MGO Beta

Another Friday lunchtime read, a little late due to an excess of Raspberry Pavlova and uncoded episodes.

As previously mentioned, SONY’s laid back approach to moderating what third parties are doing with the PSN, combined with an apparent Japanese ineptitude in all matters pertaining to online gaming resulted in gamers all over the world embarking on a Dante’esque trip to heck and back in order to play the MGO Beta.

As Konami was stumbling around like a drunken waiter trying to balance a feast of plates during the MGO server upstart, I clung desperately to a tiny hope that fan outcry might force Konami to change their mind about circumventing the PSN and scrap the whole Konami ID business. After Konami finally managed to get their servers in order and I tried out the MGO Beta myself, I can sadly say that the Konami ID seems to be so tightly integrated into the MGO side of things that there is no hope, even a foolhardy one, that they might change things before launch or even after.

The whole thing takes the shape of a Greek tragedy as one realises that Konami could have implemented all the current MGO features seamlessly by using the PSN but it seems they either did not bother or were just too incompetent to realise that it should have been done that way in the first place. At the end of the day I only see people in the West having a fit over it, so for reasons that I will soon explain it will likely not even matter in the long run.

So, enough of that, it is too late now, instead let us get into the core gameplay itself as it is the most important thing and where the true test lies. Unfortunately I must say that after playing the beta for hours I can safely say that this is a test that Konami does not pass. That was my first impression, but then I played for an additional few hours and suddenly Konami seemed to pass the test after all.

You start things off by creating a character that has a unique ID, which is the third unique ID you are required to create in order to play MGO. You can create as many characters as you want, but they each require registration with a unique ID through the game’s interface. This is a very backwards approach to one player having several different characters each created and customized differently. What would have made actual sense was if players only had a single unique Metal Gear Online ID with several created characters attached to that ID which one could switch between, kind of like the custom classes in COD4.

One is required to choose a face and voice that will be unique for one’s character, which is to say that once you have chosen the face and voice they cannot be changed for that character ever again, in other words, pick carefully, if you care. Next you can customize your characters appearance to your liking with clothing and gear; however these things will not have an effect on gameplay. Then you are provided with several slots which you can fill out with improved skills for your characters, such as handgun mastery, assault rifle mastery, speed of running and more.

By filling out the slots you can affect things like how fast you run and how much recoil different gun types will cause during firing, and since gun recoils are very strong it will make a difference in the game. One should choose carefully among these skills as they seemingly level up if you use them enough and expand your abilities. For example, the knife mastery skill if upgraded will allow you to CQC your opponent and then proceed to cut his throat in cold blood.

Once you are done with building your character you can finally take him out for a whirl, but I recommend beginning in the practice mode rather than jumping into the game immediately. Because this is one game with an incredibly complicated control scheme, too complicated for the online shooter crowd in fact.

The game can be played on three different servers called after MGS characters and each server, it seems, is setup with its own characteristic game modes and rules. All the usual suspects are here such as straight up DM, team DM, a capture the flag type game and lastly a capture the enemy base type of game. Each game can either be normal were you pick your gear at the beginning of each match at no cost or it can be made so weapons and gear cost derbin points, which you can earn by popping caps into foolish asses.

Since the beta started Konami has seemingly flipped a switch and unlocked some new maps and gameplay modes without requiring a patch. Furthermore it seems that this is something they will be doing more of in the future. The new game mode is pretty unique to MGO and as a surprise it gives people a chance to play as old man Snake. Two teams compete with each other trying to track down and kill the lucky player that has been chosen to play the part of Snake. If there are too many people in the game then an additional player can give Snake backup by playing the role of his tiny robotic buddy.

Old man snake has SolidEye and OctoCam at his disposal and can win the game by taking three dog tags from one of the teams hunting him down. It is fun to play as Snake as you get to be creative when you want to lure people into traps, like for example by placing a girly magazine on the ground and taking out people while they are busy ogling it.

