Metal Gear Survive Review

By Kevin Tavore, 3 months ago
The fortunes of the Metal Gear franchise, its creator Hideo Kojima and its publisher Konami have been tied together for decades. If you followed the drama surrounding Kojima and his final Metal Gear opus, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, you’d have found a tale of mystery and betrayal at the center of a huge scandal that rocked the gaming world for months. At this point, none of us really know what happened, but whatever it was certainly clouded public perception of Metal Gear Survive since its onset. All around the internet scores of fans were quick to attack, or defend, depending on your point of view, the game’s potential as development moved along and the scandal has never really washed off. Now the game has released and we can look underneath the muck. What you’ll find is a good game with a lot of potential that’s been marred by one too many bad design decisions.

Metal Gear Survive

As a franchise, Metal Gear has lived and died as much by its storytelling as its gameplay. With the games jumping through time in numerical sequels, protagonists looking the same while being different people, and the huge number of strange plot twists for which Kojima became famous, it’s a series that seems impenetrable to newcomers but remains beloved by its fans. Taking place in an alternate, non-canon universe after the events of Ground Zeroes, the game’s story features friends, conflict and quirky humor just as any good Metal Gear would. Players will discover secrets and solve mysteries by the time the tale is done, and ultimately the story itself is serviceable if not memorable.

The problem is that the storytelling is atrocious. Metal Gear is famous for its codec conversations featuring a number of characters with portrait pictures and text dialogue. In previous games these would be used to create immersion and serve as breaks from cutscenes. For Survive Konami has done the opposite, favoring a paltry number of cutscenes which serve as breaks to long stretches of text-based conversations with static images. The effect feels decidedly low-budget and you’ll quickly become apathetic toward the whole thing if you’re not already invested in Metal Gear’s lore.

Metal Gear Survive screenshot

Other parts of the game likewise feel low-budget to the hindrance of the complete package. The game features a character creator with an insultingly low number of options. The main character is a silent protagonist, presumably to cut down on the cost of voice acting. The world is essentially a mixture of two different environments filled with the same buildings and fixtures in repetition. While the game does come at a slightly discounted price tag, it simply feels more like an afterthought than a well-conceived product.

And then that’s before you consider the elephant in the room: the microtransactions. Survive made big news shortly after release by offering additional character save slots for only USD $10, but it doesn’t end there. Central to the game’s microtransations is a Premium Pass that doubles important resources for a short time frame. While the Premium Pass’ benefits aren’t strictly necessary, the game certainly feels much better when you have it activated and is clearly balanced around you paying for it. The entire microtransaction structure feels like it was ripped out of a free-to-play game, and considering this game’s price it’s a bit insulting to fans that a permanent Premium Pass is not available for a reasonable price. If you were a dedicated player for a few months, you could easily double the cost of the game thanks to the microtransactions that are, ultimately, on the edge of pay-to-win.

Metal Gear Survive Screen 7

But there are bright spots. Metal Gear Survive is a survival game and in that regard it performs fairly well. Survival games are all about tension. As we play, we’re sitting in the comfort of our own home. We’re not thirsty and we’re not hungry. We feel pretty good. So it’s hard to create an atmosphere where you can feel for your character who is starving, thirsty and running out of oxygen in a foreign world. A good survival game must capture that desperation and Survive actually succeeds.

On its face, the various oxygen, hunger and thirst meters seem very gamey. They slowly go down unless you open a menu and consume a resource to fill the bar back up. It’s not a remotely interesting concept, really. But in the beginning, Survive creates tension by giving you very little of everything. In the first few hours, if you spot a rat you’ll be overcome with joy — that’s a little more food. Finding a bottle of clean water is a breath of fresh air that’s worth more than a pistol. As resources dwindle, you begin to feel desperate because you know you need to get back to base in order to save. If you can’t get back, you’ll lose everything you worked for. It works in the same way Dark Souls works, allowing you to accumulate wealth out in the world but needing to go back to base to actually save it. There are no auto-saves. Death matters, and so then does survival.

It helps that the world feels huge and ominous. You’ve got a home base where you can restock, but much of your time will be spent out in the Dust on the foreign planet which is filled with enemies and resources. The Dust is aptly named, mimicking a dust storm that obscures your vision and twists your bearings. It’s very easy to get lost out there, with only the occasional glimpse of a light in the distance to guide you. When you explore new areas, the map doesn’t work and neither do your waypoints. Instead, you’ll need to use your sense of direction and those few lights to figure out where you’re going and how to get there. It makes for a fantastic setting to a survival game because it feels so mysterious and the fear of getting lost is so threatening.

