Metal Gear Survive Review
Staying alive in a challenging and intriguing spinoff
With the high-profile trouble surrounding the release of Metal Gear Solid V, and subsequent departure of the franchise creator Hideo Kojima, many fans were quite apprehensive as to where the series could head next. That’s assuming it even had a future. But with the release of Metal Gear Survive, Konami has proven that there is life yet in the series. It’s a fairly safe title that ensures it does not impact the legacy of the main entries, while also offering something that’s both original, largely well designed, and ties seamlessly into the greater context of the series. It may disappoint fans of the traditional MGS experiences, but that’s to be expected from a spinoff. What you get instead is a challenging survival game that features engaging gameplay and exploration with polished design, with a side of occasional frustrations.
Despite being a lower priced zombie-themed spinoff, MG Survive pulls no punches in telling a cohesive story that’s heavily connected to the MGS V lore. Players assume the role of a customizable solider that managed to survive the attack on the Mother Base in MGS V. There are a number of high quality cutscenes, as we learn about a mysterious wormhole that appeared near the Mother Base shortly after Big Boss manages to escape. It swallowed people and entire structures whole, but you’ve managed to stay on this side of it, only to sustain fatal injuries from a long fall out of the sky. A man resurrects you, however, and sends you on a mission into an alternate version of the world called Dite. Here, you must follow in the tracks of another exploration team that was sent to put an end to a virus that has overtaken the planet and could make its way to Earth.
The game fits seamlessly into the greater universe, without being canon (though that depends how much you believe what you see and hear, in typical Metal Gear fashion). It’s a great way to slot some unique side story content that has tons of ties to the main franchise. There are occasional twists along the way, but overall it’s interesting to see through to the end. The only negative is that the writing is quite basic, and the voice acting is even more so. Still, at first glance, you could easily mistake this style for something that came straight out of MGS V.
Much in the same way that the story refuses to be a simplistic spinoff, same goes for the gameplay. MG Survive has a number of surprisingly engaging and even addicting mechanics that will keep you exploring, building, and tangling with the infected. Starting with the basics as the name of the game would suggest, your first priority is to manage your hunger and thirst. Collecting food, hunting animals, and eventually harvesting your own at the base (though they take too long to grow) are key to staying alive, as your hunger drains continuously. The same goes for thirst, though finding a clean source of water is quite challenging for the first few hours, thus often leaving you sick after drinking dirty water. These base survival elements are challenging and always at the forefront with specific UI elements, keeping you in constant tension. Some could argue that the meters tick down too quickly, but it didn’t become overly annoying.
What is annoying is the game’s third survival element – oxygen. You see, most of the game world is covered in a permanent storm known as Dust, which means you need an oxygen mask with a limited supply. Inside the Dust, your stamina depletes quicker, and while performing any action other than regular walking. Oxygen runs out long before food or water, and can only be replenished by returning to home base – for whatever reason, it does not replenish when you find the occasional clearings without Dust. In a pinch, you can use Kuban energy to replenish oxygen, but the more you do it, the lower the durability of oxygen mask and the more it costs to refill. As such, the game forces players not to wander too long and makes them stick to one or two missions per excursion.
That can certainly be annoying, as the Dust is quite exciting to explore. The visibility is very limited, and you have no aides to show the location of objectives. There’s only a compass that appears if you stand still, and the distant lights of a wormhole back to base or point of interest. You’re literally on your own, relying only on the compass and learning the terrain to find your way. It can be quite thrilling to push deeper into the unknown, as structures and enemies emerge into your field of view from the behind the cloak of darkness. These mechanics create a tense sense of danger and adventure, being lost in an unknown environment. Your reasons to explore include finding materials, opening chests that hold valuable crafting recipes and other goods, rescuing survivors, unlocking new fast travel points, and of course collecting food/water and Kuban energy from enemies. There is an enemy indicator that shows if someone is nearby, but that’s about it, and there are still occasional jump scares. One annoying factor with the Dust are the transition zones, where you walk in/out of a clearing, and the visual effects are sort of poor and block visibility too much.
