Welcome to our Game In Progress review of Metal Gear Survive. This week, we’ll cover the basics of this spin-off of the legendary stealth series.
Konami’s Metal Gear Survive is in an unenviable position. For starters, it’s been labeled as a non-canonical spin-off of a beloved video game series. It’s also the first entry in that series since creator Hideo Kojima split from Konami, a separation that didn’t exactly seem amicable. Perhaps due to crushing strain of expectations of both Metal Gear’s past and its questionable Kojima-less future, Metal Gear Survive has emerged as a bizarre contradiction that looks exactly like a Metal Gear Solid game and nothing like a Metal Gear Solid game.
It takes place in one of the few moments of the Metal Gear Solid timeline in which there are blank spots, specifically the period between 2014’s Metal Gear Solid V prologue Ground Zeroes, when main character Big Boss is put into a coma, and 2015’s Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, when the story resumes. That’s all mostly irrelevant, though, because Survive is set in an alternate universe called Dite, which is overrun with zombies and monsters. You play as a nameless, silent soldier who was part of Big Boss’ mercenary army, and for reasons that aren’t immediately clear, you’ve been tasked with entering Dite to find out what happened to a team of researchers/soldiers.
As indicated by the game’s title, that means you have to survive in Dite’s harsh and extremely familiar environment—familiar because the initial area you land in is directly lifted from Metal Gear Solid V’s Afghanistan region. The first step to survival is combat, which uses the same basics as Metal Gear Solid V with a more specific focus on melee weapons (especially early on). The fighting all feels good, whether you’re lopping off zombie heads with a bat or using a spear to stab them through the holes in a fence, and it’s thankfully the most consistently entertaining thing you’ll do in Survive.
It is also only about a third of what you’ll do in Survive. The rest of the game is spent scavenging for supplies and trying to remain properly nourished. Dite is littered with junk, everything from empty buckets and discarded chairs to shipping containers full of gunpowder and destructible walls, and you’ll need to collect everything you see in order to make arrows, bullets, armor, and new upgrades for your home base. With so much garbage to grab, you’re also going to end up with a significant amount of things that you may not have any discernible use for yet, making the risk you take trying to haul it back to base feel completely hollow. Speaking of which, the home base is where you’ll store resources and collect survivors, and while upgrading it is deeper than MGS5’s similar base-building process, there’s only so much self-expression you can manage when arranging fences and rainwater collection tanks.
Those tanks aren’t just for looks, though. They’re crucial to the survival part of Metal Gear Survive. During your time in Dite, you will have to constantly monitor your hunger and thirst, so while you’re collecting garbage and killing zombies, you also have to keep an eye out for wild animals, sources of clean water, and edible plants. A bizarrely obtrusive head-up display showing your life bar, stamina, and equipped weapons is always—always—hovering right on top of your character’s butt, and if your hunger and thirst ever dip below 90 percent or so, it’ll show ever-decreasing percentages to indicate how much food or water you need before you die.
If that weren’t enough, you also have to worry about your oxygen supply when exploring a monster-filled region of Dite called The Dust. If any of your meters dips too low, an AI back at your home base will repeatedly send you identical messages reminding you that it’s important to eat or how you can refill your oxygen tank. It’s helpful, sure, but the AI’s comments are also annoyingly wordy and convey a message in several sentences that could be done in one word. Worse yet, it comes up whenever one of your meters drops below 50 percent—which will happen every single time you enter The Dust on a mission, guaranteed.
The Dust is meant to be an oppressive area where survival is truly difficult, but it comes through a bit too well. For example, in an attempt to teach you to learn the environment and utilize makeshift area markers, the in-game map doesn’t show your exact location when in The Dust. When you’re in a safe area, you can pinpoint a specific location that will make an indicator appear on the screen, but it will periodically disappear completely. The idea is that you point yourself to where you want to go and hope you’ll make it, but in practice, it means you’re always in danger of getting lost.
It’s not terrible, as it’s kind of rare for a game like this to allow you to put yourself into a situation where you can get totally screwed, but all of these compounding elements make the experience of playing Survive feel suffocating. Even outside of The Dust, it never gives you a quiet moment where you can just relax without having to worry about a dozen different things. You have to track your hunger and thirst even when managing your base or sending the survivors you rescue on salvage missions, to the point where you’re dumping food into your digital mouth way more often than anyone would in real life. Plus, as your team of survivors grows, you need to start worrying about keeping them fed, hydrated, well armored, and healthy as well.
Not even the online co-op mode gives you a break. The basic setup is a multiplayer-focused twist on one of the more common mission structures of the solo game, tasking you with defending a point while waves of zombies attack. It’s something that’s been done in loads of games already. In Survive, though, the equipment you get online is the same equipment you have offline, so every bullet you fire or barricade that you build saps your solo resources as well. You could break every weapon you own on a tough match, and if you don’t do well enough to get a nice reward (or if your teammates don’t pull their weight), you could return to your home base worse off than you were before. Like everything else in Survive, there’s a crushing pressure to execute everything as perfectly as possible to avoid wasting time and resources.
Metal Gear Survive almost couldn’t be more different from everything else that came before it in the series. Metal Gear Solid 3 forced you to think about staying fed, but it was a minor nuisance in service of stealth action and a crazy story. Survive lacks MGS5’s impeccable stealth action, and so far its story just seems to be mimicking the beats of Metal Gear without really understanding what used to make Metal Gear work. Without knowing where the plot goes, it’s hard to say whether or not Survive is a worthwhile spin-off or a desperate attempt to squeeze a little bit more money out of this iconic series. We’ll keep pushing further into The Dust until we find out.