Previews

Metal Gear Online

Preview: Merc mayhem or a stealth sanctuary?

"We're flipping awesome at Metal Gear games," we thought as we journeyed to Konami's UK office for a lengthy play test on Metal Gear Online, confident we'd own everyone.

We had it all planned - we'd take a round or two to quickly scope out good hiding spots - stick to walls like baby food, looking out for the most used cross sections of the map.

It didn't quite work out that way. We competed well, but it was more thanks to our Gears of War skills than our love of MGS 2. Thing is, real human opponents are like the blind mole-like guards in the single-player game. They don't see in five-feet cones.

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Also, they don't walk in set paths or turn at perfect right-angles. They sneak around just like you, doing everything you're doing.

Metal Gear Online is an interesting one. It has the stealthy core of the single-player game - the controls, levels littered with walls, small crevices and the odd cardboard box - but up against human AI, the style can constantly changes depending on who you're up against.

Does the stealth go out the window? Not completely, but it's not the slow, analysing experience of the single-player games.

Our first few matches basically worked like this: choose a nice accurate gun, sneak around, try to be clever, get spotted by another player who's Rambo-ing around with a big machine gun, take bullets to the face, die.

You then, for a while, almost forget about the whole stealth thing and retaliate with the same Rambo mentality. Tapping Square flicks between auto-aim mode, which makes locking onto and shooting nearby opponents quick and easy. A free aim mode gives you a little more control.

The first-person down-the-barrel view (hold Triangle) is great for springing out on someone, or capping distant enemies. With these control options, and the choice of many a meaty gun every time you respawn, it's fairly easy to play it like Gears of War.

But then there's the map design, stealth-orientated weapons, optional special abilities and the various game scenarios that bring an extra layer of strategy into the picture.

Before you start a game, as well as being able to customise your soldier's appearance you're also able to choose from a selection of specialities - like Call of Duty 4. So you can make your soldier run a little faster, or wield machine guns more accurately.

You can also choose your equipment. You've got stun grenades, tranquiliser guns and porn magazines (which soldiers will stop momentarily to perv over, much to the frustration of the player).

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It's brilliant when you catch an opponent in the leg with a tranquiliser shot - sometimes without them realising. You watch as, ten seconds later, they fall to the floor, unable to move. All he can do is watch as you stroll over and either put a cap in his brain, or nab his Ga-ko. "His what?" you ask. A Ga-ko is a small rubber duck, and is the equivalent of a flag in a capture-the-flag game.

This is where you see more cunning tactics being used, as the defensive team figures out all the good hiding spots, and the attacking team works out that running straight for the Ga-ko will only get them killed.

We also played a territories-style scenario called Base Mission. The small map - which was like a war-torn residential area with houses reduced to rubble - had three outposts clearly marked on your radar, which each team had to capture.

It's the usual stuff - stand inside the zone for a certain amount of time to capture it, and move on. This tended to be a bit more gung-ho, especially considering there's no way to hide when you're capturing, so the enemy can just run in all guns blazing.

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