Metal Gear Survive is a unique entry to the series, it is not untrue to the series on many levels. Metal Gear Survive is a difficult and unforgiving game. Metal Gear Survive requires a lot of time, effort and patience to get the most out of it. It was touted as a Metal Gear zombie game, yet it really isn’t. So what is it then? Well, to be honest it is all in the name. It is a no frills survival game and trust me, you will have to play hard to survive. You will spend many hours gathering water, food, trying to craft weapons. There will be long periods without action and in this game you want to avoid confrontation at all costs. If you think you are going in there with an assault rifle off the bat… you are wrong. There are many positives and negatives to this game, to be fair it will only appeal to a very small percentage of modern gamers. But then, if we are honest the series always has. Before I tell you about the game, there are a few elephants in the room that need to be addressed.
This review is about Metal Gear Survive specifically however there is some backround to take care of. Firstly, this is the first Metal Gear without Hideo Kojima at the helm. This is like Terminator without James Cameron, Sonic without Yuji Naka. Mario without Shigeru Miyamoto. The thing with auteurs though is that we forget that there are teams working with them to help build the vision. Sometimes, the franchise does better without the creator. The other elephant is that Metal Gear has a hardcore following, so when there are changes or the director changes, there will be backlash. But if we are being honest, Metal Gear Solid 2 all the way back in 2001 is the best selling game in the series. The original Metal Gear Solid was the second and the series overall has sold 42 million over 15 games. That is not a huge amount of success. Also, many of the games although receiving critical acclaim overall, received harsh criticism over cut-scene length, complex stories and tough controls from the gamers actually playing them. The series is romanticised in hindsight. This game may be as well.
Let’s start with the story, the implication is that it is a zombie game. The reality is that it is not. Metal Gear Survive is set in an alternate reality between Ground Zeroes and the Phantom Pain. As the story would have it, there are wanderers and travellers. You are a traveller, the setting somewhere between purgatory and hell. There was a wormhole that opened up during the events of Ground Zero and pulled debris and soldiers into it. Yet there were sightings of these events during the Vietnam war etc.
The Government sent a special force team through the void but they have gone missing. As a traveller, it is you (a dead soldier) who has been chosen for resurrection and sent to this world to find a way to close the wormhole. Your contact Goodluck is still in our world and guides you. It sounds silly, but in reality it is no sillier than Doctor Who or Stargate. Besides, Metal Gear has never had a fear of the supernatural. I personally think the story is cool and interesting and I was excited to see how it would turn out.
The game really is about survival, finding water, killing animals for food, building your base to provide you with the ability to make dirty water clean and cook better meals. You have the ability to set up barricades and stations to craft weapons, medical supplies and gadgets. If you wanted to you could just spend hours doing things like that. That said, remember your mission is to investigate this world and that means leaving your camp and exploring. I mentioned wanderers earlier – essentially they are your enemies.
They will attack on sight physically, especially if there is more than two you are in real trouble, especially earlier in the game. You can use things like set up fences to hold them back and stab through it. But ultimately, it is best to avoid a battle. This makes missions very difficult; you start a mission at home base, navigate your way toward a map point and try to achieve your objective. You cannot save mid mission, if you die, you restart from home base.
Anyone that has played a Metal Gear Solid game will tell you some missions take planning. Metal Gear Survive however tends to be trial and error. Trial and error does not work as a fun concept if it takes you 30+ mins to complete a mission. You die three times and its an hour and a half of your time lost. Truth be told, there were missions I really wanted to get past due to story. But I rage quit multiple times. One wrong move and its back to square one for you.
The story ultimately takes a back seat to the survival mechanic. Trust me, it is not just a name. At the start of the game it will teach you to find water, find food and look after your health. Drinking dirty water (which is all you will find for hours) might cause your character to get ill, getting sick and vomiting when there are wanderers around is a sure fire rage quit. Eating raw uncooked meat has a similar effect. Your camp has a basic cooking station but you will need to upgrade it to turn dirty water into clean and make some decent meals.
Your characters health and stamina will reduce over time, so if you don’t eat and don’t drink your character will suffer. This adds an unfortunate time aspect to the game; the longer you take planning how you will infiltrate an area or how you will achieve your objective, the less health you have, the more food and water you need to consume and so on. It reminds me of arcade games with a countdown before you need more coins.
They really did go for gold in this aspect of the game which is respectable, but ultimately it does reduce the ability to tackle a mission at your leisure and at your own pace. It also almost invalidates the exploration aspect of the game as you will always be needing to head back to base when you run out of food and water. Because if you die in the field, you will find yourself back at square one. The game is almost like a time trial at every turn and is certainly a concept taken too far in that respect.
There is really no music to speak of in the game, gone are the iPods or cassette players from games of old. The sound effects are average as well if I am honest, there is little atmosphere to the game. The setting is largely desert and underground bunker-like ruins. This causes the experience to feel droning and the game really feels like a grind to play especially in the first few hours. The lack of decent weapons doesn’t help at all, either. You can customise your character if you can find materials and level up enough to be able to craft them. They clearly took criticism of lengthy cutscenes in previous games seriously, because other than a long lead in, the story development doesn’t travel as quickly as I would have liked. It felt like a lot of effort to finish a task with the chance of getting some development but too often you finish a gruelling mission just to find there is another similar one waiting for you directly afterwards.
This is not a bad game, but it is certainly flawed and its shortcomings invalidate its successes. I would best describe it as unfinished. The graphics certainly don’t stand up to similar games in the survival or ‘zombie’ genre; in fact they don’t compare to many of the current generation games full stop. Your characters movements aren’t as smooth as say, The Last of Us, and the visual fidelity is not as sharp as it should be for a flagship franchise and this is one Metal Gear game where I would have liked more story development and a stronger narrative.
As a survival game it is very direct and no frills, Metal Gear as a series has influenced many genres over its history for better or worse. Survive is certainly a unique experience in that respect as long as you have the patience and time to stick with it. When I was playing it I kept thinking about what it could have been rather than what it is; a great concept not delivered. Maybe like many other games in the franchise we will look back in a few years and realise it is a landmark. I would certainly recommend that Metal Gear fans give it a try but really this game won’t cut it for anyone else.
Metal Gear Survive is all about Survival
Metal Gear Survive is not a bad game, but it is flawed in its execution overall and feels unfinished. The developers should be praised for taking the concept of survival and going all the way. However, a strong narrative and accessibility have been sacrificed as a result. For the right type of gamer this game is hugely satisfying but its dated graphics, controls, sparse narrative and unforgiving nature just won’t satisfy the tastes of many modern gamers. Despite the absence of Hideo Kojima, the style of the gameplay is more inline with classic Metal Gear than most of the most recent titles and in some ways it achieves the core atmosphere of the series. Unfortunately, it also brings with it all of the things that always prevented Metal Gear as a series from genuinely achieving mainstream success.