Metal Gear Survive’s evolution of the franchise loses much of the series’ identity in a ‘fun non-canonical spin off’
Skipping past the tutorial, the first hour and a half of Metal Gear Survive involves strategically building fences to bottleneck the zombie hoard while we poke at them through the mesh with a large stick. In all but appearance, this not your daddy’s Metal Gear. ‘Your daddy’, in this instance, being Hideo Kojima.
“This game comes from the Metal Gear team, led by Yuji Korekado, and this is the first title that they’ve worked on in their current form,” says product manager Richard Jones. “The idea was to create a spin off from Metal Gear Solid V, in a similar way to Metal Gear Online from Metal Gear Solid IV and Snake Eater previous to that. This was a way to have some more fun in the Metal Gear world.”
“More fun” comes in the form of zombies, base building and a hunger/thirst meter that no number of freshly caught gerbils or bottles of dirty water can truly satisfy. There’s also an ability to build structures, like the aforementioned fences, using the many bits and bobs we hoover up along the way like a kleptomaniac trapped in a B&Q. Chairs can be nicked wholesale to provide us with wood and nails, while more sturdy items like crates might need a few prods from our zombie killing stick before they expose their innards to add to our collection.
None of this screams ‘tactical espionage action’, and that’s okay because this is a “fun, non-canonical spin off”. Even the protagonist’s movement has been pared back from Solid Snake’s Metal Gear Solid V era athletic tumbling (as opposed to his Metal Gear Solid IV era geriatric tumbling) to focus on your basic walk/crouch/prone combo. This despite extensive visual similarities (read: reused assets) from minute-to-minute gameplay to menu UI.
Early mission structure involves being directed to a specific point on the map to collect an item, to increase base building capabilities, to unlock the next map waypoint to collect an item… And so on. Between the player and each objective is always a collection of – sometimes predator, sometimes prey – crystal-headed zombies. These crystals are the game’s currency and can be harvested from fallen foes.
Later on, players are sent into the fog, a harmful environment that will sap away at oxygen supply and health, essentially giving a time limit before having to return to homebase (your base of operations, not the DIY store). It’s a constantly oppressive atmosphere. Whatever world the protagonist has fallen into through that wormhole in the opening cutscene, they’re not welcome here.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the game will be its always-online requirement, even in single player. The reasoning for this is the strong link between the campaign and the online co-op modes, with a persistent character that retains all loot, skills and equipment across both game modes. Co-operation involves defending a resource extractor (a drill, basically) with two other alternate-reality Mother Base survivors against waves of zombies of various shapes and sizes. Though there are hints towards further modes being available in the final game or being released post-launch. Success in this game mode will literally shower your character with loot, colour coded to the industry standard from grey to purple and beyond depending on rarity.
The cynic in me says that this is a way of gating progress within the campaign by hiding supplies behind necessary online play. Aimed at an audience that for twenty years has enjoyed the linear, batshit crazy story in a solely singleplayer environment. Balancing a game that is essentially two games is likely to err on the side that will be continually updated and monetised. That’s the online mode. Hardcore co-op players returning from a hefty multiplayer sesh will have a much easier time of the campaign than solo-only players.
There’s space in the market for a game like this – one that combines 2014’s flavour of the year (survival) with the current hotness (online multiplayer games-as-a-service). But selling to a die-hard fanbase like Metal Gear feels like a way of countering a lack of ingenuity by slathering zombies and hoard modes with That Thing You Love. It's a logical response to recent market innovations by a team tied inescapably, for good or bad, to a franchise that never did anything logically.
A combination of market forces that are the very antithesis of Metal Gear Solid’s historical auteurship. A combination of market forces that are the very antithesis of Metal Gear Solid’s historic auteurship.