I’ve said several times when reviewing “controversial” games like Mass Effect: Andromeda and the Call of Duty series that I don’t really feel connected to “gamer culture” anymore. I’m not sure I ever did, really, and it might just be that I found some friends who shared my interests then mistook that as being part of some larger community. Over time, the hardcore gaming crowd has defined itself as a group that’s too small and undisciplined to have any significant effects on the industry that birthed it, but just large and gullible enough to serve as a source of profit and influence for any Pied Piper who can play the right tune. Simply put, in 2018 there’s money to be made from nerd rage; James Rolfe, creator of the Angry Video Game Nerd, probably could have told us that years ago.
It’s that atmosphere that makes it difficult to discuss a game like Metal Gear Survive. This is a game that was doomed to fail in the eyes of a particular audience the second it was announced; pundits who have everything to gain by appealing to the righteous zeal of that audience have only stoked the flames. When I talk about games, though, I’m interested in what I think the everyman would care about: not who Hideo Kojima is or isn’t, not the potentially sordid story of Survive’s development, nothing but whether or not the game is fun to play. The everyman and his focus on whether or not a game is enjoyable to play is what guides the industry in my eyes, not the tired outrage-of-the-week paradigm that lies at the core of the self-defined “gamer” identity in 2018, and it’s from that perspective that I want to talk about Metal Gear Survive.
Survive takes place shortly after the events of Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes. You’ll take the role of a player-created soldier, male or female, who was sucked into a mysterious wormhole after Big Boss’ base was destroyed in that game. The wormhole deposits the player into a wasteland called Dite, a world similar to our own that’s been depopulated thanks to a mysterious toxic Dust and swarms of roving zombie Wanderers. With the help of other castaways and a radio contact back home, the player will need to survive the harsh conditions and figure out a way to make it out of Dite alive.
How’s it play, then? Well, this is Metal Gear-flavored Fortnite. By that I mean it’s the Save the World part of Fortnite that we originally discussed when we reviewed that game and that has largely been abandoned in favor of riding the Battle Royale wave: tower defense combined with third-person shooting and exploration. Like that game, Survive suffers somewhat from repetition, but a tighter difficulty curve and some rewarding exploration and multiplayer aspects make this the superior take on the concept.
Life in Dite revolves around survival and self-defense. Survival is represented as the classic nag meters we’ve come to know and “love” since that particular fad caught on in the Minecraft days around the turn of the decade – you’ve got hunger and thirst meters and they tick down regularly, nagging you if you neglect to pay attention to them. Your character steadily weakens as they grow more hungry and thirsty, so it’s to your benefit to stay on top of things. Further, when exploring Dust-filled areas, you’ll also need to pay attention to an oxygen meter or risk death from asphyxiation.
The concept is represented here with a little more love than we see in most games, so food supplies are relatively scarce and water found in the field is typically polluted enough to risk sickening your soldier. While eventually you’re able to sustain yourself well enough to reduce these meters to mere annoyances, this takes hours as opposed to minutes as in most games with me-too survival elements. It’s a nice touch that adds a little tension.
As for self-defense, that takes several forms. The heart and soul of Survive is, as mentioned, a take on tower defense; you’re given a point to defend and encourage to build structures and use weapons to do so. Structures, weapons and ammo are all crafted using materials salvaged from the world, naturally, so there’s a level of scarcity involved in combat; in particular, ammo supplies tend to be relatively limited, so there’s a significant focus on melee. Fast travel stations, story beats and item collection alike all tend to involve defense in some way, so it behooves the player to get used to the concept quickly.
Early on, defense is a fairly straightforward affair; you’ve got fences that slow down basic zombies and allow you to stab the zombos safely with a spear. Survive steadily introduces new enemy and defense types as the game goes on, so later you’re fighting acrobatic leaping zombies by blasting away at them with mounted guns. New crafting recipes are found throughout the world and usually represent a significant discovery that can change the way you approach defense; the ability to take these into Survive’s online mode is appreciated as well.
All of this works surprisingly well together. Survive’s got a nice, snappy feel to it that makes it a joy to play; combat is lethal enough (and the save system is unforgiving enough, forcing a revert to the last autosave in many cases) that exploration remains tense even late into the game and teaming up with other players online is a joy if you’re able to coordinate what you’re doing. In other words, it’s a solid game that definitely had some love put into it that’s going to get a bad rap because of its name and the story surrounding it. That’s a little disappointing. My biggest complaint is that the interconnected nature of single-player and multiplayer progress means that it’s possible to leave friends behind if they don’t keep up with their single-player campaign.
This is a nice-looking game as well, though you can definitely tell that it didn’t have the same endless budget as most Metal Gear entries. The plot is fairly straightforward and is largely delivered via text-focused cutscenes that call to mind the Codec calls of earlier Metal Gears. Graphically it’s on par with Metal Gear Solid V – unsurprising, given it’s running on the same engine – and I didn’t find myself particularly hating any of the characters for their voice acting.
Here’s the bottom line: this is a $40 tower defense game with survival elements that’s shockingly well done given its low price. That’s going to disappoint players hoping for a classic Metal Gear experience. Taken as its own game, though, Metal Gear Survive is a solid buy that becomes an excellent choice if you’ve got some friends to team up and take on the multiplayer.