Need to know
What is it? A survival game set in the Metal Gear universe.
Expect to pay: $40/£35
Reviewed on: GTX 1080, Intel i5-6600K, 16GB RAM
Multiplayer: 1-4 players
Link: Official Site
On the edge of my base camp is a vast wall of poisonous dust. Stretching for miles into the sky, this grey, churning cloud will kill me if I set foot in it. But when I build an air tank, jury-rigged from a broken one carried by a less fortunate survivor, I’m finally able to venture inside. I could stay out here in the sunshine, but in there I’ll find rare materials and blueprints for better weapons and gadgets. It’s a risk that's usually worth taking.
As I cross into the dust the sun disappears and I’m surrounded on all sides by an oppressive fog. Through the gloom I can see the telltale red glow of wanderers—shambling zombies with crystals where their heads used to be. These are the most common enemy in Dite (pronounced dee-tay) and they’re a constant threat, lurching out of the dust to attack any reckless survivor who bothers them.
Journeys into the dust are when Metal Gear Survive—a spin-off that’s only vaguely related to the stealth series—comes alive. Getting in and finding something useful is only half the battle; you also have to find your way out without being swarmed and mauled by enemies or getting lost and dying of thirst or hunger. An ordeal made more stressful by the fact that your character has to eat and drink constantly, otherwise the screen goes all murky and they start staggering around like drunks after last orders.
Survive kicks off immediately after the events of MGS V prologue Ground Zeroes. As Big Boss escapes in a chopper, a regular grunt in his private army (that’s you) is left behind on the sinking, smoking ruins of Mother Base, only to be sucked into a wormhole and transported to another dimension. That dimension is the aforementioned Dite, which is essentially a barren desert littered with rubble, wrecked cars, abandoned outposts, and wanderers.
As exciting as forays into the dust can be, Metal Gear Survive’s world is thoroughly uninspiring. Compared to the lively, colourful ocean of Subnautica or The Long Dark’s haunting Canadian wilderness, it’s a shit-brown sea of sand and rocks that I never once felt compelled to explore. And when you do find something, it’s usually just a scattering of rusty old shipping crates or a grey military outpost, protected by a predictable cluster of enemies.
In its favour, the environment does feel genuinely dangerous. Whenever I leave my base behind and head deep into the desert, I get nervous about what lies ahead. But that's mainly because I know that if I die on the way back from somewhere, I’ll lose everything I picked up and have to do it all over again. I found the experience frustrating pretty much all of the time, but if you like your survival games extra grueling, you might enjoy how little the game cares about entertaining you. Me, I’d like a little more carrot to go with my stick.
Fashionable PC survival games provide the template for Metal Gear Survive, which means gathering materials, killing animals, constructing a base, and crafting increasingly powerful gear to climb the food chain. You’ll start out hunting sheep with a rusty spike, but later you’ll have an animal pen in your base and a selection of guns and gadgets to play with. It’s a tried-and-tested core loop, but rendered insufferable by how miserably slow everything is.
Your character moves like he’s wading through a knee-high pool of treacle, and runs out of breath after about five seconds. Harvesting kuban energy from fallen enemies—an important in-game currency that’s used for everything from crafting to refilling your air tank—takes bloody ages. You have to whack an oil drum with a stick a dozen times to turn it into usable iron. Everything just feels so languid and laborious, which may be an attempt by the designers to make your character feel more fragile and human than the unstoppable supersoldier Big Boss. But the result of this is that it’s boring.
I do like its occasional willingness to be silly, however, which is when it feels the most like a Metal Gear Solid game—albeit superficially. I love being able to craft objects during combat, throwing up a fence to stop a group of charging zombies, then poking them through the mesh with my spear. I’ll never tire of sprinting madly towards a sheep or some other edible beast and knocking it out with a wild, lunging punch. And there’s something hilarious about grabbing handfuls of gerbils as you explore the desert to snack on later.
But just as I’m being charmed by these little glimmers of personality, they’re smothered by tiresome busywork, cheap deaths, and a confusing, overcooked mess of a UI. There are a dozen survival games on PC that do almost everything Metal Gear Survive does, but loads better. This is an overcrowded genre and Konami hasn’t quite managed to make its mark on it with this. It might fare better on console where there are fewer good survival games to choose from, but we’re spoiled for choice over here.
The inevitable presence of microtransactions, including paid-for additional character slots, also make the whole endeavour reek of cynicism. More than anything, Metal Gear Survive feels like a business decision to me—an attempt to capitalize on the survival game craze using a familiar name to lure unsuspecting fans. Trying something new is fine, if it's done well.