It’s world famous by now. The fallout between the famed developer of the Metal Gear series, Hideo Kojima, and Konami. The aftermath of the breakup is almost as famous as the games which spawned from the (for most of their time) prosperous relationship. That story, and much of what is left behind, is a stain on the gaming community. Good things came out of it, for sure, like Kojima being able to develop an exclusive for Sony, but a lot of bad blood resulted as well. One move that had many fans of Metal Gear dumbfounded took place on Konami’s side of the fence. That move was to continue the Metal Gear series with a new game, that game being Metal Gear Survive. This game has sparked a lot of pre-release bias, and more than ever with hardcore fans of the series. I want to make it clear before I even get into the meat of this review that my reviews are in no way a reactionary statement. I find that, though reviewing games comes with bias of genre and taste, it should also be as objective as possible. As such, nothing of this quarrel between developer and publisher (no matter how that impacted Metal Gear Survive) will impact the score or my impression on the following review. So without further ado, my honest and unsoiled thoughts on one of this year’s most questionable decisions.
Metal Gear Survive starts in an odd place, even for a Metal Gear game. You’re an MSF member who has been chosen to retrieve key assets from a mysterious dimension. This dimension, a result of the attack on Mother Base from Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, is packed full of wanderers (or zombies). Right away this plot-hole filled story takes a turn for the worst. We’re introduced to characters we’ve never seen before and make our own silent protagonist. The writing is, from the beginning, the worst thing about Metal Gear Survive. Sentences uttered often resulted in a cringe-fest where I knew what the writers wanted to do, but that feeling got lost somewhere from paper to voice acting. Much of the dialogue in the game just worked to confuse and often annoy me, and the couple of characters we’re introduced to quickly remind us why Metal Gear just isn’t the same without the A team working on it. That said, this is nothing like a Metal Gear game.
Aside from using the Fox Engine, the systems and overall feel of Metal Gear Survive are much different from anything in the series. The first major change was the addition of the new health and stamina bars which constantly tick down. These two status bars are increased by forging for fresh (or dirty) water and eating the leftovers from animals you’ve slaughtered. The stamina bar degrades whenever your character is sprinting, crouching, or jumping. Waste stamina out completely, and your character stops doing anything for a quick breath. The health bar works in a similar way, your max HP being affected by how much you’ve eaten. These two changes are the biggest noticeable impact on Metal Gear Survive in terms of moment to moment gameplay. Managing how much you want to hit wanderers and when you want to stealthily take care of them means you have to keep both of these resources in mind. Waste one too quickly, and you’ve just made it impossible to do just about anything. Like all other items in Metal Gear Survive, keeping up with health and stamina is a constant struggle.
This is where that last part of the title, survive, comes into play. You must always be aware of how much food and water you have, as well as how good your equipment is. Because most of the beginning of the game sees you handling melee weapons, you have to always ensure these weapons are repaired to their full extent (or else they won’t do nearly as much damage). This all takes resources like iron, nails, and wood to keep refreshing your gear. All of this is stuff you must go out and actively find to gain. None of this is new, but unlike other survival titles, Metal Gear Survive often feels linear and guided.
Through a series of missions given to you by creepy robots, you’ll learn the basics to Metal Gear Survive. Things like crafting, fighting, and upgrading your new home base slowly come naturally to you. But it’s in these beginning moments that I feel Metal Gear Survive might lose some people. It takes a long time for systems to be fully explained, and even when they become clear to you, the opening up of Metal Gear Survive’s map feels more like a tease rather than a surprise. I was guided by my AI ambassadors of this new world to do specifically what they asked and when they asked it. Going off on my own and exploring only meant that I would find resources that I couldn’t really use to do anything with. Going on their missions felt like scripted hand-holding, and when they were completed, I was fed the full spoonful of what Metal Gear Survive really was: an arcadey feeling survival game with a very loose identity.
I went on missions to explore the surrounding areas, which would then be shown clearly on my map. I upgraded my home base to withstand attacks, and I ventured further into unlocking gadgets that were in no shape or form surprises from what Metal Gear has offered in the past. Every now and then there were story paths which fell narrowly in my way solely to introduce new gameplay additions. These gameplay additions are the reason Metal Gear Survive suffered from a lack of identity. Progression was locked into collecting the game’s currency, KUB, which is acquired from harvesting zombie guts around the map. In this way you could craft new gear, but you could also simply add upgrades to your character in the form of a skill tree. Every couple of thousand KUBs would net a level up, and that level up would grant you a skill point which could be spent to yield tangible results in-game. These upgrades felt out of place in a survival game where progression usually stands in the material you could build. Combat insisted on being simple and reactionary despite having that inaccuracy survival games often have. Like this, many of Metal Gear Survive’s systems felt as if they were trying to be something they shouldn’t be: a Metal Gear game.
It wasn’t all bad, for what it’s worth there’s a polished survival game here. The very few bugs I encountered meant I was consistently playing in this gameplay loop, even if it was boring. Even more, I found myself proud whenever I fended off a huge pile of infected monsters from an objective or from my base. Lastly, and this is important, I felt as if a survival game without the Metal Gear name would’ve made what this is only a tiny bit better. All of this means very little when the foundation of Metal Gear Survive was scrounged from what Metal Gear Solid V left behind. Instead of trying to exist in this franchise’s footsteps, Metal Gear Survive could’ve been so much more if it was built from something fresh and unique and did something totally original with the genre it takes its name from.
Though the niche of survival games and zombie slashers has been long laid to rest in the gaming space, Metal Gear Survive does a fine job of giving us more of what we don’t want. It’s a shame the Metal Gear name had to be slapped onto something so supremely average, but that doesn’t change the fact that Metal Gear Survive isn’t bad or good. It lays right smack dab in the middle, and for some that might be okay, and for others (like me) it isn’t worth their time when so many other good games are releasing every single day.
Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, PC
Release Date: 22nd February 2018