Developer and publisher Konami’s departure with longtime Metal Gear series designer/director Hideo Kojima has been well documented on the internet. This review isn’t about that, and I’d like to say that my review of Metal Gear Survive is completely impartial and has no flavoring from that high profile departure–you’d be hard-pressed to find a fan of the Metal Gear series that hasn’t felt the sting of Konami’s callous decision making. Still, Metal Gear Survive is as far from a main series Metal Gear game as you can get, so objectivity isn’t impossible to muster.
Metal Gear Survive is a strange game—though not in the quirky, mostly self-aware way Metal Gear tends to be. It attempts that, but those efforts just highlight the lack of Kojima’s influence (I won’t mention that again, I swear). It tries to be a bona fide survival game and ride the wave of other popular survival titles recently releasing. Metal Gear Survive fits snugly into a sort of subgenre of survival games—those with a purpose, story, and definitive goal. This subgenre skirts the line of open world role-playing games, like those popularized by the Elder Scrolls series (Oblivion, Skryim, et al). These “survival with a purpose” games usually give you a compelling reason to explore and find the next goal. Metal Gear Survive struggles to be compelling, either narratively or mechanically.
You play as the “Captain,” a nameless member of Big Boss’s MSF, who through a convoluted series of events gets transported to a parallel dimension onto a planet that resembles Earth, called Dite. It’s a dead world, inhabited by crystal-headed zombies called “wanderers.” Entire sections of the planet are uninhabitable due to toxic dust clouds. These clouds, called simply “Dust”, act as both a barrier and environmental hazard. Scattered throughout Dite is a source of energy called Kuban, found in crystallized form all over the planet and inside of the various monstrous creatures that inhabit it.
Your ultimate goal is to survive and escape Dite. You start with a small base and a single ally, eventually upgrading the base to a fortress with a crew that helps man and maintain it. Like most survival games, initially just finding enough food and water is tough. Konami has fully embraced the survival model, incorporating the normal mechanics of hunger, thirst, etc, even adding in a variety of injury types requiring specialized healing items to fix. You can also craft items, with better items unlocked through blueprints you’ll discover throughout the world. In addition to crafting items, you can upgrade them, and even modify them in certain ways, e.g. adding elemental effects to weapons.
Despite Konami going all in with the survival mechanics in Metal Gear Survive, they aren’t balanced in a way that makes it fun. The hunger and thirst bar drops too rapidly, and finding a source of food and water that is reliable is nearly impossible for first third of the game, and it took me nearly ten hours before I could even boil water. Your hunger gauge doesn’t fill up fast enough, and it depletes way too quickly. I ate three entire sheep and had room for over three more, but would somehow be starving to death before I would find another herd. I found that if I saved my game, quit to the main menu and reloaded, I could kill the same three sheep over and over and stockpile some food. That was the only way I could feel unrestrained enough to complete objectives and explore.
Exploring Dite is often a pain, as you have to travel through the Dust, constantly worrying about oxygen. You unlock transporters that allow you to venture further and further out, and you can find the occasional vehicle abandoned, but just driving them makes them break down incredibly quickly, making them all but useless. The objectives are usually “stand here and poke zombies with a stick through this fence” for a set amount of time, or worse: escort missions. There is nothing less fun than worrying about oxygen, food, and water while bleeding, bruised, and trying to stop zombies from eating the person you’re supposed to be protecting.
Konami, in typical fashion, has not let Metal Gear Survive go without adding in microtransactions—and it’s borderline exploitative. It costs between three and five dollars for new gestures, about two to three bucks for extra equipment loadout slots, and almost ten dollars for an extra save slot. You start with a single save slot and have to pay ten dollars for each additional. Let that sink in for a moment.
Metal Gear Survive isn’t completely irredeemable. Its systems are mostly coherent, and it works the way it’s supposed to most of the time. I didn’t hate every moment of my time with it, but most of it felt like a chore at best, and a mundane slog for the rest. There was the intermittent sprinkle of fun, but those moments were quickly dashed by confoundingly stupid design decisions. If you want more Metal Gear, go back and play The Phantom Pain, and if you want a good survival game, look elsewhere.
Metal Gear Survive is available for Windows, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.