The Metal Gear series’ future was uncertain after creator Hideo Kojima left Konami. Metal Gear Survive tosses away stealth and politics in favor of zombies and loot. I’ve played about five hours of the game and so far, while it captures the feeling of braving the wilderness, it’s also a slow grind.
Metal Gear Survive is a side story set after the events of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. After an attack on their base, mercenary soldiers are sucked into a mysterious wormhole and dropped into a hellish alternate dimension with metallic, nanotechnological zombies. Even by Metal Gear standards, the conceit is pulpy. The player takes the role of a customizable mercenary who must build a small base, craft weapons, and venture into the vast unknown to save survivors and return home.
Metal Gear Survive often feels more inspired by Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater than any other title in the series. Most of the game is spent running between a central base and a wasteland, where you can gather supplies for defenses or investigate disturbances. Between excursions for supplies, the player must make sure they have plenty of food and drink. Failure to eat and hydrate leads to lowered health and stamina. To gather food, the player must wander the wasteland to hunt goats, gerbils, wolves, and other animals. Hunted meat and scavenged plant-life can be brought back to camp for cooking. Eating uncooked meals such a raw meat or dirty water can lead to conditions like infection or stomach viruses that affect the player’s stats and lead to uncontrollable vomiting. You spend just as much time in menus as the wilderness, managing supplies and tending to medical needs as they arise. Between the hunting, scavenging, and field medicine, Metal Gear Survive lives up to its name. It really does feel like a lengthy and unforgiving bout of wilderness survival. While it remains to be seen how much of this changes in the later game, early expeditions are tense. One undercooked meal or bleeding cut can have lasting effects.
Without stealth, combat is less deliberate than what you’d experience in the main series. Guns and ammunition are initially scarce, forcing players to rely on crafted spears and rusty machetes. While there are still moments where sneaking around and stabbing enemies from behind is encouraged, altering a single enemy can bring down the horde and shifts things into a frantic mix of building and fighting. Similarly, activating power generators and teleporters throughout the map will automatically draw hordes to your location while other objectives, such as saving stranded survivors, are placed in small areas teeming with unavoidable enemies. This can lead to heroic stands against the zombie horde but more often than not devolves encounters into a clumsy hack and slash.
Player can upgrade their soldier with various abilities and stat boosts to help them stand a chance against the undead. The skill tree can be upgraded via a resource called Kuban Energy, which can be found throughout the world or by harvesting enemies. You can spend Kuban Energy to level up your character’s stats and unlock new combos and abilities. Sometimes this means gaining a powerful stomp attack to finish off downed enemies or a CQC counter move to parry a zombie’s flailing punch. Leveling up skills and crafting weapons gives your character the necessary tools to deal with new threats. However, all of this progress is hampered by stiff controls. Your character always moves a too slowly and awkwardly to feel competent.
It doesn’t help that the story mode’s early game is a genuine slog thanks to over-tutorializing. While this means that the player gets a refresher course on the game’s various systems, it also means a lengthy string of inconsequential missions where the player must kill goats or gather wood to build barricades. The missions exist in a vacuum devoid of any actual story progress or momentum. It takes some time before the plot really starts.
Survive bogs down the player with cutscenes full of generic characters. I’ve met a morally ambiguous doctor named Goodluck, twin monotone artificial intelligences named Vergil, a grizzled soldier named Reeve, and a blonde nurse whose name I’ve already forgot. All of them lack personality and only ever speak to tell me where the next objective is. They don’t feel like a cast of characters—they feel like quest-giving robots. The Metal Gear universe is a deeply woven tapestry of agendas chock-full with dynamic villains and honorable heroes. Metal Gear Survive teases the possibility of a more in-depth story, talking about vying factions and dangerous experiments, but this early in, I haven’t seen any of that yet.
Online matches inflate enemy difficulty to surprisingly high levels, turning a buffed up single player character into a stumbling weakling while online. The online portion of the game feels like something of a pocket dimension that has less interaction with the main game than I expected. Matches are a wave-based horde mode where players build defenses before fighting off their attackers. If the zombies destroy a power generator, the players fail. Depending on how well everyone does, players can receive supply drops with crafting materials and armor. Online crafting supplies don’t appear to transfer over to the single player, although Kuban energy and armor does. Dashing around online with up to three other players can lead to some raucous base defenses that provide a flash of excitement.
When I played Metal Gear Survive’s beta last month, I said that the game’s aesthetic and and presentation felt created an over-tuned arcade game. That’s still true in the portions of the game I’ve played. So far, Survive works best in the smaller moments. Hunting for goat in order to stave of starvation just a little bit longer, braving zombies so you can pilfer an abandoned base for antibiotics, and rushing to assemble defenses against gathering hordes are all great experiences. But while it might delight for brief moments, the early game has been a slow trudge.