Metal Gear Survive review | Tense and intriguing, but marred by frustration

Metal Gear Survive
Metal Gear Survive is out now for PS4, Xbox One and PC

It would be easy to write off Metal Gear Survive. That it is yet another zombie survival game with co-operative play would not fill any Metal Gear fan with confidence but, more importantly, it is also the first game in the series developed and released since the inharmonious split between the series’ creator Hideo Kojima and its publisher, Konami.

While there have been Metal Gear games without Kojima’s involvement before, Survive marks a noteworthy point for a series that, in many people’s minds, should have ended with Kojima’s leaving. Survive certainly doesn’t meet the high standards of Metal Gear Solid V, few games do, but underneath some significant problems lies a challenging, interesting, and at times tense survival game that can be incredibly difficult to put down.

Set at the very end of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes as Mother Base is attacked, Survive follows a player-made character – an unnamed soldier in the aforementioned games - as they are sucked into a wormhole in the sky and deposited on a world in an alternate dimension known as “Dite”.

Dite is overrun with a horrific crystalline lifeform turning dead and dying humans into “Wanderers”, and it’s these absolutely-not-at-all-zombies that make up the vast majority of the game’s conflict. What they lack in individual strength, they make up for in sheer number (and look incredibly creepy to boot), and so defending against them, creeping past them, and, being killed by them as you explore Dite is the aim of the game.

But it’s not just the Wanderers that make Dite so dangerous. Much of the world is covered in a hazardous cloud of dust, creatively called “The Dust”. In these storms, visibility is greatly reduced, stamina is used up much more quickly, and an oxygen meter is always running out.

At its best, Metal Gear Survive is tense and challenging

Fortunately, 'Kuban' energy harvested from Wanderers and the environment can be used to refill oxygen. This can cause some interesting conundrums, with the risk of taking on a group of Wanderers weighed against the reward of precious energy to buy oxygen.

It isn’t the only resource needed to survive in Survive, however, as you manage hunger, thirst, injury and infection. This resource management sounds good in theory, but these needs dominate the player’s attention. And all too often become a bigger threat than Wanderers, who already provide a stern enough challenge. A soldier eating three whole grilled sheep and downing gallons of water should be able to last more than a day, and yet not even a few hours later their stomach is rumbling and their health depleting.

While there are upgrades available for the base of operations to help farm for food and purify water more easily, having your exploration cut short for snack time every few minutes is at best an annoyance that pulls the player away from the infinitely more interesting zombie survival elements.

At its worst, it exacerbates problems with the already frustrating save system. Death will often set the player back fifteen to twenty minutes due to infrequent saving, requiring scavenging the same areas and deal with the same enemies multiple times until the stars, and hunger meter, align and a mission is able to be successfully completed.

It’s such a shame that flow of exploring and Wanderer-killing is interrupted so often too, because Survive does a fantastic job of rewarding creative and daring solutions. The huge amount of craftable weapons and equipment on offer can be used in conjunction with each other in so many ways that there rarely feels like there is a single, dominant strategy for all cases.

At times, quickly erecting a fence and stabbing the enemy through it in a head-on offensive might work, but at other times luring them away with a sneaky rock before throwing a Molotov Cocktail at the amassing crowd will be more appropriate instead. Survive is easily at its best when it allows for this freedom to play with its systems, and net the rewarded resources that come with it, instead of being constantly nagged by The Sims-esque needs systems.

On the theme of nagging, there is one other significant sticking point to Metal Gear Survive, and that is the constant, deeply entrenched influence microtransactions have on it. The game has a paid-for currency, SV, that can be used to purchase just about everything from basic player boosts to, most nefariously, entire extra save slots.

For a game so based on building a character, having to fork out money on top of the initial purchase to have access more than a single save file, and to then have further microtransactions advertised while playing is an incredibly frustrating distraction.

Survive isn’t the lifeless husk of the Metal Gear series many thought it would be with its creator no longer running the show. When it gets its groove, it’s something very special indeed - its story, world, and freedom for exploration and creativity are all remarkable. The problem is that it'ss difficult to ignore the malingering corporate influence that has filled the gap in Kojima’s absence.