At the beginning of Metal Gear Survive, members of Mother Base have to defend their home against attacking XOF soldiers whilst their commander, Big Boss, is painfully absent. After the years of drama surrounding Kojima’s departure from Konami, I don’t think I have to spell out the symbolism here. It’s a theme that carries on throughout Survive, trying to do right by an absent leader and, consequently, in the absence of leadership. I think despite all this drama, or perhaps even because of it, Survive is an admirable achievement.
As a child of a broken home, I think Survive does an excellent job of getting to its feet, dusting off the past and making its own way in this world. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and some diehard fans are simply going to be unable to look past its parentage (or lack thereof), but for those willing to give Survive a chance, you’ll find a damn enjoyable survival game with a strong identity.
During the aforementioned attack on Mother Base, a strange portal opens in the sky and starts ripping everything – including friend, foe and lot of soon-to-be-important-debris – to an alternate dimension. Now, even for Metal Gear – a series that lived and died by its wacky, hard to follow, utterly batshit crazy plotlines, this is (if you’ll pardon the pun) out of this world. Having lost your arm to the portal but having been able to cling to Earth #1, your homemade character soon finds their way into a… coffin. You die. I don’t consider it a spoiler if it happens in the first (protracted) hour of gameplay.
But something happens. Some weird disease from the other world latches onto you, regenerates your arm and reanimates your corpse. As someone who’s seemingly inherited the power of this strange void, the higher ups decide you’re a prime candidate to re-enter the portal to rescue a research squad who’ve gone dark and continue their mission, charting and colonizing this strange new frontier. As you might have guessed from your own brush with death, this frontier happens to be full of reanimated zombies (another curveball that this series probably didn’t see coming) and you’ll have to contest with them as you course your way through the environment, gathering supplies, building a base and poking around mission-critical waypoints that appear on the map.
Playing through the overly long opening hours of the game, I found myself enjoying its bizarre narrative despite how loony it was. It’s not as ambitious as previous entries in the series, especially from a character point of view, with no one as charismatic as Snake or as frustratingly juvenile as Raiden to root for or against, but I liked piecing together the breadcrumbs Survive slowly lays out for you to build up the out-of-sync story. It sometimes gets in its own way, and it certainly drags itself out needlessly in places almost just to remind you that this is an MGS game, but when its on a roll – as weird a roll as that can be – it’s an enjoyable, engaging affair.
In another complete departure from series staples, the gameplay in Survive strives to mix things up in big ways. You’d think the genre shift from Stealth to Survival would have more shared mechanics but I was surprised to find very little of the series I know so well in Survive’s DNA. Sure, it borrows liberally from The Phantom Pain – from quick and fun stealth mechanics to certain elements of resource gathering – but honestly Survive feels like a very different game, and that’s … surprisingly fine.
Though it starts slow, Survive strides competently and confidently away from genre traditions laid out by the likes of Minecraft. Instead, I saw elements of titles such as Fortnite and even Rainbow Six Siege sing within Survive’s strange confines. What it takes from its predecessors is a zany sense of fun that brings some much needed levity to the overly sombre genre. Stressful zombie survival games are a lot more fun when you can run around punching sheep and fulton-ing supplies back to base, it turns out.
Your main goals are building a base to defend yourself from the harsh world you’ve found yourself in and discovering the plight of those who have come before you – all whilst keeping a watchful eye on meters such as thirst and hunger that tick ever down. Grabbing a healthy amount of gear and smashing up debris you come across to craft weapons and base-parts out of, whilst defending yourself against zombies and keeping yourself alive, forms the core gameplay loop of Survive, and it’s surprisingly fun. I find these constant progression systems very rewarding when done right, and Survive – though repetitive – still scratches that itch nicely.
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