A new Metal Gear game, the first since series auteur Hideo Kojima dramatically parted ways with publisher Konami last year, was announced today. It happened while I was in the midst of another, unrelated Gamescom presentation, so once free I had to crouch down in some deserted corridor of the Koelnmesse, to watch the trailer prior to my appointment with Konami later that afternoon.
It turns out, though, that I really needn't have; Konami didn't want to talk about or show much more than that trailer. And the company definitely didn't want to answer any questions about a certain games director with a penchant for taking pictures of his food and recently acquired facial hair that is totally working for him. And I can't really blame Konami for being coy - this was always going to be an exceedingly tricky announcement to make. But I would have thought that, for a game that is apparently launching in the next twelve months, it would have had more to show, if for no other reason than to excite its fans and reassure them that the franchise was in good hands. Especially when this new title, as a co-operative survival game for 1-4 players, is such a radical departure from everything that's come before it.
Konami brand manager Richard Jones was on hand to very carefully talk us through it all. "So as you can see from the trailer, Survive is set after the events of Ground Zeroes," he began. "The Mother Base that had been built up during the Peacewalker storyline gets sabotaged from within and destroyed; that all collapses into the sea. Boss and Miller managed to escape, and they go off and have a few adventures which obviously we all know from The Phantom Pain. Unfortunately, not all of the Mother Base staff get off alive, so some of them are left stranded. But, before anything else untimely happens, they end up being pulled through a wormhole. So, an unexplained wormhole opens up and pulls the staff, parts of mother base, other items and all sorts of detritus through."
If you're anything like me, that first mention of wormholes will have caused something of an internal double-take followed by some good old internal screaming. But if we're being totally fair, you can't say that this is a step too far in believability for a series that has featured, among many other things, an amputated arm possessing its host with the ghost of a long-haired sort-of-British-sounding sociopath, a woman who breathes through her skin like a plant, a man who just really loves bees a lot, a soldier who marries one of the prettiest and most talented women around despite suffering from explosive diarrhoea, and - when we get down to it - freaking bipedal tanks, let's all be bloody honest with ourselves. The thing about the wormhole and the Dune-like place it leads to is that it begs so many questions that we'll have to wait some time to find answers to. Are there alternate versions of characters we know in the alternate timeline? Will we skip forwards or backwards to other events in the Metal Gear timeline? Could Snake win in a fight against a Sandworm?
"When your soldier wakes up, they are in a desert landscape," Jones continues. "A very forbidding, foreboding, alien-looking landscape with lots of twisted wreckage and lots of things that have fallen through this wormhole. So you'll find half-formed, half-destroyed structures and all kinds of interesting stuff there. But it's not only the structures that are being pulled through; a lot of staff have also come through. So this is where the co-op comes into this game. You're not alone; there are other people there, and in order for you to survive and in order to be successful, you need to work as a team. in order to do that you need to work strategically, and work to your strengths.
"Co-op is only one of the gameplay mechanics," Jones hastens to add. "Obviously Metal Gear is well-known for its stealth, that is, primarily, what makes Metal Gear. There is stealth in it, I know when you're watching the trailer it's all very action-packed and it doesn't really elicit that feeling, but there will be stealth and one of the really interesting things that we will be exploring and playing with is how stealth and co-op can actually co-exist. We've formed gameplay that that kind of allows and enhances that. We're not going into a lot of depth at the moment, but we will, obviously, in the future."
We'll have to take Konami's word for this at present. Sure, co-op is absolutely not what springs to mind when you think of Metal Gear, and I have to wonder what co-operative multiplayer stealth actually looks like. Perhaps causing distractions that allow your teammates to pass by antagonists unnoticed? Perhaps soldiers will fall into different classes - healer, tank, support, assault and so on - that will make their roles more apparent. I kind of hope not though; for one, because Evolve was a thing and it was not a thing that did particularly well, and also, I like the idea that survival is about scrabbling to fill whatever role is asked of you in a split-second life-or-death moment, and not just fleshing out a skill tree.
"You've got your co-op, you've got your stealth, and you will have seen what we're calling our massive biological threats in the trailer. Let me assure you, those are just a teaser, just a little taste of some of the things that you will encounter in this new alternative landscape. If you watch the trailer to the end you'll see a camera pan that kind of elicits a few suggestions, but I won't say more than that." This is where I'm left puzzled and a little turned off; Metal Gear was, in my mind, often about besting powerful and more importantly intelligent enemies through wit and skill. Everything we've seen in this Metal Gear: Survive trailer points to fighting against mindless bullet and/or spear sponges that would look more at home in a latter Resident Evil game.
"In order to help you manage these threats there will be new and alternative weapons," Jones continues. One of the things that Metal Gear is well-known for, and very good at, is giving you a vast array of equipment from weapons to items to all forms of devices and allowing you to experiment and use those creatively. And that is part of the fun and part of what makes Metal Gear Metal Gear; it's the creativity around using your weapons and items. And it's something we've looked at and something which we're hoping to build upon with new weapons." I hope this also includes an equally large range of tools that are not weapons in a traditional sense; when I think of Metal Gear, I think of directional microphones and cardboard boxes before I think of an SMG or an arrow that fires off a Catherine wheel.
One extra thing to note about Metal Gear: Survive is that it will not be a full-priced game. Konami wouldn't go into any further detail, but they did make a point of mentioning it. It's possible that puts it closer to Ground Zeroes than The Phantom Pain in terms of content and structure. Just before our gathering got hurried out the door as our brief Powerpoint presentation ended, we tried squeezing in a couple of questions."When in the timeline of Kojima disappearing was this... was this started prior to his exit or...?" "Yeah we're not talking about that right now. Thank you for your questions, and genuinely sorry that at the moment we can't go into any more depth." "Is it being developed in Japan?" "Yes." "Do you have a director attached yet?" "We're not talking about that at the moment. Sorry."