If the hunger or oxygen doesn’t get you, the enemies most certainly will. Getting tangled up in melee combat with the hoards of infected spell quick and certain doom, as you take quite serious damage from foes – this is no Dead Rising. It takes a while to get decent firepower, so the early hours are an exercise of stealthing past groups and occasionally doing melee takedowns on the stragglers. The excellent stealth mechanics are imported directly from MGS V, so the controls feel great. If you get into combat though, melee can be tricky and is heavily animation-based, with questionable hitboxes. So, enemies are best avoided or attacked from range, and items such as distraction lures and the bow support that approach. Once you get stronger and get good modern firepower later on, taking on the hoards does become a more typical zombie action game experience; and thanks to tight controls, it is also fun to do.
Even with the best strategies and weapons, you will definitely get hurt, and MG Survive also has a number of mechanics to worry about. Healing yourself isn’t as straightforward as using a cure-all health kit. Depending on the injuries sustained, you could have a condition such as bleeding, poisoning, broken bones, and so on. For each ailment, there is a specific cure, and hopefully you’ve brought that along for the journey before deciding to jump off a cliff and subsequently slow down to a limp walk. It’s a well-executed nod to the MGS3 mechanics. Applying a healing item takes time too, so you can’t exactly do it in the middle of a dangerous situation. Enemies grow in level just as you do, so even the basic foes will continue to pose a very real and deadly threat all along the way.
The foes you’ll encounter are somewhat varied. While you’ll run into basic Wanderers most of the time, there are also Bombers that explode upon death or when reaching you. Trackers are fast and agile, and there are a few other types such as enemies that hide beneath the ground and try to blend with the bushes. Most enemy types have a weakness and some sort of unique skill, so adjusting your strategy and picking off the right foes first is important. They aren’t very smart though, and will follow the shortest paths to the target, so when defending objectives it’s manageable to contain the horde by placing barricades in key locations. Some can bypass barricades altogether, or make melee completely ineffective.
Crafting barricades is a key element to mission success. To activate small wormholes, that act as fast travel points, you’ll need to defend them for a short time from all enemies in the nearby area; you can clear the enemies out in advance to make things much easier. Most such defensive locations are within structures and so you have a couple of different points of entry to worry about. Placing objects such as fences and wooden barricades help slow down the foes and give you a chance to pick away at their numbers, whether with melee, guns, or grenades and mines. When they break through, the target you’re defending (typically a science device) has a few pulses that randomly clears out a few foes, which can help in a pinch. If you fail, you most likely need to return after a few in-game days to try again. Mining missions are similar, but in this case you can see which paths the enemies will take, and there are multiple waves.
And herein lies one of the biggest annoyances in MG Survive’s open world mechanics. While, as mentioned, it is very exciting to explore, you’re limited by factors such as thirst, hunger, and quickly depleting oxygen. You can collect crafting materials, but a weight system starts limiting movement if you carry too much. Just like with oxygen, you also cannot craft items in the field because you need benches at the home base. All of these factors pile on, and make the final stages of lengthier exploration sessions very tense as you’re out of supplies, barricades, and ammo. To top it all off, there are no saves or checkpoints in the open world, and you can only return to base via an unlocked wormhole. The only time you can save is when back at the base, so should you happen to perish after an extremely fruitful exploration session, an hour of progress could be entirely lost. This can be extremely disheartening. The only salvation is to use a revive pill which lets you carry on from a fatal injury; but you only get a few of these pills to start and can’t craft more until many more hours into the game, with rare resources.
Crafting is a big part of the game. As you run around and collect a large number of various resources in the Dust, you can later return to the base and craft new weapons, armor, ammo, and barricades. Items have varying quality grade, and there are elemental effects that can be added. The design is fairly typical for a survival game such as this, with plenty of depth and the progression curve seems fair. You can also improve items to a certain extent to give them more damage or durability, and customize them visually. The game’s main currency is the Kuban energy, and it is primarily sourced from missions and defeated enemies. You need this energy to level up your character through a very basic skill tree, to perform crafting actions, and also get that extra boost of oxygen for when you are about to suffocate.
