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The Real Reason Metal Gear Survive Flopped

Metal Gear Survive never had a chance. When Konami introduced the survivalist take on one of gaming's biggest and most prestigious franchises, fans greeted the reveal with skepticism. Public demonstrations and open betas did little to assuage their fears. Metal Gear fans are simply too passionate, too loyal, and have been burned by Konami too many times to react any other way.

So of course Metal Gear Survive flopped, failing to crack the top of the charts in its fist week of release. Reports abound about all the ways in which Metal Gear Survive failed to live up to the sales of its predecessors. Some reports have pointed out that even Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance — the Platinum Games-developed game starring everyone's least favorite character, Raiden — performed much, much better. 

But really, what other option was there? Before it even came out, Metal Gear Survive had been tried in the court of public opinion and was found guilty. But why were fans so opposed to Konami's soft reboot of this classic series, exactly?

As it turns out, that's a little more complicated.

The first Metal Gear without (the real) Big Boss

Hideo Kojima didn't just create Metal Gear. He is Metal Gear. While franchises like Call of Duty and Assassin's Creed can get by with rotating development teams, Kojima is the de facto face of the Metal Gear series, and arguably its biggest star. Over the past 30 years, Kojima has directed or produced almost every Metal Gear game, and as Polygon observes, every single one of the Metal Gear games is carries Kojima's "personal touch and viewpoint." Nobody knows the franchise and its quirks better than Hideo Kojima. No one ever will.

But Konami and Kojima had a nasty break-up in 2015, and the veteran game developer no longer works at the company. Metal Gear Survive is the first Metal Gear game made without Kojima's input. Kojima's absence is an immediate strike against Survive from the get-go, and would've been enough to drive away die-hard fans no matter how well-made Survive ended up being.

It doesn't help that Kojima has gone out of his way to distance himself from Survive. In September 2016, Kojima told reporters at the Tokyo Game Show that he "had nothing to do" with the game, and criticized the game's zombie-like enemies. "If I had worked on that game, it would have mechs in it," he joked. 

That's not an outright condemnation. It's not encouraging, either. If the man who made Metal Gear doesn't approve, why should fans bother?

Konami's got no respect

And it's not just that Kojima left Konami. It's how he left. In March 2015, a few months before Metal Gear Solid V's September release, Konami pulled Kojima and his company's name from its official website and announced that Kojima would be leaving the company. About a month later, Konami cancelled Silent Hills, Kojima's highly-anticipated collaboration with filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. While finishing Metal Gear Solid V, Konami separated Kojima from the rest of the staff, and didn't let him attend that year's Game Awards ceremony.

All in all, the Kojima-Konami struggle didn't make Konami look like it cares much about Metal Gear or its fans, and its other decisions haven't helped, either. Around the time that the whole Kojima fiasco took place, Konami exited the New York Stock Exchange as a cost-saving measure. The company restructured around the same time, focusing more on microtransaction-driven mobile games and casino gaming products, and less on blockbuster console experiences like Metal Gear Solid.

You can see why all of this might raise some red flags. So when Metal Gear Survive was announced, many players dismissed it as a cheap cash grab. Consumers apparently never changed their minds. Why would they? After all that, Konami's going to have to work very hard to regain the fans' trust — and so far, it hasn't made much of an effort.

Stealth? We don't need no stinkin' stealth

Strip away all of Metal Gear Solid's quirks, and at its core you'll find a series of remarkably solid stealth-action games. Metal Gear Survive, meanwhile, is something different. Oh, sure, Survive's got Metal Gear's logo on the box and it's set in roughly the same world as Metal Gear Solid V (more on that later), but it's not a stealth game. Not even close.

In Metal Gear Survive, your main goal is to build a base that'll defend you and your followers from undead hordes. To do so, you'll need to gather materials, craft supplies, establish fortifications, and keep yourself from starving to death. Sneaking isn't necessary.

Thematically, Metal Gear Survive is different, too. While Hideo Kojima says that "the Metal Gear games are about political fiction and espionage" with a sci-fi touch. Metal Gear Survive is a full-on fantasy adventure, full of wormholes, alternate dimensions, and undead soldiers. Survive isn't just a fresh direction for the franchise. It's something brand new.

Survival games can be great — take a look at Fortnite, Don't Starve, Ark: Survival Evolved, and plenty of others for proof. But none of those are Metal Gear. And neither is Metal Gear Survive.

Nothing matters

Fans don't just love Metal Gear for its gameplay. They also dig its detailed, labyrinthian plot. Hideo Kojima isn't a concise storyteller — Metal Gear Solid 4 has a series of cutscenes that goes on for over an hour — but he's an interesting one, and the Metal Gear solid is packed full of plot twists, conspiracy theories, timeline shenanigans, and a number of truly bizarre characters.

It's compelling stuff, but if you're drawn to Metal Gear for the story, you've got no reason to pick up Metal Gear Survive. It doesn't add to the game's lore. In fact, it takes place in an entirely different universe. In Survive's alternate timeline, some of Big Boss' soldiers escape Mother Base's destruction at the end of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, get sucked into a wormhole, and must find their way home. The action that unfolds on-screen might be exciting, but in terms of Metal Gear's overarching narrative, it doesn't matter at all.

That's fine if you're looking for a game that'll let you kick back, relax, and kill some monsters, but anyone who wants to know what else happens to Solid Snake and his friends will be disappointed. Metal Gear Survive won't tell you anything.

