While I might have fond memories of playing Metal Gear Online back in the days of Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence, I have to admit that it was deeply flawed. Maps were small, and its attempts to capture the feel of the base game were constantly plagued by the PlayStation 2’s hardware limitations. While Metal Gear Solid 4‘s online offering was meatier than its predecessor, it more closely resembled a standard shooter than a Metal Gear game. That’s why, when I heard that Metal Gear Online would be making a comeback with Metal Gear Solid V, I was skeptical. Going into playing it— expecting another experience secondary to the main game—I was floored that, after several hours of play, it became clear that MGO would get me reinvested in The Phantom Pain, even after spending close to 100 hours on the campaign alone.
At launch, Metal Gear Online will include three modes: Bounty Hunter, Comm Control, and Cloak and Dagger. I see myself playing Bounty Hunter the most, which is every bit as intense as the 11 minute gameplay video from Tokyo Game Show 2015 made it seem. Players deplete enemy ticket counts by killing opposing team members, in turn raising the bounty on your own head. While killing an enemy may seem like the clear goal, stunned targets can be extracted using the Fulton Recovery System to add their total bounty to your overall ticket count. Bargaining between taking the time to Fulton high priority enemies off of the field to reclaim tickets, or going for the quick kill, adds a unique level of strategy to what would otherwise be a simple deathmatch style game. More than once, a match was decided by a greedy play after killing a high-ticket target that could have been easily ballooned away.
Comm Control plays out similarly to a capture-the-point mode. One team defends points from the other, whose job it is to sneak (or more likely shoot) their way within a prescribed area to steal those points away. The roles of defense and offense swap back and forth as the match progresses. It’s simple, but utilizing the tight controls and unique opportunities of attack inherent to Metal Gear Solid V’s mechanics, the familiarity is forgivable.
While Metal Gear Online’s first two modes allow players to use all those amazing implements of murder you wouldn’t dare use in the base game—lest you lower your heroism score—the Cloak and Dagger match type more closely resembles the sneak-’em-up style of MGS V’s campaign. One team infiltrates a base using only non-lethal weapons under the cloak of active camo (which makes them invisible other than a faint shimmer), while the other picks whichever loadout they please in hopes of defending data discs from their enemies’ grubby hands. Hunting for transparent foes left me feeling constantly paranoid of every suspicious movement when I was on defense, but once I was finally able to be invisible myself, I felt naked without my heavy weaponry. Cloak and Dagger is a creation that is unique to MGO, and would feel out of place in any other title as it demands a certain patience and teamwork uncharacteristic of competitive shooters. The change of pace is refreshing in the usual run-and-gun fare I’ve come to expect from AAA multiplayer.
The key to victory in any of MGO’s modes is a diverse team of the three classes available to players. Infiltrators, scouts, and enforcers must all work together to obtain objectives. As enforcer, I often found myself waiting to rush in while either my allied scouts marked enemies from afar, or infiltrators interrogated the opposition, learning their locations. While each class’ loadouts and stats push them towards certain playstyles, it’s better to think of class titles as a guideline rather than a specialization, since each one can perform the tasks of the other two roles in a pinch.
In addition to the customizable loadouts, one player on each team is randomly assigned a special character with a specific ability—either Ocelot or Snake at launch. Ocelot’s ricochet bullets can hit marked enemies by bouncing off of walls, which had me waiting for my allies to mark the baddies and deliberately firing at walls near them while they hid behind cover. There’s no better satisfaction than seeing the points fly from a kill resulting in some clever teamwork. Well, maybe that feeling takes a close second to using Snake’s rocket arm to score a few cheeky points against foes while hiding around a corner. However, if you’re looking for a more balanced match between teams, special characters can be turned off.
Now, I’m not an ace when it comes to multiplayer shooters, so I often find myself having to shrug off a few disappointing matches anytime I pick up the controller—but that was never the case with Metal Gear Online. Even after playing a match that ended up being astonishingly uneven, I still had several heroic moments to look back on that overshadowed my many embarrassing deaths. Even though I might end a match with three or four immediate deaths after spawning, I could still be proud of a timely close-quarters-combat toss that resulted in reclaimed tickets. While MGO offers plenty of chances for star players to shine, amateurs won’t feel punished as long as they have a grasp on MGS V’s robust mechanics, which are largely learned through the game’s campaign.
Metal Gear Online is a huge leap forward for the franchise. In the same way that Metal Gear Solid V’s single-player campaign provided several twists to the tropes of the series, this iteration of MGO turns the simple multiplayer offerings of past entries into a robust set of modes and maps that will add countless hours to my time with The Phantom Pain. I don’t see myself getting tired of MGS V anytime soon with the addition of Metal Gear Online.