Wot I Think: Metal Gear Survive

MGSheader

There was a point early on in Metal Gear Survive where I thought that, despite its annoyances, Konami’s zombie spin-off was actually going to be quite good. It came about an hour in when I had to sneak into a base packed with shambling horrors, using stealth and distraction to outwit the hordes. It was tense. It was exciting.

That didn’t last long.

Metal Gear Survive takes place in Dite, a pocket dimension where an unknown force has turned humans into crystalline zombies. It’s an odd direction for the series to go down, but not necessarily one I object to. You might think we’re inundated with open world zombie ‘em ups, but the last one I played was Dying Light – and that was a blast. I was quietly looking forward to a stealth-focused take on the idea, brought together by a smart trap and defense placement system for those moments when sneaking turned sour.

At first, it seemed like that’s what I was going to get. An early mission involves retrieving a memory board from a base crawling with zombies. I had to scope the place out for the non-obvious entrance, then carefully creep inside. There was a moment where I needed to lockpick a door, and only got halfway through before the horde lost interest in the distraction I’d thrown and started shambling towards me. I was reminded of those moments in Amnesia where you need to turn your back on the monsters to open a door, a trick that’s as effective there as it is here.

MGS1

I made it through, and escaped by climbing on top of a roof. Once I’d nabbed that memory board, I had no choice but to drop down and charge through the crowds, stopping only to whip round and summon a fence over the entrance. It was a ten minute stretch where everything came together, and probably my favourite ten minutes from the 30 or so hours I’ve spent with the game.

90% of the time, you see, stealth is left by the wayside and encounters are resolved through so-so melee combat. There’s a degree of finesse involved with those brawls, but lack of variety in enemy types means you’ll repeatedly go through the same old motions. It doesn’t help that the bog-standard “wanderers” will sometimes do a super-powerful strike that knocks you to the ground, which often spells certain death if there’s more than a few others nearby.

Before you get to contend with that melee combat though, you’ll have to contend with the “Survive” part of Metal Gear Survive. While I may be on board with “Metal Gear but zombies”, my tolerance for topping up thirst and hunger meters has become almost non-existent. I just can’t see searching for water sources and hunting animals as anything other than an unnecessary chore. Here, failing to eat and drink drops both your stamina and maximum health, which means you won’t be able to sprint for more than a second or two without running out of breath.

MGS2

While the hunger and thirst systems are a needless intrusion, they do become less bothersome once you’ve built the appropriate buildings in your base. A more constant irritation throughout the game is gathering all the resources you’ll need to craft defenses, gear and weapons. It wasn’t long before I resigned myself to picking up almost everything I possibly could so that I wouldn’t end up missing parts needed to craft the stuff I wanted or to fix what I already had.

As a result, I felt a strange mix of frustration and relief whenever I stumbled across a building that called for some thorough looting. As I held down X to hoover up yet more chairs and sandbags, even my character looked bored.

There’s no salvation to be found in the story or its writing. Both are absolute guff, and not in an endearing Metal Gear sort of way. The characters are an unfortunate combination of terribly acted and atrociously written, with confused motivations that border on the surreal. A gruff, insolent marine type that you meet early on, for instance, is embarrassed when it’s revealed that he had the idea to fix up a kid’s wheelchair. In what world is that something anyone would be embarrassed about?

MGS3

While enduring the story and roaming the world, you’ll be blathered at by monotone robots who repeat the same maddening lines again and again and again. Nearly every time I ran out of stamina, it felt like I’d hear the same not-joke about “being careful not to run out of gas”.

I. KNOW. HOW. STAMINA. WORKS.

That’s just one of many pointlessly irritating inclusions, which in the first few hours piled up enough to make me add a section to my review notes subtitled “annoyances”. It’s the first time I’ve done that.

MGS4

The list of annoyances grew. The checkpointing is awful, warping me all the way back to base after each death without all the items I’d painstakingly looted. You can find special blueprints in containers around the world, but they take an agonisingly long time to open and often don’t contain anything of value. They’re always worth checking out, because sometimes you’ll find a new weapon that transforms every combat encounter you’ll have for the next few hours. More often though, you’ll find a terrible scarf or a laughably small amount of crafting materials.

