Title: Metal Gear Survive
Platform: PS4, Xbox One (reviewed), Steam
Developer: Konami Digital Entertainment
Release Date: Out now
Price: PS4: £35/$39
Xbox One: £35/$40
TL;DR: If this is Metal Gear, I don’t want it.
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I’ve not really been involved with the hatred thrown at Konami these last couple of years; Metal Gear was never something that really tripped my radar, and I mourned the loss of Silent Hills from afar. So I picked up Metal Gear Survive as a slightly bemused innocent – I’ve never played anything by Konami before, so let’s see how it goes. It can’t be that bad.
I was wrong. Metal Gear Survive is tedious, frustrating, and the least fun I’ve had playing a game in years. I want to apologise to all the friends who have had to put up with my ranting about this game’s ability to raise my blood pressure, because I’ve never come closer to pitching my Xbox out the nearest window in my life, and it’s certainly put me off Metal Gear games for life.
As opposed to its box-wielding, stealthy, bombs in dubious bodily cavities predecessors, Survive is a somewhat fresh addition to the line up – an always online, base building, open world survival game, with zombies. Gone is all the weird, wonderful zeal, and what’s left in its stead is something horribly generic in multiple over-saturated genres, trying to survive in a sun-bleached desert wasteland while weird monsters try to eat you. Your nameless player character is one of Big Boss’ squad, who was there when the Mother Base was destroyed back in Ground Zeroes, was subsequently left comatose for six months, and packed off to the alternate realm because they’re already infected with the zombie parasite, and thus stand a better chance of completing the mission. Your poor, unfortunate soul is dumped unceremoniously on Dite, the aforementioned empty hellscape, where’s it’s awkwardly explained that the last group of super soldiers they actually sent here all died horribly, so now the random grunt will have to gather all their intel to get home, and rescue any of the other poor sods who got stuck here, too.
So far, this wasn’t too bad – nothing I hadn’t seen before, but not automatically terrible, even though my warning bells were already ringing when I had to pick the character’s name and appearance. The character creation screen is weirdly sparse, only giving you a handful of options to play with at the start because of course, they want to charge you extra for it. Nonetheless, I persevered, made my avatar, and set off with high hopes, only to have them promptly dashed when the player character is ultimately silent, apart from two lines in the whole game. This seemed a particularly odd choice for a game that’s meant to have a core narrative, and some semblance of a plot – you need someone to lead that, after all. Denying the player character a voice leads to stilted exposition from the supporting cast and hilariously awkward cutscenes where it’s obvious your character is meant to be reacting to dialogue, and can only respond with exaggerated gestures.
So by this point, there was nothing unforgivable – hell, I sat through about forty hours of Blue Reflection while cursing my misfortune. The huge problem with Metal Gear Survive is two things – all its ideas have been done to death, and it’s artificially difficult. The bulk of the gameplay is heading out into the desert to find the memory boards, rescue any stranded survivors, or finding supplies to keep you going. Right out of the gate, you have nothing but the clothes on your back, and the two annoying androids that keep nagging you to do fetchquests for them, so your first port of call is food and water. The game helpfully provides you with your first weapon – a rusty metal pole – and a chain link fence to hold back the zombies with. You can go and stab some sheep for food, and drink water from the nearby pond.
This all sounds fine on paper, but in execution, it’s awful. Food is ridiculously scarce, and can’t be eaten raw, which is fair enough. Can I cook it from the menu? Nope, that can only be done back at base. Need water? Okay, there’s plenty of empty bottles and ponds around, oh, but drinking dirty water will make you sick and drive down your Thirst meter, and medicine is both hard to craft and limited, so you’ll need to purify it. That makes sense, so, game, please tell me, how do I purify it – can I do that at my handy cooking station? Oh no, you’ll need an upgrade for that. When the game didn’t indicate in any way how to get that upgrade, I resorted to Google. You don’t get that upgrade until Chapter 8. Chapter 8 of 16.
This goes on and on, all through the game – you’re constantly juggling Hunger, Thirst, Stamina, ammo, resources, weapon durability, Kuban Energy to actually build or cook anything, and when you venture into the Dust for any sort of combat, oxygen. All fairly standard for a survival sim, but MGS just makes it as tedious and frustrating as possible. You don’t get better recipes and clean water until you’ve cleared 50% of the game. If you craft more than one thing at a time, it takes up more and more resources, for no real reason, since you’re not granted XP for doing so. Weapons degrade inexplicably fast, to the point where I didn’t want to smash containers for iron lest I’d wind up screwing myself over when out in combat. Hunger and thirst fall like you’ve thrown the meter off a cliff; ammo can only be crafted back at base, so woe betide you if you miss an arrow from that precious thirty you’re allowed to carry with you. Don’t even get me started on oxygen, which, surprise surprise, can’t be refilled until you get back to base, and requires increasing amounts of Kuban energy to refill.
