Metal Gear Survive. The base-building, wave-based co-op survival game is a major departure from the tactical espionage action that has earned the series such critical acclaim over the years, and without a riveting story directed by Hideo Kojima and team’s unique brand of weird, it just doesn’t feel right. But even with my fangirl gripes, my 30 minute session with this odd spin-off’s four-player co-op wasn’t as bad as I feared it would be — it just wasn’t very interesting.No one really asked for
This admittedly early build still felt a little unbalanced and stiff, but the squad dynamic and loadout customization have the potential to create some fun multiplayer moments. I just can’t shake the feeling that other Metal Gear games, including Metal Gear Online, have already nailed most of these same elements, but better.
Metal Gear Survive’s story wasn’t featured prominently in our demo, but it might be important to understand the context of why you’re building bases and shooting zombies. Immediately after the events of Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes, a wormhole opens up above Mother Base, sucking in the surviving Militaires Sans Frontières soldiers and dropping them into a desolate alternate dimension along with a chunk of the offshore plant. I can’t help but think of Kazuo Umezu’s horror manga The Drifting Classroom, only instead of spiraling into a terrifying Lord of the Flies-esque fight for survival, the mercenaries get to work gathering resources, crafting strange new weapons from the remains of their old base, and trying to figure out a way to get home. It’s weird, but not weird in the way that originally captured our hearts in previous Metal Gear Solid games, with their effortless mix of absurdist humor and socio-political themes.
While Metal Gear Survive does have a single-player mode that I wasn’t able to spend any time with, the multiplayer seems to be the core of the experience. At the start, each player gets to customize their specific loadout. I was told there are no classes or preset loadouts, so the responsibility of deciding roles is entirely up to the four-player squad, which could make for some really interesting and specific team compositions. But in my preview, we did have to pick from one of four loadouts the developers had setup for demo purposes. I went with one of the shooter builds because I felt I would be more useful with a standard assault rifle, but there were also builds equipped with shotguns, revolvers, bows and arrows, and a host of weird melee weapons like my own soldier’s electrified baton. Each character also has a hunger and thirst meter, but we didn’t get a chance to see how these survival mechanics factored in.
Once your team is set, you’re funneled into a VR-like lobby where you can check everyone else’s loadout on large, floating displays and summon dummies for practice shooting. But most of my team just messed around, emptying our magazines into each other, raining mortar fire down on the arena, and building up a maze of chain link fences. At this early shenanigan-filled stage, I was expecting an experience similar to Metal Gear Online.
What I ended up playing was something less well-rounded, needlessly rigid, and at times worryingly simple. My team’s first goal was to capture an outpost, which required us to run up a hill and shoot two or three Wanderers — crystal-headed zombie soldiers — and then build a Wormhole Generator at its center after fortifying the base with chain link fences, sandbags, and other barricades. On my character, walls were bound to the left bumper of my gamepad and were easy to plan and snap into place, which is good considering the amount of hectic rebuilding we’d have to be doing. Then the first wave started.
Metal Gear Survive runs in the impressive Fox Engine, which also powered Ground Zeroes and Phantom Pain — games that feel fantastic to play and look incredible. But the Fox Engine was built more for stealth action than mowing down hordes of mindless enemies, which is exactly what Metal Gear Survive asks you to do. The action felt stiff, but not in the exciting, tactical way Metal Gear usually does, with its reliance on calm, calculated movement, stealthy trap-setting, and expertly timed executions. Metal Gear Solid gameplay is all about using your wits and the gear at your disposal to incapacitate enemies in interesting lethal and non-lethal ways, but in Metal Gear Survive, it feels like much of that is lost. The developers told us that this is “survival action,” and I have to wonder why that needs to be at the expense of Metal Gear’s acclaimed “tactical” action. To be fair, I want to believe that because we had such little time to explore what should be a large selection of weapons, gadgets, traps, and other equipment, there’s more to Metal Gear Survive than sitting on top of a tower and spraying rounds into zombies until we ran out of ammo… but in my demo, that’s essentially all we did.
After the relatively easy first wave was taken care of, we were instructed by Konami reps to leave the base to a nearby blue circle on our minimap. These “quests” can be completed in the minute or two it takes before the next wave begins, but they amounted to little more than killing a special enemy for a special item or locating two Walker Gears. The Walker Gears proved very handy in the more difficult third and final wave, where the tougher Armored Wanderers and explosive Bombers came out in full force. I do hope that in the complete game, we’ll see more time between waves to complete more interesting tasks, because the core structure of putting up some walls, shooting a dozen or so zombies, and then repeating felt ultimately unfulfilling.
The most fun I had with Metal Gear Survive was when things got a little out of control during the third wave. Enemies broke through our barricades and I found myself frantically setting up mortars and fire traps to keep them away from our Wormhole Generator, relying on a couple good shots from my handgun to take out stragglers. Moments like this felt the most like Phantom Pain, when an attempt to quietly infiltrate a base goes horribly wrong and you’re forced to think quick as dozens of enemies are alerted to your location. With three other players there with you, the opportunity for some cool emergent moments and hilarity are multiplied. We ended up winning the match and somehow S-ranking it despite all the friendly fire and destroyed barricades, which I’m a little suspicious of. I hope it will be a little harder to score so highly in the final game than it was in our demo.
Metal Gear Survive is still a bit of an enigma to me. My albeit brief demo failed to live up to expectations set by the Metal Gear association in both gameplay and personality. The disregard for the Fox Engine’s strengths are particularly disappointing. It isn’t as if Metal Gear games need to stick to one specific style, but even with all the interesting and sometimes risky ways the series’ unique brand of action could be and has been applied, it’s always kept its heart. Even if Metal Gear Survive ends up fleshing out its wave-based co-op in more complex ways, it might just be too dull for me to care.
Chloi Rad is an Associate Editor for IGN. Follow her on Twitter at @_chloi.