Besides customizing your gear, you must also manage the base. From an eagle-eye view, you can place new structures such as water treatment tanks, crafting benches, plots to grow food, and so on. New buildings unlock with story progression, and eventually you get to expand the base and defend it. You’ve also got survivors to manage, such as assigning them to different function units (medical, exploration, etc) so they perform at their best. It’s yet another mechanic that is borrowed and modified from MGS V, but it differs in that you only manage a small handful of people, and you can actually observe them walking around your base. It gets a little too complicated and micromanagement heavy though, with shared resources to care about and too much babysitting to ensure they don’t perish.
Unlike most games with a multiplayer component, MG Survive is fairly coy about getting you into its co-operative mode. That’s because you use the same character and all your materials and tools when playing online, and with Easy missions starting at level 20, it will take quite a few hours before you’re ready to jump in. The available missions are also locked away until you make enough progress in the story (which is quite lengthy at well over 20 hours.); so MG Survive definitely considers its online component an end-game activity, rather than something that exists alongside the campaign. It’s a little disappointing in this way, as you can’t just jump into some action with friends regardless of their campaign status. Further, the game still insists on depleting your vitals and oxygen in multiplayer (although at a slower rate).
The online action is similar to the defensive missions you perform in the story. There’s something you need to defend against certain number of waves, so you build up and hope for the best. Variety comes in the form of optional side-missions, requiring players to leave the objective and scour the area for items. Also, there are benches available, so at least you won’t run out of barricades and resources like you might in the campaign. Players are scored on their individual and team performance, and prizes are awarded accordingly, which you get to take back to your single player save. There is definitely good replay value here, as well as in the post-story campaign world. However, it should be noted that the multiplayer population feels quite low unless you're playing end-game missions on Hard difficulty, with many matchmaking sessions ending up with no players found. Best to bring some friends or find pre-arranged groups elsewhere.
Another potential downside worth mentioning is the game’s always-online nature. You can pause, though you must be connected to play. There are daily and weekly objectives to complete, and more content is said to be coming as free DLC. Speaking of DLC though, the game features a few different microtransaction schemes, the most notable perhaps being the ability to unlock a new save/character slot. It’s not a very consumer friendly decision – while yes, you can earn enough in-game currency to unlock another slot just by logging in daily, it would take over a month. On the other hand, with the ability to customize your avatar at any time, there is little reason for another character slot – unless you want to play through the game’s 25+ hour campaign from scratch again without any unlocked items carrying over.
Title of the game aside, you certainly wouldn’t mistake Survive for anything other than a Metal Gear Solid spinoff. The presentation very closely (in fact, nearly identically) matches that of MGS V. From the menus, to the sound effects, to the gameplay mechanics, this is certainly a game that follows the visual style of its predecessor to a tee. The cutscenes look great and they could have (and very well may have) been taken directly from MGS V. Most everything is polished, functional, and well organized as the Fox Engine puts out another very “solid” performance, no pun intended. Playing on the Xbox One X, the game performed without any technical hiccups and maintained a steady framerate throughout. The only annoyances come from certain menu elements when it comes to managing your item storage, as well as the AI constantly and endlessly reminding you to watch your health/oxygen meters.
Metal Gear Survive is a spinoff done right. It offers an entirely new experience, so it wouldn’t fit as DLC or expansion, while also maintaining its strong roots to the MGS V lore. Despite being tied to such a huge franchise, the game's successes and failures are entirely its own. The presentation is unmistakably familiar, from the visuals and audio to the cutscene camera work, with a solid enough story; though the voice acting and writing could have been better. Its mechanics are challenging, and occasionally frustrating, but most of the time it will be the players’ fault that leads to their careless demise. Fans of the survival game genre, which is often found to be in rough state and in early access programs, should find plenty of fun to be had with this polished and unexpectedly addicting entry in the genre.