The game never lets up from a slow, brutal grind, which is especially obvious during the opening hours, which is likely to put off anyone who’s a casual player, or who doesn’t have hours to dump into resource farming before even tackling a mission. They’re fairly basic – venture out into this miserable world, grab the item or person you need, then get out – oh, and it’s probably a good idea to use the new items you unlocked after the last chapter. Which is, y’know, how games work, along with a decent amount of trial and error. You fail a frustrating level, you swear, you throw a controller, and you try again. MGS forces you to do this, but because of the poor UI and gameplay design, makes it infinitely worse to put up with. It’s like they took a bastardised version of Beyond: Two Souls’ plot, Fallout: New Vegas’ Survival Mode, and Fallout 4’s crafting system, and somehow managed to remove all the entertainment from the final process.
Essentially, the biggest flaw with Metal Gear Survive is the lack of manual saving. There is no way to save your game anywhere apart from base camp. At all. So when you inevitably die, the game gives you a choice – lose all progress and start back at your last save (potentially hours before), or returning to your base camp. Returning to base camp spawns you away from the objective, and makes you drop all items you collected during your mission, but doesn’t give you back any bullets or resources. So you can be stuck back at camp, with all your food, meds, and ammo gone, and will have to slog through hoards of zombi – sorry, Watchers, to pick up your items again, because those bastards totally respawn!
I don’t understand the point of this – if it’s meant to be emulating old, PS2 era games where you could lose hours of progress if you died because there were fixed save points (yes, Persona 3, I am looking at you), it doesn’t work, because games like that were fair with it – there were plenty of places you could manually save. When you combine this with the fact that there’s no way to heal quickly in combat – you have to go into the menu, then hold down a button for a few seconds, which then doesn’t pause the game – it becomes the ultimate recipe for frustration. And if you try sprinting away from the horde to find somewhere quiet to heal up, there’s a good chance your stamina will drop and make you unable to run at all, once again, leaving you at their mercy, and the blank stare of the Game Over screen.
Combat by no means helps matters – it’s awkward, clunky, and slow. Your first taste of combat is very literally hitting zombies with a metal pole, whilst hiding behind a chain link fence, for roughly the first three hours. After that, you do progress on to better, ranged weapons, but ammo is limited, and melee seems to be the way to go, but it’s a miserable fare. Swinging haplessly at enemies leaves far too many opportunities for them to attack in between since they move so much faster, and your character has the endurance (not to mention personality) of a paper bag. The exact same thing happens if you get grabbed by a collapsed enemy – it takes a good ten seconds of button mashing to get away, all the while, the rest of the pack are lunging from all sides. You’ll go down in two or three hits even with upgraded armour, which feels as unfair as it does blood-boilingly annoying.
The core of the game definitely has promise – with smoother and more streamlined gameplay, it could genuinely be fun, but in its current state, its a chore to play. At every turn, MGS serves to frustrate the player by making it so unintuitive. There’s no pay off in terms of the plot to make up for such miserable gameplay, and characters are stock archetypes at most. Though the game does pick up during the later missions, it’s not enough to convince any sane player to slog through eight hours of it before that happens, because if Final Fantasy XIII didn’t get that excuse, neither does this. If the game had slowly ramped up the difficulty, giving you a chance to get used to the environment, and more frequent saving, I could absolutely be more forgiving. At the moment, it’s not even fun to play.
In conclusion? The plot is mildly interesting at best, the characters are dull, the environments are either bleached deserts, abandoned metal buildings, or a dust storm that doesn’t deserve the comparison to Silent Hill’s eerie fog. The gameplay seems hellbent on punishing the player for attempting to progress, the combat is stunted, and after you’ve spent so long struggling to get anywhere, base building is the last thing you’ll want to be doing. If it gets nerfed and rebalanced, I think it has the potential to be a decent game, especially if the multiplayer takes off, but not in its current state.
Oh, and they’re charging $10 for another save slot. Just in case you’re a masochist and want to play this more than once.
- The survival mechanics have the potential to be interesting, if the game is balanced correctly
- Lack of save points
- Dreadful combat
- Far harder than it needs to be, thanks to frustratingly bad gameplay design.
Metal Gear Survive is rated PEGI 16 and ESRB M for Mature, for violence towards humans and fantasy creatures, along with blood being shown, and swearing. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone anyway, but the difficulty will turn off young and older players alike. Stick to 16+.
This review is based on a copy of the game provided by Xbox UK for the purposes of this review.