Anger and frustration—that’s how I’d describe my first six hours with Metal Gear Survive. Not because this is the first Metal Gear game to release since Kojima and Konami parted ways, and not because this is a spinoff game that heavily reuses assets from Metal Gear Solid V. The anger and frustration stem from how poorly implemented the survival elements are.
Aside from a small number of cutscenes, there is a permanent survival meter on the screen that floats next to the character and displays hunger and thirst percentages. The hunger meter directly correlates to how much health the character can have, while the thirst meter decides how much stamina they have, which is required for sprinting. As Metal Gear Survive is at its core a survival game, these meters continuously tick downward, which means hunting for food and water between missions is a must. Once the hunger meter drops below 20 per cent, the entire screen turns blurry every few seconds as a robotic voice barks at the player to eat food or starve to death. This voice also unnecessarily informs you—over and over—when oxygen and thirst meters are low. When wounded, the screen will sometimes be surrounded by an awful dried blood overlay and blood will drip down the screen every few seconds.
At first, the survival elements aren’t much of an issue, as the game directs you to an area where there is water and some sheep. But after a few hours, I found myself constantly starving to death as I couldn’t find food at all. Turns out animals don’t seem to respawn until you save and exit back to the main menu and reload your save.
Whether or not this is a bug or by design isn’t clear to me. On one hand, it would make the early game brutally difficult, but on the other, it would drive players towards the gratuitous microtransactions on offer, specifically, the premium boost passes that help level your character quicker, thus granting better stats and thus survivability. Once certain missions are completed the ability to craft water collection facilities, plant vegetables, and harvest goats becomes available; but all of these run on real-world timers which means it takes over three hours just to grow a few potatoes. So again, Konami makes sure those premium boost passes look tempting as they decrease the amount of time required for these items to grow by an unspecified amount of time.
After figuring out how to trick the game into respawning animals, Metal Gear Survive actually becomes playable, however, the core gameplay isn’t all that original or enjoyable. Metal Gear Survive is made up of three parts: open-world survival, farm/base management, and missions that involve protecting a point from zombies (the game calls them wanderers but let’s be honest, they are zombies) for either a set amount of time or three waves.
The gameplay loop is as follows: hunt for food, water, and materials then cook food, clean water, and craft defences, weapons, gear, medicine, and ammo. Head out into the dust, which is a perpetual fog filled with zombies and one giant eldritch horror. Once in the dust, attempt to stay oriented while making the way to whatever objective was provided, which is easier said than done as the map doesn’t work in the fog unless the player is standing on a road or in occasional breaks in the fog. Once the objective is located, set up defences and keep the zombies from destroying whatever you’re defending. Fast travel back to base, and repeat the whole process over again and again with little to no change aside from scenery.
Aside from the gross microtransactions and awful early game survival balancing issues, Metal Gear Survive‘s biggest fault is lack of variety. The game doesn’t even introduce new enemies until nearly 12 hours in, and even when it does, most of the main missions don’t include them, instead just throwing more brain-dead zombies at you. So for the majority of the game I did the same things over and over, which involved getting to the objective and spawning metal fences that allowed me to poke zombies in the face with spears from a safe distance. If my fence broke down, I’d quickly throw up another one and just keep on poking. Sure, I could craft a crossbow and guns, but why would I bother when clearly the fence spear strategy is far easier and doesn’t require scrounging for materials to craft ammo?
While the combat here isn’t bad, and perhaps even close to enjoyable, the lack of variety and any reason to experiment with other weapons made for a repetitive and overall dull experience.
The story doesn’t help matters at all. It is as shallow as it is poorly written and acted. Basically, the player character is sent through a portal to try to rescue others who somehow keep getting sent through portals (which as far as I know is never explained) and research the wanderers (zombies) on the other side. Eventually, more characters are introduced, and the story is connected back to the Metal Gear universe, but not in any meaningful way. If you skip Metal Gear Survive you won’t be missing out on any important lore or a story worth experiencing.
Metal Gear Survive is the most expensive survival game on the market right now, even at a budget price as far as AAA games go. This, mixed with the fact that almost all the game is made of reused assets, makes the number of microtransactions on offer frankly disgusting, even if none are required to complete the game. Asking players to pay $10 to make a second character is the most offensive money grabbing crap I’ve ever seen in a video game in the history of the medium. In the grand scheme of things it’s really $10 to have a character of each gender, since you can edit your character’s looks at any time but they are locked to the gender you chose at the start.
The premium passes to speed up not only acquisition of Kuban Energy (the in-game currency used to level your character as well as for crafting items alongside resources found in the world) but also the timers for food growth and the exploration team are mechanics lifted directly from free-to-play mobile games and are designed to make you decide what is more valuable, your time or money. The game blatantly says that there are items which can only be acquired by sending out exploration teams, which take anywhere from 20 minutes to nearly 24 hours in real-world time without having a boost pass active. But don’t worry completionists, Konami will give you the privilege of paying $10 CAD per extra exploration team you’d like to send out.
It took me around 24 hours in-game to complete the single-player story mode, which is spread across two maps, neither of which are all that large. There are only five co-op multiplayer missions, which is the same wave-based “defend the point” gameplay from the single player. Stats, items, and survival meters are shared between modes. After completing the story, four subclasses are unlocked in the postgame that have different abilities that mostly just benefit teams in multiplayer, although I’m not sure what the point of grinding the same five missions is other than unlocking better weapons and gear, the best of which is only acquirable via multiplayer. So if you’re curious what Metal Gear Survive‘s endgame is, there you go.
Metal Gear Survive is neither a good Metal Gear Solid game nor a good survival game. It feels like if Stephen King wrote a Harry Potter spinoff, where Hideo Kojima is JK Rowling and Stephen King is a writer working for a company more concerned with making a quick buck off of a beloved series. Metal Gear Survive is a cynical cash grab. Konami executives must have seen how popular survival and crafting games were and tried to cash in on the craze as well as fans of Metal Gear Solid. Too little, too late, too many microtransactions.