Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4
Reviewed On: Xbox One
Although it seems to have been forgotten about Metal Gear: Survive is not actually the first Metal Gear game without the legendary Kojima at the helm. It is, however, the very first Metal Gear game produced since Kojima and Konami parted ways in less than ideal circumstances. The pressure was on Konami to show the world they could handle the beloved franchise, so what was the first thing they did? An open-world survival spin-off. With zombies. *facepalm*
The first hour is rife with cutscenes, almost like the developers were intent on saying, “look, everything is okay! Look at all these cutscenes! Just like Kojima would do!” but in a game that’s already a massive slog sitting through these frankly dull cutscenes that attempt to justify all the madness actually winds up delivering entirely the wrong message; you’ve let yourself in for a lot of boredom to get to the good stuff.
But we do get our dose of Metal Gear insanity as the story kicks off with the destruction of Mother Base before then explaining how our entirely mute and customizable avatar got chucked through a wormhole into a strange dimension inhabited by Wanderers, which are basically zombies but with shiny red unicorn horns where their heads should be. Your job is to find out what happened to the Charon Core, rescue any survivors in this horrid world and then get the hell out of dodge, all while learning the story behind the giant wormhole. It’s not a story worth slogging your way through the game, though, and the various survivors you pick up along the way certainly don’t help matters as they barely get any lines, character development or screen time. Nor do the writers craft compelling answers to the initial mysteries to make it all worth it.
This strange new world seems to have been a dumping ground, mostly for a freaking load of assets from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain as well as swathes of the map. Hiding that reuse of assets is the Dust, areas where you can only venture by using an oxygen tank and where your visibility is limited. In this bleak environment, your map ceases to function, so navigation is handled through landmarks or heading for the bright, shining lights.
Its here the game is largely at its very best as you amble through the thick fog, avoiding the occasional roving hordes of unicorn heads and hoovering up everything you come across like some sort of demented hoover that has become sentient and that wants to build junk art. Tires, cans, bottles, boxes, urns, you name it, it’s all going into your amazing bag.
With the word Survive in the title you won’t be surprised to hear that this latest Metal Gear spinoff has survival elements tossed into the mix. A large portion of your time is spent beating animals to death in order to harvest meat and also picking up dirty water in bottles. Weirdly, you don’t unlock the option to boil the water until several hours into the game even though you’re happily crafting metal spears, so up until then you either have to find the rare bottles of clean water or drink dirty water which causes your character to throw up constantly. Annoyingly, though, rather than adding a sense of immersion and planning to the game the survival elements quickly become a drag because your character can literally eat several large steaks and chug a canteen of water yet somehow become hungry and thirsty about ten minutes later.
You also need to consider your health as you can suffer from lacerations, broken bones, sprains and more that all require various forms of medical treatment.
On the one hand, if you want to make a huge trip out to the Dust then you need to load up on the supplies which feels kind of cool, a series of little excursions that build toward a larger one. But on the other hand, the short amount of time you get even when lugging around several pounds of meat and enough water for an entire damn vegetable farm can kill the exploration as you’re forced to often cut adventures short in order to make the trip back to base.
A bit further into the story you also have to start supplying food and water for the people you rescue and bring back to base, and thus it can feel like you’re little more than a glorified courier who likes to punch goats in the face for fun, something which you can actually do.
Speaking of the base there’s some light management work going on here as using the resources you’ve gathered you can construct workbenches and defenses for your little encampment, slowing growing it to include things like a rainwater catcher, goat cages and a potato farm, although the amount of time you have to wait for anything of these food and water producers is painfully long. Things like weapon benches and medical areas let you craft the tools needed to fight the looming hordes, and over time you’ll be able to make more advanced stuff including guns, although the noise of gunfire will attract the Wanderers.
That’s not a problem, though, because a lot of the missions involve fending off a wave or waves of the shambling bastards, at which point attracting them is no longer an issue. Whether you’re reactivation a teleported out in the Dust in order to increase your exploration range or defending a Wormhole Digger a lot of the missions revolve around defending an area, which is where you’re super handy-dandy ability to teleport fences comes into play. Assuming you’ve built them using a workbench you can magically spawn in chain-link fences, wooden panels, barricades with barbed wire and more in order to shore up choke-points. The key to the game’s entire combat system and its defensive missions is that by using a long, pointy object you can only stab Wanderers through chain link fences. And man, will you be doing a whole hell of a lot of that.
Still, the first few times you defend a spot against the incoming hordes of unicorn heads is quite a lot fun. A few placed mines here, a fence there, a barbed-wire barricade, a hurled molotov cocktail at that mob. There’s a genuine sense of threat, too, since they can quickly overwhelm the location with sheer numbers. Wanderers might not pose a threat individually, but when there are dozens of them reaching for your face at the same time it becomes scary. The Wormhole Digging sequences are probably the most fun because glowing red pathways inform you of where the hordes will be coming, so you can plan accordingly, though between waves those paths can change and your placed defenses can’t be shifted, so you need to consider the train to determine where you can defend without needing fences.
