“"Metal Gear Survive" adds confusing, tedious busywork - and zombies - to the franchise.”
- Defensive missions can be tense
- Cooperative play makes defense more fun
- Stealth mechanics are surprisingly fun
- Confusing user interface
- Combat is frustrating
- Too much busywork
- Repetitive missions
The best way to think of Metal Gear Survive is as an alternate-reality version of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. It’s similar to director Hideo Kojima’s last project at publisher Konami — it even uses a lot of the same assets and starts with the same story beats. Despite the similarities, though, Metal Gear Survive represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what people like about the Metal Gear franchise.
The first of publisher Konami’s Metal Gear titles following Kojima’s departure, Metal Gear Survive feels less like Metal Gear than a vague hodgepodge of confusing and mostly tedious ideas. It uses a lot of locales and environments from MGS V, but takes the central focus away from stealth gameplay and instead onto surviving in hostile territory. Players still spend some time sneaking past bad guys, but most of the game is about finding food, setting up defenses, and hitting zombies with weapons like baseball bats.
With its watered-down stealth, irritating combat, and slog of confusing menus and systems, Metal Gear Survive is mostly just a dull, zombie-filled alternate version of the franchise that spawned it. Worst of all, it’s just not very enjoyable to play.
Welcome to Hell
Metal Gear Survive kicks off with a weirdo alternate history of Metal Gear Solid V, starting with that game’s opening attack on Mother Base, the home of MGS V protagonist Big Boss and his group of nationless soldiers. The base is destroyed by MGS V‘s bad guys, XOF — but midway through the battle, a giant wormhole opens up in the sky, and most of the base and soldiers are sucked through it.
Your character, a former Mother Base soldier known only as the Captain, survives, but gets grabbed by a clandestine group called the Section, which knows something about what’s going on with the wormholes. Before long, you’re dispatched through one to an alternate dimension. There, on a Hellish planet called Dite, you trying to figure out what happened to the Section’s other troops, the Charon Corps. (If you’re not picking up the Hell motif by now, don’t worry — the game will hit you over the head with that metaphor again and again.) Dite is infected by a strange lifeform that turns people into zombies, however, and covered in a deadly toxic dust.
Metal Gear Survive doesn’t understand what people like about the Metal Gear franchise.
Dropped onto Dite, you need to establish a base, find food and water, and search for survivors. You’re forced to make everything you need along the way through Metal Gear Survive‘s various crafting menus, so most of the time you’re venturing out into the deadly dust, scavenging for all the materials you need to keep yourself alive while slowly advancing your mission of figuring out just what’s going on.
Survive‘s zombies, called Wanderers, are scattered just about everywhere you need to go. They aren’t smart but they are a pain to kill with your mostly makeshift weapons. The better alternative most of the time is to sneak past them, which serves as a dumbed-down version of the franchise’s traditional stealth element. Where sneaking around and reconning enemy positions is essential to the Metal Gear experience in other games, however, it’s hardly the central focus in Metal Gear Survive. Many if not most of your objectives in the game have to do with setting up defenses in a small area and then defending that location from waves of zombies until a timer runs out.
Most of the time you’re just stuck running around Dite’s mostly empty world, grappling with the boring business of stopping a series of meters from hitting zero and killing you.
Tedium, unfortunately, is the defining feature of Metal Gear Survive, and it’s largely because the game is intent on wasting so much of your time. The survival aspect is mostly what keeps you busy, because you can barely do anything at all without having to stop to find food or water, or repair your gear.
The idea of venturing out into a dark and deadly world, infested with monsters and marked by low visibility, isn’t necessarily a bad one. The trouble with Survive is that you’re always so weighed down by the business of picking up junk to refill your various survival meters. You have a life meter measuring your health and a stamina meter that determines how long you can partake in activities like sprinting or sneaking around, as well as a meter measuring your hunger and another that tracks thirst. The hungrier you get, the shorter your overall Life meter becomes, so if you get hit when you’re hungry, you can’t heal as well. Thirst lowers your total stamina, so if you don’t stay hydrated, you can’t do as much. You’re not only constantly forced to monitor your thirst and hunger numbers just to stay alive, you also have to watch your stamina usage and your life and injuries. Then there’s your oxygen tank, which dwindles as you venture into the deadly dust, adding another item to keep in mind as you try to explore Metal Gear Survive‘s world.
The game is not just boring, it’s actively irritating.
Despite how heavily these meters weigh on you constantly while you play, you’re bombarded throughout the game by the nagging artificial intelligence character that acts as your mission coordinator, reminding you to “pay attention to your fluid intake” or “keep an eye on your stamina.” The game is not just boring, it’s actively irritating because it assumes you forget how to play it every few minutes.