Metal Gear Survive screenshot

Over time though, the tension does dissipate. By ten hours in, you’ll have nearly unlimited resources and can eat and drink whenever you want. You’ll also eventually learn how to navigate the Dust, making moving to destinations easier and you’ll want to move directly to them since exploration is rarely rewarded. At this point when you’re approaching the endgame, the game shifts focus from survival to combat, becoming almost entirely different thanks to a bevy of new weapons, equipment, and enemies.

It’s disappointing that the combat is pretty dull. There are all kinds of cool weapons and gadgets you can make, but it’s hard to get the resources to create tons of ammo or accessories until very late in the game. This means that instead of using all those cool toys you’ve made, the game encourages you to save them even as enemies become more and more difficult. Early on, combat is as easy as putting up a fence and poking your spear through it. Later enemies will be jumping over the fence, lobbing mortar shots at it and shooting you with bullets through it. This means your tactics need to change but the game doesn’t really give you the resources to do so.

The endgame combat design is frustrating as a result. One mission near the end tasks you with defending a weapon for fifteen full minutes as hordes of enemies attack you. At first it’s pretty fun, but as more and more new enemies are introduced you’ll start running out of resources to use on them. By the end, I was forced to wait around a corner where the mortar enemies couldn’t hit me but would cause friendly fire, attacking with my axe whenever an enemy managed to make it around the corner. The tactic worked and it felt desperate, but not in a cool survival way but more of an “I really don’t want to have wasted over ten minutes so I’m going to abuse bad AI” kind of way. When you’re well-stocked, there’s enough depth here to be interesting, but the survival aspects of the game tend to obstruct the combat design. In a way, it feels like the game has an identity crisis.

Metal Gear Survive screenshot

In the lead-up to release, the game was billed as a co-op experience, so it’s surprising that the co-op is as barebones as it is. Getting into a game is a process that literally takes ten minutes each time if you’re lucky enough to find someone quickly in matchmaking — the game supports four players but I never found more than two others. When you finally begin, you’ll defend against waves of enemies. It’s actually quite fun when you’ve got a group working together on a challenging map, mowing down the hordes and covering different angles of attack. The rewards are excellent as well, offering high-level gear for victory. The unfortunate part is simply that you won’t want to come back much when it takes so long just to get started in the first place.

The achievements will be a long grind. You’ve got standard stuff like getting kills with different types of weapons. You’ve got story-related achievements for getting through the game. There’s one missable achievement for an alternate ending. Then there are the grindy bits: uncovering the entire map, completing all the multiplayer maps in full and being top scorer in multiplayer fifty times. These aren’t insurmountable achievements by any means, but you’ll probably feel done with the game long before popping that last achievement.

Check out our The Best Xbox Third Person Shooters Available in 2018 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.

Summary

If you can wipe away all the preconceptions surrounding Konami, Hideo Kojima, and the Metal Gear franchise, you’ll find a competent game in Metal Gear Survive. The story is mediocre and the game has obviously cut corners to make the budget despite being full of microtransactions. However, it’s also fun as both a survival game and a horde defense game at times. In the beginning, the tension of needing to survive is very real and that’s a credit to the game design. Later on, new enemies and weapons open up the combat a lot and make it great fun, though the survival elements’ focus on resources limits those combat options more than they should have. With co-op added on top to add some longevity so long as you don’t need to use matchmaking, what’s here could have been great. But it isn’t — the bad design decisions ruin exciting aspects of the game. Instead, it’s nothing more or less than fine.
3 / 5
Positives
  • Survival elements create exciting tension early on
  • Late-game combat has depth and strategy
  • Co-op gameplay is fun once you’re in a match
Negatives
  • The survival and combat aspects do not mesh well together
  • Resources are too scarce to enjoy all the cool weapons and accessories
  • Matchmaking takes far too long
  • Storytelling is atrocious and the story itself is mediocre
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent around 14 hours surviving the Dust, killing baddies, crafting sweet gear and getting even sweeter gear in co-op mode. Along the way he earned 26 out of 51 achievements for 370 Gamerscore. A download code was provided by the publisher for the sake of review. The game was reviewed on the Xbox One X.
Kevin Tavore
Written by Kevin Tavore
Kevin is a lover of all types of media, especially any type of long form story. The American equivalent of Aristotle, he'll write about anything and everything and you'll usually see him as the purveyor of news, reviews and the occasional op-ed. He's happy with any game that's not point and click or puzzling, but would always rather be outdoors in nature.