In the last few years, Survival games have become synonymous with garbage proof-of-concept dumpster fires.
Also in the last few years, Konami has become synonymous with garbage proof-of-concept dumpster fires.
In this episode of Fixing Gaming, we’re going to take a look at a Dumpster Fire’s little dumpster fire, Metal Gear Survive.
Metal Gear Survive
Konami has decided to continue the glorious legacy of Hideo Kojima by continuing the production of Metal Gear, an espionage drama that discusses the value of deterrence, patriotism, and war itself. How have they decided to do this? They’ve created… a survival horror game?
To be fair, Konami wasn’t the first to do this to the franchise. I was eating snakes in MGS3 long before they decided to attach glowing spikes to zombies. Even the “horror” elements don’t feel as absurd as some of the elements of the previous games. But, there’s a problem here: Konami isn’t Kojima, and the gaming community is tired of eating shit.
You see, Konami screwed over Kojima, and then went after the biggest thing he ever created. Metal Gear Survive could have been the next Metal Gear Rising, a fun little spinoff that adds new fluff to the world of Metal Gear. Instead, it recreates the most annoying aspect of the franchise (memory dumps and text communication), removes the creative characters, and add in a boatload of microtransactions and virutal currencies. To put the cherry on top, though, they forgot a few simple rules of game design.
Showing and Telling: A Primer
Survive has a ton of storytelling weight on its shoulders. It has to successfully add the inane, often overproduced lore that Kojima is known for, and shove it into a Survival Horror game. It manages to do this, but only through a ton of text dialog. MGS4 took twelve hours to tell a somewhat clunky narrative, but I wasn’t too bothered because I’d grown up with these characters, and I didn’t have to click through every line of dialogue. Even MGSV managed to keep me quasi-interested in three indistinguishable voices over a radio, and that’s saying something (given the overall weakness of the plot). Unfortunately, Survive forgets to provide incentive to care about the plot. You’re shoved unceremoniously into a new facet of the Metal Gear universe, and you’re not given much to cling onto. Somehow you get transported to a different dimension, but there’s nothing to keep me from asking “why wasn’t this just part of the apocalyptic future?”
This, coupled with arguably the blandest series of characters I’ve seen in the franchise, is a terrible method of telling a story. Do I really want to listen to the adventures of Silent Protagonist and the Edgy White Dude, backed up by Religious Discount Laurence Fishburne and the spooky AI? Which leads to the next problem of telling instead of showing:
The biggest problem (outside the community-driven outcry over microtransactions) with Survive would probably be their inability to provide an adequate tutorial. The tutorial we got was extremely unimmersive, with AI units constantly fighting each other for dialogue. Keep in mind, these “two” AI are arguing over each other during the scripted sequences, but there’s plenty of times where the game would stop the game while one was explaining something, only for me to be placed in a completely new tutorial. I don’t mind scripted interruptions, but when you forget to check if another part of the tutorial is running, there’s going to be a bit of confusion.
To offer a bit of perspective, I’ll use another survival game I hold near and dear to my heart: Don’t Starve. This indie gem has been brought up several times in my reviews, and I enjoy using it to highlight the glorious aspect of teaching the player without either forcing a broken tutorial or leaving them alone and scared. As I play Don’t Starve, I come across components naturally. I start only able to obtain a certain few items, which open up the ability to craft more things. At no point in my history of playing did I stop to look at the wiki to figure out what I needed to do to obtain things.
Survive doesn’t allow for this style of emergent gameplay, however, and I consistently find myself wandering around, trying to find the very minimum amount of supplies to repair my items. You don’t get any sort of clue on how to find certain crafting components, outside of food. I don’t like my hand to be held, but I don’t want my character to play like a newborn child suddenly grew to the size of a football player.
Overall, I can’t deny Survive’s ability to take the Fox Engine and create a smooth experience. While I won’t speak for everyone, my overall playtime has not been marred by too many bugs or performance issues, and the overall feel just works. I don’t feel like I’m struggling with my controls the whole time, and in a game about surviving hordes of weird zombies, it’s very nice to see such a fluid control scheme.
I do tend to notice the problems with designing a stabbing game around a shooting engine, however. While MGSV worked well with the CQC system, Survive fails to transfer this easy system over, instead utilizing clunky melee weapons for a large portion of the game’s introduction. While not the worst melee system I’ve seen, and as serviceable as it may be, it’s clear by enemy interaction that gunplay was a more stable choice to have made. Plenty of videos exist to show how easy it is to outssmart the zombies, and just poking them once or twice in the head kills them. When I think of “tactical espionage survival” or whatever the bozzword is this time, I don’t think “let me stand on a 1-foot tall box and stab downward”.
The final thing I’d like to mention in this review (gotta save some things for later) is the thirst and hunger system. While I appreciate the stamina/health drains, I don’t like survival games that make eating and drinking a hassle. If I kill an entire goat, I would have enough food to survive for a day or two, even with the amount of running I’m doing. Same with water. I can purify a bit of water from a pond and last more than a minute before being thirsty.
When working with a gaming medium, give players the chance to learn without just telling them what to do. It’s difficult, and it’s very fragile, but there’s a balance to be struck when teaching gameplay. Making a spear, or a blade, should not be obtuse, yet this game manages to do so with a very clunky crafting system that feels bolted onto the experience. Honestly, it still confuses me why they didn’t take the whole “research/deployment” idea from MGSV, as it manages to work really well for a game like this. The gameplay just felt tacked onto a mediocre story that cared more about telling than showing. I guess Metal Gear Survive… didn’t.