The messy relationship between Konami and the Metal Gear Solid series is perhaps one of the most heartbreaking video game stories of recent years. I have a lot of love for MGS, and the artistry that director Hideo Kojima put into each of those titles. When I found out about his harsh departure from Konami, I felt a sea of awful emotions crash against me. To see Konami come along a while later and announce Metal Gear Survive, a seemingly out-of-trend zombie survival game built on the shambling corpse of Metal Gear Solid, all I could do was laugh at the absurdity of it and wish ill on Konami for their misguided attempt to keep the franchise relevant.
Over time I became more comfortable with the existence of Survive and I kept my mind open to the chance of this game being something rather than nothing. If you are as much of a Metal Gear Solid fan as I am, I urge you to open yourself up to this possibility like I have, because while Metal Gear Survive is not an espionage narrative art-piece in the vein of Kojima’s work, it’s a fun and unique adventure that gives you a great reason to revisit the solid gameplay and graphics of Metal Gear Solid V.
Metal Gear Survive takes the framework of the last Metal Gear Solid and uses those assets and mechanics to deliver a massively different type of game. Here, you won’t be sneaking through military facilities or invading Forward Operating Bases. Instead, you’ll be exploring a distorted land to scavenge basic materials, craft survival gear, and evade or engage hordes of shambling humanoids and twisted creatures. While a lot of what Survive brings to the table sounds like a word-soup of the most successful gaming trends of four years ago, it actually comes together better than you’d think.
Unfortunately, the lazy story that attempts to connect all these dots falls apart at the seams. Metal Gear Survive opens with a bizarre epilogue to the ending of Metal Gear Solid Ground Zeroes. We are shown a “psuedo-historical retelling of events” in which, after Big Boss and Kaz escape the attack, the dying soldiers and destroyed base left behind are sucked into a giant wormhole that appears in the sky. One of these soldiers is your customize-able player character, and after landing in the monster-infested alternate reality of Dite, you must work together with other survivors, whether friend or foe, in order to piece together the mystery of your arrival and figure out how to get back home.
Survive’s narrative feels like a really long Metal Gear Solid fanfiction. It tries too hard to deliver the same kind of philosophical characters you’d expect in a Metal Gear game, but then hardly tries at all with how the surrounding narrative is presented. Most story scenes take place in lazy radio-comm text box exchanges, and the ones that don’t are full 3D cutscenes that can’t hold a wet candle to the theatrical pacing and immersive one-shot scenes from MGSV. A few interesting ideas are teased over the course of the campaign, but with a failure to establish any interesting characters or engaging narrative threads, the story merely exists to lazily explain away the wormholes and zombies and crafting.
And hell, is there a lot of crafting. There’s a lot in general in this game. Between returning gameplay mechanics from MGSV and the suite of new or altered mechanics introduced in Survive, there’s a lot to take in when you first land in Dite. The game takes it’s time teaching you all the major mechanics in your first few hours of play and easing you into the many parts of what eventually becomes a very addictive gameplay loop.
The biggest of these parts is the crafting system. As you explore the open world, you’ll be looting everything that isn’t bolted down, and destroying the stuff that is bolted down so you can loot the remains. You’ll be stuffing your pockets with unsexy items like wool, nails or iron, but the tools and equipment you craft with these once you get back to base are what really matters. You’ll be crafting everything from new weapons, to health items, to pretty new clothes, and even deployable defense structures that give you the upper hand in battle. You’ll even pour resources into raising your character level, giving you skill points to unlock expanded stats or new combat abilities.
Menus are cleanly organized to show you what you have, what you don’t have, what you can make, and even what you need to make it. The required items for crafting are usually pretty simple to acqure, and I rarely found myself having to grind out specific materials like a Monster Hunter until late in the game. I sometimes had trouble early on tracking down certain types of materials I was lacking in, but when I couldn’t scavenge something easily in the world, there were often milestone missions available that rewarded me those materials for doing things like killing a certain amount of enemies or crafting a specific weapon. The loop of crafting, scavenging and upkeep always kept me engaged, and gave me a strong reason to keep exploring every nook and cranny of Dite.
The addictive nature of equipment crafting extends to the base management system too. You begin your life in Dite operating out of the destroyed remains of Mother Base. Progressing through the story offers you the ability to craft new facilities, move around existing ones, and lay out a military operating base that Big Boss would be proud of. You’ll even start tracking down other survivors to rescue and house in your base, and all of these NPCs and facilities will provide you with new functions or advanced upgrade options. There isn’t as much quirky fun to be had with customizing and exploring this base as there was in MGSV, but how each person and building feeds into your personal progress feels much more tangible.
One of the systems that didn’t leave me quite as satisfied, though, was the hunger and thirst management. Like any other survival game, your character in Survive has constantly depleting hunger and thirst meters. A lower hunger gauge means less maximum health, and a lower thirst gauge translates to less stamina. I struggled with these stressful meters constantly through the first few hours. Dite is a desolate world where wildlife is rare, and almost all sources of water are dirty. Later into the game you can craft farms and water-cleaning facilities, but until you get to that point, the struggle to maintain a supply of nourishment felt more like an aggravation than an immersive survival element.
There is one place where immersion and survival are most thoroughly displayed, though, and that is in the Dust. Border regions of Dite are covered in a thick Shyamalan fog that you need an oxygen mask to explore. In the Dust, maps don’t work. In the dust, you can’t see five feet ahead of you. In the dust, your oxygen is constantly, rapidly depleting.
In the dust, there are monsters.
Metal Gear Survive has a lot of veteran talent on it’s development team, but the most interesting one of all is their creature designer, Masahiro Ito. Ito is the artist behind the first three Silent Hill games, and when you enter the Dust, you enter his world. The Lovecraftian horrors you encounter out there are terrifyingly beautiful, and they’re just one piece of the puzzle that makes these journeys into the mist so tense and nail-biting. Navigating only by the lights in the distance and vague landmarks, getting turned around and losing track of your destination as you run low on oxygen, desperately sprinting toward a basement hatch or facility entrance, and sneaking through it all for fear of alerting the enemies constantly surrounding you. The Dust is atmospheric and palm-drenching, and in these moments. Metal Gear Survive is a shining example of survival horror.
You’ll notice I haven’t talked about the online multiplayer for this game yet. The marketing and trailers, admittedly, made this game seem like a primarily multiplayer open-world adventure. If you were expecting something like that, you’ll need to look elsewhere. The meat of Survive is in it’s lengthy single-player campaign, and while multiplayer salvage missions do exist, they get very repetitive, very fast. It can be a good source of resources as rewards, but multiplayer has none of the progression or variety of the singleplayer.
Online, in general, is not a strength of Survive. The game requires you to always be connected to the internet in order to play, despite almost all of my time with it being solo. Additionally, there are some dumb microtransactions in this 2018 video game. They were never invasive or cutting into the main game, as most of them are simple bonus XP boosters, but the game tries to charge you £8/$10 for a second save file with a straight face. That’s just kind of nasty.
It’s a sad truth that still puts a pit in my stomach, but Kojima and Konami are done. Konami still owns the Metal Gear name though, and they still want to make video games for it. Please let them. A new Hollywood reboot of your favorite franchise does not retroactively ruin the quality of the old movies, and Metal Gear Survive does not suddenly make the Metal Gear Solid series any less brilliant. Metal Gear Survive, instead, stands alongside those as perhaps the strongest spinoff in the franchise to date. Metal Gear Solid as we know it may be finished, but after having so much fun with Survive, I’m excited to see what Metal Gear looks like in the future.
Version tested: PlayStation 4