Kojima Productions’ Los Angeles branch (KPLA) has quite the task on its hands. The studio put in charge of the third iteration of Metal Gear Online has been asked to find a way of making its series debut appeal to a broader audience, with Kojima revealing his disappointment in the performance of  the PS3 precursor outside of Japan. It can’t help to learn that many Japanese players have expressed displeasure that the game is being developed in the US, nor that news of a new class system has upset hardcore MGO players. At least the team doesn’t have the shambles that was Konami ID to contend with.


Still, it’s not as if the core game didn’t have plenty of room for improvement. Though PS3 MGO retained a substantial enough playerbase for Konami to keep the servers switched on for a year longer than anticipated, it was blighted by poor community support, few substantial content updates, and costly premium addons. Though its tactical, team-based approach won it a number of fans, by the end the game was dominated by small groups of very experienced players. Already unforgiving to latecomers, it left itself open to abuse, with those in the know exploiting its CQC abilities and generous auto-aim. Another frustrating glitch allowed players to repeatedly hide in boxes to avoid fire.

The evidence so far from the latest version suggests KPLA has taken what did work last time and broadened its range. What we’ve seen of an eight-on-eight base assault could well take place within  The Phantom Pain ’s sprawling sandbox: it’s a large map with multiple points of entry, though it’s also dense and detailed, tiny dust clouds whipped up by the wind as the attacking team sprints into position. Visually, it’s a close match, too: there’s no noticeable loss of detail on character models, and you’ll see machine-gun fire sweep a cardboard box across the floor as its rounds bite chunks from stone walls. Turn fire onto an opponent and you’ll see blood spurt from their bodies in messy arcs.

Maintaining the all-important balance may be the developer’s mightiest challenge. With more expansive maps, it’s no surprise to learn that various modes of transport are planned, though the closest thing to vehicular combat shown is a deployable Metal Gear, a Gekko-like mech that can be piloted and, naturally, hijacked. Its legs can kick through riot shields, though without the ability to sprint or dive for cover, it’s at risk from RPGs. 

Konami is remaining coy over the implementation of the class system, too, beyond suggesting it will allow for greater definition of individual skills, which could mean anything from class-specific abilities to disparate loadouts, weapons and perks. Venom Snake and Ocelot are the only two confirmed campaign characters so far, and it remains to be seen whether, as with the PS3 game, they can only be used in specific matches rather than all game modes. 

What is clear is that Kojima’s offbeat sense of humour remains. A deployable plush husky pup that captivates guards with its cuteness is a typically goofy Metal Gear idea; likewise, motion-activated turrets that fire Fulton balloons at intruders, carrying them up and away from the battlefield unless a teammate shoots them down in time. And a short-range teleportation device already looks impossibly cool, albeit possibly overpowered.

We’re left with a few concerns. While it’s natural for a publisher to ramp up the action in promotional footage, some of these items sit at odds with the promise of tactical stealth operations, even if the presence of cloaking devices and tranquilliser darts suggests you can always play more sneakily if you prefer.

A more pressing question is whether it can meet Kojima’s expectations. With even seeming dead certs such as Titanfall failing to retain a substantial audience, MGO has a fight on its hands to win the western market. Still, KPLA doesn’t have far to look for inspiration: Snake thrives under pressure, after all.

Grand theft Ocelot
Kojima has restated his admiration for Grand Theft Auto V, twice declaring himself ‘depressed’ at the quality of the game, and expressing his concern that  Metal Gear Solid V might not match it. Still, it appears he’s been taking notes. Given Konami’s intriguing suggestion that MGO is going to be “a dedicated multiplayer mode that segues into elements of the main game”, it’s not hard to imagine a similar setup to  GTAV ’s online component. Already it appears to take place within the same open world, and we know characters from the series will make an appearance. Meanwhile, footage of Snake taking a selfie with his arm around Ocelot’s neck is an obvious nod to GTA ’s similar feature. However, we wonder whether even the likes of Kojima can find a way to make microtransactions easy to swallow.