The graphics in the game made me wish I had never heard about the MGO Beta as it does not even live in the same galaxy as my expectations for the graphics of Metal Gear Solid 4. I went in knowing that it is a beta and knowing that this is MGO, not MGS4, but still the graphics punched me in the gut so hard I went to my knees and puked up that Twinkie I had for breakfast, its shape had not improved in the intervening time.

But before you too are disappointed let me explain that my eyes are very special, I generally think the graphics in most 3D shooters are very ugly, and I cannot quite put my finger on why I feel that way. In fact I find COD4 to be a rather ugly game while everyone else seems to think it looks great, so who knows, maybe people will like the graphics in MGO as well, but to my eyes the graphics are a major disappointment and several notches below even COD4. The colour scheme is very monochromatic and dull, the shadows seem to be experiencing problems and the quality and look of the textures are just not very pleasant to look at. The locations you run around in the maps are very sparsely decorated and feel very sterile.

The gameplay in MGO is unlike anything else out there, I get the sense that the people in the West who are most interested in trying out this game are the same people that fancy COD4, and let it be said right now that they are exactly the wrong crowd to aim this game at, because it is clearly not made for them.

The COD4 crowd like their twitch shooters, and twitch shooters, to keep things in line with twitch length timing, stick to a bare bones control scheme and the general mantra of keeping things simple. MGO, for better or worse, is the opposite of that and tries to make things more tactical but that will never work as long as people run into the game with COD4 fresh in their minds. Konami doesn’t exactly help things along as most of the current maps in the MGO beta do not exactly lend themselves to tactical gameplay and the game itself generally does not really push that aspect very strongly.

As an example of this is the fact that the game allows people to link up with each other to share information about their current location and if they are under attack. Theoretically this should promote team work where team members sync up and stick close to each other so they can approach their enemy tactically by providing each other with backup. In reality, in the dozens of matches I played pretty much no one tried to play like that.

In fact, just like a typical COD4 match, as soon as the match started everyone scurried to their own random direction like a litter of beaten kittens escaping from an
opened burlap sack. I cannot emphasise enough how much this is not how the game should be played, but the failing of all online games is that instead of trusting the experience you have playing a game fully into the talented hand of its developers who can create a gameworld around your lone experience, in online games you have to trust it into the hands of a handful of anonymous internet tossers, which never pans out well.

In the game you run around in third person and can aim and shoot in three different modes that you can toggle between in real time. The three different modes are as follows, an automatic aiming system, no doubt created for novices, a third person free aiming mode, which makes aiming very difficult unless your gun has a laser sight, and the first person shooting mode which is very hard and awkward to use. In first person the gun model takes up way too much space on the screen and the gun reticule and different scopes make it very hard to see what you are aiming at, which becomes irrelevant as soon as you start to shoot because your gun flails around so erratically that you will immediately become completely disoriented and won’t know what you are shooting at.

The first person shooting is made, I imagine, to look like you are looking out of a tiny camera placed on the weapon you character is carrying around, which is an, erm, interesting way of doing it. Such as it is the recoil that your gun produces is felt by the tiny camera and translated over to your screen as you try to shoot, and while it might be a realistic re-enactment of what a tiny barrel mounted camera feels during a fire-fight it never the less gets in the way of the gameplay.

The constant transition from first to third person makes shooting someone take about ten times more effort than in any other online shooter and it requires about ten times as many bullets too, unless you get a lucky head shot. Online games and shooters in general try to make shooting things as simple as possible so MGO will not go over big with that crowd. MGO inherits its name from the single player game Metal Gear Solid and the games in that series are definitely not shooters. MGS games are tactical sneaking games and have the control schemes to prove it, the controls are very advanced and you will need to master them fully in order to get through the games. The control scheme in MGS is made so that you can sneak up on people and take your sweet time planting that bullet — or tranquilizer dart for the pacifists — into the back of your target. The MGS games discourage run and gun gameplay, in fact trying to do that in the game will only buy you a one way ticket to the Game Over screen with the colonel yelling “Snaaaaake!”.

