'Metal Gear Survive' and the Developer's Quandary
Using an Established Series to Sell a New Concept
On September 21st, 2016, I went on a little rant, calling die-hard Metal Gear fans “dramatic,” claiming that they put the series on “such a high pedestal that any deviation from the source material is viewed as a black mark, a cancer that will only serve to destroy all they’ve grown to love.” All of this, of course, was in response to the reveal of Konami’s Metal Gear Survive, and was part of a piece explaining how the title wasn’t the end-all for the series.
The main point I was making was that the story elements behind Survive—the wormhole and zombies—weren’t that ridiculous, considering what the Metal Gear franchise has pulled in the past. While I stand by that statement and still point towards fantasy elements like the floating telepath, the sniper that couldn’t wear clothing because it would suffocate her, and the vampire kept alive by nanomachines as supporting evidence that Metal Gear has always been ridiculous, after watching more from the game, I’m starting to understand the issue.
It’s certainly not a problem unique to the Metal Gear Solid series, but Survive is the latest egregious offender in the long history of spin-offs that simply didn’t belong. In a way, it’s painfully obvious that Konami wanted to dip its toes in the base-building/survival genre but also wanted to guarantee it would stand out. So, rather than starting entirely from scratch, it turned to one of its more prolific franchises and finagled a concept together for the sake of sales and coverage.
Looking at the gameplay footage of Survive, it’s clear that, even by dropping the Metal Gear name, the ludicrous set-up, and any direct reference to the series it’s based on, this game could stand on its own. It’s as if Konami wanted to use Metal Gear Solid V as the basis of a base-building zombie survival MOD a la DayZ, which would actually be a fine idea, had it not been marketed as a full-fledged spin-off.
To turn to the Metal Gear fanbase and try to shove this parallel version of a world so delicately crafted by series director Hideo Kojima is only risking stirring the pot. Especially considering much of the fanbase that was burned by The Phantom Pain’s incomplete storyline is still fuming over the unfinished experience and subsequent firing of a man they respected.
While many are still very distrusting of Konami, the concept of Metal Gear Survive would likely have been better received under an entirely new IP. Tacking “Metal Gear” onto the title and alluding to story elements from the main series feels insincere. It also can leave one questioning whether Konami even has faith in their own development teams.
Video game spin-offs are hardly a new concept, and while there are some that proved to fit within the franchise it borrowed from, many, like Survive threatens to, just appear to be cashing in on a name or recognizable character. One of the more recent spin-off flops came from Capcom in the form of Umbrella Corps. Why one would consider dumbing down the Resident Evil franchise to a close-quarters multiplayer shooter with none of the series’ charm is confusing, but Capcom learned its lesson. Umbrella Corps stands at a Metascore of 38 for the PS4 version and 36 for PC and, according to SteamCharts, is down to an average of fewer than ten players a day.
Could Survive succeed where games like Umbrella Corps and other notable terrible spin-offs like Hotel Mario, Mega Man Soccer, and Mortal Kombat: Special Forces failed? Epic Games’ Fortnite is a fine example of a similar concept that has worked (regardless of a rocky start hindered by paid early access complaints), further proving that zombies and base building are a great pair. It wasn’t even a new idea when Fortnite launched, yet now, partially thanks to a “Battle Royal” mode, the cartoonish shooter is thriving.
Whether or not Metal Gear Survive does well should be based solely on its gameplay mechanics working well—but chances are it will be met with an initial general disdain for one simple reason: it carries the Metal Gear name. Be it laziness or misjudgment, the decision to throw Survive in with a coveted series could be the game’s unraveling. Under a different IP, maybe more people, sans those that outright loathe Konami, would have been willing to give it a chance.