If you’re new to this whole Metal Gear Survive thing, let me catch you up.
Few games in recent memory have caused as much uproar as Konami’s upcoming Metal Gear Survive. After the cancellation of Hideo Kojima’s Silent Hills and Kojima Productions’ very public break with Konami, many gamers felt jilted by the publisher and their treatment of the man who gave them Metal Gear Solid, one of their best-selling franchises. So when Konami announced they were making a survival-action title with horror elements called Metal Gear Survive – featuring neither Kojima’s involvement nor that of the series’ main protagonist, Solid Snake – it would be very polite of me to say that reactions were “mixed.”
But this isn’t the first time an IP has taken a hard left turn and it won’t be the last. Insomniac Games’s Ratchet and Clank series ruffled feathers when they broke away from the 3-D platformer format of their franchise and released Full Frontal Assault, an action-based take on tower defense that actually shares some similarities with Survive. Even in-house, Konami took a lot of heat for announcing a Silent Hill title for the PSVita only to release Silent Hill: Book of Memories, an isometric dungeon-explorer that had about as much in common with its survival horror predecessors as Mario does with Nathan Drake.
Then, against all odds, trailers emerged for Metal Gear Survive and they surprisingly earned some praise from gaming websites who seemed to all be asking the same question: Is it blasphemy to say this actually looks pretty cool? Finally, from January 18 to January 22, Konami released a playable open beta for Metal Gear Survive. I got my hands on it and put several hours into it and this is what I found.
The beta lets players into the multiplayer mode (or possibly ONE of the multiplayer modes; there’s still some confusion on this) to try their hand at online co-op. Referred to as “Salvage Missions,” players work with three other teammates to defend their base from increasingly-difficult waves of attacking…things. These things are kinda like zombies but they have glowing crystals for heads. Don’t ask questions; just go along with it for now. The things are drawn to your base because you have an enormous drill-like machine that harvests Iris Energy (just go with this, too) from the earth and they want to destroy said drill. The only thing standing between them and the drill is you, a customizable soldier with limited ammo and supplies; and your teammates, who are in the same boat.
So it’s your job to kill approaching crystalheads, scavenge for materials to craft bullets and gadgets, place fences and traps strategically along the baddies’ projected pathways and keep everyone and the drill alive while they do their thing. Waves of enemies are timed, so when the timer reaches zero for each wave, all remaining enemies are vaporized and there’s an intermission period of several minutes which you can use to scavenge and craft and replenish ammo before the next batch of quartz-domed assholes assault your base.
After five full paragraphs of loving the sound of my own voice, it’s time to answer the biggest question of all: How is it?
It’s not bad.
Of course the gameplay is very tight – what else would you expect from the Kojima-developed Fox Engine? If you’ve ever picked up a Metal Gear title before, you’ll feel right at home, from item selection sub-menus to CQC. Threat rings, stamina-affecting energy meters (hunger and thirst, this time around), precise aiming and movement – they’re all here. “But Snake isn’t!” Yeah, I know. Settle down. I’ll get there. I’m just saying that thus far, Metal Gear Survive is a very solid-performing (no pun intended) title. Playing with people who know what they’re doing is a godsend, and overall the game is just fun. You get a very good feel for it within a couple matches, even if it seems daunting at the outset. I felt pretty overwhelmed my first time at the staging area (read: pre-lobby home area) with sudden access to a stored inventory, training dummies, mission sorties and five separate workbenches which each have their own sub-menus of crafting, customizing, repairing, dismantling, etc. (and some of those have sub-menus as well). But trial-and-error makes for a quick teacher.
The “survival” element of the game is present both in the field and at home. For example, the end-of-mission rewards you get are dictated by how much the drill gets done during the mission (per a slowly-filling meter at the bottom right of your screen). Keeping crystalheads away from the drill (and investing team-earned points to make the drill work faster) will help boost your overall mission success ranking, and as you can probably guess, higher ranks grant more rewards. When you get back to your staging area, you can only upgrade and repair your weapons (and refill your ammo and medical supplies) by using materials you bring back from salvage missions. Silly as it sounds, this actually added some tension to my experience with it, since you can only bring ammo that you craft into the field for your next mission. If you can’t or don’t make any ammo beforehand, you’ll have to start with nothing but melee weapons on your side, and you really don’t want to fight an army of rock-headed zombies up close and personal.
Another point I’d like to address is the debate I’ve seen online over the use of the term “Metal Gear” in the title. Like the aforementioned and widely-panned Silent Hill: Book of Memories, this game bears very little resemblance to its main series. Press releases have said it takes place in an “alternate universe” of the franchise, and virtually all characters from the series are absent. What is here is the engine, the data dump (assets like terrain and sounds and firearms etc), the gameplay style and a few other things – although on its website, Konami promises the appearance of a major character from Metal Gear‘s mysterious XOF organization. So why call it “Metal Gear” Survive? I think this is a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t scenario. On the one hand, Konami saw the opportunity to make a new game on a comparatively inexpensive budget (considering they didn’t have to build everything in it from scratch) and they ran with it. But to their credit, the gameplay and visuals and audio are so obviously Metal Gear that if they had called it anything else, or tried to introduce more original assets to it, the outcry would’ve been the exact opposite: “This should’ve been a Metal Gear title rather than pretend to be something else.”
The beta didn’t allow access to the single-player component of Metal Gear Survive, but the official website promises an exploration-based open-world environment in which players will have to strike out from their home base on missions in order to progress through the story. While the rest of it sounds similar to The Phantom Pain‘s Afghani and African gameplay, the player’s home base will be built and inhabited right on the map. Players build a customized base and upgrade it so it can manufacture its own food, water and more.
The biggest problem with the beta for me is the sheer amount of question marks that remain just one month out from launch. Are “salvage missions” the only multiplayer mode there is? Or are there more? What carries over – or doesn’t – from multiplayer to the single-player campaign and vice-versa? The website mentions that the single-player campaign features your character and recruits or allies at your home base; what’s their role? In the beta, I could level up my character and earn skill points to spend on new combat abilities but they all said they were in the “Survivor” category; are there other categories too? How many maps and environments are there in multiplayer – there were only two in the beta? Will we see a full range of sniper rifles and rocket launchers and additional handguns, shotguns, bows and assault rifles (the four projectile weapons featured in the beta)? Can the beta-featured gadgets like barbed wire fences and Molotovs and traps be upgraded like the weapons and gear could? For that matter, can the weapons’ add-ons be upgraded? Why did my handgun have a flashlight add-on when both maps were in the middle of the day; is there a dynamic weather system like The Phantom Pain?
So, I had a lot of fun with the beta and I absolutely want to see what else Metal Gear Survive has to offer, but I can’t promise I’ll go out and spend $40 on it until I have some more of my questions answered – and personally I’d recommend you do the same. What I played was a real blast, but I want there to be more to the multiplayer component than what I saw.