Metal Gear Survive: More “Survive”, Less “Metal Gear”

Our hands-on preview after five hours with the game.

The “Survive” in the title of Metal Gear Survive is a lot more literal than the first glimpses of gameplay might’ve made it seem. This is, first and foremost, a survival game, with unforgiving thirst and hunger systems that deplete by the second. On the other hand, the “Metal Gear” part of the title is much less literal. This is an action-first, crafting-driven adventure that, based on our three hours of hands-on time, has almost nothing but environments in common with previous games in the series, for better or for worse.

We dropped into the game’s seemingly expansive open world right after a series of somewhat uninspiring story cutscenes, and were immediately introduced to Survive’s version of Mother Base. It’s a fairly bleak but customizable base setup that initially has stations for crafting gear, weapons, and medicine, plus a fireplace for cooking raw meat so it becomes edible. There’s also a station specifically dedicated to leveling up, and all of these are explained by two off-screen robots that speak infuriatingly slowly.

Exit Theatre Mode

The systems aren’t hard to understand and the tutorial is ultimately helpful, but this was my first major “Why is this called Metal Gear?” moment. In a franchise that’s known for having interesting characters and companions, why have two dull, humourless robots speak to me over an intercom rather than human NPCs I could form an attachment to? In fact, the only other actual character present during my playthrough was seated in my base, but couldn’t be interacted with in any way. The sole driving force of the game, at least at the beginning, is robots you don’t care about telling you to find data to bring back to your camp to analyse, while the hunger and thirst meters slowly tick away.

This was my first major “Why is this called Metal Gear?” moment.

Managing your food and water in Metal Gear Survive, at least initially, is little more than tedious. Your unforgiving metabolism mandates a “hunting” side mission in between almost every activity in the early game. While water replenishes your maximum stamina, I found no way to reliably craft clean water, instead just hoping to come across it randomly in the open world. Dirty water, which was much easier to find, inflicted an annoying status effect that could either be cured with consumable medicine in the pause menu (which doesn’t pause the game) or ignored at the cost of the occasional barf. None of this is fun, and while I’m sure you’ll progress past these petty trifles later, I question their prevalence all the same.

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The resource management is pretty consistently unforgiving overall, too, with my progress being immediately halted at one point because I couldn’t find the stainless steel I needed to make a gas mask. I retraced my steps, explored seemingly every part of the map that I could without needing said gas mask, and couldn’t find the steel. Every step I took was depleting the resources I needed to survive, with seemingly no means of progression. In the meantime, though, I was farming the game’s Kuban Crystals – red crystals that can be found in the environment, but are also embedded in the heads of the zombie-style enemies.

Kuban Crystals are the currency you spend to level up, and, at least initially, it was so easy to farm that it didn’t feel particularly impactful. Enemies respawn and are easy to kill by just standing on something slightly higher than they are and stabbing at them. When they die, you essentially ‘rip’ crystals out of them. This is a bit of a slow process, especially since there’s no ‘take all’ option for any kind of resource in Survive, and I had essentially found an easy exploit within the first hour of the game, but the upgrade system had a fair amount of depth.

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Crafting and progression were some of my most positive takeaways from Metal Gear Survive. Finding weapon blueprints stashed in locked containers is a lot of fun. I made an immediate b-line whenever I spotted one of these massive safes, each boasting a tense and rewarding minigame. Discovering a bow and arrow recipe, for example, is a remarkable boon more than worthy of the risks involved, and I wonder what other blueprints lie somewhere in Survive’s harsh deserts. So long as resources become more plentiful later in the game, and I’m not stuck looking for stainless steel for gas masks or copper to craft ammo, I imagine that crafting and progression could be some of the game’s strongest attributes.

While adding new weapons to my inventory was exciting, the early combat isn’t particularly fun. It’s loud, close, and frequent, with AI that falls flat. Even when trying to infiltrate an area stealthily, enemies seemed to be tipped off to me suddenly and seemingly without explanation, and once one of them is aware of you, they very quickly all are. It’s not hard to take out a big group of them (building a fence and poking at them with a melee weapon was my go-to tactic), but it does take the methodical dismantling of an outpost seen in The Phantom Pain and instead turns it into a clunky battle against Survive’s imprecise controls and unusual inventory management.

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All of this has to be played online, too, specifically in the interest of facilitating the online co-op and Live Events. From your base in single-player you can access a terminal that’ll throw you to an interactive lobby, which is surprisingly one of the most fun parts of the game. In a way that’s similar to PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, you’re able to attack other players in the lobby without actually doing any damage, which is a good way to prepare you for the faster-paced combat of co-op. Selecting a co-op map is simple, and getting there is simple, but once you’re dropped, it’s a slightly less interesting version of Gears of War’s Horde mode.

Crafting and progression were some of my most positive takeaways.

Admittedly, the co-op probably isn’t catered to low-level players. Some of the best gear in the game is only available via multiplayer, and we had jumped in at a place where we were so inexperienced with the single player that our defence had to be the classic ‘put up fence, poke enemy with stick’, rinse and repeat. There is potential here, though, and even with our limited resources, strategizing was necessary. Co-op introduced higher level enemies, and a second enemy type – one that explodes, but can be one-hit killed if you attack it from behind. Multiplayer will have custom conditions available too, like maps where headshots do 100% damage, for example.

While I am interested to try more of that multiplayer, see more of the crafting system, and experience Metal Gear Survive’s survival elements a few more hours in, from what I’ve played so far, it mostly feels tedious. The early hours of the game try to imitate the primal rush of survival games like Don’t Starve, 7 Days to Die, and Minecraft, but, ultimately, its linear waypoint based missions leave no room for the kind of experimentation that makes the genre fun.

Alanah Pearce and James Duggan are both producers at IGN. Alanah was totally, objectively better than James at Metal Gear Survive’s co-op. Suck it, James. 

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