Been there, done that, got the sneaking suit to prove it

Konami could've helped Metal Gear Survive fight the impression that the game is a quick cash-grab by giving Survive its own aesthetic, but that didn't happen. If you've played Metal Gear Solid V, expect things to look and feel very, very familiar.

See, Metal Gear Survive runs on the same engine as Metal Gear Solid V, and Konami didn't change much while making the spin-off title. Many of Survive's art assets are plucked directly from its predecessor. The same goes for the maps — check out the above comparison between Metal Gear Solid V and Metal Gear Survive's levels — and the combat system. Survive's atmosphere is a little hazier — one of the side-effects of that alternate dimension or something. But otherwise, things seem more or less the same as they were three years ago.

Fans noticed, and they didn't take it well. When Konami uploaded a video showcasing Metal Gear Survive gameplay to YouTube, dislikes outnumbered likes 20-to-1. As one user said, Survive looked like "it could have been a DLC add-on for MGS5," not a brand new game. That helped foster the idea that Metal Gear Survive is simply being made because it's a cheap and easy way to score a few bucks. As a result, fans stayed away and turned Survive into a flop right out of the gate.

But seriously, zombies?

Zombies are fun to kill. They're also everywhere. Early Resident Evil games made their mark by bringing zombie flicks' thrills to video game consoles for the very first time. Dead Rising is crammed full of the things. So is Left 4 Dead, Dead Island, and The Walking Dead, and Dying Light. These days, even Call of Duty ships with an annual "zombies mode," while the Plants vs. Zombies franchise works hard to make zombies fun for players of all ages.

In other words, if it's undead, it's been done to undeath. So why would Konami use a franchise known for its creativity, not to mention relatively intelligent enemies, to create something so traditional? Even if you're just talking about zombie-themed survival games, Metal Gear Survive is late to the party. We've already got Fortnite, Dying Light, State of Decay (and the upcoming State of Decay 2), DayZ, and more. We don't need another one.

Even the different types of zombies in Metal Gear Survive feel warmed-over. You've got your run-of-the-mill walkers, which Survive calls "Wanderers." You've got fat ones that explode when you get too close. You've got some fast-moving zombies. Crawling zombies. Armored zombies. Sure, thanks to Metal Gear Survive's weirdo designs, enemies resemble crystal unicorns a little more than other members of the living dead, but that's the only interesting thing about them. They're still just zombies.

Milking you for all you're worth

Metal Gear Survive only costs $40 at launch, but that price is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it's a fair amount to ask for a quickly made spin-off. On the other, the price tag doesn't do anything to dispel the notion that Metal Gear Survive is an optional budget title.

However, if you want to enjoy all of Metal Gear Survive's modern conveniences, be prepared to pay extra. Want to use a second save slot? That'll cost you ten bucks, thank you very much. Want to level up your zombie-hunting mercenary a little faster? That'll set you back $2. Extra storage slots for things like hand-crafted weapons go for $5 a pop, while Metal Gear Survive's premium currency, SV coins, are sold in user-unfriendly increments. You'll probably have to overspend to unlock the features that you really want.

Sure, microtransactions are a big part of modern video games, and, like them or not, they're not going anywhere. Still, given Konami's recent focus on mobile and casino games, it's hard to shake the feeling that Metal Gear Survive is designed to nickel-and-dime your bank account into oblivion. For some players, the only way to keep their wallets happy is to not play at all.

Good ideas, poor execution

If the above concerns above didn't scare most Metal Gear fans away, hands-on previews and reviews probably did. According to critics, Metal Gear Survive is filled with good ideas, but they never really gel. In Metal Gear Survive, you need to find your own food and water. That's fine on paper, but your character runs out of nourishment so quickly that it's distracting, not fun. Gathering materials for crafting gets tedious unless you're willing to pay extra to make things easier. The user interface is a cluttered mess.

The Washington Post calls Metal Gear Survive "a theater of minor irritations made from the disassembled essentials of human survival." USGamer's reviewer says, "I like the basic idea of Metal Gear Survive's single-player mode, but have issues with the tuning." IGN says that Metal Gear Survive is marred by "clumsy efforts to merge stealth action, base-building, survival sim, and horror."

In short, the message is clear: there's some good stuff in Metal Gear Survive, but for some players, getting to it is going to be too tedious to bother. If you don't have much patience for poor user interfaces or grindy survival games, you might want to steer clear. After all, almost everyone else did.

A Metal Gear in name only

Of course, this is Metal Gear we're talking about. It wouldn't be complete without some kind of twist, so here you go: despite everything said above, Metal Gear Survive isn't a terrible game. It's not a classic, and it certainly doesn't live up to Metal Gear Solid's high standards, but it's not a disaster, either.

Just look at the reviews. They're not that bad. Respected outlets like Shacknews gave Metal Gear Survive respectable scores, claiming that the game is "an intriguing survival game that demands a lot out of its players." GamesRadar calls it "enjoyable and rewarding." GameSpot wasn't too impressed with Survive, but admits that there's "actually a good survival game in there" if you can get past all of the padding.

Metal Gear Survive is fine, but it's not Metal Gear. Not really, anyway. Before Metal Gear Solid released, many fans wondered if the series could work at the new, modern, Kojima-less Konami. Now, we've got an answer — and, judging by Metal Gear Survive's sales flop at launch, it's not a particularly encouraging one.