“Metal Gear!? It can’t be…”
Following the split of Konami and Kojima Productions in October 2015, many fans were met with concerns regarding the future of the Metal Gear franchise, especially being left in the hands of a toxic publisher such as Konami (Pachinko machines incoming!). Now in February 2018 the next iteration of the series has arrived in the form of Metal Gear Survive, an online-only (and microtransaction heavy) open-world zombie survival sandbox that couldn’t be further from the original vision of the franchise. Metal Gear Survive released in the UK on February 22nd 2018, and as usual I’ll be going over the time I’ve spent within the PS4 version of the game, going over the positives and negatives, and ultimately discussing whether the game is worth picking up at the £34.99 asking price (it isn’t).
Metal Gear Survive isn’t a Metal Gear game, there’s no other way to say it. While the series has always been known for political fiction and espionage, Survive goes in a completely different direction, ditching the tried and tested stealth gameplay found in The Phantom Pain for zombies, crafting and resource management. First announced at Gamescom 2016, Metal Gear Survive hasn’t had the warmest of receptions, which has followed the game all the way up to its launch this year. At the helm this time around are two long time Konami (and Kojima Productions) employees: Yota Tsutsumizaki and Yuji Korekado who are taking over from Kojima as director and producer respectively; their level of input on the actual game is suspect however, as they would have noticed the brilliant ‘KJP Forever’ message, left in one of the game’s initial cutscenes by one of Konami’s staff members (under the moniker of ‘Vengeful Mosquito’) who clearly isn’t fond of the direction the series is now going in (the full breakdown of the message can be seen by following the video link here).
Jabs at Konami aside, it’s important to mention that Metal Gear Survive isn’t downright terrible (although it’s still pretty f*cking bad) as there are some moments of fun to be salvaged within the 30-50 hours you (probably won’t) spend playing it. The game begins not long after the attack on mother base seen at the end of Ground Zeroes, and sees the remaining soldiers of Militaires Sans Frontières burying their dead at sea with help from the United Nations. Upon inspecting the manifest of the dead a Lawrence Fishburne look-alike requests to look at a specific soldier that was killed during the attack, setting up the game’s character creator that was ripped directly out of The Phantom Pain (I literally mean copy and pasted). Once your character has been created, you’re dumped directly into the world of Dite (a slightly modified version of The Phantom Pain’s Afghanistan map) left with nothing but your wits and raw desire to survive in a hostile world. The narrative follows your character as they explore the world of Dite, slowly learning more about the crystallised zombie unicorns that dot the landscape, while simultaneously rescuing survivors from the Charon Corps and ultimately trying to find a way back to your home dimension. Unfortunately, there’s not much to say about the overall narrative other than it’s pretty lacklustre and forgettable, which is also reflected in the game’s mediocre cast of characters (none of which have any discernible personality whatsoever) making it the first Metal Gear game devoid of any charisma in it’s writing.
O Captain! My Captain!: Your avatar in Metal Gear Survive leads a band of survivors together in a bid to return to their home dimension.
While the narrative in Metal Gear Survive won’t be winning awards anytime soon, there are some moments of fun to be had in the gameplay department. The game takes place in an open world format similar to The Phantom Pain (with the exception of mother base being located within the map itself) and sees the player-character hoarding materials to craft a number of different tools, items and weapons. It’s here that Metal Gear Survive lives up to its name, with it forcing you to do whatever you can in order to stay alive (eating and drinking are essential if you want to stay in the best condition possible). In the early stages of the game access to food and clean water resources are explicitly scarce, keeping you relatively close to your initially mundane base of operations (which only holds the very basic of crafting stations) forcing you to plan out your excursions properly based on the amount of resources you have to hand. In addition to this, the vast majority of the world map is covered in a mist (which is toxic to humans if inhaled) and requires an oxygen tank to allow you to explore the areas within for a limited amount of time. Further adding to this is the fact that you and your gear are a lot less efficient inside the mist, with stamina draining twice as fast for actions such as sprinting and on-screen map markers disappearing altogether, requiring you to leave waypoints for yourself so that you don’t get lost. All of these mechanics work together to make Metal Gear Survive’s gameplay a genuine fight for survival of the highest degree which was genuinely fun at points, however this was the was the only thing that kept me playing for the 35 hours I spent within the game, and in no way made up for other aspects such as the painfully stupid AI, repetitive mission design and the ridiculous emphasis on melee combat which made the game a genuine slog in its later stages.
