Arriving with very little fanfare from both its core franchise following and Konami itself, Metal Gear Survive is going to be judged unfairly thanks to the baggage of Hideo Kojima’s exit and what the Japanese publisher has become in recent years. This spin-off ditches what made the Metal Gear Solid series so special for the most part, but what it retains and introduces amalgamates into something really quite fascinating. There will be those who write it off completely, but for anyone willing to give Metal Gear Survive a chance, what they’ll find is a compelling, addictive, and ultimately rewarding experience that is unlike nearly anything else we’ve ever played.

Taking place directly after the events of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, your player-created character survives the attack on Mother Base, but they are promptly sucked up into a wormhole that opens up above the headquarters. On the other side, you find yourself in Dite, an alternate dimension inhabited by zombie-like creatures known as Wanderers. You quickly discover that you weren’t its first visitors, however, as Charon Corps (the unit that was deployed there to gather information on this new world) has gone missing. It’s now up to you to recover any data they found, as well as rescuing any survivors you come across, and ultimately get yourself out of there.

In true Metal Gear fashion, however, this setup only just scratches the surface of the events that actually unfold. We were unsure how much of a focus the story would actually get, but we were more than satisfied with the amount of twists and turns there are in this wacky tale. It’s certainly not on the level of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty’s final hours, but the surprises are definitely going to catch you off guard. There’s even some neat tie-ins with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, and these help to put a neat bow on a surprisingly good plot. With political groups getting involved, wild supernatural occurrings leaving your mouth agape, and crazy revelations that turn the entire plot on its head, fans won’t be left disappointed when it’s time to put down the controller as the cutscenes begin to roll.

While it stays true to its roots in some ways, Metal Gear Survive’s biggest departure is its introduction of survival mechanics. Prominently displayed at all times within the user interface, your hunger and thirst gauges have a huge impact on the overall experience, and they’re something you need to be aware of at all times. As percentages tick down in front of your eyes, the simple act of playing the game gets tougher and tougher the less you pay attention to them. Your vision becomes blurred, navigation gets harder, and the Wanderers become an even greater threat if one of the meters drops to an alarming level. On top of that, there’s also a weight limit that will put a stop to any sprinting if the soft cap is reached, as well as a stamina gauge that will stop you in your tracks if you happen to run out of breath.

It’s a lot to take in at first, especially so with your resources at their lowest in the first few hours of the game, but as you get a better grasp of the mechanics, the need to obsess over these meters lessens greatly. Side missions will frequently notify you of wildlife in the area, while lakes and ponds are aplenty for sources of water. To help you even further, your home base can be kitted out with turf for farming as well as water tanks to collect rain water.

The survival mechanics and the structuring of your home base work in unison to better your character in a variety of ways, as spending some time back at your encampment allows you to both bolster your defences and craft gear and weapons. A number of stations come pre-built such as an outpost for weapon crafting, another to aid you with your gear, and one more for first aid. These can all be upgraded further, but the real pleasure to be found in this mechanic is situated in management. You begin to recruit people as you progress through the story, and they can be assigned to certain roles within your base camp. Some can tend to the crops to make sure there’s always an onion or a potato to greet you when you return home, others can focus on expanding the base’s operations, while a few more comrades can be sent on missions to collect resources within the world of Dite. Once you have everything set up, it is incredibly satisfying to return home after a tough assignment to find the system working flawlessly without any intervention from yourself.

As well as recruiting survivors, main missions in Metal Gear Survive revolve around the uncovering of Charon Corps’ data, which is done by collecting memory boards spread throughout the open world, and defending wormhole diggers as part of Singularity missions. While the first objective is pretty much a fetch quest, the latter takes the shape of a wave-based horde mode that sees you fend off a series of Wanderers as they try to destroy the excavating contraption. Using your defences, gadgets, and gear, you can put a stop to that.

With these being the only objective types in the game, main missions can become a bit too repetitive. While you’ll always be doing these things in different locations, the motions you’ll go through are generally the same. Some variety in this aspect would have gone a long way to making progression outside of the cutscenes a much more enjoyable affair.

There is an open-world to explore here, but venturing anywhere comes at a risk thanks to the presence of Dust, which is toxic to any human when breathed in. To combat this, an oxygen tank must be on your person at all times, but this too ticks down before your very eyes. When you’re inside the Dust, your map malfunctions and no longer shows your place in the world, your stamina meter depletes a lot quicker, and it’s impossible to clearly see more than fifteen feet in front of you thanks to a thick fog. This means you absolutely need to be prepared when venturing out of your home base, because one wrong move could result in death. Some may see this as being a bit too harsh on the player, but in action it only heightens your survival instincts. It feels like an achievement just making it back home safely, which in turn makes some last gasp dashes for a wormhole transporter to get you back after a tense and gruelling affair.

While you’re out in the world of Dite, you’ll want to be scavenging absolutely everything. Crafting is a major part of progression, and so every material you pick up will be valuable in some way. You’ll need to craft the fences that stop Wanderers in their tracks, the weapons you’ll use to beat them to the ground, and the ammunition that takes them out with ease. There’s also a five-tier rarity system attached to the mechanic, meaning that sought after materials will be harder to find while common ingredients are strewn all over the place. This aspect only adds to the survival mechanics, as you’ll need to be looking out for the likes of iron, springs, screws, and paper on your travels.

The Fox Engine that powered both Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain makes its return, but this version lends itself slightly less to experimentation when compared to what Big Boss could do. The game still feels excellent to play, and stealth remains a viable tactic, but the experience as a whole feels a little held back thanks to some abilities that are just no longer present. With a smooth framerate that generally hovers around the 60 frames-per-second mark, the majority of interactions will feel exquisite, but there will be the occasional moment where muscle memory kicks in but the action isn’t actually performed in-game.

If you had played any of the game’s pre-launch betas, you’d be forgiven if you thought the experience is more of a co-operative one. But it’s actually not, as the co-op based Singularity missions are very much a side project. They play out in exactly the same way as the single player versions, but with more players, there’s added difficulty and further rewards. They’re a neat distraction from the main game, and thanks to the prizes carrying over into your playthrough, there’s definitely an incentive to complete a few, but they’re certainly not the main focus many would have initially assumed.

Conclusion

Metal Gear Survive is not what many envisioned the follow up to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain to be, but that doesn’t inherently make it a bad game. This is definitely a different experience, thanks to the introduction of survival mechanics and the extensive base building, but these aspects actually benefit what the title is going for. With a punishing but fascinating open world to explore, a crafting system that allows for all manner of items to be fashioned, and a suitably bizarre story that is sure to surprise even series veterans, Metal Gear Survive is likely to please those that give it a solid chance.