even if no one is communicating, everyone knows which points are captured and which need to be defended. There's also Cloak and Dagger, where one team is fitted with camouflage and non-lethal weapons, and must steal one of two data discs before escaping to an extraction point. The other team is armed with lethal weapons and must sniff out and kill the infiltrators. There's no respawning, so it's a more deliberate and tense experience, though a little dull if you get capped early.

Problems? Hoo boy, yes. Metal Gear Online unfortunately uses peer-to-peer instead of dedicated servers, which means if the host of the match quits or gets disconnected, the match is abruptly canceled and everyone is bounced back to the lobby. How often does this happen? In my experience, a lot. Conservatively, I'd say it happened every three or four matches, and it really, really stinks. Even if they don't quit, if the host has a poor connection it can fart up the experience for everyone else.

When a host vaporizes, the game chooses another host from the remaining players, and that new host is always me. This means I feel obligated to keep playing even when I'm ready to quit, which also kinda blows. I know there are benefits of peer-to-peer because I Googled 'what are the benefits of peer-to-peer' but it's hard not to feel like it was a terrible choice for this game. But then, I'm still also dumbfounded that I can't navigate the game's menus with a mouse, so maybe I shouldn't be surprised there aren't servers.

Just like in the campaign, the changing weather adds some fun. Torrential downpours and smothering duststorms strike randomly (but briefly) limiting vision and making it harder to detect footsteps. Nothing really jumps out at me map-wise: the maps are okay but feel a bit boilerplate and unimaginative. I hope they add some more interesting and unusual maps, and I'd especially love to see some player-made ones (though I don't have much hope for that). The three modes provide different experiences but at the same time it's hard not to want (and expect) a few more. Last man standing and a free-for-all deathmatch would be fun, and even a way to just mess around with your friends in freeplay would be welcome.

Like all online games, it will hopefully receive some more balancing and matchmaking tweaks. Enforcers feel a trifle too durable, unless I happen to be playing as an Enforcer, in which case it feels fine. It seems a little unfair that Infiltrators can shoot while cloaked unless I'm an Infiltrator and I'm shooting while cloaked. That kinda thing. The instant respawning in two of the modes lends itself to a fast-paced and chaotic experience, and while it's fun it also feels decidedly un-MGS-like. With so many fun gadgets and traps and weapons, I think I was hoping for a slower, more deliberate pace to the matches. I'm not seeing that, though. I think a longer wait for respawning might encourage players to slow down a bit, but you unfortunately can't edit the respawn timer when creating a custom match.

It's still enjoyable, though, and there are a disturbing number of ways to be completely humiliated. I've been knocked out with tranq darts and had a balloon tied to my butt. I've been tricked into falling in love with stuffed animals and rewarded by having my spine slammed into the ground. I've been grabbed, choked, interrogated, and murdered by an invisible maniac. The thing I like most about Metal Gear Online is that now I know how the poor Russian soldiers in the campaign must feel.

Also, for the right price, you can wear a cat on your head.

287700 2016 01 21 00024


The first PC game Chris owned was Choplifter in 1982, and since then our staff writer has played at least three other games. He has a love/hate relationship with Early Access survival games and an odd fascination with the lives of NPCs.
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