As aforementioned, combat within Survive is primarily melee focused with it covering four different categories of weapons: one-handed, two-handed, thrusting and heavy, with the latter three no way comparing to one-handed in terms of overall efficiency (such as damage and swing speed). Firearms also make a return, but with you crafting each individual bullet from uncommon materials, using them is a costly decision when it comes to resource management. By far the most common weapon I found myself using (that was also the most cost-efficient to produce ammo for) was the survival bow, which allows you to take out a wanderer from a distance in one shot if your aim is good enough. Whether it was Robin Hood syndrome or not, the bow gameplay is a fun aspect in an otherwise stiff and rigid combat system, and was by large and far the best way at taking out hordes of enemies (especially due to the fact that you can recover your arrows after a fight). Levelling up is another area worth a mention, mainly due to it being downright tedious. Raising your character’s level is done through the gathering of Kuban energy, which can be gathered from enemies at a snail like pace (à la Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance) as well as the game’s co-op mode. You need to harvest a certain number of energy per level (which raises with every level) and once you get beyond level 20, the amount required to level up is an absolute joke, turning the game from an occasionally fun survival sim, to a dull repetitive grind in a matter of hours. Another aspect of gameplay that needs addressing is the co-op, or lack thereof. From the get-go, Metal Gear Survive was billed as a cooperative multiplayer allowing you to join 3 other players to explore the world and complete missions together, the final build of the game however only features the aforementioned Salvage mode from the game’s beta back in January, which is essentially a ‘horde’ mode that uses up all of your resources from the single-player, making the mode somewhat of a pain in the arse to play if you plan on jumping between single player and multiplayer.
Robin Hood Syndrome: The bow is one of the only saving graces in Metal Gear Survive’s abysmal combat system.
On a technical level Metal Gear Survive is as perfectly optimised as its predecessor, running at a consistent 60fps at a resolution of 3180x2160p on the PS4 Pro, with some decent looking HDR colours to boot. However the game’s stellar performance is due primarily to the Fox Engine (Kojima Production’s proprietary engine before the split) which was re-appropriated for the game’s production and highlights one of Metal Gear Survive’s more pressing issues: the fact that the vast majority of the game is nothing more than an asset flip of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, reusing most of its animations and environments to churn out a video game as quickly as possible; this also represents a prevalent issue within the gaming industry as a whole, with annual franchises churning out the same recycled garbage year after year, innovations in gameplay design be damned (staring at you Call of Duty). Metal Gear Survive is a game that has very few merits in its favour so far, but one aspect that has effectively driven a nail in the games coffin is Konami’s ever growing dependence on microtransactions, locking away basic game features such as character and load-out slots behind their ‘survival coin’ paywall (a new character slot requires you to buy a ‘survival coin’ pack which varies in price between £0.79p and £39.99) which has received an overwhelmingly negative reception thus far from critics and fans alike.
Overall Metal Gear Survive is a lazy and lacklustre attempt at continuing one of gaming’s most beloved franchises, regurgitating the tried and tested gameplay found in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and exploiting it to turn the latest iteration of the Metal Gear franchise into little more than a derivative cash cow that won’t last very long in the current gaming climate. Saved only briefly by some fun gameplay in its earlier stages, it’s hard to recommend Metal Gear Survive to anyone at the £35.99 launch price, especially to anyone who is a diehard fan of the original franchise.