Can Metal Gear survive without Kojima?
I wanted to hate Metal Gear Survive. I’ve made it pretty clear over the past year what I think of Konami’s baffling treatment towards the Metal Gear series and its famed creator Hideo Kojima, and there will always be a Silent Hills-shaped hole in my heart. But with Death Stranding looking to be crazier than anything Metal Gear could have offered at this point, I’ve slowly let the hate in my heart dissolve and learned to move on.
And so, I gave Metal Gear Survive a chance. I couldn’t deny my curiosity to see where the series could possibly go from here, and the strange gameplay piqued my interest. So is Metal Gear Survive every bit as awful as the internet would have you believe?
Not really, no. It’s actually pretty okay. That is, if you go into it expecting a survival game, and NOT a Metal Gear Solid game. I mean, it’s right there in the name.
That isn’t to say that this game knows entirely what it is either though. With a lengthy cinematic opening that alludes to a classic Metal Gear-esque narrative, it never actually reaches the same heights as its first hour again.
The story itself revolves around a group of mercenaries from Metal Gear Solid V being swept up into a wormhole to another world, forced to survive and find their way home without Big Boss at the lead. It’s a clever enough parallel to the real world development of the game, but that’s the best thing about it.
Much of the game’s story takes place in stilted character dialogue screens, like the codec calls of old, but without any of the charm. There’s a few decent twists to keep it interesting, but all the characters look like they come straight out of the same character creation tools players are given (along with equally awkward voice work), so it’s hard to care if any of them make it back home. It serves its job well enough to keep the momentum going, but those who come to Metal Gear purely for its memorable storyline can safely give this a pass.
But it’s Metal Gear Survive’s gameplay loop and systems that make it a rewarding and fun experience. Dite, the hellish land you find yourself trapped in, is not a friendly place. It’s swarming with zombies called Wanderers, and you’ll need to scavenge for everything to ensure long-term survival. This means managing health, stamina, hunger, thirst, and even oxygen when you travel into the Dust (more on that soon).
It’s all a bit much to handle in the beginning. Consequently, the majority of criticism and mocking I’ve seen of this game online has been focused squarely on these opening hours, when just playing the game can feel like a chore. It’s this hump that will make or break players.
The thirst system is particularly cruel, as dirty water can make your character sick, and for what feels like way too long, you won’t get a good method of purification. Of course, medicine is it’s own whole separate thing, with an abundance of other ailments that can afflict your character that you’ll have to mend, like bruises or lacerations.
If this sounds like a lot to keep track of, that’s because it is. Metal Gear Survive is entirely systems driven – maintaining your character, upgrading them, building your base up, taking care of those who run it, assigning jobs, etc. the list just keeps going. I understand why most people would look at this game and just see it as a whole lot of time wasting and aggravation.
And yet… I enjoyed it. There’s something oddly satisfying about keeping track of all these systems, staying ahead of the curve, quickly adapting to problems to stay alive. Once I wrapped my head around everything I actually had to do, the process of going about accomplishing these tasks was sort of zen-like. Despite an immensely difficult onset, slowly taming the world to solve problems is incredibly rewarding.
You’ll grow farms and cage animals so food is no longer a problem. You’ll build water purifiers and containers so you never have to worry about being thirsty and sick again. Exploration teams can bring back supplies so you’re always fully stocked. Ironically, becoming the master of Dite wouldn’t feel so good if it wasn’t for its initial harshness that turned so many players off.
Still, the UI design does its best job to make all of this look as complicated and confusing as possible, so I don’t really blame anyone for taking one glance at the game and running in the opposite direction.
The in-game AI helper also has a fun habit of telling you every single time any one of your multiple meters is running low, so feel free to throw the game on mute and get through your podcast backlog.
The actual way you go about upgrading yourself and the base is sort of a double-edged sword. As mentioned, Dite is mostly covered in a foggy Dust, which you’ll have to venture in to for story missions and loot. It’s swarming with Wanderers, you’ll need an oxygen tank (that you’ll of course need to constantly manage), you can’t see ten feet in front of you, and the map doesn’t work.
The harshness of the Dust and the frequency of time spent there is definitely another huge source of complaints. Yet it still remained intriguing to me. You’ll have to find your way by following lights in the distance and scoping out your path ahead of time. It’s just another matter of careful planning and patience to get through it, and like the rest of the game’s systems, it can be very rewarding to make your way back to base after successful missions.
Not that it’s entirely defendable. The drab desert landscape is made even less memorable when you cover it in a thick cloud of fog, and it’s annoying that getting through the Dust can still be a chore even in the endgame. Still, there are some surprises in there that can amaze even a seasoned Metal Gear player.
Combat is another point of infamous contention. There’s no denying it, a big percentage of the combat in this game is the same process. You put up a fence, zombies bump into the fence, and you stab them through it. While most will find this incredibly repetitive (again, this is just another thing I found strangely addictive), it’s only one method of combat and its effectiveness will drastically decrease as you’re given better weapons and face stronger opponents.
Despite the fence poking clips you’ll find on Youtube, there actually is a pretty big variety to combat. Not to go too in depth on the diversity of weaponry or tools (because there IS a lot there), but it’s not surprising for large combat scenarios in the second half of the game to see you throwing down a balloon trap, setting down a turret, blasting a rocket-wielding Wanderer with a shotgun, then taking down a crowd with a flaming machete.
But yeah, the fence and spear combo is way too overpowered for way too long.
And while I’ve mentioned that I could overcome Metal Gear Survive’s repetitiveness up until now, even I succumbed to it eventually. Combat in missions only comes in one flavour, horde mode. About a third of the game’s missions are horde mode-style battle arenas, where you’ll have to defend and fortify an area through three waves of Wanderer attacks.
This wouldn’t be bad if it wasn’t also how you unlocked fast travel points. Or earned experience points. Or how you defended your base… Or if it wasn’t all the multiplayer was comprised of.
It’s seriously head-scratching they could only come up with ONE kind of combat scenario. Making use of your new toys and seeing what goodies you can unlock after these fights is fun for a while, and there’s novelty in doing it with three other players online, but these eventually fade away with no other options available.
There’s an entire endgame to Metal Gear Survive where you can keep doing these missions, both offline and on, to acquire better gear and build up your base. But by that point in, I’d pretty much become self sufficient enough to not really need anything else. The base building itself only goes so far, arguably not enough, as you’ll never come close to achieving the heights of a full Mother Base. And the fights themselves just aren’t fun enough on their own to warrant further play.
This is also where most of the dreaded microtransactions will come into play. You can buy loot boxes for better gear and materials, speed up time between base defending waves, buy additional exploration teams, and probably even more sneaky ways Konami thought they could get your money.
It would be absolutely egregious (and the internet’s already declared it so) if I hadn’t already had my fill of the game by then. For those who want the true, 100% never-ending Metal Gear Survive experience I can see this being a big issue, but after beating the main missions and spending about 35 hours with the game, I’m left satisfied and with an unpicked wallet.
So there it is, my arduous and muddled semi-defence for Metal Gear Survive. It’s hard to even talk about the game because there’s just so much to it. You can either become lost in it like I did, find a routine and slowly overcome Dite to satisfaction, or say screw Konami and watch another Death Stranding trailer.
It was a strange decision to take Metal Gear in such a markedly different direction, but not one that I feel was completely without merit. I enjoyed my time with the game, and there’s fun to be had here if you let it happen. You know, when the servers are actually running.
Know what? Never mind. #FuckKonami
… Na just kidding,