When all else fails, throw zombies at it. That seems to be the maxim of the current world. Konami was always going to have a tough time what with Hideo Kojima leaving the Metal Gear franchise, but were zombies really the answer? Ok, they're not zombies, more like crystal headed ex-humans called walkers (sorry - 'wanderers'), but effectively they are. Metal Gear Survive follows on from the events of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes after the fall of the besieged Mother Base, and sees the surviving members of the MSF burying their ex-comrades. Then in some loose story link, they end up sending a soldier through a wormhole to defeat the wandering dead on an alternate reality planet called Dite, and as such Survive plays more like a spin-off than a sequel. Not all spin-offs are like Joey, though, as some are more like Frasier and go on to be good in their own right. For many fans, though, this new addition has been a controversial shift away from the norm of Metal Gear and had been criticised before a button had even been pressed.
Before we get into it, we need to say one thing; this doesn't really feel like a Metal Gear game. It feels like they made the game and then added the title to help it sell. There are some familiar elements, such as the shrill noise when enemies see you, but the action has moved away from stealth and more towards boom boom, kill 'em all. Therefore it shall, from here on in, simply be referred to as Survive. The titles were always about politics and shadow organisations, which even saw Kojima asking why zombies had made their way to this new game. That, however, doesn't mean that Survive is automatically bad, rather that we had to judge it on its own merits rather than view it as a straight-up continuation of the series.
Upon starting the game we had to create our own avatar and saw our creation transported to an alternate ruined world where zombies had destroyed everything. Survive is what you must do as you're walking around in a stunning desert setting, looking for memory boards and other survivors, trying to find your way back home. You've got to watch your character's hunger and thirst and keep them nourished during this time, although the food and water bars ticked down way too quickly for our liking and a number of times our character dropped dead in the middle of a mission from dehydration. Add to this the fact that it's hard to find clean water before a certain mission allows you to boil it and the game can be a bit of a slog at the start. Drinking dirty water can make you sick and vomiting while being chased by a freak show of zombies with crystal heads is by no means fun. You don't see Rick Grimes with this problem. After a while, you start to see other enemies and not just wanderers, some of which come with an element of horror. We found ourselves jumping from random shocks, which seemed a little... unlike Metal Gear. The surprises were welcome at first, but they soon became a little predictable and lost their novelty. We found ourselves running away more times than actually fighting, just to get to the next location.
Simply put, Metal Gear Survive is a third-person title where you collect stuff to build up your base and create new weapons, recruiting survivors and killing zombies to do so. There's a single-player mode, along with online co-op where up to four players fight off the hordes of the crystal dead, and the single-player campaign contains one of the longest tutorials we've played in some time. Along the way, you rescue new characters who join you at your base and help run things or go on expeditions. It's a good feeling to come back to your base and see your people at work, especially since some of the NPCs communicate with you, although the dialogue and personalities feel a little bland and soulless at times. For example, one of them drifts from being caring to an arse in the same conversation.
The story itself is a little underwhelming and it's not the most exciting of adventures. It's not bad, but it just doesn't do itself any favours either. The early stages are really grueling with you dropping dead from hunger or not being strong enough to kill the monsters and having to do the same sections over and over until you get them right. You level your character up and teach them new skills using energy which is harvested from the corpses of wanderers. Once you get strong enough, life gets much easier and you can whip through the challenges and start having fun. Either way, it gets a little bit repetitive after a while as you go out and collect things/people or look for energy sources, although the sense of routine almost becomes comforting. The progress you make carries over from your single-player to co-op and vice-versa too, meaning that any item you find in co-op appears in your single-player game as well.
