Let’s begin by addressing the Metal Gear sized elephant in the room. While Survive isn’t the first Metal Gear game that wasn’t headed off by Hideo Kojima (there are in fact several that greatly vary in terms of gameplay, story, quality and genre including Snake’s Revenge, Ac!d, Ghost Babel, Rising and a certain infamous Pachislot machine) it is the first game to be produced post Konami’s purge of Hideo Kojima and Kojima Productions. This has been the source of great controversy among the gaming industry and ire among the gaming press, personalities and Metal Gear fans. The Behind the Scenes granted Survive the stink of cynical shovelware.
I concede yes, showing Kojima the door while taking his baby was lousy. However my job isn’t to bump down a game for everything bad that went down behind closed doors. Otherwise every single title released by EA, Capcom, WB, Take Two, Square-Enix or any other company with poor moral and business practices would receive hard negative scores. My job is to give a robust and informed view of the game, with several hours of play logged to give a fair judgement, if not a fully complete game run, so that you can make a decision as a reader on whether or not you want to give the title a shot. So how does Metal Gear Survive fare as just another video game? I hate to be the one to break it to you, oh dear Enemy Slime readers. This game isn’t bad.
Let’s start by defining what it is. Utilizing the Fox Engine, Survive takes several gameplay elements introduced in The Phantom Pain and remixes them into a survival title that plays closer to Project Zomboid, Don’t Starve and The Flame in the Flood, rather than more emergent gameplay focused works such as Rust or ARK. For those with short memories, The Phantom Pain required a lot of resource and base management, there was always a constant need to juggle your Mother Base soldiers with staff assignments, and in the field Venom Snake had to play sticky fingers as he hunted down and hauled back resources, at least if you wanted weapons and gear worth a damn.
Metal Gear Survive takes those same basic gameplay elements and forms them into something a bit more concrete. I don’t feel like I’m scouring for and snatching up resources any more or less than I did in The Phantom Pain, but the process is certainly more involved. I know I’m always on the hunt for wood and oil because I need them to craft my precious, ever so scarce fire arrows. Water, even dirty water, is a resource I have to chug down to keep my stamina up. I personally enjoyed seeing a more direct cause and effect than just watching a resource go down in giant chunks of numbers for the general base management The Phantom Pain required.
Add in a new type of enemy, Wanderers, zombies in all but name, as well as the stealth mechanics prevalent in Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain (along with some innovations returned or borrowed from other titles, such as Guns of the Patriots and Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us) and you have a pretty strong zombie dodging adventure. The scarcity of resources and fragility of your player character stress the use of stealth, almost more so than most titles in the Metal Gear franchise. Running around and going gung-ho with your guns is a great way to get got, fast. Lethal maps covered in blinding, choking dust encourage a cautious but steady pace. Claustrophobic ruins are best navigated while crouching or belly crawling to keep up a radial dial that alerts one to bogeys. Exploration is broken up by fighting sizable hordes in a real test of skill and preparedness where every bullet counts. Altogether Survive proves to be a tense, stealth oriented exploration romp.
Metal Gear Survive is surprisingly story focused. You are a soldier of fortune, referred to simply as the “Captain,” who was in the employ of the now defunct private military company Militaries Sans Frontieres. At some point in 1975, MSF’s base of operations was targeted in a brutal offensive. During this attack, or maybe due to the attack, a wormhole opened up into another dimension named Dite (Pronounced Dee-TAY). Because why not. Trapped in this damned land the Captain is only armed with two pieces of knowledge. First Dite’s habitats are similar to those found on Earth, only the planet has been ravaged by a mysterious parasite that turns people into hostile creatures named Wanderers. Second, great news, the Captain was infected with said parasite, and if they want a cure they’ll track down clues left by the mysterious Charon Corps, a team of explorers that charted out Dite long before the Cap’s arrival.
As silly as the game looks on paper, the hook’s at least easy to follow, if not very inspired. The Captain is infected with a disease from another dimension. Explore said dimension to find a cure. Boom. Despite being open world, you’ll actually want to zero in on the story as much as humanly possible for most of the game’s first half. Quite simply because there’s always a ticking clock hanging over your head. The faster you complete story missions, the quicker you gain access to near vital tools and recipes to strengthen both your character and your base. Some players may not appreciate the constant pressure to move forward, but personally I enjoyed it. Far too often there’s a bit of a disconnect between a game telling you a mission (or series of missions) must be completed, and the wide berth you’re given to actually complete them.
