I am that Metal Gear fan who overzealously rants about how Ghost Babel is an underappreciated masterpiece. When I’m late catching the bus, I play the Sons of Liberty soundtrack on my headphones because no one hastens my pace like Harry Gregson-Williams. When I catch said bus, hunched over and panting, I’ll say without fail, “Kept you waiting, huh?” I know the driver won’t get it, but that’s how big of a dork I am.
That being said, I believe the most earnest Metal Gear fans know there are plenty of times the series has gone off the rails. Fight a Metal Gear being piloted by a “teenager” in her underwear? Sure. Johnny the diarrhea guy is marrying Meryl with no explanation? Why not? Literally everything that happens in Metal Gear Acid? Heck yeah: I’ll play the second one too!
For three decades the Metal Gear franchise has been more-or-less a “tactical espionage action” game—in the narrative a “deep state” government is creating walking bipedal tanks armed with nuclear weapons, and a soldier from a core group of familiar characters must sneak and infiltrate the enemy base in order to save the world from annihilation. This is the first MG game created by Konomi since creator Hideo Kojima’s controversial departure in 2015. The series has always served as a critique of the military-industrial complex, including commentary on everything from nanomachines to the war economy. Metal Gear Survive, however, is a somehow-canonical tower defense game where you fend off zombies. There may be more of a story not available in the Beta, but so far that’s what we have.
I was apprehensive when I loaded the Metal Gear Survive Beta onto my PS4 last weekend. Yes, many fans and gaming journalists have shared plenty of concerns about the zombie-horror-survival MG outing, but I was not ready to write the game off entirely. I must confess that I only got to spend a limited time with the Beta, due to some travel commitments, but I wanted to share some first impressions (and I mean first impressions, since I’ll have to wait to dig in deeper).
The prevailing feedback about the Beta seems to be split into two camps: people who like the gameplay but don’t believe the game should be associated with the Metal Gear franchise, and people who downright hate it (who may have never played the game or given it a chance). In lieu of putting out another divisive review, my goal is to provide some feedback on some of the subtleties of the game, which is where the previous game entries showcased the most charm.
First of all, it is difficult to compare this game with the massively notable titles that precede it, especially since this is a Beta. I still get chills thinking about the Metal Gear Solid 4 wallpaper on my PS4—a tortured Old Snake, gritting his teeth as the bottom half of his body disintegrates into pieces, while Williams’ signature synth-brass sound blares on loop. In comparison, the Metal Gear Survive presentation is underwhelming. Before playing, I thought, “No matter what happens with this release, at least I’ll get one more quality MG soundtrack to listen to.” But sadly, the tracks showcased on the Beta were mostly repetitive and forgettable.
I also had difficulty getting used to the controls of Metal Gear Survive. Yes, the controls have changed with each MG title, but typically they evolved along with the playstyle. Committed fans who are used to the control scheme may feel like the controls for Metal Gear Survive are more of a deviation than an evolution. One example: for the past twenty years, the L1 and R1 buttons have been used to bring up the item screen, and while I understand that scheme may not be conducive to multiplayer, that fact didn’t stop me from throwing Molotov cocktails on myself every five minutes. The other control issue is harder to explain: it just doesn’t feel right when I input commands. This difficult-to-articulate playability critique was notably expressed by Team Meat in the Indie Game: The Movie documentary, who struggled to describe the importance of programming controls that “feel good.” And despite its shortcomings, the controls of Metal Gear Solid V felt great, while there is something about the controls of Metal Gear Survive that feel like a clunky step backward. For me there seems to be a tiny delay between the sound in the speakers, image on the screen, and vibration of my controller when I fire a weapon. Getting the perfect headshot in MGS usually feels good, but something felt sluggish this time.
The matchmaking room is intriguingly designed, which showcases the loadout of your three team members on the wall to give you an idea of what supplies to bring. This is also a chance to craft and repair materials before going into battle. Admittedly, the crafting of materials is a pretty fun addition. However, with the recent announcement of the inclusion of micro-transactions I wonder how much this enjoyable aspect will be compromised. Producer Yuji Korekado has since announced they are walking back the decision to include loot boxes and pay-to-win transactions, though they will still include micro-transactions similar to Metal Gear Online.
After a two and a half minute matchmaking wait (which seemed a little long to match four players together), the Beta dumps you into the level with hardly any explanation on what you are supposed to do. For the first couple matches I ran around like an idiot, not quite sure what was happening. After my teammates carried me across the finish line, I grabbed the loot box rewards without realizing we are supposed to share our spoils. Yes, I was that jerk on the co-op team because I had no idea what I was doing.
As I conceded earlier, I did not get to delve into the gameplay as much as I wanted to. I started on Saturday, and most of Sunday I was unable to log in because of server issues. I understand that Beta is going to Beta, but still, the recent announcement that Metal Gear Survive will require always online connectivity left me concerned that server issues may prevent me from enjoying the solo campaign in the future. Though I did not level up as much as other players, I did see other players with overpowered weapons mowing down characters with ease while I struggled with my crappy machete. Ultimately, when I eased into the gameplay, I got a little bored. Sneaking up and ganking an enemy soldier with body armor and night vision is one of the most satisfying things you can do in a game, but what is the fun of sneaking up on a zombie? Attempting to explain the gameplay to a friend, I explained I spent most of my time gathering supplies and building barricades. “So it’s like a fence simulator?” he asked. “Yeah,” I said reluctantly, “I guess it kind of is.” That may be unfair, but there is really no point in using the sneak mechanics we all love.
I definitely need to spend more time with the release version, but so far, my initial impression is that Metal Gear Survive lacks the gripping narrative, smooth playability, and subtle sparks that has made the franchise special to so many people. So far the glimpse we’ve seen been shown is about the size of one of the side missions in Ground Zeroes. I am curious to see what is added after the Beta and am hopeful that Konami will prove us skeptics wrong. Be sure to check back with Electricbento.com for my full review at release and any upcoming news for Metal Gear Survive.