Can we just call this game “Survive”, please?
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain along with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild are generally considered as the first prime examples of emergent gameplay in the open world genre. Hideo Kojima’s sublime accomplishment with The Phantom Pain’s design not only made it his own magnum opus but also established a template for other open world stealth games of the future. After Kojima’s departure, Konami announced Metal Gear Survive, a spin-off set in an alternate dimension that takes place after the events of Ground Zeroes.
You take on the role of a mother base soldier who gets sucked up into an alternate dimension called Dite. The game’s open is shockingly refreshing, surprisingly filled with a ton of dialogue exchanges and cutscenes that will right away remind you of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. There seems to be an emphasis on returning back to the “roots” that made Metal Gear stories a global phenomenon. Codec conversations are back, cutscenes are longer and the story tries to be Metal Geary in nature which involvs a shady organization and how you, the main character, somehow manages to find a place in this covoluted yet intriguing plot. I must commend the team at Konami for trying to deliver a tale that somehow ties into the story of wandering soldiers in The Phantom Pain (and yes, I know Survive is non-canon but it does tell a lot of things that add a bit to The Phantom Pain’s story). The story is quite satisfying and really that’s not a surprise given that Survive was worked on by people who were former staff of Kojima Productions. The problem, however, lies in the way the story is told to the player.
"The stars of the show are the zombies themselves. There are different types of these crystalline zombies, bosses and a gigantic enemy that you will take on in the game, and they are wonderfully designed by Masahiro Ito, a former member of Team Silent."
Metal Gear games have always had excellent voice acting. Whether it be the gruff voice of David Hayter or the serious tone of Kiefer Sutherland in Metal Gear Solid V, these games have always delivered on the voice acting front. Survive on the other hand falters almost completely in this regard. First of all your main character is completely mute (as if Konami didn’t learned a damn thing about Snake being as good as a mute character in the The Phantom Pain) and the surrounding cast sound extremely bland.
Cutscenes for the most part are well directed…they are no where close to Kojima’s style though, so this is something keep in mind while playing Surive. They get the job done and I guess that’s okay. Perhaps, the stars of the show are the zombies themselves. There are different types of these crystalline zombies, bosses and a gigantic enemy that you will take on in the game, and they are wonderfully designed by Masahiro Ito, a former member of Team Silent.
This begs the question then…what were Konami actually thinking when they were marketing this game? There seems to be so much emphasis on the story and the single player campaign in Metal Gear Survive but Konami being Konami decided the skip all of that and decided to focus on the multiplayer component, which is just a small portion of the experience here. Metal Gear Survive, despite being a spin-off, has a 25 to 30 hour long campaign something that the marketing heads at Konami totally chose to ignore and that’s baffling.
"Survive has the most frustrating and ridiculously annoying opening hours in a Metal Gear game ever."
Survive is all about surviving (no pun intended). Just like The Phantom Pain you have to build your base and the game doesn’t make this any easy. During the first few hours of the game you have to continuously keep an eye on your Hunger and Thirst parameters which almost killed my experience. Your player character gets hungry and thirsty in a matter of a few minutes. So the game forces you to ignore the mission at hand, get of your way every 15 minutes, and search for animals and water. The problem is that these resources are limited and traversal is such a chore that you will probably smash your controller in complete madness. But this fight to survive only lasts for the first few hours and as you progress through the game’s story you will unlock these resources at the base itself.
There are also a few questionable design choices in the game. Sprinting is tied to stamina which in turn is connected to Thirst meter. Sprint for too long, you will lose all your stamina in seconds and then you will also become thirsty which in turn means now you cannot sprint for more than 20 seconds unless you drink water again. If you decide to crouch, you will loose your stamina even faster. Why exactly is that? And how does any of this this make any sense? Then there are the Dust Zones (imagine the mist from the Silent Hill games) wherein your stamina will decline even faster. Why is this happening? What gameplay mechanic does this serve? Is there a narrative attached to this? There is absolutely nothing that explains this and what you are left with are the most frustrating and ridiculously annoying opening hours in a Metal Gear game ever.
