Games Review: Metal Gear Survive (PS4, 2018) is tough to live through

To put it simply, Metal Gear Survive should not exist. Before evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the title, one must first address the point of its existence in the first place. The Metal Gear series is famous for its stealth mechanics and intriguing story about the changing landscapes of technology in our world, topped off with deep, nuanced and nostalgic characters, like Big Boss and Solid Snake. Metal Gear Survive is none of this.

Metal Gear Survive lives and dies by the sword, in the sense that its shift to an action based survival experience is brave, but feels unnecessary after a few hours with it. Metal Gear Survive takes place just after the events of Metal Gear V: Ground Zeroes’ Mother Base attack, as we see Big Boss narrowly escape. Playing as a custom created leftover soldier on Mother Base, you experience the remains of the attack being sucked up into a mysterious portal, which you also narrowly avoid. Soon after, you are told you must venture into this void to the parallel world of Dite, to rescue and extract and special ops team stranded there, while looking for a cure to the virus that has also infected you. To reveal anything else would be a spoiler, but unfortunately what follows descends into a barely understandable pool of insanity which holds little resonance and ultimately payoff, when being compared to the powerhouse stories seen in previous instalments.

Metal Gear Survive then relies solely on its mechanics, aptly based around survival. Your character will experience hunger, thirst, oxygen shortages and fatigue as you endure the dangers of Dite, doing anything you can to survive the mysterious crystal-headed inhabitants known as Wanderers. You must craft weapons, hunt for food and gather resources in order to upgrade and fortify your central base. The game doesn’t present its audience with difficult mechanics, which control almost identically to those of both Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain. Instead, the dense and convoluted tutorials make the game feel unnecessarily complex and presented to you in such rapid succession that you’ll soon forget how or why you need to fortify your base in the first place.

Micromanagement further crushes the experience, hitting you over the head every chance it gets in order to remind you that this is indeed a survival game. The most frustrating issue here is that you never seem to have enough resources to compensate for the damage taken or energy used during combat. This uneven balance means you spend too much time hunting and gathering, and less time combating enemies, simply because they’re easier to avoid. While this may seem realistic to some, nothing else about this game screams realism, so the game unfortunately becomes a confusing and monotonous experience all too quickly.

Base building is also complex and frustrating thanks to the same micromanagement mechanics. Sifting through abandoned buildings for various materials allows you to craft both new weapons and stronger fortifications for you base, and thus a nasty chain of events conspires. All the running around you do makes you thirsty, which then makes you slower, limiting your stamina. Topping that bar up by drinking water is a great solution, but thanks to an ever depleting amount of supplies, eventually you’ll have no water left, so sprinting isn’t an option, forcing you to move slowly about the world, trying to reserve as much stamina as possible.

While exploring, you can use Wormhole Transporters which serve as a fast travel system. But the issue here is that while they take a while to prepare, you’ll also draw large amounts of Wanderers to your location, forcing you to fortify your location for the required time. While these sections can be admittedly fun, as getting things ready for the onslaught of enemies on their way gives you a rush, you’ll have no choice but to use some resources that you would have wanted to take back to your base to use there instead. All the mechanics link up, just not in a good way.

Thankfully, most if not all of the combat mechanics are ripped directly from Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain, both great games with great controls. But as both those games are based primarily around stealth, every movement felt planned, deliberate and important, making the slightly stiff controls forgivable. In Metal Gear Survive, the same controls don’t fit as well. Here, the need to react quickly makes movements appear all the more stiff and robotic. While ballistic weapons also make a return and the gunplay is marginally functional, you’ll find that they make too much noise and attract unwanted attention, which is admittedly fine, being a survival game. But needing to resort to melee weapons becomes an issue onto itself, as repetitive moves drain your stamina too quickly, leaving you to unfairly manipulate the game to your advantage. As the Wanderers are the main enemies of the game, they are slow and calculated lacking any sense of challenge. While they become more agile and dangerous later on, nothing ever felt too difficult.

Thankfully along with your base, weapons are upgradeable. While you’ll need to discover recipes for them out in the dust (unexplored parts of the map), the Wanderers leave Kuban energy, which acts like the game’s currency, which you can then use to craft and upgrade new weapons and equipment. These upgrades allow for some cool new moves and abilities, but while the Wanderers present little challenge in the first place, it doesn’t feel necessary.

Last but not least, Metal Gear Survive allows online cooperative play, and micromanagement is a little more forgiving here thanks to sharing items between friends, as you can take resources gained here back to the single player campaign. However, the same mechanical flaws create many problems here as they do in the single player campaign.

Metal Gear Survive attempts to steer the franchise in a new direction, but thanks to repetitive and monotonous gameplay paired with overly difficult micromanagement mechanics, the experience ends up an unnecessarily frustrating mess of action and survival. While Metal Gear Survive isn’t horrendous in any way, nothing about it feels importantly tied to previous Metal Gear titles in any memorable way, leaving the experience feeling like a rushed and overly complex game that’s trying to make a quick buck as a distant relative of a series of games we have loved so much.

Score: 5.5 out of 10
Highlights: Functional gunplay, occasional tense and fun moments
Lowlights: Nonsensical story, overly frustrating micromanagement mechanics.
Developer: Konami, Konami Digital Entertainment
Publisher: Konami
Available: Now
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC

Reviewed on PlayStation 4 with retail code provided by the publisher.