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Why Metal Gear Online is the Best Game Ever
by Chris Hawke

"Best Game Ever" is totally subjective and will vary depending on personal opinion.

Once, I belonged to a clan called Outer Heaven. A group of misfits: perfect underdog material. There were only eight-or-so of us, mostly French, but the rest from all over Europe. And we ruled the land of Metal Gear Online.

Usually, we hung around the seventh best in the world. Sometimes, we'd push forward to the top five, or fall below the ten mark. But we kept at it, because we loved it. Because then, we became more than specks on this vast, senseless planet. Because we were playing Metal Gear Online... and we were a team.

Online games have always struggled with the concept of teamwork. Throwing a group of mismatched gamers in the same arena for a few minutes and telling them not to shoot each other just doesn't create that team spirit; you can't tell who's behind the gamertag, and you've no reward for helping a buddy. Like luckless lovers, we were destined to go from fling to fling, match to match, being told we were together but never believing it. So, leave it to Kojima, in 2008, to create the best game ever.

The anchor, upon which the whole multiplayer component to MGS4 revolved around, was the clan system. Not clan tags - pointless four letter prefixes allowing just enough room for you to swear in - no, the clan system was hardcore. The game didn't simply encourage joining a clan, it almost forced it, thanks to Survival mode (more on that later). Unfortunately, this meant there were a lot of two-member clans who just used it as a glorified clan tag, but for the rest of us, it was a gateway into another universe. To begin with, I wandered the muddy plains of Blood Bath alone, cold, and frightened, until a friendly French player offered me some help via the superb and unique Training mode. And that was that. A while later, around about 6 of us were clan members. And in MGO, that meant we were brothers.

The speech addition was vital to the game's success. Not everyone owns a headset, and for other team-based games, only those with microphones can order others round or pass information. But a quick tap of Select means you can type a message to friend or foe. It was brilliant, and I'm still at a loss as to why more games don't add this feature. We could communicate, coordinate, organize and dominate. The SOP System helped no end, allowing real-time updates on players' positions and situations. It turned MGO from a mess of separate tactics to a melting pot of strategy: we could decide to hide in our spawn points, or send two men up to the rooftop, or have one man flank in a box while the other distracts the enemy. Such a simple element made all the difference.

It became a necessity in certain game modes. I was never one for straight up deathmatch - it missed the point. No, I was a beast at Team Sneak. The attacking team, equipped with stealth camo, tries to bring either KEROTAN or GA-KO toys to their goal area, while the other team defends the items. You could also kill, stun, and (only for the attacking team) hold up all enemy team members. Whenever a stealth soldier is discovered, all stealth camo is temporarily rendered non-operational. It was incredible. The rush you could get from cowering in a sewer drain as a friend was discovered and the stealth went down was unmatched, as was the day I managed to knock out and brutally stab the entire enemy team when I was the only one left. Sweet.

But I didn't do it for me. I didn't silently stalk the shadows that fateful day to boost my own stats. I did it for us. MGO remains the most powerful game available today, able to turn even the most stoic of lone wolves into team players. The feeling you got from a team victory, no matter how poorly one personally performed, was overpowering - proper punch-the-air stuff. Ever had to wipe a smile off your face because of a win on Call of Duty? Metal Gear Online took six people who were thousands of miles apart and, no matter how corny it sounds (despite the fact we had never met each other and mostly communicated via typing into a game) transformed us into the best of friends, through the nail-biting finalés of deathmatches; through the heavy losses and outright dominations; high and low, thick and thin, game to game, day to day - this shining Blu-ray disc formed bonds that could never be broken, for hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.

Nowhere was this more evident than Survival mode. We played on Tuesdays. Each clan entered, and you played another clan in a random game mode, before the victor would advance to play again, in the aim to get 5 wins in a row. This was the big league. This was it. Titan clans of the game, such as the huge ITA network, would converge to parry off teams like 'Just4Lulz' in epic tournaments. We only managed to get the magic 5 a few times, but that was only a nice little goal to aim at; instead, we played for the matches. Survival produced some of the finest moments I've ever had in gaming. One day we'd be snatching a victory on the cliff lookout on Virtuous Vista, or getting destroyed in our fourth game in Ambush Alley. Epic Team Sneak marathons on Groznyj Grad, mad dashes to the catapults on Urban Ultimatum, defending the GA-KO down to the very last few bullets on Midtown Maelstrom. They were all priceless, and each Tuesday threw up a brand new challenge for us to overcome as Outer Heaven. Metal Gear Online is the best game ever because it's the only game to have nailed the aspect of true teamwork.

Of course, what goes up, must come down. I got stuck downloading the DLC pack due to a mixup with the awful Konami ID system. It took more than a month to fix. By the time I got back in, the clan was faltering. Slowly dropping down league tables, barely able to scrape together a team for most matches due to members drifting away. And so, on the 14th November 2008, Outer Heaven closed down.

We still keep in touch, via the PlayStation Network. Sometimes, we'll find each other playing the same game and team up online. A few times, we even went back onto MGO in the name of nostalgia. But it wasn't quite the same. One day, we said, we'd get back together. Maybe if they released an MGO2, Outer Heaven would rise once more, from the ashes, and again we'd become brothers in arms. Until that day, we're left, like luckless lovers, destined to go from fling to fling, match to match, being told we were together but never believing it. But always remembering those wonderful days.

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- Chris Hawke

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