So what would you have done, if you were Konami? After forcing out Hideo Kojima, the man that had been working on the critically-acclaimed Metal Gear franchise for almost three decades, you want to keep the series going but don’t want to spend too much money. It’s probably best not to jump in straight away with a sequel, so maybe some kind of spin-off featuring borrowed gameplay and graphics from Metal Gear Solid V? It seems logical enough, and yet Metal Gear Survive is destined to go down as one of the strangest and most ill-advised video games of the year.
What’s particularly odd about Metal Gear Survive is that a lot of it does seem to make sense when considered in isolation. Stealth is not a major part of the game and the storytelling is nowhere near as ambitious, thereby immediately avoiding a number of direct comparisons with Kojima’s work. It is instead a survival game with an optional four-player co-op mode, both of which are currently popular concepts.
Zombies are a little more played out, but the game’s version of them is different from the norm and there’s a Lovecraftian element to the backstory that adds a unique horror element. It may not be a traditional Metal Gear game but in theory it should work. But while the idea of being strange and bizarre may make it sound enticing – if only as a train wreck worth rubbernecking – the sad fact is that Metal Gear Survive is mostly just boring and repetitive.
Although it is officially not canon, Survive is nominally set after the events of Ground Zeroes, when out of the blue Mother Base is engulfed by interdimensional wormholes and survivors find themselves dumped in a bleak desert landscape inhabited by crystalline zombies (no, really). The landscape is clearly repurposed from The Phantom Pain, hinting at the game’s low budget cost-saving, but Snake and the other named characters are nowhere to be found. So instead you control a customisable nobody who is sent out to collect resources and help create a defensible base.
One of Survive’s most frustrating problems is that the opening hours paint an even worse picture of the game than they need to. The tutorials stretch on for seemingly forever, as you learn to harvest zombies for resources and stop yourself dying of thirst and hunger. These are not new concepts to gaming and yet Survive spends far too long explaining everything to you, and sending you out on bland fetch quests where your only reward is yet more tutorials when you get back to base.
If you can push past the first few hours though things do start to pick up, and you begin to use the resources to level up and create new gear, rather than just surviving. Your base is highly customisable and eventually it starts building up into quite a formidable fortress, as you rescue survivors and start assigning them useful duties. It’s just a shame everything has to be organised via the game’s clinical-looking menu system, that frequently makes it feel like you’re playing an accountancy sim rather than an action game.
The problem with zombies is that they’re not the most proactive of enemies, and these ones in particular aren’t even very enthusiastic about chasing you if they do see you. Other enemies do eventually begin to appear in numbers, after several hours in, but for most of the game there’s no benefit in using stealth at all, except for a small boost in gathered resources.
Where Survive is at its best is in the four-player survival missions, where you have to hold out against waves of enemies while you protect a drill. You have a pooled set of resources that can be used to deploy defences and new equipment, and there are even side missions going on during some waves. It’s fun because it takes the emphasis away from just surviving and creates a higher level tactical priority, but disappointingly it’s really only a side option (despite the game requiring a permanent Internet connection) to the 25-hour single-player campaign.
Attempting missions on your own is often far less entertaining – especially as the single-player campaign makes you bring all your own equipment – and the overriding problem is that even the best parts of the game end up getting repeated over and over again, either literally in terms of defending specific locations, or more generally when you set out on your hundredth aimless resource-gathering mission.
Somewhere, deep down, there is the potential for a good game here, but it’s all lost in the endless repetition and bland presentation. The most effective moments are often those that make the most of the underlying horror elements, since the creature designer is the same as Silent Hill (who is given another opportunity to rip off Stephen King’s The Mist). The fear of the unknown is always powerful, but the problem with Survive is that it’s all too easy to guess what’s going to happen next: the same boring slog as the last time.
The mid-budget price (supported by grotesque microtransactions, such as having to pay for a second save slot) hints at how little confidence Konami has in the game, and not without reason. Even before Survive was released it seemed better that Metal Gear should end with the departure of its creator, but perhaps it’s appropriate that zombies are the main enemy here because their inclusion seems to hint at the living death the series will have to endure from now on.
In Short: Not the Metal Gear fans will be used to in terms of either quality or action. But despite a few interesting highlights, it’s just too boring to get very angry about.
Pros: The concept has potential, and scavenging resources and researching equipment can be interesting. Co-op mode is a lot of fun and some effective horror moments.
Cons: Dull and repetitive action and exploration, with equally uninteresting zombie enemies and a dull, humourless story. Horribly slow start, too many tutorial, and lots of drab menus.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC
Developer: Konami Digital Entertainment
Release Date: 22nd February 2018
Age Rating: 16
This post originally appeared on metro