As the most baffling game in the most baffling series ever made, “Metal Gear Survive” has reasonable claim to the title of “Weirdest Game Ever.” But break down the forces behind its creation, and it suddenly becomes one of the most sensical, cynical business decisions made in the video game industry.
Up until 2015, the “Metal Gear” franchise was headed by its original creator, Hideo Kojima. He had a justifiable reputation for being somewhat of an auteur. None of his games could be classified as entirely safe, though they all received critical praise.
His sequels were overwrought and complex thematic critiques of one another. It was a series that constantly reinvented itself, often in ungraceful ways, but building one coherent canon and world out of these wildly different games was always half the fun.
In 2015, Kojima left his parent company, Konami, to work on other projects. More accurately, he was pushed out. The company wanted to cut down on their game’s development division in order to focus resources on their pachinko machine gambling business.
They canceled Kojima’s much-anticipated reboot from the “Silent Hill” franchise, even after a playable teaser had been released. They also shoved “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain” out the door without letting Kojima finish the last few story missions — the game did well regardless. Kojima and his creative team had no obligation to continue making more “Metal Gear” games, so leaving was the only thing that made sense.
After taking a second look at their profit line, Konami decided they had some obligation to keep making more “Metal Gear” products, and “Metal Gear: Survive” is the result. In some small ways, it's an admirable attempt to recapture what made the series special.
Despite the lack of Kojima and his team, there were actually people on this project who attempted to make a good game. Even with the better efforts of some good apples, nothing can hide what this is at its core: a trendy, poorly made cash grab.
The very premise of the game is torn from the pages of what a corporate boardroom probably thinks is “hip with the kids these days.” Some soldiers from “Metal Gear Solid V” are sucked into a wormhole and dropped in a parallel universe full of zombies.
Every popular zombie-survival game mechanic is crammed into the game engine from “Phantom Pain,” no matter how well each mechanic fits with the original game’s build. Base building works fine, but having to stop running every 50 yards because of a limited stamina gauge is not great, especially when the environments are massive.
Hunting for natural resources like carrots to eat and water to drink work fine, but the ability to start every life-or-death animal hunt by cold-cocking critters across the jaw with your fists creates a bit of a tonal shift.
Speaking of things “Survive” inherits from its predecessor, using some old assets from “MGSV” would have been perfectly acceptable. This is a spin-off game with a smaller development team and price tag of only $40, but with the exception of some enemies, nearly every asset is taken directly from the previous game. On top of that, it somehow looks worse even though it came out three years after “The Phantom Pain.” Its environments are smaller but are still poorly rendered.
Online matchmaking works well, but if I had to hazard a guess, I’d say it’s likely because the online mode of “MGSV” got sorted out a long time ago. In fact, “Survive’s” online co-op might be its best feature. It’s little more than generic, wave-based missions against hordes of the undead, but the ability to actively place barriers anywhere on the map and the need to coordinate with your fellow team members make matches quick and intense. Once or twice I found myself actually having fun.
Unfortunately, all that mode does is feed rewards back into the single player campaign. It’s worth saying some noticeable effort went into the narrative of this game. “Metal Gear” dialogue has always been kitschy: It repeats itself and calls attention to the subject matter’s absurdity.
“Survive” tries to ape this style, but never goes far enough to make the story anything but a cheap imitation. There’s repetitive and goofy dialogue, but nothing as impactful as the cutscenes from “Metal Gear Solid IV: Guns of the Patriots.”
All could be forgiven in the name of incompetence, were it not for the fact that “Survive” has brutal microtransactions. Players get one save slot for free and have to pay $10 for another. So if players finish the game and replay it without deleting their old save, or if they want to have multiple avatars for the online mode, they have to pony up.
To add insult to injury, each account gets four free gear loadouts in the online mode, and must then pay $3 for additional slots. This is “Survive”: a corporate plan to hook people in to a cheaply developed, mediocre multiplayer experience with a $40 base price, only so they can hike the price up later.
As a total conversion mod or free expansion, this would’ve been a notable achievement. But as is, “Metal Gear Survive” is only for people who played “MGSV,” are flush with cash and want a momentary amusement. No more value was put into this creation, so you aren’t going to get any more out of it.
Final Grade: D+