Sorry Hideo Kojima, but I quite enjoyed playing Metal Gear Survive

I arrived at my appointment with Konami at E3 this afternoon in hope rather than expectation. It’s hard to think of many AAA games which have lost their visionary auteur and then gone on to make surprising improvements. But having now played Metal Gear Survive I realise the game doesn’t need to compete with its predecessors. It just needs to not be shit. 

Less crassly, it needs to be fun in a way that warrants being set in that universe and without embarrassing what’s gone before. Now bear in mind I’ve only played a single round of the multiplayer, but I came away happy on all those fronts—particularly the fun one.

To recap Survive’s provenance for those who weren’t following it before today (which, I must confess, includes me), it’s the first MGS game since series creator Hideo Kojima’s drawn out and acrimonious exit from Konami in late 2015. Billed as a spin-off, Survive takes place in an alternate MGS timeline, and will feature a full single-player campaign, though that wasn’t on show today.

The co-op multiplayer mode, which was, has been designed for four players and starts in a white box VR-style area where you equip your customisable characters by grabbing gadgets and guns from various repositories. Or you goof about shooting each other until the polite but presumably increasingly weary Konami handler orders you all to stand in a yellow ring together and get the goddamn demo started.

Do the wormhole

Our quartet of press sneaks was dropped into some scrubland that looked familiar from The Phantom Pain. We made our way to a cluster of buildings which surrounded the Wormhole Generator, the mission’s target. That’s right, Wormhole Generator. The MGS games have never exactly been grittily realistic, but I think it’s safe to say Survive is going to be full-on weird. 

Having dispensed with a couple of guards in not especially stealthy fashion (I had selected shotgun and machete at the start, plus a bow I soon forgot I owned), we gathered around the genny. “Don’t start it up yet,” advised our the Konami rep. The guy next to me promptly responded by starting it up.

True to its name, the device tore a big purple hole in the sky, through which substantially more enemies began to tumble in, frog plague style. To stem the tide you can spend resources to place various obstacles in their path, from barbed wire fences to walls of sandbags and gun turrets. My guess would be that there will be some wackier forms of defence to unlock, but for now that was what we had to work with, plus the expected grenades, molotovs and claymores you’ve come to expect from an MGS.

The principle enemies were called Wanderers, and are black-clad soldiers with the upper half of their heads missing and a red spike sticking out that looked like some sort of alien gemstone. “We’re not talking about them today,” the rep told me stoically. Arrows on the ground show the pathing of the enemies from the wormhole to the generator, which they want to destroy, so it’s up to your team to place barriers and set up crossfires accordingly. 

Split into three waves of a few minutes each, the result is a base defence experience that I suspect is similar to Fortnite (which I’ve watched James play on the desk next to me a fair bit, but haven’t tried myself). My group repelled the first wave easily enough with a couple of turrets and a fence. After each round you’re offered a side mission to complete against the clock before the next wave starts. The first of these involved capturing a nearby building from additional enemies in return for extra resources. The second saw two Walker Gears placed on the map to commandeer, and these proved vital for the hectic third wave.

That was in no small part because I’d forgotten to craft any spare shotgun ammo from the benches between rounds, and so found myself totally dry as dozens of wanderers swarmed over our shambolic defences. They were joined by Bombers, which had giant bloated heads and… well, you can guess what they do. “There’s a crafting bench inside that building your right next to,” offered the rep, as I climbed onto the building instead.

To be honest, I never felt truly in control of what I was trying to do with my character, largely because there were so many things I could be trying to do. As with frankly all Metal Gear games, the input system is wildly convoluted. (I think I got to the end of Phantom Pain still regularly swapping items at precisely the wrong time.) Between all the cycling of gadgets and menus you can do, I wonder if what feels like it’s intended as a slick, action-orientated mode couldn’t use a more streamlined system. But if you’re a Solid savant and vigorously shaking your head as you read this, no doubt you’ll be fine.

The demo was happening on PS4, but the rep did tell me the PC version will be out on the same day and date as the console ones, and that we should expect equivalent performance and scaling to The Phantom Pain. Unfortunately for me, given that I’m now actually interested in it, he also told me that Survive has been pushed back to early 2018. It’s entirely fair to remain skeptical about what the single-player campaign will be like, now the dev team has been shorn of Kojima’s direction, and presumably other key staff, but I left much more intrigued than I went in. 

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