Hideo Kojima and Konami are finished with each other. Three decades of love, hate, and what seemed like a blank canvas granted to the first and last great gaming auteur is over. Now that the dust kicked up by their breakup has settled, we are left with Metal Gear: Survive. This is a product that has the “Metal Gear” name on its cover, but it’s not a Metal Gear game. It’s a reminder that all good things must come to an end.
As a young art form, gaming has witnessed more births than deaths. But what Konami delivered here is the first real, astonishing, triple-A carcass for us to pay our respects to in our lifetime. Metal Gear: Survive is a wandering soldier, a husk, a re-skinned, re-purposed FOX Engine spinoff which features a non-canonical side-story. Its assets and locations are recycled from Metal Gear Solid V, but instead of infiltrating military installations full of guerillas and special forces, you sneak past zombies who have shards in their heads. It feels pointless.
Survive‘s story takes place sometime between Metal Gear: Ground Zeroes and Metal Gear V: The Phantom Pain in an alternate dimension that looks a lot like the Afghanistan map from MGSV. It’s the most blatant in a potpourri of borrowed elements from the still-impressive FOX Engine. The game looks great, but funeral homes have a way of dressing up the corpse, don’t they?
Like its predecessors, Survive also features some of the basic sneaking elements found in the Metal Gear series, but the main gameplay mechanic is placing down magical fences so you can poke the weird, amethyst-head zombies to death. It gets old. It’s echos like these that add weight onto the tedious gameplay and frustrating, dense interface. We should have it so much better.
And yet, Konami shambles forward, like the soulless, cliché zombies that terrorize you throughout your time in the dust-filled wasteland of Dite.
Zombie games were last interesting in 2008, when Metal Gear Solid 4 delivered a heartfelt goodbye to Solid Snake amidst the zombie genre-busting releases of Left 4 Dead and Call of Duty: World at War’s Nazi Zombies. Back then it felt fresh. It felt like everyone was trying. And Kojima’s send-off to his protagonist couldn’t have been more perfect.
Now we’re here, 10 years later, with MG:S borrowing liberally from MGSV‘s interface, featuring a genre trope that’s outlasted its welcome, all rolled into a “survival” package that tries its best to be a bad DayZ or Rust copycat. The menu navigation is convulted and the fence building’s need to flip through your menus quickly requires nano-bot assisted finger dexterity, but after a while, you’ll get used to the obtuse system. Admittedly, there’s a lot you can do in the game, and the amount of freedom offered to you is impressive, but the actions end up like a xerox of a xerox with a zombie drawn on top. Two hours in or fifteen, you’ll be putting down a fence and probably using a version that spear you’ve been stabbing with for so long.
The fact that the redundant Metal Gear: Survive shares the same initials with Metal Gear: Solid, one of the most beloved games of all-time and a crown jewel of gaming innovation, sums up Konami’s brazen attitude towards their most valuable franchise. The end of Metal Gear isn’t Big Boss walking in slow motion smoking a cigar, it’s a smoldering zombie head being stepped on while we wonder why.
Maybe it’s unfair to judge MG:S on the previous games, but when it shares so much DNA with Phantom Pain, it’s impossible not to at least compare both experiences. Survive is different, and not entirely incompetent, but it’s lazy. The ahead of their time survival elements in Metal Gear Solid 3 are for the most part ignored here. It’s a perfect encapsulation of “what could’ve been.” It makes a fan yearn for a proper Metal Gear: Survive and non-fans wonder what’s the big deal about this series.
Because Survive is a realization of your worst fears of the gaming world as a whole. The good old days are finished. Kojima’s complete products that he sold for a simple asking amount are gone, replaced by the always online and the microtransaction-fueled. The cold, hard reality is that we can never experience a new Kojima-created Metal Gear again. Instead, we are charged $10 for an extra save slot in Metal Gear: Survive. Want a new costume to poke zombies to death in? Pony up the cash.
Where Metal Gear: Survive truly succeeds is in helping one say goodbye. It’s a reminder that Metal Gear is dead. We will never have another fascinating and ridiculous adventure with Snake. The dialogue will never take us to places we could never expect, and we’ll never get another meaningful chapter in the silly and wonderful world of intrigue that Hideo Kojima has been expanding for three decades.
Perhaps it’s Metal Gear: Survive trying. The not-so-subtle shoutout to “Kojima Productions Forever.” The want to bring fans together for some cooperative base-building fun. But then the game just falls short. Knowing that the possibility of some random person failing you in an online match, thus losing you precious materials that carry over to your single player experience is daunting. It’s a grind. It’s a modern, dopamime-filled attempt at keeping people playing. It’s easy to be cynical, but it’s impossible not to see the writing on the wall here.
For Metal Gear fans, it’s been a hard few years. There’s no other medium that has seen a universe guided by such a singular vision for so long.
No more Psycho Mantis, asking you to remove your controller. No insane Colonel telling you to shut off your PlayStation. In a time and place when the world actually feels like a plot of Kojima’s, it feels like fans need another chapter in the story, but unlike so many other industries, we’ll never see Kojima near his baby again. So we have what we have.
Metal Gear: Survive is the nail in the coffin. Those old memories will never be recreated, or added to. They are in the past, still perfect and should remain on hollowed ground. But sometimes the end is where we need to be. Metal Gear doesn’t have to go on forever, it’s just a shame we got the worst at the end instead of the perfect, final salute Kojima crafted.
For all its quirks and incoherence, Kojima’s sprawling opus was a special place and time that now has a clear beginning and end. It’s just a shame that the prologue is behind a paywall.