Despite losing the soul of the series, there’s fun in Survive’s resource-gathering base-building loop and co-op action.
Metal Gear Survive is a weird game. In its sometimes clumsy efforts to merge stealth action, base-building, survival sim, and horror by stitching together pieces from past Metal Gear games, it’s effectively scrubbed those elements of the series’ signature humor and personality. That uniquely wild mix of sharp socio-political commentary and zany military sci-fi that has defined Metal Gear is swapped out in favor of a subpar fantasy plot involving zombies and wormholes, delivered by a cast of underdeveloped characters.
But there is fun to be had in Survive’s mishmash of ideas and the repetitive, yet comforting loop of resource-gathering and base-building, if you’re willing to power through many hours of initial tedium.
Survive opens with a lot of questions. Why did a wormhole open up above Militaires Sans Frontières’ Caribbean forward operating base, what is the true nature of this boring, zombie-infested dimension it’s dropped all these people into, and what does it have to do with Diamond Dogs, whose Seychelles Mother Base (which did not exist during the events of Ground Zeroes) stands in a twisted heap overlooking your character’s new forward operating base? As a long-time Metal Gear fan, I was not amused by these perceived continuity errors in Survive’s dry opening cutscene – but fans protective of the series can rest assured that in the course of its 25- to 30-hour single-player campaign, these inconsistencies are eventually addressed.
A small handful of cool moments doesn’t redeem its flat story or characters.
The problem is the answers aren’t very interesting. Flat, forgettable characters dole out a bland story that is, at best, a silly reimagined spin-off of Metal Gear canon with some initially promising horror elements that quickly lose steam. At worst, it’s a laughable adaptation of much better ideas that loses the heart, soul, and intelligence of its predecessors. Its story seems to exist merely to justify the creative liberties Survive has taken with the series’ theme and genre. There are a small handful of cool moments, mostly involving Masahiro Ito of Silent Hill fame’s horrific creations, but they fail to redeem it. It’s only thanks to the fact that there was enough going on outside of the story’s long stretches of robotic exposition that it wasn’t a total bore.
The opening hours of gameplay, though, are pretty boring. Tutorials are rarely fun, and this one stretches on longer than most as it has you running several near-identical fetch quests and teaches you how to manage your hunger and thirst meters, scavenge for resources to build entry-level gear, and harvest zombies for Kubon energy, the main in-game currency used for everything from crafting to leveling up.
Customization adds a welcome human element to balance out the menu-heavy micromanagement.
While things take a while to pick up, I fell into a pretty comfortable base-building routine once they did. After returning from a mission, I’d repair my gear at my workbench, restock on ammo, cook whatever food I’d been able to scavenge for, boil some clean water for drinking, and check my farms and water purifiers for output. Each task is done at a different station that you can drag and drop to a location of your choosing, effectively letting you create your own little survival camp. My current base has small huts and tents set up near the campfire where I can sleep and cook. Nearby are my food and medicine repositories for keeping my crew healthy, and opposite my farms, several advanced gear, weapon, and gadget workshops for crafting new equipment.
Being able to manually rearrange each station to my liking and actually see my small group of NPC survivors working on their assigned tasks brought a welcome human element to Survive’s otherwise technical, menu-heavy micromanagement. I’ve grown attached to my base and feel compelled to flesh it out with more survivors, found in rescue missions around the map, and resources for building and maintaining new structures.
The best crafting materials are found in The Dust, a dangerous, unmappable zone where the majority of Survive’s resource-gathering and zombie-slaying action takes place. Those who have played Metal Gear Solid 5 will recognize The Dust as a recycled version of the Afghanistan map from The Phantom Pain, only blanketed in a thick fog and stripped of interesting landmarks. (Remember when the Skulls would show up and everything would become misty? It’s like that, but permanent.)
Survive seems to fundamentally misunderstand the circumstances that make stealth fun.
