Before games like DayZ and Ark: Survival Evolved, there was Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. A game that introduced a survival mechanic—the first for the Metal Gear series—for Naked Snake's clandestine adventure into the jungles of the Soviet Union. That survival mechanic disappeared from later Metal Gear games, but it's making a welcome comeback in Metal Gear Survive.
It's easy to forget how Metal Gear Solid 3 predated the deluge of survival games that seems to have peaked now that battle royale is the hot new genre. With that, to see Metal Gear return to those Snake Eater roots in Metal Gear Survive isn't actually all that surprising. In fact, the reason Metal Gear Survive works for the most part is because it's just a modernized version of Metal Gear Solid 3's Survival Viewer system.
In survival games, the numbers that amount to your endurance usually consist of health and stamina that are dependent on food and water instead of magical potions. Taken further and games like Metal Gear Survive introduce other risks and variables such as diseases into the mix. This amounts to logical situations, like being sure to cook that sheep meat you hunted before you eat it, or purifying the water you just bottled from the nearby ditch lest you die of dysentery.
Metal Gear Solid 3 utilized its survival mechanic to great effect to simulate how Snake had to act as a one-man army behind enemy lines. Players had to be their own medic and support and it was a genuinely thrilling experience. Some of that excitement exists in Metal Gear Survive, which features a much more robust survival mechanic than the one in Metal Gear Solid 3. The same feeling of danger and isolation returns in Survive. While the basics remain the same, Survive adds a little more flourish and depth to the base survival system from Metal Gear Solid 3, and it makes for a compelling experience.
Kind of like Metal Gear Survive, survival games are more functional and utilitarian than elegant. And since there's precedent for this type of genre before in the Metal Gear series, Metal Gear Survive isn't as drastic a departure for the series as one might initially believe. But unfortunately that comes with its own set of drawbacks.
It's already been reported that Metal Gear Survive reuses maps and other assets from Metal Gear Solid 5. In fact, the opening desert portion of the demo I played is pretty reminiscent of the desert area in Metal Gear Solid 5. You can even see the remnants of a Mother Base-like structure in the distance, though I have a feeling that the game's story will justify this somehow. Nevertheless, the environments and locales feel too familiar in a way that gives off the unpleasant feeling that this game could just be DLC for Metal Gear Solid 5.
Then there are the mechanics Konami adds on top of the survival stuff which do the game little favors. The main plot of the game revolves around a mysterious, toxic fog that's settled on the outer edges of your base camp. The player has to explore this mysterious area for clues on how to escape the alternate dimension they're trapped in. Unfortunately the map, and particularly in the areas covered by the fog, are overrun by mysterious creatures called "Wanderers," but they're basically zombies.
The game might try and explain them away as something otherworldly, but if it walks like a zombie and acts like a zombie, it doesn't really matter what you call them.
To combat the Wanderers, Konami added a forge mechanic where players can build fences and makeshift walls. And unlike crafting foods and weapons which veer towards realism in Metal Gear Survive, players can basically summon fences and walls out of thin air through some kind of portal. It's a strange hodgepodge of features and mechanics that absolutely don't mesh with one another.
The incoherency carries into the multiplayer mode where four players band together in a tower defense-like mode to stop hordes of Wanderers from breaching the base camp. In between waves, players must forage the nearby areas for more materials so they can build themselves better weapons and fortifications. While the multiplayer is functional, it just adds to the confusing identity of the game.
Unlike other Metal Gear spinoffs like Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, there's very little in Survive (that I've seen in my demo) to suggest that Survive has a clear sense of individuality. Instead, the game feels like it's been put together with loose parts from previous Metal Gear games, refashioned to support new game modes like survival and tower defense.
And that's kind of a potential bright spot actually. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if Konami decides to add even more types of game modes into Survive. Even a battle royale mode wouldn't actually be out of place for the game, and it might even work well.
Throughout my demo I found myself coming back to just how good the core survival system in Metal Gear Survive is. It's the moments where you're scavenging across the vast desert looking for materials and hunting animals for food that made-up the best parts of the demo. Even after I got poisoned for drinking dirty water and started throwing up at regular intervals, it felt tonally in sync with previous Metal Gear games. In Metal Gear Survive, I found a potential successor to Metal Gear Solid 3. If only it weren't for those damned zombies.