As you start Survive your player character will be weak as hell, and what do you expect? The Captain has just been brought back from the dead… Or something. Their stamina and health will be next to nothing, they’ll always be incredibly thirsty and hungry, they won’t be able to fight for squat, their tools for survival are limited and break easily. It’s likely you’ll die quite a bit, and some of those deaths will be very frustrating. However true to the nature of most survival games, it’ll get easier to maintain your gear and resources as you progress further into the game.
You start off incredibly, frustratingly weak, but thanks to an RPG lite leveling system sooner or later you’ll forge yourself a Legendary Captain. Patience is key here, and the first few hours are rough, but as you probe Dite’s wastes, kill wanderers, sure up your base, strengthen your gear, and advance those missions, you’ll land in a nice comfortable place for exploring and conquering this untamed, monster infested world. It creates a fantastic sense of player agency native to the Metal Gear franchise, where one goes from a green in the gills scrub to a fully kitted out action hero whose exploits belong to the player.
Survive carries healthy sandbox and open world elements. While your toolbox isn’t anywhere close to as varied as it was in Phantom Pain, there’s just enough in terms of toys and build customization to create a Captain best suited to unique playstyles. As tempted as I was by pokin’ sticks and comical helicopter blade swords, my bow became my ride or die companion, as I hunted with it, skewered Wanderers and when things got a bit tense, barbecued wide swaths of enemies using fire tipped arrows. Just call me Katniss Everdeen. Or Hawkeye. Or Green Arrow. Or Lara Croft. Or whichever bow and arrow wielding superhero is hip these days. I also found myself regularly experimenting with traps, barricades, explosives and various melee and ranged weapons (the returning RASP shotty proved to be a great backup in the rare case I ran out of arrows) until I landed on a build I was most comfortable with.
Base management returns, and just like resource acquisition, it’s a lot more hands on. At first your additions will be simple and modest. A weapons bench where you can craft ammo, a campfire to cook raw meat, fences to keep zombies out. However soon you’ll be building and maintaining more advanced structures to aid you. Your cool fort isn’t yours alone, as you’ll be recruiting other poor, damned souls to help you farm potatoes and onions like a champ. These warm bodies will also often motivate the story, and I enjoyed the company. From sickly computer genius kid Chris to selfless to the point of suicidal Registered Nurse Miranda to a quirky AI with a split personality. A strong support team helps create a more memorable Metal Gear.
The game was written, directed and produced by several Metal Gear alumnus who had hands in the creative directions of the franchise as far back as 2004’s Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and as recent as Metal Gear Rising and The Phantom Pain. It’s not completely in new hands and, other than feeling rushed, it carries the Metal Gear tone fairly well… A tone that’s made ample room for psychic superpowers, uranium eating parasites, nanomachines, cyborgs, clones, a man who channels lightning, a man made of fire, societies of lost children, robots voiced by Vocaloids and mechas piloted by girls in lingerie. Or as I called it back in my 2015 Phantom Pain Review; Weird Shit ™. Survive’s weird and different, but who am I to draw a line with Metal Gear’s “story” after an entire game about an infection that spreads via spoken English and a woman who has to wear a thong because she metabolizes like a plant.
Survive does carry problems. While veterans of survival games may find the systems easy to get acclimated to, others may dislike how oppressive the game is in its early hours. Melee combat just feels heavy, clunky and slow, which is disappointing given the smooth stealth and ranged combat. It didn’t bug me a great deal as Wanderers are better avoided in the field and best dealt with by taking advantage of choke points in horde mode, but in those rare occasions you do go mano y mano with a wanderer it can be frustrating to die because it took too long to swing a crowbar. While menu systems are slightly better organized than in The Phantom Pain, there are still a lot of menus you’ll be spending a lot of time in. Additionally, just like its predecessor, time doesn’t stop just because you’re in a menu screen. All this meant in The Phantom Pain was burning through a day and night cycle. In Survive it means you and your followers may be starving to death while you’re trying to sort your nails and screws.
