Ever since the original Metal Gear hit the MSX in 1987, it’s been an important franchise. The 2D games that introduced the world to the stealth genre went on to inspire countless copycats. Then about a decade passed and Metal Gear Solid came out for the PlayStation – a 3D stealth-action game that is still considered to be one of the greatest video games ever made. Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3 released on the PlayStation 2 to similar acclaim, Metal Gear Solid 4 came to the PlayStation 3 to major fanfare and Metal Gear Solid V hit current generation consoles and was met with rave reviews (though, admittedly, the game ended up being a bit under-baked: a fault most commonly and perhaps correctly attributed to Konami).
Here we are in 2018 and it’s quickly becoming clear that this seminal franchise won’t last long without creator and mad-genius Hideo Kojima. His major falling out with publisher Konami in 2015 severed his ties with the franchise he built, but as we all know, Kojima didn’t stay down for long – he’s been hard at work building a new team and developing Death Stranding for the PlayStation 4. Time will tell if the new IP will make the same sort of splash that Metal Gear always managed to, but it’s not the first time Kojima has stepped away from the franchise: his work on Snatcher, Policenauts and Zone of the Enders proves that he can live without Metal Gear and he was in the early stages of development on Silent Hills with Guillermo del Toro when Konami pulled the plug. Hideo Kojima may very well thrive without Metal Gear, but Metal Gear as we know it is likely to fail without Kojima.
This week, Konami released its first post-Kojima game in the series: Metal Gear Survive. Available for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC, Metal Gear Survive is a multiplayer, always-online survival action-adventure game. Notice how stealth, which has been integral to the series since its inception, is almost nowhere to be found (yes, you can hide from the zombies a bit, but that’s not the point). The game literally takes place in a separate dimension from the main series, as between the events of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, an unnamed character infected with a virus is teleported via-wormhole to Dite, another dimension infested with zombie soldiers called Wanderers. The whole thing bizarre and nonsensical, yet somehow it’s still decidedly un-Metal Gear.
At the beginning of the game, some recycled footage from Metal Gear Solid V featuring Big Boss, aka Naked Snake, aka Jack, is shown, and that’s about it for major connections to the main series. Though more about Big Boss, or other characters from the series, may very well come into play later in the game, the characters, story and gameplay that make Metal Gear what it is simply isn’t in Survive. It tells its own story, with its own characters and the merits of this story can be evaluated on their own – just because a Metal Gear game doesn’t have Snake as the main character doesn’t mean it can’t be good. Just look at Metal Gear Solid 2 and the bait-and-switch Kojima played with Raiden turning out to be the protagonist – change is a constant in the series.
As far as gameplay is concerned, Survive takes a few aspects from Metal Gear, smashes it with zombie survival mechanics present in seemingly every other game these days, and creates something relatively interesting. The base building and survival aspects can be tense and exciting, and the game itself if gorgeous – though, this is largely due to it running on the Fox Engine, which was made from the ground up for Metal Gear Solid V. No amount of “!” sound effects or idiosyncratic jokes can make Survive feel like a Metal Gear game, because what bound the main franchise together was Kojima himself, writing and directing the hell out of those titles.
There have been Metal Gear games without Kojima at the lead, and they’ve come with mixed results. Snake’s Revenge for the NES served as an unofficial sequel to the original Metal Gear, though it is widely considered to be lesser than the true sequel that came out later the same year, Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, which was once again written and directed by Hideo Kojima. Metal Gear: Ghost Babel for the Game Boy Color is a fantastic, critically-acclaimed game, and though it is considered to be in an alternate timeline from the rest of the series, Kojima served as producer, giving up directorial duties to Shinta Nojiri, who would go on to be a game designer on most subsequent Metal Gear games. Metal Gear Acid and Acid 2 for the PSP were also directed by Nojiri, and similar to Ghost Babel, both take place in an alternate timeline from the main series – they were well received, but their nature as “turn-based collectable card stealth” games was hard for most fans to swallow. Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops for the PSP remained true to the series’ stealth-action basis, but was quickly outshined by the Kojima-helmed Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker a few years later. Most recently, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance was met with generally positive reviews, despite the fact that it was a full-on action title and was developed by PlatinumGames after an earlier version was scrapped by Konami. Some of these games were great, some were passable, but none (save perhaps Ghost Babel and Portable Ops) came close to matching the quality of the proper, Kojima-helmed Metal Gear games. Kojima has attempted to walk away from the franchise multiple times, but it looks like this split is going to be final.
When Metal Gear Survive was announced, most fans met it with scorn, decrying it as an imposter metal gear – a Venom Metal Gear, if you will. That intense backlash was met with a quieter rebuttal from some that suggested fans just wait for the game to come out before jumping to conclusions. The open beta for Survive came and went, and the little buzz around the game diminished further after fan concerns had largely been realized. Now the game is out in the wild and it hardly feels like a new Metal Gear has been released. Even if Survive does end up getting positive professional reviews (which we won’t know for some time, considering Konami didn’t have the game operational for reviewers until launch day), it’s clear fan interest in the game is exceptionally low. Fans did want more Metal Gear, but they wanted it in the form of a finished version of Metal Gear Solid V, ideally with a complete Chapter 3 and finished storyline. Instead, we got a game that nobody asked for, from a team devoid of the man that made Metal Gear what it was.
As it stands, it looks like Metal Gear as we know it isn’t coming back any time soon – and perhaps that’s for the best. Fans would likely be even more outraged if Konami attempted a Metal Gear Solid 6 without Kojima and went all-in on a convoluted plot filled with clones and indigestion jokes, things that inexplicably worked with Kojima behind the wheel, but aren’t likely to stick without him. Survive, which is looking more and more like it really is just a cheap cash-in of a long-running franchise, is truly just a quick, simple, harmless game – it’s not something that will irrevocably damage the series forever. But now that Kojima is deep into the development of a new franchise, and it doesn’t look like he’ll be coming back to Metal Gear any time soon, expect any subsequent games with the title Metal Gear to undersell and underperform critically: even if they are decent games, they’re unlikely to be accepted by fans and critics without Kojima’s name and personal touch. Luckily, the overall story of Metal Gear wrapped up nicely with Guns of the Patriots, and though there are still many, many loose ends to tie up, what exists of the series is in a good place. Let what’s been done be done. It’s safe to assume that pretty much anything new to the series from here on out is going to fail to meet expectations in one way or another, and that’s okay.
The series as we know it is over: all good things must come to an end.
Though this article has a lot of feelings about Metal Gear Survive, don’t consider it Hardcore Gamer’s official stance on the game. Keep an eye out for our Metal Gear Survive review for a more definitive take on the game.