The list goes on. Subtitles kept obscuring menus as I tried to use them, sometimes in the middle of tense situations where I was trying to work out how to heal myself. Turns out you can only do that with a special spray, and the first aid kits I picked up only helped with injuries. Individual parts of your body can get damaged, which sounds cool until you realise you don’t have a bandage to support your sprained ankle, and have to spend 20 minutes limping home.

Healing yourself isn’t the only action made trickier by menus. You can upgrade your gear and weapons, but it’s under under a separate section called ‘customise’. You can break down other materials to get ones that you need, though I only discovered that many hours in.

MGS5

Those are examples of information that’s accidentally been presented poorly. Even worse is when the game deliberately decides to starve you of information (as if depriving you of food wasn’t enough). Dust zones cover most of the world and inside them visibility is poor, stamina runs out more quickly and an ever depleting oxygen tank adds another unnecessary annoyance. The lack of visibility makes an already grey, dull and samey landscape look even more grey, dull and samey.

More troubling still is that, when you’re in the Dust, you can’t even tell where you are on the map. Once you’ve figured out that you can place flags that show your position, (lord help you if you run out, or don’t realise flags are even a thing) there’s an extra bit of faff where you need to place another one so you can work out which direction you’re facing.

It gets worse. The world is riddled with cliffs, which means you can’t simply head off to your destination and expect to get there. On more than one occasion I got badly lost, foolishly thinking that I could explore a new area on my way home. Whenever you’re in the Dust your oxygen tank depletes, but you can refill it by spending the same currency that you use to level up. Repeatedly doing that, however, increases the cost – which meant on one adventure I ended up using two levels worth of currency to avoid death. It was horrible, and not in that fun “you against the elements” kind of way.

MGS6

In fairness, some of the survival elements did get a little less bothersome after I discovered the joys of milk and corn. On one long, near fatal meander I stumbled across a corn field, as well as the schematics for some goat cages. A few farms and goat fultons later, I had a steady supply of food and drink. Other elements got less annoying, too. The cost of repeated oxygen filling became insignificant, so I could stroll around the Dust almost as much as I liked. I crafted guns and grenades, giving me effective emergency buttons that served to punctuate combat with moments of excitement and panic, rather than grimly inevitable death.

Despite those improvements, there came a point where I was ready to call it a day. Every mission still boiled down to minor variations on the same basic defense task, against waves almost entirely comprised of the boring genero-zombies. Then a plot thing happened, and suddenly I was transported to a whole new area with varied enemy types and a radically different look.

MGS9

It’s maddening that those varied enemies are reserved for the last third of the game. In the new zone, fast stalker type zombies would leap and strafe around me, encouraging me to adopt a stealthy approach to exploration rather than haphazardly charging around. On defence missions, enemies equipped with mortars and chain-guns broke me out of my usual passive defensive style, forcing me to head out and deal with them.

Then, soon after, the game seemed to forget about all those interesting new enemy types, and sent me back into the same scenarios I’d been contending with during the earlier parts of the game. I ventured into another ruin, yet again struggling with a claustrophobic camera that had undermined similar early sections. I had to complete a 15 MINUTE long defense mission, where I repeatedly died in the last few minutes.

MGS8

Metal Gear Survive is sorely in need of greater variety, though it would have made a world of difference had Konami just spread what they did have through the whole game rather than taking an age to change things up. And that’s not just true for enemy types. Bizarrely, there’s a whole subclass system that most people won’t even realise is in the game: you only unlock them at the very end of the campaign. Saving the best toys for a point in the game that most people will never see is a baffling decision, but a representative one. Almost every step of the way, it feels like Komani have come up with good ideas, then done their best to sabotage them through poor pacing and systems seemingly designed to get in the way of fun rather than provide it.