While I was fond of how the game smartly reused mechanics from The Phantom Pain, the more involved base building, resource gathering and utilizing stealth to troll Wanderers, not everything that’s recycled is good. In the Dust you’ll find a lot of architecture, flora and fauna that are directly ripped from The Phantom Pain. Some locations are 1:1 to Phantom Pain’s more famously tread locales. While there were a couple of intense ruins to plumb in Survive, at times I would feel disappointed as I encountered an abandoned base plucked straight out of the previous title and repainted with a slight touch of rust and blue glowy veins. There’s a bit of repetition to mission structure, but it’s frankly less glaring than it was in the last few Metal Gear Solid releases. I know we like to look at the past with rose colored binoculars, but grinding missions was part of the makeup of Peace Walker, Phantom Pain and now here in Survive.
Wanderer AI is dumb as hell. Stand on a small ledge and they’ll stumble over themselves trying to get you. Stand on a slightly taller ledge and you can safely pick them off with your pokin’ stick. Place a fence directly in their path and a Wanderer will bang on it, no matter how much open terrain is available for them to lumber across. This is saved a bit by the game’s confined ruins and intense horde sequences. Where it will often be a piece of equipment or an NPC, not the player character, that’s on the line. The introduction of different “classes” of Wanderers, such as breeds that can fly, explode and leap tall fences in a single bound, helps in mixing things up. Not to mention one very cool, ever present threat always roaming the Dust, looking to make a bloody smear out of the Captain. The aptly named Lord of Dust. A creature that looks like a Metal Gear had several children with the Cloverfield Monster that were all sewn up into a humanish centipede.
Post game you can go on interdimensional “digs” that challenge you by having hordes of enemies rush your base. Enemy waves are set hours, yes real world hours, apart, and you’ll be waiting anywhere from half a day to a full 24 hours for the next wave. You’ll either have to leave a great defense team behind in game to wipe up enemies for you, be punctual in logging in, or pay real money to reduce the time between waves. Now while the real money transaction shop in this game is fairly inconsequential to the basic single player game and co-op, players looking to dive into the meta may feel pressured into forking over cash on top of the 40 dollar price tag. Some packs for resource gathering and time reduction cost more than Survive. Pair this with the fact it costs ten bucks per character save, not that you’ll necessarily need a second character, and it’s hard not to throw shade on this game’s microtransactions.
The always online requirement is god awful. Especially since, despite all of the promotion of Survive as a multiplayer game, it works best during the single player campaign. Co-op almost seems like an after thought and is no more or less functional than prior Metal Gear Online components. You keep the same inventory on and offline, true, but you still need to hop back to base to start a co-op session. I was in the midst of a rescue mission when I was kicked. The real frustration came from simply not knowing how much of my progress, if any, was saved. Metal Gear Survive only saves when you return to base camp, which is a great way to add to the pressure of Dite, but a horrible gameplay decision when you’re always on. Intense missions. Tough bosses. All threatened by a split second connection drop. The Survive team is proactive about updates, wonderful, but the always on is thinly veiled DRM.
Although the game uses the marvelous Fox Engine, it seems it’s suffered quite a few graphical downgrades. The game just doesn’t look as good as The Phantom Pain or Ground Zeroes. Maybe it’s a few missing shaders or textures, maybe they had to downgrade the graphics to better support the wide open dust covered maps and multiplayer, I’m unsure, I’m not a very technical video game guy, but the title most definitely looks a bit jankier than its predecessors. Metal Gear Survive is music lite, you can find cassette tapes from prior Konami hits, but the few in-game ambient tracks present are uninspired and boring. Anyone looking for something as memorable as Love Deterrence, Takin’ On the Shagohod, Snake Eater or Theme of Solid Snake, or hoping they might match the crazy punk rock tracks of Revengenace need not look here.
Metal Gear Survive is a flawed game with some messy politics behind the scenes and questionable business practices that directly impact the consumer’s enjoyment. However it’s hard to begrudge the son for the sins of the father. The game itself is addictive and dare I say, fun. Metal Gear is no stranger to spin-offs that have no business working out yet end up being plenty entertaining, such as Tactics RPG and card game hybrid Ac!d and linear high octane slasher Rising. Survive gave me plenty of “oh wow” moments while exploring the oppressive and tense fog laden open world environment of Dite. Witnessing, and cowering from, the body horror megafauna Lord of Dust was worth the price of admission alone. Anyone looking for a true Metal Gear successor won’t find it here, but I’d firmly offer it up as a worthy entry into the survival genre. Survive takes The Phantom Pain’s stealth system, a mechanic I’d love to see adapted by more games, and re-imagines it for use in a zombie post-apocalypse, and honestly stealth action has always been at Metal Gear’s core.