Fortunately, once you see through these sequences (if you are able to and in that case I have to applaud your patience), the game opens up and builds upon the solid foundation that The Phantom Pain excelled in. You will be able to unlock fast travel points by way of defeating zombie waves which make traversal easier. One of the selling points of Survive is to build your base by collecting and crafting thousands of different materials scattered around the world. Collecting materials and resources are a ton of fun and building different objects is satisfying. If the traversal for the sake of hunting was a chore, then traversal for the sake of searching crafting materials is the complete opposite. The game doesn’t hold you back in any manner from collecting crafting recipes and Kuban Energy (the currency used for crafting and unlocking new skills). Even the most minute of things such as bullets, need to be crafted at your base, such is the emphasis on crafting in Survive. If there is anything that Surive does better than The Phantom Pain, it has to be the base building aspects something that the latter lacked.
"If there is anything that Surive does better than The Phantom Pain, it has to be the base building aspects something that the latter lacked."
Important story points across the map will be frequently attacked by zombies and you have to ensure that you are carrying several protective materials such as fences so that you can defend yourself from the incoming horde. Sequences like these could be extremely hard or easy depending on how much stuff you have crafted but there is no doubt that these also make some of the best and fun-filled sequences. The game also features optional side quests and although they are not anything special, they will help you in building your base and make world exploration rewarding. These include saving secondary characters who are surrounded by a zombie horde and collecting container drops among others.
Returning back to the survival elements, it’s great to see the Survival Viewer from Snake Eater returning and built upon in various different ways. This is a game about survival and eating uncooked or poisonous food can cause all sort of troubles for your bowels. You can treat them, just like you did with Snake in Metal Gear Solid 3. It also serves as a nice throwback to the older games which kind of gives it a Metal Gear feel (but it really doesn’t, more on that later!).
Players can also learn new skills by investing Kuban Energy through the Skill Trainer and unlock various abilities such as making your attacks stronger, increasing your stamina and health among others. There are also some questionable unlocks, that really shouldn’t be unlocks in the first place (such as dodging enemy attacks). However, this never felt like a hindrance to me but this could vary from player to player. So overall, the core of the game i.e. base building, crafting and tackling zombie hordes is a ton of fun and somehow manages to make up for the annoying first few hours.
"Returning back to the survival elements, it’s great to see the Survival Viewer from Snake Eater returning and built upon in various different ways."
Stealth exists in Survive but honestly, it depends on you how you want to use it. You can earn more Kuban Energy from zombies should you do a stealth kill but that is all to it according to my experience. Previous games emphasized stealth as the most satisfying way to take down foes. Survive on the other hands gives you the trills in laying down traps, planting C4s and blowing heads off with your shotgun. Of course, this comes with the caveat that you need to be innovative in laying down traps, and heavily invest in resources so you can craft cool items. However, for some strange reason, doing all of the above felt satisfying, specially given how fun it’s to exploit the Wanderers (the most common zombie) dumb AI. In short, stealth is an option but it’s no where as satisfying compared to the more innovative ways.
There are also bosses in the game and they are nothing but bullet sponges which isn’t a surprise given that Snake Eater was the last game that made any innovations in this department. Then there are also secret bosses in the game which you need to discover for yourself, something that I won’t delve into in this review. However, I must add that there is a proper conclusion to Survive. It has multiple endings in the game and the game’s story feels complete (looking at you, MGS5).
Once you are done with the arduous but ultimately satisfying campaign, it’s time to jump into the multiplayer component. This will unlock further classes in the Skill Trainer along with their own skill sets which adds a new progression curve to your character. I like the idea of how playing online matches allows you bring the loot back to the single player component. However, if you decide to jump in before completing the story, your character will be at a low level making it atrociously hard to survive the zombie waves in the co-op salvage missions. So it’s best you jump after the story ends, collect loot and prepare yourself for secret bosses or whatever post launch content Konami has planned.
"Locking save slots behind paywalls is a disguting and an egregious practice and Konami doing this after promising to win back fans is shocking to say the least."
Once you are in the lobby you can craft anything you want. If you missed out on doing this, players will have access to a shared pool of resources allowing you to craft items provided you can get them before other team members do. Survive excels best in wave-based defense missions and they come in three different difficulties, Easy, Normal and Hard. Fortunately, it’s easy to achieve the highest rank in the Easy mode without coordinated effort from your team. It’s the Normal and Hardest mode where things become dicey and more satisfying.