But these missions do also point out the sheer stupidity of the enemy. Now, obviously zombies are not meant to be smart, and these animated corpses seem to have their cranium removed in favor of glowing red horns, so they clearly are not the brightest of sparks. Basically, though, if you spawn a fence directly in front of you on a vast, open space the Wanderers will simply try to attack the fence, happily letting you stab ’em in the horn. In fact, you can even amble around the fence and stab ’em and they’ll keep swiping madly at the metal obstacle in their way. It’s bloody hilarious.
Since this entire game is built off of The Phantom Pain it’s fair to say that melee combat isn’t a highlight. It works, but can often feel stiff. Thankfully stealth is sometimes an option, too, and sneaking your way through or past a horde of Wanderers can be a lot of fun, especially since one slip-up means alerting the whole bunch. With that said the tension is lessened by the fact that you can often just run away from them as they won’t follow very far. Maybe they saw a fence that needed attacking?
For all of my complaining so far, though, there’s actually a lot of good to be found in Survive as well. There’s a strong sense of satisfaction from watching your base grow and new survivors moving in because it took so damn long to get the resources to do it all. And once you’ve got the base going and it’s largely self-sufficient and you’re able to carry around stews that deal with both hunger and thirst you can enjoy the exploration of the Dust a lot more.
It just takes so long to get to the enjoyable stuff, though, which perhaps would be fine if the build toward it felt more interesting, but it’s a slog. I can’t help but feel its deliberate, too, since you can spend real cash to pick up boosters that double the number of things like Kuban energy or food generated at the base. As an apology for some launch issues, Konami granted all players a 24hr boost that applied to just about everything, and damn did it make an almost obscene difference. It’s too strong, but it almost felt like it was close to the pace the game was actually meant to be played at. Maybe I’m wrong and just imagining, though, since it’s always hard to know exactly what the developers intended. Still, the cynical side of me wonders.
But now we get to the real reasons you should avoid this game; microtransactions. Okay, okay, I know a lot of you have become accustomed to them so the fact that you can buy SV coins with real cash and then use them on resources may not bother you. But the real kicker is that you’re limited to a single character slot, and if you want to unlock more you have to buy them with SV coins which can only be gained via shelling out some cash. In this particular instance, a new save slot will set you back £10. It’s an insult to whoever buys Survive. This concept also makes itself known in a later building you unlock that allows you to dispatch survivors to gather resources, thus hopefully taking some of that burden away from you. However, if you want to dispatch more than a single person or team at a time you need to purchase more slots using cash.
You see now why I’m suspicious of the game’s balancing in regards to acquiring food, drink and building materials?
It certainly doesn’t help Survive’s image that everything about it feels like an attempt to appeal to every single person while keeping development costs to a bare minimum. It’s like they took every generic element possible and rammed it into their most popular license: the survival elements that are all the rage these days? Check. Zombies? Check. Metal Gear Solid? Check. Then it all got tossed into a game that literally takes a chunk of the Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain map and then puts some thick fog on it. It’s about as visually stimulating as Donald Trump’s face.
And to boot, the standard Xbox One version doesn’t do well on the technical front. Anti-aliasing is damn near non-existent with jagged edges all over the place and a framerate that sometimes struggles to hold 30FPS. It’s also a little odd to see that even the menus and UI are not rendered at 1080p, which makes them look pretty rough, especially on a 50″ screen.
Annoyingly this is also yet another game that demands a constant online connection despite being primarily a single-player experience. The reason for this is you have Orders which are essentially daily, weekly and monthly challenges as well as login bonuses, but what came of this is that several times I lose my progress because the servers went down.
You do at least get some co-op action tossed into the mix as well, pitting you and a few others against the Wanderers. It’s mindless fun, but it should be noted that it’s not fun because it does co-op well but rather because you’re playing with other people. There’s a big difference.
It’s frustrating because I think there’s potential for something a lot better here. With the grind toned down and perhaps without the Metal Gear name this could have been a fun little budget title, and with some reworking of the major ideas it could have even made it as a full-priced launch. To be fair you can pick up Survive for £25, but in exchange for that cheaper entry price, Konami seem to think it’s okay to charge for save slots and provide boosts that literally call into question the rest of the game.
So, my final verdict is a pretty messy one, a bit like this game. There’s good in here, and I can’t deny that I found myself getting caught up in the loop of resource hunting and base building. But even then it’s just such a damn slog to get through, it looks so bland, feels so bland, has clearly been cobbled together and features horrendous use of microtransactions. Just don’t bother with this one. It isn’t worth it. Save your cash and tell Konami that this crap doesn’t fly.