This morning, the open beta for Metal Gear Survive rounded the corner and finished out its run. This marks the final beta period for the game before its launch on February 20, 2018 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. (Yeah, that's tomorrow.) As an online game, you won't be seeing a review from USgamer ahead of time; it goes live for us when it goes live for you. So the open beta was my first chance to see what the game is all about before knuckling down for the review.
I came out of the weekend with one thought: I like Metal Gear Survive, but it's not really a Metal Gear game.
The open beta offers one mission type across two maps and three difficulty modes. That mission is Salvage, where you protect a central drill against successive waves of Survive's odd crystalline zombie-like creatures. It's a cooperative game mode, with up to four players working together on defense. (Seriously, don't try to do it alone.)
The first time you're dropped into one of the maps, it's a bit disorienting. The world is haze of sand and ruin, with derelict structures and wandering figures. You're there with your team, there's a timer counting down the beginning of the first wave, and a marker for the drill you need to protect. This early section is probably the most "Metal Gear" of the experience, where you can use stealth to take down the straggling creatures. Their sight is pretty bad: they'll see you if you're standing in the open, but going prone in tall grass is enough to lose them.
Scavenging and crafting the most important part of the Salvage mission type in the open beta. Like an Elder Scrolls protagonist, you loot everything that isn't nailed down: wood, nails, steel, iron, rags, springs, and more. The non-wave sections are all about looting as much as possible within the limited time you have to explore. Once you're done looting, returning to the drill area deposits all those materials in your stash. From your stash, you use the available crafting stations to make traps, defenses, and ammunition for your weapons.
You start with simple defenses, like a mesh fence or wooden barricade, and as you play more matches, you slowly unlock more powerful defenses and weapons. Eventually, you can craft and utilize high-caliber machine guns, sentry turrets, shock traps, and whirling blades of doom. You'll also unlock further equipped weaponry: you start with a machete, a pistol, a makeshift spear, and a bow, but there are weapons like the Sledgehammer, Shotgun, and Assault Rifle waiting for you in the future.
The upgraded weapons and defenses become necessary as you play more of Metal Gear Survive. The basic grunt creature type is pretty easy to deal with in single combat, but if you don't pay attention a group of them can whittle your life away pretty quick. There are Armored versions that require precise hits or stronger weapons like the shotgun. Bombers are giant mushroom-headed versions that take more damage to kill and explode once they die or reach their target. Trackers are demon jackrabbits, leaping around the battlefield and over your defenses to get at you. I also ran into Detonators; I don't know what they do, because I popped them with a headshot as soon as I saw them.
In defense mode, stealth is completely gone. Instead, you and your partners will run around the battlefield mowing down creatures. You'll stab your spear through mesh fences, burn entire crowds with molotovs, or lure them into your traps. The traps are pretty fun in the later stages, like an Oil Trap that causes enemies to slide comboing into Spinning Blades or a Shock Trap. Unlike Metal Gear Solid 5 though, there's no subtlety here. This act of defense is very loud and in your face at all times. There is real tension though, you'll find yourself crafting during a wave and yelling over the mic to your teammates where the next special creature is coming from.
The core loop of play in Metal Gear Survive's Salvage mode reminds me a great deal of Fortnite. That's the original Fortnite, currently entitled Save the World, not the current hotness that is Fortnite Battle Royale. Both games have the opening section where everyone spreads out and loots what they can, crafts defenses and ammo, places those defenses to protect a central point, hoping those defenses will help them mow down oncoming waves of zombie-type figures.
When I first took a look at Fortnite: Save the World, I enjoyed the game, but found that Epic Games had over-developed the progression system. There were just too many things to level and keep track of. Metal Gear Survive doesn't have that problem. Killing creatures nets you a resource called Kuban Energy. This is used during a mission to speed up the drilling process. Assuming you feed the drill in this manner and protect it, you'll get better rewards at the end of a mission.
A tiny bit of Kuban Energy is used when crafting new weapons or upgrades, but its primary use is leveling up your character's current class. The open beta has a single class: Survivor. I finished my time with the beta as a Level 21 Survivor. Every level gives you a Skill Point, which you use to unlock new abilities within your class's skill tree. You use other resources collected during your missions to craft any new weapons or equipment you've unlocked or strengthen your gear. (Up to five levels in the beta.) There's also customization, with mods for armor and weapons providing slightly different capabilities and of course, new colors. I began as a drab soldier of fortune, but ended as a shining beacon of warmaking.
I dropped a number of hours into Metal Gear Survive and frankly, I enjoyed it. I don't know if the final game will be great, but what I played in the beta is fun. Like Save the World, I like the concept of scavenging and building defenses together against a horde of enemies. Combat is pretty straightforward; your attacks feel powerful, but you can't overcommit without getting swarmed or running out of stamina. And the progression I experienced in the open beta was understandable and satisfying.
Metal Gear Survive's biggest problem is really its name. This is a fine game, but there's a clear and understandable reaction to it in the wake of how Konami treated Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima. Even beyond that, it doesn't play like a Metal Gear game or even really look like one. Perhaps stealth action will be more important in the single-player or other modes, but it's not in this mission type. And the post-apocalyptic war against crystal zombies doesn't really have anything to do with Metal Gear Solid's ongoing meta conflict involving mercenaries and corrupt governments. Sure, there are tiny Metal Gear walkers, but that's not enough to slap the name on the cover.
A game can be good and enjoyable while not conforming to fan's expectations of what a franchise is. Another Konami release, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, is a damned good time, but it's more God of War than Castlevania. Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is a wonderful game with building and experimentation, if you're able to get over the fact that it's not Banjo-Kazooie 3. I liked DmC: Devil May Cry, even if it's not the same experience as previous Devil May Cry titles.
Metal Gear Survive is fun, but it probably shouldn't be called "Metal Gear Survive". The visibility of the Metal Gear brand is a double-edged sword here: yes, we probably wouldn't be talking about it under another name, but hardcore Metal Gear Solid fans are still stinging from the idea of Kojima's firing and the fact that he won't be on the franchise anymore. Come up with a new name, call it "Fox Engine Survive" or whatever.
As it stands, Metal Gear Survive feels like it's dead-on-arrival in the community, not because of the game itself, but because of everything else surrounding the game. Maybe the final product will live up to poor expectations by being a horrible game, but the beta? It was a good time for me.