And finally, we have microtransactions and frankly you don’t need them. You have your usual booster packs that are timed based or the ones that make your squad more effective when you send them out for missions. In my playthrough I was never compelled to use them as all of this can be avoided by a bit of grinding. And then there is the always online requirement. Konami, why do you have to keep such a requirement which is completely useless and absolutely serves no purpose to the single player except the daily login bonus? This is Need for Speed 2015 situation all over again and it’s extremely annoying. Konami should have ideally avoided these practices given the game’s reception during the pre-release stage but I guess they don’t care.
However, one thing that needs to scrutinized is how save slots work. All traditional Metal Gear games encouraged replayability. However this changed during The Phantom Pain where you cannot start a new game unless you delete your current save. Survive follows the same route but makes it even worse. Instead of actually fixing that issue, Survive asks you for your money in order to unlock extra save slots or else delete your character and make a new one. Now, I am not the kind of a player who would make a new character after spending so many hours with one but for others, this is a genuine issue and sets a bad precedent for the industry. Locking save slots behind paywalls is a disguting and an egregious practice and Konami doing this after promising to win back fans is shocking to say the least.
"Survive lacks the magic of Metal Gear games because it’s pretending to be one when it could have easily been its own thing. It’s a good game but really this is not a Metal Gear game, not even a spin-off."
And this brings me to the final issue I have with the game. Look, Survive is a fine game and somehow it does manage to provide a ton of fun at times. Unfortunately, despite being a spin off, it doesn’t really feel like a Metal Gear title to me. I know what you are thinking…”This is a spin off. So why does it matter whether it feels like Metal Gear or not?” The answer to this question lies in the series’ history. Spin-offs in the Metal Gear saga isn’t a new thing. Metal Gear Ghost Babel which was a non-canon entry was a fantastic game in its own way. Portable Ops on the PSP was quite revolutionary back in the day after all it provided the first ‘modern’ and ‘full scale’ Metal Gear experience on the go. The ACID series along with Rising Revengeance, although quite different to the main series offered new and interesting ways to experience their respective plotlines. The common reason why all of these games felt like Metal Gear games, despite having no relation with the main timeline is that they respected the themes that make a Metal Gear game. They had complex stories involving espionage, political ideologies and a sense of suspense, all backed up by a colorful cast of characters (Steven Armstrong, anyone?). Metal Gear Survive on the other hand doesn’t have any of these. It plays safe but in doing so it lacks those moments that put you at the edge of your seat. To put it bluntly, it quite clearly doesn’t have the panache of the games directed, produced and supervised by Hideo Kojima.
Survive is a bold step for Konami. It’s not an easy responsibility to pick up the reigns of Hideo Kojima, a man who was on the series for almost three decades and literally made it one of the craziest, mind bending stealth action series of all time. I understand the idea behind Survive didn’t just cooked overnight. The complex systems at play would have required years of planning but I can’t help but wonder whether is this really the direction Konami wants to take with the series going ahead?
One also has to question the thought process of Konami here. If they can shelve out a 25-30 hour long campaign, then why they were unable to release the lost Episode 51 which would have lasted mere hours at best? With a little bit of effort they could have easily won fan’s trust by bundling Episode 51 with this package. If nothing, it would have at the very least made the game feel like Metal Gear.
Ultimately, Survive lacks the magic of Metal Gear games because it’s pretending to be one when it could have easily been its own thing. It’s a good game but really, this is not a Metal Gear game, not even a spin-off.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.
Reasonably good story, base building and crafting mechanics are spot on, online component is fun, taking down zombies in innovative ways is rewarding and satisfying, codec conversations are back, boss battles are challenging, good balance between cutscenes and gameplay.
Bland voice acting, always online requirement during single player, pay to unlock extra save slot is an awful practice, lacks moments and panache that make Survive a 'Metal Gear'game, bland cast of characters, the player is completly mute.
Survive does many things right and wrong but it doesn't deserve to be called a "Metal Gear" game.