So you can imagine that using the same control scheme in a competitive online game just is not such a good idea, especially when people run around pretending that they are playing COD4. However, MGO is not COD4 and is meant to be played differently, you are not supposed to storm ahead with guns blazing, you are supposed to look ahead and proceed carefully. You are supposed to try and trick your opponents by hiding in boxes or barrels and ambush them. For that kind of gameplay the controls work pretty well and I must admit it is very satisfying to ambush someone from behind after having hid in a box and there is nothing quite like seeing a group of boxes running down across the battle field.

In Japan people prefer 3rd person games to first person ones for various reasons and the 3rd person shooting games all have their own way of implementing shooting, with varying degrees of success. Personally I think the best implementation of this still belongs to Capcom with Resident Evil 4 with the camera going over the shoulder of the character during shooting with a laser sight showing you what you are aiming at. In contrast neither the third nor the first person shooting feels solid in MGO, it suffers from the same thing that Army of Two suffered from which made aiming and shooting feel extremely laborious, clunky and awkward.

Due in part to the extreme recoil from guns, the badly made gun reticules, the limited view in the scopes – specially the red dot scope – and some other factors which I cannot quite place, the first person shooting, which is the one I imagine most people will use in MGO, just does not function very well. The third person shooting is even worse, but I feel that with some work and a lot of tweaking the third person shooting could be made into something that people will want to choose by default in the game. I specially miss a laser sight in third person so I can tell what I am aiming at.

Other than that I cannot quite explain what it is that makes aiming and shooting feel so clunky but I suspect that it is a mix of the speed with which things move, floaty controls and the angle of the camera behind your characters back in third person. Another aggravating factor is that MGO does not run in a locked 60fps which makes a huge difference in shooters. This being a beta we can all hope that at least this part will be improved before the full release.

I must admit, the Internet git factor, combined with the learning curve for the controls and game rules resulted in my first impression of the game being a very bad one. But after Konami flipped the switch I actually managed to get into a few matches that I genuinely enjoyed. This was after I got more comfortable with the controls and realised that I should always start shooting in third person and only switch to first person once I had started shooting and felt my target was too far away to hit accurately in third person. I also had to use a lot of time in the control options to tweak things just to my liking which helped a lot.

Personally I like MGO but it has a list of issues that I would like Konami to look into. First of all the first person and third person shooting should be modified so they work better. The least they could do is add a laser sight to all guns in third person and make it so the recoil is felt in the gun, not the screen, during first person shooting. Secondly, your character can actually level up in MGO, crazy right? It took me god knows how long before I noticed this. It took me that long because the interface used to show you this is almost hidden in a jungle of text and other information. Konami should take cues from COD4 which goes out if its way to clearly show you your level and how far you are from levelling up with the help of a giant progress bar that is constantly on the screen, not to mention the fanfare that you get every time you go up a level. If Konami does not try to make levelling up look like something special then people won’t feel that way about it either.

Another good idea that should be adopted by Konami is getting people partial points for a kill that they assisted in. I cannot count how many times I got into a fight with a player and was killed just a bullet away from killing him, then a team mate spotted him and got what deservedly were my points. I say once someone is dead points should be dealt out to all who helped fell him depending on how much of his health they each helped reduce.

Lastly I feel that everyone should start a match by becoming synced, because nobody does that now and therefore they will never get a taste of the advantages. Everyone starts in the same place at the beginning of a match so why not just throw automatic syncing in there to give people a first taste of what it is and how it works?

All in all I feel that MGO will tank in the West because the people who will be the ones most attracted to it will find the most problems with it. It is clearly a game made with eastern sensibilities in regards to these kinds of games which are very much incompatible with western sensibilities. Because of that I feel MGO has a fighting chance in its country of birth whose gamers have so far not taken to the concept of online shooting games.