Take the defence summoning. It’s pretty neat, but over the whole game I was stuck using the same iron fences and barbed wire blockades. I know that more interesting traps and defences exist, but they’re either in containers I never found or reserved as post-campaign rewards. I mean, just look at this:

It pains me to think how much more I might have enjoyed myself if I’d gotten to mess around with traps like that.

Metal Gear Survive is the game I want it to be about… 10% of the time. When there’s a rare section where stealth is the best approach. When I just manage to defeat the final wave on a protection mission, thanks to strategic placement of defences. When I’m thinking my way out of a tense situation, moments away from being overwhelmed – by zombies, rather than starvation or suffocation.

Most of the time though, it’s a game that goes out of its way to be repetitive, frustrating and dull.

Metal Gear Survive is out now for Windows and is available via Steam for £34.99.

30 Comments

  1. TheRaptorFence says:

    I’ve put in about 25 hours. I beat the main campaign and started working on Co-Op. I view the game the same way that others view Elite Dangerous or Euro Truck Simulator: the repetitiveness of the gameplay can be relaxing. I put in a podcast and play a few missions. It has held my attention longer than most survival games, probably because there’s no fuckwad screwing up my base and stealing my stuff every time I turn my back.

    • Skandranon says:

      I’ve also really enjoyed it so far. All of the flaws discussed in this article are present but they just didn’t have a big enough effect on me for me not to have enjoyed the game

      The reviews and sheer vitriol against this game are ridiculously overblown and unwarranted. RPS has been pretty chill about it, but elsewhere is pretty wild

      I haven’t seen this much hate from people who haven’t actually played a game since Battleborn.

    • ashleys_ears says:

      The backlash is heavily rooted in the fallout between Konami and Kojima, their absurdly callous and petulant treatment of he and (many) other employees and general shittiness as a company, and their continued cashing-in on the Metal Gear IP. The fact that it’s a middling game at best (not to mention laden with almost comically villainous microtransactions) only salts the wounds further.

      • Skandranon says:

        The microtransactions aren’t that bad

        Or at least they’re exactly as bad as they were in MGSV, because it’s pretty much exactly the same system. And I remember barely a peep from reviewers on the microtransactions in mgs5.

        • ashleys_ears says:

          Friend, if you can figure out how to spin the concept of paying for SAVE SLOTS in a way that doesn’t make the developer sound like a moustachioed cartoon villain, I will eat my hat. Or I guess I’ll find someone with a hat, relieve them of their hat, then eat their hat.

          • Detrian says:

            Like that dude said, the system is literally more generous than in V. In V you had one campaign save and one free MP char with the option to buy more (for ten bucks too.)

            In Survive you get one campaign and one free MP char with the option to buy more, except the MP char can also play its own campaign. It is quite literally more bang for your buck.

          • Skandranon says:

            It’s paying for a new character.
            There are a billion MMO’s and other online games of that type that do the exact same thing.

            It just sounds worse because people keep saying “save slots”.

            And I’m not saying it’s not scummy but we’re past the point where that kind of stuff is pretty much standard so now I just shrug my shoulders at it.

            Not enough people spoke out when this was becoming a thing so now people whining when it’s become a thing is just kind of “meh” to me.

            And again it’s still the exact same system as mgs5.

          • durrbluh says:

            For a small additional fee, a key to unlock a randomly acquired “hat crate” can be made available to you, dear consumer.

          • Silvermarch says:

            You are paying for a character slot, technically not just a save slot.

          • Peksisarvinen says:

            This game is so dull that just reading about it is making me sleepy. Grey and brown as far as the eye can see, and if for some god forsaken reason you’d like to do it all twice, pay us ten dollars please.

            I don’t know what kind of a person supports a developer like Konami by buying their products, but if you are one of them, just know that you’re helping a tumor stay alive.

        • poliovaccine says:

          To be fair, I’ve been playing MGSV for ages and I only found out it had that save-buying mechanism by reading RPS comments sections. It never bothered me or even presented itself.

