Even only a month away from release, Metal Gear Survive is a confusing experience. It calls itself ‘Metal Gear’ but only has the most tenuous connection to the story of Big Boss and Solid Snake. It cannibalizes the engine and whole locations from Metal Gear Solid V but this isn’t Tactical Espionage Action. It’s a grind-y loot-based zombie survival affair. Instead of sneaking your way into bases, you’re playing tower defense against waves of the undead. There could have been potential here, but trying to appreciate Metal Gear Survive on its own merits is hard to do when the remnants of its predecessor are impossible to ignore.
The Metal Gear Survive beta only included the multiplayer mode, none of the single-player experience. In the multiplayer, you set up defensive walls in a small base and defeat three waves of zombies with crystal heads (for some reason). When you win, you craft up, level up, then repeat. You can do this alone or with up to three fellow humans. The single-player will apparently have a more robust survival focus and at least a bare-bones story and will also have hunger and thirst meters like in Metal Gear Solid 3.
The beta gives no context as to what you’re doing or why. You’re dumped into a white Matrix void. This is the game’s main menu only interactive. There are options to craft, level up, and to join parties. Eventually, everything you win here can be brought back into the single-player. But whether the main focus of Metal Gear Survive will be more fun than the side content is another question altogether. I don’t see much excitement in any of this.
The Phantom Pain… Except Not
What makes Metal Gear Survive so strange is how close it is to Metal Gear Solid V, yet in most respects, it’s nothing like its 2015 counterpart. Playing this is a weird experience of misplaced nostalgia. I moved to aim down sights and crouch, then I realized Konami remapped the buttons. I kept trying to tag zombies or plot out paths. Then I remembered, none of that matters here. My brain was playing two games at once.
The location the beta is set in is made from reused assets of a Soviet Base from Phantom Pain. Specifically, this is Da Shago Kallai but with some weird metal structures thrown in. This base is a good example of how the idea of recycling Phantom Pain for a zombie survival game ended up so oddly disjointed.
Da Shago Kallai is full of waste-high concrete walls and ditches that are perfect for a covert route around the guards. In Survive, line of sight doesn’t matter at all. The zombies can’t see further than 30 feet so stealthing them is trivial. They’re also too dumb to sneak up on you, so what are all the ditches used for in Survive? Nothing, I guess. They’re just remnants.
Metal Gear Solid V‘s combat is not entirely suited for the kind of game Survive wants to be. Phantom Pain was all about gunplay with only a few close-range CQC moves. Survive makes ammo a luxury that you must craft outside of combat. So you’re going to be brawling more often than not. However, your punch is next to useless and using spears or machetes is awkward and requires both triggers.
Meanwhile, that pistol you get is as satisfying as ever. Of course it would be, it’s what Metal Gear Solid V was built to do. So there’s this gun that does good damage and has excellent range but you’re stuck fiddling with a lame spear. You stab again and again at the crystal heads through a chain-link fence. It feels tedious when this game in 2015 was so much more.
There are all these great Phantom Pain moves that are still in Survive like the roll, the combat dive, and even the crawl. But they are all basically vestigial. You won’t use them. You aren’t fighting humans, you’re fighting endless streams of crystal zombies, so keep hacking away, I guess. At least you get Walker Gear, a turret mech that can mow down the crystalline undead with ease. It’s a small bit of old Metal Gear madness that’s still fun in the hazy doldrums that is Metal Gear Survive.
Playground vs. Funeral
The real problem with Survive is the lack of joy on any level here. I went back to try out Metal Gear Solid V again right after playing the beta, and it’s remarkable how different these games are. I could run around in Phantom Pain, blast “Gloria”, then beat up Commies with my kung-fu rocket fist. It’s a playground of systems and toys you can experiment with. If Metal Gear Solid V is like a playground, Survive is like a funeral. Your combat options are limited, the enemies are boring, and the only colors are brown and gray.
Metal Gear Survive is an interesting experiment in making Metal Gear into DayZ. It’s nice to see that Metal Gear Solid V still looks great years later. But if Konami wanted to do something new with the Metal Gear license, they picked the wrong trend to chase. I’d love to play something like Player Unknowns: Battlegrounds using the FOX Engine. Steal ideas from newer and hotter games, at least.
As for Survive, it isn’t Metal Gear. Comparing it to old Metal Gear may be unfair. But unfortunately “not being Metal Gear” is the most interesting thing about it.