If you haven’t been following the very public and acrimonious divorce between beloved game designer Hideo Kojima and Metal Gear Solid series publisher Konami, we don’t blame you. There’s a lot of weird inside baseball to wade through. The bottom line is that Kojima is not with Konami anymore. When he left Konami got to keep all the intellectual property, including the Metal Gear brand.
But you can’t talk about Metal Gear Survive, Konami’s next game in the Metal Gear franchise, without talking about why it is the way it is. Without Kojima steering the wonderfully weird action-espionage series, the franchise feels hollow. There’s no story to speak of, the gameplay is painfully derivative and most importantly, it’s just not fun to play. There’s nothing for the player to grab on to — no hook besides the inclusion of zombies.
Zombies, because of course
According to Konami, at some point between Metal Gear: Ground Zeroes, and The Phantom Pain, Mother Base — headquarters for The Phantom Pain’s Diamond Dogs’ — was sucked up by a portal into an alternate universe where crystals start growing from some peoples’ heads, turning them into zombies.
In this alternate universe, you need to scavenge and hoard supplies to survive, while fighting off wave after wave of crystalline zombie creatures. It’s just as dull as it sounds, but that’s not really the game’s fault.
Metal Gear Survive has cobbled together from leftover Phantom Pain assets and it shows. We got a little taste at E3, and the core gameplay is nearly identical to The Phantom Pain. Aside from a few new models for crystalline zombies, there’s absolutely nothing new here. Traversal, shooting, inventory management, these elements are lifted directly from last game. It looks the same, it plays the same, it is the same — but there are zombies now, and you’re in a drab, featureless desert.
Everything is brown, gray, or gray-brown
We played a multiplayer co-op game mode with three other players, and fought our way through several waves of these crystal zombies. There we saw the typical assortment of zombies — the shambly ones, the fast ones, and the big fat ones that explode.
It looks like The Phantom Pain, it plays the same, it is the same — but there are zombies now.
Where The Phantom Pain — and all Metal Gear Solid games — featured complex mechanics that demanded a certain amount of mastery, Survive dumbs things down to a simple gunplay. You shoot them, and shoot more of them, until the zombies destroy the wormhole generator thing and experience is mercifully, blissfully over.
Fighting Survive’s zombies doesn’t feel responsive or tense, there’s a distinct lack of tactile feedback — zombies just fall over when they die but don’t otherwise react very much when you shoot them. Essentially, it just doesn’t feel like you have any skin in the game. You’re shooting zombies because they’re there, but without any purpose or drive there’s just no compelling reason to keep playing. It doesn’t help that the game’s loot features cloth scraps, and other generic (read: dull) crafting materials.
Survive felt plagued by a contagious sense of same-ness that pervades not only the gameplay, but the world itself. Enemies look alike, the environments are so dull and drab that they’re physically tiring to look at. The world is brown, enemies are gray, and player characters are clad in shades of gray and brown and camo print.
If that’s a compelling gameplay experience that you don’t mind repeating ad nauseam, sure. But check Steam Early Access first, because chances are you’ll find something more creative and fun, with better gameplay. Survive might make sense as a whimsical add-on to The Phantom Pain, but as a seemingly serious standalone game, doesn’t make sense as a standalone game. It’s a second-hand horde mode, and nothing more.