If it wasn’t abundantly clear from the article I wrote about it, I have a few issues with Metal Gear Solid 4. (And for the hundredth time, no, it wasn’t an awful game. It was merely disappointing.) No aspect of that game is safe from my venomous spite, not even the online component, which — while not the biggest disappointment the game had to offer — probably hurt me the most.
I should start out by saying that I played the original MGO — Metal Gear Online, for the uninitiated — that came packaged with Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence a lot. Like, I (along with our pal Tomm “I so damn much. I mean, it was Metal freakin’ Gear. But online! With your buddies! And with MGS4, the online component was supposed to be a big focus right out of the box, offering more weapons, more stats, more abilities, more clans, more downloadable maps, more character customization, and more players! Great, right?
Well…no, not exactly. I played the new one for maybe a month, and it just didn’t click. I’ve given it a lot of thought, but I’m still not 100% sure why a more robust and refined version wasn’t as good. I have a few suspicions, though.
First of all, the way the game looks didn’t do it any favors. MGS4 — including the MGO bits — has fantastic graphics, but when you sub out Snake for a bunch of soldiers in Call of Duty 4-style outfits, it loses something. Sure, you can be Snake (or Metal Gear Mk. II) sometimes, but it wasn’t often enough to get rid of that bland look. The problem with the series’ ultra-realistic style is that the soldiers look like regular ol’ army guys, whereas in MGS3 they looked like distinct Genome Soldiers (which was very “Metal Gear” and made me happy).
In fact, not being “Metal Gear” enough is probably the best way to sum up my complaints. I don’t enjoy most online shooters, and I think this game was too similar to those other (for me) uninteresting offerings. Yes, technically you can still roll into your opponents, still use CQC to grab ‘em, still hide inside cardboard boxes and barrels and use riot shields. The problem is that most players don’t do these things, and the way to win boils down, unfortunately, to using the most conventional guns and not messing around. Unlike an NPC patrolling an area, players are sporadic, so normal stealth tactics are out. Rolling is ineffectual now, and it’s pretty hard to use that drum can to knock guys over because, again, they’re all over the place. And unlike the last MGO, the cardboard box seems to offer far fewer advantages, other than the occasional hiding spot — often rendered ineffective with certain abilities of the SOP system, anyway.
[[image: ar_100308_mgo_02.jpg:What was that noise?:center:0]]
Yes, the biggest problem is that the absurdity of Metal Gear is now absent from Metal Gear Online, and that’s what makes the series so easy to love. For all the hard action and drama, there are cardboard boxes, exclamation marks, and crazy stunts that keep things fun. The real problem with MGS4’s online component, I think, is that it provides a look at how the zany Metal Gear quirks would be received in an actual war zone: everyone’s busy being a hardened, grim soldier, bent on reaching some objective or other before the other guys do, and you’re the guy being muted by everyone else because you won’t shut up about the damn man-sized barrel you found.