Did Konami Ever Really Understand 'Metal Gear'?
'Metal Gear Survive' looks like everything the series is not.
This week during Gamescom, Konami announced a new Metal Gear, the first to be made without Hideo Kojima in the wake of his seemingly unpleasant departure from the company last year. It hasn’t gone over well.
Dubbed Metal Gear Survive, the design is apparently built around four-player online co-op action with some stealth thrown in. It’s an odd if not entirely unprecedented move, and one that raises some questions about how the publisher views what’s arguably their last great moneymaking franchise.
To make matters weirder, Survive is an almost-but-not-quite alternate universe story that takes place right after the events of MGSV’s prologue Ground Zeroes, where Mother Base staff left stranded on the smoldering ruin of their former headquarters get abruptly sucked into wormholes — probably because Konami needed some narrative excuse for the, uh, crystallized undead monsters waiting on the other side.
Metal Gear, of course, is no stranger to weird shit. MGSV’s main plot strands revolved around strains of speech-attuned parasites that attached themselves to victims’ vocal chords, killing them if they spoke a certain language. It had its own form of zombies, too, in puppeted soldiers (controlled by a different type of parasite). The list of other insane developments and seemingly supernatural occurrences that have occurred over the course of the series are too numerous to mention.
It isn’t subject matter or the premise that’s problematic (although wormholes are an especially lazy deus ex machina). Instead it’s what Konami has shown, and chosen to do with the design, that makes me question if they ever really understood what Metal Gear was really about.
Let’s tackle the obvious first: Whatever Survive is, it’s been built from the ground up as an online, multiplayer co-op play, and reportedly won’t be sold as a full-priced release. Frankly, just on that knowledge this sounds more like Konami’s take on Umbrella Corps than Metal Gear proper.
Furthermore, in MGSV, Big Boss’ private army is an anonymous battalion. Apart from a few stats, the odd extra ability and an animal call sign, they might as well be ones and zeros — an intentional decision since players can choose to play any of them at any time, a huge thematic core that reverberates throughout the open-world design.
There’s little to suggest in what’s been shown of Survive to expect these particular Mother Base survivors are any different, and the trailer gives the sense they characterize themselves through action rather than exposition. In fact, it’s odd how strangely mute everyone appears to be.
Still, if Survive is a multiplayer spin-off, possibly the only way Konami could think to further extend the series after Kojima essentially salted the land with MGSV’s events, it would make sense these soldiers would behave more like Metal Gear Online characters — that is, little more than avatars.
Therein lies the problem. Konami looks to be positing Survive as a cool new adventure in a Metal Gear world, where you get together online with friends to make it through this hostile alien landscape with badass weaponry, crazy monsters, and, yeah, probably some giant dinosaur mechs. They could not be missing the point any harder.
Over the years, Metal Gear has gone from simplistic stealth to operatic anime-tinged drama; Kojima’s anti-war message has been persistent throughout. While the series has never been known to shy away from violence, Solid Snake, Big Boss, Raiden, and just about everyone else have been reluctant soldiers, and most often pawns, forced into circumstances beyond their control and haunted by the actions and consequences of their past.
That never stopped Kojima’s games from giving players the option to embrace bloodshed, but doing so chafed. It meant accountability. It also should go without saying that stealth is a primary pillar; any break from that — as in Platinum’s euphorically over-the-top Metal Gear Rising, proof that the series didn’t always need to hew so closely to its core — has to come from a grounded, character-driven place.
Without a crucial sense of context, the thread that bound every plotline, theme, ideology, and even Kojima himself together with the series’ trademark gameplay, Metal Gear wouldn’t be that much different from any other action game. (Rising even has long-winded codecs and a half-hour cutscene leading to the final boss fight, the villain waxing philosophic about his twisted view of American exceptionalism.)
What does Survive have? So far, it looks like it has hand-to-hand fighting, crude melee, and explosive Avengers-esque archery — this isn’t about avoidance. To “survive” in video game terminology usually means something pretty far removed from Metal Gear, and perhaps accordingly this looks like it was transferred over as a new IP suddenly slapped together without much thought.
To brush all that aside, as Survive certainly hints at, is to cherry pick the most surface-level aspects of the series to build a game around. It’s possible this is just a case of bad marketing, though looking at Konami’s track record with crippling their most beloved series with identity crises makes that seem improbable at best.
It’s hard to believe that the developers might really think gear, multiplayer, weird enemies, or even the appearance of a Metal Gear are what made the series appealing. Yet if it’s true, they’ve forgotten one glaring fact: Metal Gear isn’t Metal Gear without its personality. No amount of tweaks to the series canon is likely to change that.