It’s no secret that Metal Gear Survive is facing an uphill battle. Not only is it a new spinoff of the beloved stealth action franchise, it’s the first Metal Gear game of the post-Hideo Kojima era. The famous video game auteur left Konami two years ago, after a highly publicized bad breakup with the publisher mere months before the release of The Phantom Pain, and it seemed like the franchise was all but dead. So when Konami announced this survival co-op action game full of zombies, wormholes, and melee weapons, it came as a bit of a shock.
Yes, the original games featured supernatural elements, especially in terms of the boss fights, and later installments included multiplayer modes, but never quite like Metal Gear Survive, which retains much of The Phantom Pain‘s gameplay but none of the nuance. This spinoff is exactly what it looks like on the box: a four-player horde mode where you kill different types of zombies while protecting your base.
Konami has also confirmed that Metal Gear Survive will feature a single-player campaign with a narrative. The story runs parallel to The Phantom Pain and takes place in an alternate reality full of monsters. Apparently, during the destruction of Mother Base in Ground Zeroes, a mysterious wormhole appeared and sucked up the surviving members of Militaires Sans Frontières, Big Boss’ mercernary group, and transported them to this nightmare reality. Now, the survivors must find a way to return to the real world before the monsters get them.
I spent some time with the game at E3 2017, but did not see this story mode, so I can’t speak as to the quality of what will certainly be the game’s main draw. Instead, I teamed up with three other players to protect a generator in enemy territory. The short version of my time with the four-player co-op mode is this: it plays a lot like Metal Gear Online, and that makes it a bit underwhelming for me.
In a world full of Call of Duty, Halo, Battlefield, and Battlefront games, Metal Gear Online has never quite gelled with me as a multiplayer shooter. Metal Gear controls have always felt a bit stiff to me when it comes to facing off against other players, and it’s no secret that they’re really designed for patient, strategic, and stealty gameplay mechanics. Metal Gear has never been quite as fast-paced as other multiplayer shooters, and that’s always made the franchise’s attempts at a similar experience a bit awkward.
Metal Gear Survive sort of follows through on that same level of awkwardness, although the fact that it’s PvE certainly helps the experience along a bit. Of course, if you’re one of the people who loves Metal Gear Online, your mileage may seriously vary.
For the purpose of this demo, there were only four characters to choose from. Two of them were melee tanks and the other two your standard balanced shooters. I could choose a male or female version of these two classes. Konami assured me that there won’t be any pre-selected characters in the final version, and that players will be able to create their own loadouts and customize their gear.
I went with the male melee character because I was really curious to see how melee mechanics would work in The Phantom Pain‘s FOX engine. Unfortunately, the result was less than satisfying. Again, the controls feel stiff and are not at all conducive to the faster sections of the multiplayer experience.
After a few moments in a lobby where we could choose our loadouts, test our weapons, and shoot at each other without consequence, the match began. The initial phase of the horde mode plays a lot like a regular Metal Gear mission. You have to sneak your way into an enemy-controlled outpost and complete an objective. In this case, you have to install a generator and protect it. While the stealth mechanics feel as good as ever, the fact that you’re sneaking past zombies and not intelligent enemy soldiers makes those mechanics feel obsolete.
In fact, one of my main qualms with Metal Gear Survive is just how dumb the zombies (known as “Wanderers” in the game) are compared to the series’ better known military factions. When you plant your generator in the outpost, you’re shown the specific paths the creatures will take to attack it. Gone is the emphasis on strategy. You don’t have to scout anything or track enemies. Just block off the pre-selected attack paths and you should be golden for the first few waves.
You’re given a variety of barriers and traps to use when setting up your defenses, from fences and barbed wire to oil traps and the like. My character also had the ability to place machine gun turrets around the map. Those are especially handy with the tougher waves, which include Armored Wanderers – zombies in SWAT gear, basically – and Bombers, which explode upon death.
Once we built our defenses, we waited for the Wanderers to come. Our goal was to protect our generator at all costs. We lost in the end, but the difficulty didn’t really reveal anything interesting about the combat. For the most part, all we had to do was hold our ground and shoot the Wanderers from above. They go down pretty easily.
Like other survival games, Metal Gear Survive has a crafting mechanic that comes in handy when low on ammo, defenses, and other gear. You can scavenge the map for things like rubber and iron, take them back to a designated crafting area, and build the things you need. Of course, you’ll need to unlock special “recipes” to craft better equipment.
Between waves, we were encouraged to go out and explore. There are several “miniquests” throughout the map that don’t amount to much more than infiltrating an area full of Wanderers to scavenge for ammunition or Walker Gears. The latter did come in particularly handy against the last wave of the match. These little side objectives are a clever way of getting players to leave the outpost and not just babysit while more zombies show up, but they don’t offer anything interesting besides just killing more creatures. I hope that Konami adds a bit more variety to the map.
One aspect I did like were the added survival elements that felt right at home in the older Kojima games. The stamina meter has been reinstated for Metal Gear Survive. Things like heavy attacks with melee weapons and sprinting drain your stamina and leave you open to being surrounded by the Wanderers. There are also meters for hunger and thirst, which could potentially add a bit of much needed complexity to the experience. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see how these elements really affect the gameplay. Still, that’s a bit of classic Metal Gear that I’m glad is back.
A lack of complexity and stiff controls are the main issues here. The horde mode feels dangerously simple and lacks innovation, and it just doesn’t feel all that fun to play. While a short demo is not enough to really judge a game as a whole, my limited impression is that Metal Gear Survive really is as confounding as it looks. I understand WHY this new installment exists: the series is very lucrative for Konami and an entry full of zombies makes the franchise attractive to a new audience that might have been turned off by Kojima’s crazy storytelling and zany design choices. But I don’t understand why nothing was tweaked in the gameplay to better accommodate Metal Gear‘s new face.