          Then again, I’m just not the type to run a lot of “alts” the way I know some people do. For them, that may have split their ass every time there was a key point in the campaign, or for people who want one stealth run and one action run – especially since I know there’s the whole “demonization” mechanic, I’m sure some folks would really want to see both the extreme ends of that. And hey I may be like that in other areas of life haha, so I get it, just not when it comes to games.

  2. N'Al says:

    7/10

  3. death_au says:

    I love the mechanics of merely existing in the world of MGSV, and adding in the survival element and base management sounded good in theory. I really wanted this to be good, but it sounds like it’s not.
    I probably have more of a tolerance for the busywork of collecting resources, but the lack of stealth kinda ruins the whole thing for me.

    • Detrian says:

      @death_au You shouldn’t pay attention to that. In truth combat should be avoided as in all other MG games (because zombies are dangerous and when they are not dangerous even killing them still costs resources) so you’ll be stealthing a lot, particularly in the dust. All zombies are vulnerable or weakened by backstabs and you also get a higher amount of energy for stealth kills too so in actual play you’ll be in stealth 90% of the time until you mess up and then you’ll have to fight, just like any other Metal Gear game.

    • Canama says:

      I actually find myself doing a fair bit of sneaking. You go down in a few hits, and there’s an injury system along the lines of Metal Gear Solid 3, so avoiding combat is incentivized.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    Given the outcry about how Konami treated their employees, I expected at least a token boycott, but I haven’t heard a peep.

    • InternetBatman says:

      Boycotts seem like a thing of the past, for right now at least. When I don’t like the practices of a game developer, I play one of the other 200 games waiting for me in my steam library. Mild avoidance for the win.

    • MajorLag says:

      Gamers have never managed to boycott anything successfully, even when it’s been something they actually care about like DRM as opposed to just talking loudly about like how a company treats its employees.

      • malkav11 says:

        As a lapsed anti-DRM crusader I never got the sense that a meaningful number of gamers actually cared about DRM, myself.

    • Premium User Badge

      Kiwilolo says:

      People only call for a boycott if they expect people want to buy the game. I don’t think anyone expected this to be good.

  5. Shadow says:

    You could see from a continent away that this was but a cashgrab on Konami’s part.

    They dove onto Metal Gear’s brand and MGSV’s fantastic engine like carrion, desperate to capitalize on both despite the crucial lack of Hideo Kojima. From the review, I gather they didn’t understand (or care to understand) anything about what Metal Gear is.

    Overall, a shameful move that deserves nothing but unmitigated financial failure.

    • Babymech says:

      I am not defending Konami in this, but… they’re not ‘swooping in’ on someone else’s brand or engine. It’s their IP, their engine, and their employees. The literally paid for all of this – the development budget alone for MGS V was reportedly 80-85 million USD. On top of that you have costs for marketing, distribution, support, etc… Konami paid a lot for MGS 5. Kojima’s development approach was hugely expensive and it makes a lot of sense for Konami to try to get more use out of the engine they paid for before it gets obsolete. Doesn’t mean that MG Survive was the right way to do that, but I think we can agree that Konami is allowed to make decisions about their IP and their software assets

      • Shadow says:

        A fair point, especially about the engine and other technical aspects. But it’s shakier in relation to the IP.

        Yes, brand and name and all is legally theirs, but if there’s any message to Survive is that they care little about it other than as a potential avenue for profit.

    • rykeegan2011 says:

      Dude I’ve played over 160 hours in this game. It is thoroughly enjoyable. It is definitely not just a “cash grab”. Idk how someone could think that. First of all the game only retailed for 40 bucks new which is 20 bucks less than most games. — Not a cash grab there… I played MGS5 a lot and yes the microtransactions are similar in most ways. I beat the entire campaign to this game not even noticing a microtransaction. They are there for end game content if people want to speed up getting loot like almost any game that is popular nowadays. If you are on the fence about getting this game, get it. And join the unnoficial metal gear survive discord (google it) because that way you can find people who enjoy the game and want to team up for co op.