When you’re not searching for food or going out on missions, you’re either crafting or picking up garbage and energy from around Dite to use in crafting. Everything in Survive comes down to crafting, which means you spend much of the game standing near a pile of wood or a shelf full of gunpowder, holding down the button to make your character grab all the items. It’s not clear when video games decided that all players were secretly fascinated by the possibilities of garbage collection and recycling, but Metal Gear Survive takes a Fallout 4 approach and goes all-in on the idea.
All this emphasis on survival meters and crafting might not be so bad if Metal Gear Survive‘s interface wasn’t such a pain. The game is flooded with confusing, unintuitive menus that constantly break whatever rhythm or flow you might develop as you play. You find food in the wild but have to return it to your base and use a menu to cook it, then open another inventory menu to eat it. There are three separate menus to craft your equipment depending on whether it’s a weapon, a throwable gadget or a piece of armor.
As you build up your base on Dite and rescue more survivors, a bunch of other menus dealing with job assignments, food and water, and medical supplies get thrown in. Later, you can send teams out to find resources, resulting in yet more menus to deal with. Most of Metal Gear Survive isn’t dedicated to actually playing the game, but to reading and navigating a poorly explained, obtuse user interface.
Stand still and stab
Not that actually playing is much more fun, really. Fighting zombies is a pain as you watch your character go through painstaking animations just to swing a bat or lunge with a spear, which makes a lot of your melee weapons basically useless because they take so long to actually use. Meanwhile, the game’s zombies deal relatively massive damage, so standing still trying to swing a weapon at them just leaves you highly vulnerable. It’s much more effective to run away or sneak by, and after a while, it becomes apparent that the most efficient thing to do in a lot of cases as you explore Dite is just to ignore its dumb, slow-moving enemies altogether whenever possible.
We can imagine a fun Metal Gear game with zombies, but this isn’t that game.
Metal Gear Survive forces you into a lot of combat anyway, though. While some of your ventures into the dust are stealthy missions where you need to find a person or an object and quickly return it to base, there are plenty of other scenarios where you head out into enemy territory and set up defenses to hold a position. You can craft items like fences to set up choke points and block zombies for a while, giving you a chance to fire arrows or thrust a spear through and kill some bad guys. Every defense mission basically shakes out to standing behind some fences or on some high ground, killing a horde of zombies with the same attack over and over and over. Eventually the game adds a few new types of zombies to the rotation, and you’ll find new craftable weapons to help, but the additions don’t really alter the overall strategy or experience much.
The situation is made a little more compelling in Metal Gear Survive‘s cooperative mode, wherein you join other players in defending positions from waves of enemies in order to earn high-level gear. In those levels, you can at least divide responsibilities or create strategies to most effectively deal with incoming baddies, instead of just running from place to place desperately trying to keep zombies from tearing down your fences like in the campaign mode. Overall, though, it’s just more of the same, but with other people around.
Zombies just aren’t very interesting enemies at this point, and while Metal Gear Survive wrings some fun out of the strategy of setting up defenses or the tension of sneaking past a bunch of bad guys, you end up doing these things over and over and over. Stand at your fence and stab zombies through it; sneak past the zombies and stab them in the back. Like endlessly hunting for food or endlessly picking up trash to bring back to your base, it all becomes tedious and repetitive. Metal Gear Survive almost always feels like busywork, the kind of tasks dreamed up just to run out the clock. Maybe all of this is angled at microtransactions, since you can spend real money to buy all kinds of boosters that make your character earn energy faster and run out of hunger slower. We didn’t spend anything on microtransactions, though, and even for players who might, it wouldn’t alleviate the fact that so much of Metal Gear Survive repetitive, rather than compelling.
We can imagine a Metal Gear game with zombies that would be a lot of fun, but Metal Gear Survive is not that game. Everything about it, from the thin and uninspiring story and characters to the survival systems and combat, feels tuned to keep you busy, but not entertained. It’s a game that crams in mechanics and ideas without finding a way to make them fun together, while always failing to respect players’ time.
Is there a better alternative?
Lots of other survival games, like Don’t Starve or Dying Light, do many of these ideas better. Of course, Metal Gear Solid V blows Survive away in terms of any of the things that players actually like about Metal Gear — tactical espionage action.
How long will it last?
Metal Gear Survive seems like it’s intended to go on forever, with players finishing the story campaign and then going on to explore further and play cooperative missions. Single-player alone will likely last players 15 to 20 hours.
Should you buy it?
Metal Gear Survive is trying too hard to be too many things, and it doesn’t do any of them well. You’d do better to pick up a more focused survival game, or zombie game, or stealth game.
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