The first thing to clear up is that, as its name implies, this isn’t a Metal Gear Solid title. Without Hideo Kojima steering the ship, Metal Gear Survive is a very different beast. Fans of Kojima’s title won’t find the same tactical gadget use, stealth antics, nor plot rooted in crazy conspiracy theories, nanomachines, spy games, and weapon porn. Instead, Metal Gear Survive is an excuse to use the existing assets and the loosest tangent from MGSV’s story themes to deliver a zombie survival game set in The Phantom Pain’s open-world. It’s not a game that Metal Gear Solid fans will automatically like, although the moment-to-money gameplay can still have the same feel. That’s purely because it uses the exact same control method and shooting mechanics, more than anything, and it’s very much a case of dropping familiar mechanics into a totally different style of game.
There’s a genuine attempt at a story at play in Metal Gear Survive. It reads more like a fan homage than the genuine article, although the 90-minute intro sequence had me eager to know if Konami had gone all-in on the batshit crazy. Sadly, they didn’t. The basic gist of it concerns the soldiers who survived the destruction of the Mother Base in Ground Zeroes getting sucked through a wormhole into an alternate dimension. While it starts off intriguingly enough, it rarely gripped me in the way a Metal Gear should, although Phantom Pain was noticeably poor on this front too. Its entire purpose seems to be as a vehicle to warp Metal Gear into a totally different genre, allowing Konami to make a survival game some five years after the genre really exploded. Strike while the iron’s cold and all that.
Missions take the form of exploring further out into the ‘Dust’, as well as fending off waves of enemies at your base. Mission design rarely goes beyond this, and it’s pretty much left to the player to create their own anecdotes based on avoiding the growing hordes of enemies. There's plenty of it though, and the main thrust of the story should occupy you for at least 30 hours.
At its core, MG Survive is the same survival formula many of you will be familiar with already. There’s a broken down base of operations with a few rickety walls which must be expanded and upgraded over time. All of the necessary resources can be gathered by heading out into the wilderness and picking up supplies like wood, nails, etc, before heading back and using it for upgrades. The more upgrades you get, the further you can safely head out into the world and, conversely, how well defended your base is when under attack from the zombie hordes. It’s a familiar and satisfying loop for the most part, even if the act of picking up each and every time while exploring can start to become a bit of a chore. You can achieve a degree of automation but there’s still an awful lot of busywork involved.
Over time, more and more utilities become available to you, rebuilding Mother Base in a parallel universe. It’s a slow progress there, and I’d notched up a fair few hours before I even unlocked a game. Up until that point, combat is just mindlessly jabbing a stick. There are forward bases to discover, wormholes to build that unlocks fast travel, and of course, your pesky hunger and thirst need sating/quenching. The latter injects a fair of busy work that’s never really clicked with me in any game, complicated even further when you have soldiers guarding your base who also need food, water, and medical supplies, draining your precious resources. Run low on anything and you’ve got a slog on your hands. Without food the stamina bar can run out in seconds, slowing everything down.
Perhaps MG Survive’s most egregious error though, and telling of its budget nature, is the lack of variety. From start to finish you’ll be doing fundamentally the same thing, just with better weapons and more enemies. Drill down to it and it’s the same repeating loop again and again which, while a fun loop, does begin to tire after a while. One of the best bits about MGSV was unlocking all sorts of crazy new equipment and abilities, and how they could be used together in inventive ways. Whether you’re poking a zombie through a fence with stick or shooting it with an M16 though, Metal Gear Survive is much more of a one trick pony.
One of the biggest selling points of Metal Gear Survive since its announcement has been its co-op multiplayer. So much so that up until actually playing the game for myself, I didn’t realise that it’s fundamentally a single-player game with some option co-op horde missions bolted on. You can play the entire game from start to finish in single-player. And honestly, that’s what I’d do. The co-op missions are basically identical to the story-based base defense missions anyway, and it doesn’t provide the tactical kick I look for from a team-based experience. You can’t attack each other’s bases amd you can’t wander the open-world together, making the co-op element all sorts of pointless.
For all the fervent hatred of Konami that forms the current gaming-hate-bandwagon of choice, based on its own merits, Metal Gear Survive isn’t a terrible game. It’s not a great one for sure, and certainly not near the pedigree we expect from a Metal Gear product, but it’s a serviceable enough survival game that benefits greatly from layering in a few of The Phantom Pain’s systems. It won’t scratch that same itch of sneaky badassery that has made Snake a household name, and it’s almost certainly not worth the full $40 / £35 asking price, but there’s definitely fun to be had here even if it doesn’t come close to troubling the series’ heights.