The co-op side is action-packed and revolves around working online with four other players to defend a position from an onslaught of creatures or go out and salvage things. It's pretty fun and competitive, but the best thing about it was the huge rewards in terms of materials, items, and energy to level-up your character. At first, when we were low in rank and paired with high-level players, we found ourselves feeling weak and couldn't really fight as well as we wanted, watching on while the other players were ripping through our opponents. We felt a bit useless as we picked off the easy targets and collected what we could. The surprise came at the end as we got so much stuff that we could level up our character a few times and had some cool equipment that made our zombie-slaying lives all that much easier (and as your development carries over, it meant we suddenly got better in the single-player mode as well). Effectively, during the first few matches in co-op you can relax a little and rely on others to do the heavy lifting, helping you to level-up to become a kickass zombie killing machine yourself.
The further you get into the game, the better it feels, especially once it's easier to stop dropping dead from a lack of clean water. The basic mantra is: collect stuff, build, and then repeat. All of the collecting makes sense when you start to get enough stuff to build the weapons to get you through it, as it's not just about surviving, it's about taking control and setting up a frontline base. Soon you're building rain collectors, purifying systems, and potato crops which meant that a lot of the initial difficulties eased. You can send your fellow survivors out on hunts for new items or set them tasks around the base, and watching everything grow from the efforts you made in the field was pretty satisfying. There's a mission structure, sort of, in that you have the objective of getting home and need to tackle random tasks around the map, but it's much more open as you can do what you want when you want once the tutorial has finished.
The character themselves just felt like they were dropped there for no reason beyond bad luck, and also the first character you meet was your enemy from the battle at Mother Base, so you might be expecting some tension, but the development never really comes. It's not at all compelling and not once did we really feel excited to discover what was going to happen next. By the way, are you telling us that a seasoned elite fighter, such as our main character, can't go on a hike without taking loads of food and water?
The map is stunning to behold and really sets the tone for the survival aspect. That said, Survive had a pretty quick turnaround compared to past Metal Gear games, and much of that is down to the fact that this new world is very similar to the Afghanistan map in MGS5. Of course, there are some cosmetic changes, and there are a variety of different monsters that make it feel different, but there's a lot of recycling. Most of the landscape is covered in some kind of killer dust-storm and is inaccessible until you can build an air-tank, which is a little infuriating because the map or guide point doesn't work intuitively so you get absolutely lost at times, just hoping you can remember which way is north. You also can't go very far without running out of air, food, or water until you open up new warp portals to explore further. While it's pretty cool when you open up a new one (to do this it's the same every time; a wave of enemies comes to stop you while you defend), it does mean you spend a lot of time retracing your steps. On the audio front, the only music that was a bit weird was on the waiting area of the co-op mode, with some of the songs seeming a little too jovial for the zombie apocalypse atmosphere found elsewhere.
Complaint time: DLC in a triple-A game we understand. It's adding extra content to a game that you can take or leave, and that's never a bad thing. Survive, though, introduces too many microtransactions. You can pay, for example, to improve certain in-game actions, such as productivity in your base. There are quite a few things you can do with the currency, such as creating new resource search teams, but one transaction was the ability to pay for a second avatar. We're sorry to say this, but that's just foul. It's one thing when free apps allow you to pay to improve the experience, but after forking out money to buy the game, you then have to pay more to make it better or have two character slots? Another complaint is the fact that it has to be constantly connected to the Internet, even in single-player mode. If, as happened to us, your internet goes down for a few minutes, you can't play, even if you just want to go solo.
Summing up our thoughts on a game as divisive as this isn't easy, as just because it's not a typical Metal Gear outing doesn't make it bad. In fact, at times we really enjoyed it. It's a bit slow and grueling at the start, but the further you get into it, the better it gets. When you can see your base up and running and the survivors doing their various jobs, you'll really start to enjoy it. We had quite a number of survivors, including one called Hissing Jackal (honestly, where do they get these names?), and we slowly built a connection with our base of operations. That said, the fact the main campaign map feels overly familiar, along with the game's repetitive nature and a lack of character development, means that it didn't turn out to be as good as we were hoping. Survive is good, but certain features combined with the messy divorce with Kojima really has tainted it for some fans.