Konami’s first Metal Gear title after Hideo Kojima’s departure tries to do things a little differently, appealing to a new crowd but perhaps alienating old fans.
I first got to lay eyes on Metal Gear Survive in the summer of 2016, when the only information I had prior to the demo was that it was going to be a “secret project”. The Metal Gear Solid spin-off we got to see was supposed to be out during 2017, but delays pushed it to early 2018. We got to play it during E3 and Gamescom last year though, so its new direction wasn’t a total surprise.
Taking place in between the events of Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain, Metal Gear Survive does feature a ‘regular’ story despite its emphasis on survival elements and online cooperative gameplay. In Survive, however, the story isn’t especially fleshed out and not delivered with as much cinematic oomph, especially when compared Phantom Pain. For someone who’s a big fan of single player cinematic action adventures, Survive’s story is definitely somewhat of a letdown – its emphasis on surviving amidst zombies is potentially fun, but its execution is lacking in terms of the intrigue that other Metal Gear titles offer.
Despite a story being there, the biggest emphasis is on gameplay – an area where Survive feels very different from the last two Metal Gear titles. While Phantom Pain has a marvelous opening sequence, Survive takes a long time to get going. This isn’t just true from a narrative standpoint, it’s also because the game takes a long time to explain all of its survival mechanics through a seemingly endless series of tutorials.
While that points to a pacing problem, it also indicates a problem you’ll run into further down the road. The way Survive works is that you’ll be frequently taken out of the flow of the action and story to navigate menus in order to manage a wide array of aspects. Those who regularly play survival games might be more accustomed to this, but Metal Gear fans might very well enjoy it far less. To them, a lot of the gameplay ends up feeling repetitive and too time-consuming.
Where the game shines brightest is in its action-oriented scenes, especially when they’re being played with other players through a cooperative multiplayer session. Here, the game feels simplified and the zombie theme is at its best and most terrifying. They’re okay when playing with AI teammates in single player too, but playing these with a couple of other real life players brought back some Left 4 Dead memories. Good ones.
In between those good bits, however, there’s a ton of slow progression and even more survival elements whose function feels like it is to make sure progression is even slower. Very often when I felt like I was getting into the story, I would be pulled right out because my character got thirsty and needed water. This often isn’t just a case of having a quick drink – you have to clear the water before drinking it. Food is scarce so when you go hungry this’ll eat up even more of your time.
There’s a large open world to explore, but there’s not that much to find. It’s mostly about scavenging for supplies and keeping yourself alive and well, and when you’re not doing that you’re often finding materials to help you craft other materials. I’ll readily admit I’m not the world’s biggest fan of survival games, but I do really enjoy the Metal Gear series and obviously approach this game from that angle – as will many others. To them, it may just be too much of something that doesn’t feel that exciting.
Completing missions allows you to earn upgrades and these kept me engaged, though I kept hoping for things to kick into gear story-wise. Sadly, it never did. Instead I had some fun with the occasional coop mission and staying far away from the game’s lamentable microtransactions, but in the end couldn’t help thinking I would have had more fun playing The Phantom Pain for a third time. Metal Gear Survive has its share of thrills, but they’re spread too far and wide.