      The single player is better than i expected, and the co op is the best part about the game. It is so frustrating to me that so many people wrote stupid reviews on this game before even understanding it. Complaining about getting food and water and stuff… dont you remember how hard super mario was for nintendo or some of the mega man titles? I never even beat those games… Games are generally easier nowadays and this game can be challenging at times which I appreciate.

      This is 2018, watch some youtube gameplay of this game of people who know what there doing and I think you’ll be impressed. I continue to be baffled with these stupid reviews.

  6. woodsey says:

    Something about this game fills me with a kind of existential dread. Just looking at it is like putting on the glasses from They Live.

  7. Detrian says:

    The thing with Survive is that the campaign is a survival kind of thing and then as soon as you beat it the game becomes a Destiny style quest for exotic items that you get from co-op and the post-game. The campaign is practically a tutorial, really.

    Also, if you stand still a compass forms around your character so you don’t need to spam flags.

  8. poliovaccine says:

    I think if this were a fan-made mod it’d be on the level of DUST for Fallout New Vegas (or what I assume FROST is like for FO4, having never played it) – that is to say, a robust reimagining for people who’ve already et up the main game to death and who’ll have fun playing around with the systems in a jumbled-up, survival-oriented fashion. If it were an MGSV mod I’d probably love it. I’d probably be a lot more forgiving of any issues if it were a fan-made mod, too – as well as have more of a reasonable expectation that any issues would get fixed down the line. The sort of things listed here – not enough enemy variety, best toys saved needlessly for last – are the sorts of things a mod author would very likely see crop up in forums and address. I somehow don’t see that happening here, and not even cus I harbor any special animosity towards Konami (I mean, I do, it’s just irrelevant in this case, that’s the AAA dev norm).

    But mainly, I compare it like that cus it just kinda feels like a mod. And in a charitable way, I like to imagine that, internally, for the devs, that’s how it felt – like maybe they didn’t get to make an official, really-real Kojima Metal Gear, but they could pay their little tribute in their own fun little way. I mean it sure *seems* like an MGSV mod, from concept on down. An impressive one, sure, but a mod of the basic gameplay just the same.

    I think I want to keep viewing it in that charitable light and see if I get any fun out of it when it hits a sale. I think I’d rather take that approach in general, if it means I get more fun out of things overall. Anyway, if Kojima *were* involved with this one, people would just hate him for “taking a shit on the series,” you know it’s true, so in a way I’m grateful for that. See what I mean? Practice makes perfect..!

    Although, if it were a mod, it would be free… /pesky voice of reason

  9. smonkone says:

    “While I may be on board with “Metal Gear but zombies”, my tolerance for topping up thirst and hunger meters has become almost non-existent.”

    I’m kind of curious about the writer’s opinion on survival games in general. I really enjoy The Long Dark, so I have to wonder if this is just a dislike of dealing with survival mechanics or if the mechanics are just not implemented into the game in a way that works.

    I kind of suspect it’s the latter because it sounds like someone at Konami said, “Hear me out here…let’s crash the zombie game market…and the survival game market…and let’s do it with the Metal Gear name attached!”

  10. audiopathik says:

    This article is simply following the common popular opinions about Metal Gear Survive, surprisingly you couldn’t find the sentence “after what Konami has done to Kojima” in there.

    You could also turn the picture around and say it’s great that there is a lot of post-campaign content to explore when you’ve beaten up on the game.

    In fact, up to now there’s nobody who can fully unlock all the weapons, gear, gadgets, items, facilities that are available to be crafted, since all the advanced workshops can not be unlocked – so no epic gear for nobody so far.

    The base-building strategy/management component wasn’t mentioned, which is really fun and I’m still logging in to MGS every day to do my daily Base Digging Wave to unlock the end-game gear.

    And the story, dialogues, characters are really the worst thing about this game and by the way it’s nanomachines development by mankind who turned mankind into what these wanderers are and Earth into what Dite is.

    With gamer’s common sense anybody can figure out all the features and actually there are simply so many different features in this game that in the beginning you need a couple of hours to a grip on it all, I don’t think that’s annoying.