Metal Gear Survive has the best concept it possibly could, given the situation. Metal Gear, the Konami video game franchise, was created and showrun by Hideo Kojima until the latter left the former under a cloud. It featured five main games and several supplemental ones, all of which served a narrative that effectively became a family saga: The story of a man and his mentor, and how the sons he didn’t know he had changed the world. It’s a war story, or a story about soldiers, or a political epic, or etc. It’s rather good, and it has intense investment from a wide swathe of fans and players. Metal Gear Survive is the first Metal Gear game to be announced since Kojima’s departure–oh no! How can Metal Gear survive (he he) without the King’s hand to guide it?
Here’s the premise for Survive, as it currently stands: During Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, unbeknownst to the valuable established characters in it, a portal was opened to another reality and some rando nobodies were sucked through. Now they have to fight zombies there. Hard luck, bad break, etc. Now, in every single way, this sounds like a terrible, horrible, stupid idea. It sounds nonsensical. Metal Gear isn’t about zombies! It’s never even had zombies, unless you count personality-imprinted AI, which most people don’t! Metal Gear isn’t a survival horror game (or is it etc., etc., but really, no, it has an aesthetic value that marks it apart from the classification “survival horror”)! It’s not even about the same characters, so why even call it Metal Gear?
And, yeah, exactly. That’s what makes it so good. Such a good branding decision, rather than a “good game” or an “idea I like” or any number of other things that “good” could feasibly mean. I think it’s a smart move from a company that’s lost a huge branding asset (Kojima’s fealty). Video Kojima is an idol of game development. He’s a persona, and his adjacency gave Metal Gear that tangible sense of canonicity, even when it was batshit. He’s gone. What’s left? The name.
Metal Gear is a buy-it name. It’s famous, it’s recognisable, it’s officially good. Metal Gear games are usually good. Many buyers will pick up a Metal Gear game just knowing that it’s a reliable brand, like Marmite or Suntory. Apple. Whatever. And many nerds, let’s not pretend otherwise, will buy a Metal Gear game that they hate the sound of just because it is called Metal Gear. Many more will buy a game they’re iffy on, because they want to see if it ruins the franchise. If you keep the name “Metal Gear” in play, you have a guaranteed audience, as much as branding can ever guarantee anything. It’s a gamble worth taking.
And if you make a game that has little to no relevance to the main story–to Kojima’s story–then you’ve made a product that cannot harm the masterpiece. It cannot tug on Superman’s cape! It cannot piss into the wind! The buyers can fall in love with these background nobodies made good in their own right or not. Whatever happens to them, a) everybody in Metal Gear (prime) is safe, and b) these crazy kids are from Metal Gear. And you love Metal Gear! Right? Well, you bought the game, didn’t you?
Everything is franchised now. We know this to be so. Sequels, reboots, remakes, prequels. Everything is ruining someone’s childhood or, more relatable, messing with someone’s perception of “what the story is.” It’s hard to deal with constant continuations, constant reveals, constant effective retcons and recontextualisations. It’s hard, and it’s boring. But somehow it seems to be a source of revenue solid enough to ensure its self-perpetuation despite all our complaints and criticisms. But Metal Gear Survive sidesteps all that (so far)!
It’s a spin-off that won’t ever make Cordelia deathpregnant, make Worf a widower, recast Janey Martin as a brunette when she was always a natural blonde with a pathological fear of brown hair. It’s home, but it’s far enough removed that it’ll never redecorate your bedroom while you’re out at college. Which is basically as near to flawless as I can imagine. Everything’s fuckupable, though.