Encounters with the Wanderers, Survive’s base enemy type, are similarly bland. The standard crystal-headed zombies dominate the vast majority of the combat, and it isn’t until more than halfway through the campaign that their slightly more interesting variants start to show up in greater frequency. Overall, Survive’s enemies are mindless and predictable — they don’t interact with each other in any dynamic way and they don’t exhibit any challenging behaviors to overcome. They also don’t chase you for very long, so attracting their attention has few consequences. The one reason you benefit from a stealthier approach is because an enemy taken down with a sneaky backstab will contain more Kubon energy to harvest, but the currency is hardly in short supply. With an initially limited toolset of weapons and abilities, a lack of diverse situations to adapt to, and few compelling reasons to bother, Survive seems to fundamentally misunderstand the circumstances that have made fun, stealthy escapades possible in previous Metal Gear games.
Surviving With Friends
Its combat is at its best during hectic wave-based defense missions.
Where Survive’s action thrives is in its wave-based defense missions, which are also the format of its four-player co-op salvage missions in multiplayer with some minor differences. In single-player, you need to come prepared for each mission beforehand, which means crafting barriers, healing items, and other gear back at base — if you run out, tough luck. In multiplayer, you get a chance to craft and choose your loadout in the lobby, but you also have access to a shared pool of resources gathered in-game once the match starts if you want to craft anything further. Between and even during waves, you can run simple side-missions that give you access to more defensive methods for protecting your wormhole digger as it mines for energy. Even with an uncoordinated team, it’s extremely simple to S-rank the Easy missions you’re forced to play at first because Normal and Hard don’t unlock until you hit a certain level, but that isn’t a bad thing. Multiplayer is a good way to get a break from the trudge of single-player and stock up on gear to make story missions easier.
Playing salvage missions is a fun way to grind for resources that carry into single-player.
In both modes, Survive’s melee-heavy combat feels good from a mechanical standpoint, even before you’re resource-rich enough to afford ammo. But the fun doesn’t come from poking or shooting the same zombie in the face over and over again. It’s in those hectic moments where you’re struggling to manage the onslaught of Wanderers from every direction, bouncing between several entry points at once and fortifying your defenses between waves. I found it more viable to save up barriers for cutting off lanes of enemies closer to their spawns rather than waiting for them to come to base, choking the smaller hordes early on to make later waves more manageable. Even though the combat amounts to little more than repetitive hacky-slash brawls, like something out of Dynasty Warriors, it was fun to learn and develop small tricks for dealing with enemies. Individual Wanderers may not pose any kind of interesting challenge, but fending them off as a horde can get the blood flowing. One particularly fun late-game mission had me defending a point solo for 15 minutes straight, and it made the two hours of grinding for supplies in preparation feel worth it.
Making Diamonds From Ashes
The hypnotic resource-gathering base-building loop feels like a casual game made up of Phantom Pain parts.
Survive is heavy on the grind, but once you have something compelling to grind for — a new weapon you’re eager to craft, more ammo, more energy so you can level up and get a handy new skill — it isn’t entirely a chore. Stocking up on resources out in The Dust or playing salvage missions in multiplayer for rare materials and gear can be fun when you’re working toward a goal. And, as your base grows more complicated to manage, story missions get more difficult, and you get into the rhythm of managing your hunger and thirst meters, you’ll find yourself managing several personal goals at once.
At one point I was in dire need of a high-voltage battery to craft a new electrified spear, and finally finding the rare material in a pile of plastic and spare screws while out hunting for food was a pleasant surprise. That hypnotic resource-gathering base-building loop feels akin to a casual game made up of Phantom Pain parts, and that was surprisingly enjoyable once I set aside my reservations about Survive not really being a Metal Gear game.
Tactical Espionage Microtransaction
The darker side of that is its microtransactions, particularly the one that requires you to pay $10 to start a new character without erasing your old one. I never felt pressured to dish out real money for new loadout slots, additional expedition teams, or other areas where the opportunity to make in-game purchases pop up, but requiring money for two save game slots is something I hope Konami changes its mind on.