As if to ease fans’ fears, Metal Gear Survive makes it clear early on that it is not intended to be taken as canon within the Metal Gear Universe. The game’s opening cinematic introduces the story as “a pseudo-historical sequence of events” sending a direct message that it’s not to be taken too seriously. Even so, there’s no denying that Survive’s road to release has been fraught by controversy. Ever since Konami announced it was developing a zombie spin-off title in the revered Metal Gear franchise without the involvement, or blessing, of series progenitor Hideo Kojima, fans have been up in arms over the perceived lazy cash-in on a popular franchise. While the backlash is not completely unwarranted, to its credit, Metal Gear Survive is not the flaming-wreck many feared it would be. On its own terms, it is a solid and challenging survival game that’s brought down by an uniformly dull open world, un-engaging story and repetitive mission design. In other words, it’s not much to write home about either.
Set after the fall of Mother Base, Metal Gear Survive’s story follows a nameless soldier sent on a search and rescue mission after a giant wormhole appears above the sinking base and swallows up surviving soldiers. Travelling alone through the wormhole, on the other side you find yourself in Dite, an expansive, dust-ridden world populated by zombie-like enemies called Wanderers. Your mission is to scour Dite in search for survivors and mine a rare ‘Kuban’ energy source in hopes of finding a way home.
While there’s no lack of flesh-craving Wanderers to dispatch, killing the undead is not the only thing you’ll need to do to survive on Dite. There’s an in-game meter which tracks your hunger and thirst levels, and it’s constantly depleting meaning hunting for food and scavenging water is just as crucial as killing Wanderers. To make matters even harder, as you venture further out you’ll find yourself in the Dust, a region obscured by sandstorms where navigation is turned off and your oxygen supply is limited. Your stamina also drains at a much faster rate and roaming the landscape is a giant, fearsome foe named the Lord of the Dust. You’ll need to be prepared before entering the Dust as spending too long there means certain death so survival requires making calculated moves.
The game is often brutal and unforgiving, but the biggest challenge most players will be battling against within the game’s opening hours is boredom. Taking its core gameplay elements from Metal Gear Solid V, Metal Gear Survive is built on a solid foundation but it fails to do anything interesting with it. After being thrust into the open world, you quickly begin receiving repetitive search and find missions from a mono-tone voiced AI named Virgil AT-9 whose indifference seems to reflect the players’ own. The game’s core game loop is built around hoarding items and it offers little pay-off. You scavenge resources to build up your base before venturing out again to do the same; there’s not much pushing you forward besides the need to collect more stuff.
Taking its core gameplay elements from Metal Gear Solid V, Metal Gear Survive is built on a solid foundation but it fails to do anything interesting with it.
It also doesn’t help that the story is completely disinteresting and doesn’t even try to engage the player. Majority of the important character exchanges are told through dialogue boxes instead of cutscenes. While they are all fully voiced, it’s a lazy design choice that makes it difficult to connect with the characters and the story on a whole. By the end I found myself quickly clicking through the dialogue to get back to the gameplay.
The game does manage to find a groove eventually, but for most it may prove to be a bit too little, too late. The crux of the game is the crafting and upgrade system, and once you start accumulating enough resources to build up your base defence, craft stronger weapons and upgrade your character, killing zombies feels like less of a chore. Dumb AI is still a persistent issue, as Wanderers gravitate toward fences and walls even when there is empty space either side, but unlocking a heavy thrust attack and mowing down a hoard of zombies trying to scale a fence is never less than satisfying.
The Dust also becomes considerably more manageable as you progress. Making your way across the map, you can open up portals which allow fast travelling between your home base and different areas in the Dust. This substantially cuts down the travel time, which is a positive given there’s not much variety to the game map. Dite is a sparse and largely empty desert landscape and even the late game introduction of a tropics inspired second map does little to shake things up aside from adding a bit more foliage to a similar looking environment. As a result, you’ll be looking for opportunities to move through the map as quickly as possible. On occasion you can find vehicles and walkers in the Dust to cut through the map on-land, however, their propensity to break down after limited use means that they are only useful in small bursts.
Spending part of my time with the game in co-op and the rest in single-player, it’s fair to say that the meat of the game is found in the single-player experience. This seems bizarre given that the game necessitates being online to play and was heavily advertised for its co-operative modes. The online portion is limited to basic base defend missions where you can team up with up to four players and take on increasingly difficult waves of enemies. You share your inventory between the two modes so co-op is a good way to boost your inventory when completing the story but little else. The limited co-op is a bummer as blasting through the story with a friend would have certainly made it more enjoyable. While it’s likely Konami will continue to grow and evolve the online component, as it stands the co-op is simply a side-attraction to the solo story mode.
And even if you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about the pesky micro-transactions littered throughout the game. The game is built like a free-to-play game in the way it charges you extra for basic features and most egregious is the $10 surcharge for an extra save slot. Simply put, this is the sort of unscrupulous business practice that doesn’t belong in full priced retail games.