For the last few years, the Metal Gear franchise has faced an uncertain future. Despite the phenomenal success of Metal Gear Sold V: The Phantom Pain, the shadow of Hideo Kojima‘s departure from Konami looms large over the series. The release of any new Metal Gear game under these circumstances was always going to generate controversy and potentially divide the fanbase.
Metal Gear Survive has been met with scorn and disapproval since its announcement. Not only is it the first Metal Gear game released without Kojima’s involvement, it is a radical departure for the series. Gone is the emphasis on stealth and a pseudo-military science-fiction storyline. Instead, Survive drops players into an alternate dimension where the main enemy are the zombie-like Wanderers. To be fair to Konami, this entry into the Metal Gear series has already been labelled as a spin-off and is not part of the official canon.
On Solid (Snake) Ground
Metal Gear Survive begins where Metal Gear V: Ground Zeroes ends — with the assault on Mother Base. During the battle, a wormhole opens above the base and sucks a large portion of it, including personnel and equipment, through to Dite, which is described as a version of Earth in an alternate dimension. You play as the Captain, a fully customizable character who is a member of Big Boss‘s Militaires Sans Frontières.
Together with other survivors deposited on Dite, the Captain seeks to discover a way home while opposed by the Wanderers and a gigantic monstrosity known as the Lord of Dust.
The story behind Metal Gear Survive is best described as bland and at worst, forgettable. The Metal Gear franchise is well know for its plot twists and Survive attempts to emulate this but with none of the charm. The game’s characters are forgettable; after years of playing as Solid Snake and Big Boss, you are now in control of a faceless soldier. There’s no connection, and this is not helped by the fact that the Captain is a silent protagonist who does not even speak in either cutscenes or radio conversation.
Here’s Dust in Your iDroid
Like The Phantom Pain, Survive is an open-world game. However, much of the game map is covered by a substance known as Dust, which obscures the player’s vision and creates a forbidding, desolate atmosphere. Exploration of the Dust is a major part of the game. Despite this attempt to hide it, eagle-eyed players will see how the areas of Dite that the player explores are basically the Afghanistan and Angola maps from The Phantom Pain. In fact, much of Survive reuses assets from The Phantom Pain.
Survival mechanics play a huge part in Survive as the name of the game attests. The player constantly has to manage their hunger and thirst meters, needing to eat and drink on a regular basis. The meters also drain astonishingly fast, and players will often use up precious resources in an attempt to secure more food and water.
“Tedious” is the best way to describe the early game and its endless fetch quests. In general, missions can be described as “go to area, defeat enemies, secure objective, then bring it back to base.” It doesn’t matter what the objective is, be it a memory board for Virgil, a survivor lost on Dite, or resources. The result is the same.
Building and Crafting Are an Integral Part of ‘Survive’
Crafting plays a large role in Metal Gear Survive. Everything from the weapons you use to base improvements need materials that are scavenged from the field. Finally found that blueprint for a gun, but don’t have the resources to build it? Time for an adventure to find the pieces!
This turns every field mission into an endless quest for the items you need to craft that new piece of armor, weapon, or ammunition. This loop serves to pad the game out and make it feel artificially longer. Often, you will need to head out on multiple side trips to stock up on resources to ensure you have enough ammo and food to take on the next story objective.
Since all ammo has to be crafted, it is often only used as a last resort. Relying on a machete, spear, or the trusty bow and arrow is often the most effective (or at least, less resource-intensive) way of taking out Wanderers. Unfortunately, the melee mechanics aren’t great, making close combat feel clunky.
After several hours, the game settles into a better rhythm. Finding blueprints for base construction allows you to set up vegetable and herb farms at your base, and to capture livestock and produce clean water. At this point, food and water becomes less of an issue, allowing you to focus on collecting gear, exploring Dite, and acquiring Kuban crystals to upgrade your character.
However, the base management is poorly explained. Sharing food and medical resources amongst your personnel is only briefly touched upon, but is a major part of making the base efficient.
Sometimes ‘Survive’ Feels Like It Is Punishing You
Survive feels like a slow game, especially in the beginning. Your character is not the fastest, and sprinting only works for short bursts as your stamina — controlled by your thirst meter — can be shockingly low. Trekking across Dite in the early game is a slog. Only once you have the ability to activate the various wormhole transporters across Dite do you have the ability to fast travel giving you some semblance of speed in traversing the map.
Microtransactions have been the bane of video gaming for a while now, but Konami takes it to a new level. You are given only one save slot, which means you cannot create a new character without deleting your previous character. New save slots can be bought for 1000 SV (the in-game currency) which works out to be the equivalent of $9.99 USD, because you can’t buy just 1000 SV — the closest amount is 1150 SV. Later in the game, as your base grows, you can organise your base personnel into exploration teams. One is unlocked by default, but you can create other teams by spending SV as well.
You Are Not Alone
Survive‘s online multiplayer offers players the chance to team up with friends or random strangers to take on the Wanderers in what is effectively horde mode. These salvage missions play out much the same as the single-player campaign missions where you have to defend a stationary point for a set amount of time.
Facing oncoming waves of Wanderers by erecting defenses and killing them before they over-run you is probably the most exciting part of the game, and the multiplayer takes the best part of Survive and cranks it up. A major bonus from multiplayer is the resources and gear you earn can be taken back into the single-player game, giving you an edge in the campaign.
Is ‘Metal Gear Survive’ Good?
As the next game in its series, Survive is a definite misstep. Coming off the back of the critically acclaimed The Phantom Pain, the next entry in the Metal Gear mythos should have moved the story forward and been bold and innovative.
Instead, Survive constantly has to remind you that this is a Metal Gear game. From the constant presence of the wrecked Mother Base to the obligatory appearance of an actual Metal Gear later in the game, Survive seeks to fabricate this forced connection.
That said, strip away the need for it to be a Metal Gear game, and Survive is a surprisingly solid survival adventure game. There are moments of pure excitement in the game when you are defending a single point from oncoming enemies using cobbled together equipment and limited resources.
It feels like Konami were always planning to release a zombie survival game, and used Kojima’s departure to slap the Metal Gear logo and assets on it to save time. If this is the case, then the decision does neither the game nor the Metal Gear franchise any favours. Metal Gear Survive is not a great Metal Gear game, but could have been a good original game by itself.