It has its moments, but is a brutally hardcore survival sim what fans really want?
This isn’t a Metal Gear game.
Look beyond the title, a tenuous link to Hideo Kojima's universe, and the fact it uses Konami’s wonderful looking FOX Engine, and Survive might as well be called “Survival Game #637”. But if it was, would you even be bothering to read this?
With our cynicism checked at the door, the question is whether or not this game any good.
The answer, rather like the game itself, is incredibly complicated.
The lengthy, exposition heavy intro is very “Metal Gear” - ie overblown and daft, but even more so this time around. Your freshly designed avatar apparently died during the attack on Mother Base right before the start of The Phantom Pain.
So you’re dead, but also… not dead. You're also infected, apparently, and have just been thrown through a wormhole to hell. It's up to you to find out what happened to the last team to go through the portal, and then find a way to get back to your reality.
Dite, the place you end up in, is full of strange zombie creatures - but also goats and other animals, which you’ll have to slaughter to stay alive. It's all rather a lot to take in.
The characters aren’t particularly interesting, but there’s just enough story to pull you in - however bizarre it might be.
The word “Survive” has never been more aptly used than it is here. Micro-management is everywhere. You have to keep an eye on your hunger levels, thirst, oxygen, gear: absolutely everything must be monitored and dealt with to stay alive.
It’s a tough experience. Die during a mission? Back to your base to start again. Hope you didn’t pick up anything you found useful, because that’ll be gone. There’s no saving outside of your base, and it’s a punishing early lesson to learn.
For each moment you spend in the game world, you'll gradually get more thirsty and hungry, so you’ll have to eat and drink. Dirty water can make you sick, and raw food will poison you. If that wasn't enough of a hardship, even cooked food can spoil after a seemingly indeterminate amount of time.
Every aspect of Survive feels like a real-world chore, turned into a game mechanic designed to stress you out and make you feel on edge. If you’re hurt you’ll need to treat that precise injury - there’s no quick fix for anything.
Drop below 20% for any of your vital stats and the screen will blur in and out of focus until you get fed and watered. It’s a bizarre inclusion that will surely make players feel dizzy, but it really does make you want to stay healthy - so we’ll give that a tick in the positive department.
Kept You Waiting! Huh?
This sounds rough, there’s something strangely compelling about it all. After a few hours, you’ll settle into a routine: gear up; go out scavenging; do a side mission or main mission; return home and get healthy, then tend to your defenses and errands around the base.
There’s enough variety to the weapons and tactics that there’s fun to be had in the moment, and thanks to the satisfying sounds of Metal Gear’s past, it's even fun to simply collect resources.
This loop aside, the other core element is fighting off waves of enemies while you fix stuff or push the story forward. Unlocking a new fast travel point brings on a rush of enemies, which forces you to defend the technology. Yes, this is also a tower defense game.
It's tempting to pick up all the gear, even though there's also a weight limit that restricts how much you can carry, because you’ll be able to craft defenses and hold the waves off while you last the distance.
You can stick a fence up, then poke the heads of the zombies with your pokey stick, or just shoot them with guns or arrows. Once enough of them amass they’ll either wear your defenses down, or in the case of fences, climb over them, forcing them to topple.
Missions often have a time limit in order for successful completion, and they are not easy. The limited amount of ammo and traps you can carry means that tactics are required, and you can expect to die on the early missions a few times.
There’s even a base building element which feels like the veritable kitchen sink has been thrown at the game, allowing you to manage non playable characters as well.
If you’re able to get four friends for the online co-op mode, then you’ll likely have a good time. The enemies are high level and take a lot of beating, and they overwhelm quickly, attacking in droves as you slowly run out of ammo and have to rely on melee weapons.
You have to work together, use your defenses wisely, because it ramps up quickly and is tough, but rewarding. The maps are well designed, giving an obvious entry point for enemies that you need to reinforce.
Given that multiplayer was clearly on Konami’s mind when making Survive, it’s a real shame you can’t inhabit a world with your pals. If you could have a friend join your story and adventure onwards throughout the world, that’d be a really interesting way to play.
Instead, you’re left with randoms grabbing loot before you can, and making do with the spoils at mission end whether you win or lose. This is one game that’s definitely better with friends.
You’ll definitely want to use the game’s currency (Kuban) to upgrade your character, unlocking new skills to give you the edge. This Kuban can be grabbed from outcrops or harvested from fallen enemies, but make no mistake, everything in this game costs something, so grab everything you can.
In case you hadn’t yet realised how much management this game requires, the icing on the poisoned cake is weapon and gear degradation. Whether it’s a machete or a gun, it will slowly get worse, as will your clothing.
Using materials and Kuban to repair your items is another part of the loop you’ll quickly get used to, and if you can make peace with all of this, and are after a survival game that’s linked to Metal Gear, this might be the title for you.
None of this makes it a bad game. It’s well made and strangely compelling, with a huge amount of tension due to the fact you know if you die, you will be punished. The enemies look generic at first, with more interesting designs as you progress that change how you play, tactically, but they manage to instill fear thanks to the sheer numbers that come at you.
Then there’s the dust. This is an area that requires an oxygen mask (which, you guessed it, depletes, causing another countdown you have to manage). But it yields better rewards if you risk it, and it’s even harder to survive because you can get turned around easily, only able to see your base by the distant green glow that makes you feel like safety is within reach.
Here, Metal Gear Survive is at its most compelling, disorientating you and asking you to pay attention to everything. Map markers disappear and you feel very much lost in the fog. It’s exciting and nerve-wracking.
Survive is decent enough to make you want to push onwards, and the story is worth seeing through. Its difficulty level is likely to be divisive. Some may be unable to shake the feeling that the game wants you to suffer and is unfairly ruthless, while others could find the challenge an engaging experience. This is a title you'll stop playing because you're annoyed at the loss of progress, but will have you waking the next day desperate to explore deeper into the dust and find new things to do.
So it's not a Metal Gear game, then, but it's an interesting proposition and a well made survival sim. It's punishing yet rewarding, fantastical yet grounded in the mundane, and if you go in with an open mind you'll find a decent game to sink your teeth into, especially at the budget price.
Konami has delivered an incredibly weird yet strangely compelling game – albeit one with limited appeal. If you’re into the hardcore survival genre, though, there’s definitely something here to feed those self-punishing tendencies.