The obvious worry for a Kojima-less Metal Gear, even before it staggered into well-worn zombie survival territory, was that there was no way it could be anything like as off-the-chain ridiculous as a true Hideo joint. I think that’s true whether you’re one of those who considers him to be the auteur’s auteur or one of those who reckon his stories are equivalent of giving an 11-year-old infinite money to play with.
Funny thing about the newly-released Metal Gear Survive though, based on around a day in its dusty deathscapes: ‘ridiculous’ is very much the operative term. It’s just that it’s a very different kind of absurdity to Metal Gears past.
I haven’t got into the co-op or competitive element of Survive yet – not sure when that happens, but for now I’m noodling around gradually building up my own wasteland base made from string and bits of a bin I hit repeatedly with a machete. The whole thing’s a sort of sequel to Metal Gear Solid V, though it makes the sensible-despite-superficial-absurdity decision to swiftly have a ruined Mother Base and your nameless footsoldier dragged off to another dimension so that the whole thing doesn’t stand on any toes.
I may have misinterpreted the plot, by the way, which is a consequence of the dozen-odd early cutscenes being entirely tedious – the flab of Kojima’s notorious storytelling for sure, but none of the flashes of maniac brilliance with it.
Anyway, there’s just you and a tiny handful of apparently ex-Mother Base NPC colleagues out there in a desert surrounded by a lethal fog of dust and filled with magic alien crystals that you can build stuff from, in tandem with scavenged scrap.
It’s almost instantly illogical in that iron and wood can only come from specific items that you either pick up or smash, depending on size, but you can’t do anything with the vast number of smashed-up metal crates lying all over your starting base. Point being, you’ll pass by a lot of stuff that would give you exactly the materials you need to make a new spear or bit of zombie-proof fence, but just have to accept that you’re not having it unless the game says so. A familiar trope of survival games, but perhaps a touch more glaring than usual here.
Still, it’s all so silly that it’s not hard to accept this particular oddity. I mean, there you are being given mission objectives by an obelisk-like AI that seems to be part of the Mother Base crew, collecting magic crystals and backstabbing wild deer and, most of all, stealthing your way past hordes of headless zombies and using sky-portals to teleport animals into your base.
Squint and you can see most of MGSV’s systems powering it all – the portals are obviously the legendary kidnap-balloons – but to Survive’s great credit it feels like its own game, not a reskin.
A lot of the mechanics might match up, but creeping along with a rusty pipe, knowing that if you’re spotted by one zombie you’ll almost immediately have twenty of them lurching after you, is a very different sensation. Then there’s the focus on unlocking melee skills capable of handling big crowds like that, and the whole thing almost takes a tilt into Dead Rising territory. That sense of pervasive silliness is also heightened by the ability to immediately build a honking great fence slap bang in the middle of a fight. It fits MGS’s warped internal logic, somehow.
So the tensions and thrilling farce of a stealth-based zombie survival horror are well-realised thus far, though I can’t speak to how compelling sneaking into yet another small based filled with yet another horde of deadheads will be 10, 20, 30, 100 hours down the line.
I’m less convinced by the pure survival side of things, which is to say the gathering of food and water. It’s straight from the familiar survival playbook – creep up on animals, take ’em out, collect their meat and cook it to replenish the hunger meter – but having it happen in tandem with zombie missions is getting a little grating. In practice, it means you’ve got four meters to worry about while you’re sneaking or fighting – health, stamina, hunger and thirst, and if the latter two run low, you get blurry screen effects and staggering.
I imagine that, later on and once I’m fully specced up with decent cooking supplies and a whole shipping container full of mystery meat, it’ll be a matter of just coolly selecting a hearty meal from my inventory during a quiet moment. Right now though, it just means a lot of back-tracking between animal spawn points and the base (home of the campfire required for cooking), and usually losing half my hunger meter just in the process of doing that. The schlepping also takes forever because a limited stamina meter prevents me from sprinting too long.
It’s all a bit too much like having to take the dog for a walk during the end of the world. If this were a pure survival game, sure, resource-gathering busywork would be my sole focus, but I’m not entirely sure it serves as much more than an annoying complication during the combat/stealth element.
Yet it all feels just the right amount of bonkers to get away with that modicum of tedium. Here’s my hat, for instance:
Right now, I don’t really know what I’m ultimately trying to do or why (beyond ‘survive’), but I’m having a compelling enough time that I don’t really mind. Noodling around slowly building weapons and upgrading my base either side of tackling missions that can suddenly and terrifyingly escalate from trying and failing to backstab a solitary zombie into finding that my sole way out now looks like this…
…is keeping me happy. It’s a bit like a post-apocalyptic Hitman in some ways. I don’t believe I’d ever have guessed this was a Metal Gear game if I didn’t already know and it didn’t make that iconic BLOOP sound when I get spotted. It’d just be this hybrid stealth-survival game that felt fascinatingly peculiar from moment to moment. How it’ll shake out long term I just can’t say, but right now I’m definitely keen to find out.
Metal Gear Survive is out now for Windows and is available via Steam for £34.99.