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Controversy has never been far behind Metal Gear Survive ever since it was announced at Gamescom 2016. As the first entry in the franchise to be developed after the departure of Hideo Kojima, the name carries a certain weight that this instalment is unlikely to ever live up to. However, after working our way through the opening few hours of this survival experience, the final product is looking a lot rosier than we initially feared.

If you didn't already know that Metal Gear Survive was a major shift from what brought the series its success, the opening cutscene wouldn't have made you aware either. A lengthy Metal Gear Solid-esque introduction sets up the world of Dite, an alternate dimension inhabited by zombie-like creatures called Wanderers. Your mission is to find out what happened to the squad that arrived before you, Charon Corps, gather their data and rescue any survivors. It's a bit of a bonkers premise, even for a Metal Gear game, but it's actually quite interesting from what we've seen so far. There's enough suspense and mystery hinted at by characters you meet and the secrecy surrounding the world of Dite itself for us to be especially curious. Consider us intrigued to see what comes next at the very least.

Thankfully, the Fox Engine that powered Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is alive and well in this alternate reality. The simple act of playing the game feels excellent, with responsive controls and deep mechanics complementing the gameplay, making it just as experimental as the titles the engine debuted with. Stealth is still a viable tactic too, as you can quickly become overwhelmed by a horde of Wanderers that deal a surprising amount of damage. Sneaking around them is definitely the way to go when dealing with a large group, and taking out any stragglers with the backstabbing ability for a quick and silent kill. But when the going gets tough, the combat system is on hand to help you out.

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Guns are nowhere to be seen in the opening few hours, and so you must rely on melee weapons to survive. You'll start with a basic spear, but as we took a dive into the crafting system, a rusty machete was placed in our hands. You can harvest anything and everything in the open world, from barrels that are broken down into iron to tables that can be dismantled into wood. All of these materials are used for crafting, which initially we found a little overwhelming at first. There's a lot to craft, as you must focus on both upgrading your player-created character and your base with defences and new buildings that will aid you once you're out in the wilderness. 

The materials themselves can also be upgraded, such as a certain amount of iron turning into stainless steel. On top of that, there's also a rarity system attached to the entire mechanic, meaning sought after items are going to have a dramatic effect on the experience when we reach the end-game. All in all, the crafting system is clearly one of the largest cogs in Metal Gear Survive, and as we progress, we're looking forward to how creative we can get with our home base.

At the heart of the experience, is the fact that this is very much a survival game. Your hunger and thirst are constantly monitored within the user interface, alongside a weight limit that will limit your stamina gauge if you become over-encumbered. If one of these meters were to drop to an alarming level, your vision becomes blurred, general navigation gets tougher, and you'll have a much harder time dealing with the Wanderers. The iDroid makes its return and this is where you'll be able to monitor your physical condition in great detail, as well as providing a map which will help you plot your course to water and food. Wildlife can be slaughtered for meat that will cure your hunger, while water will of course quench your thirst, but there's a mechanic on top of this whereby drinking dirty water or eating raw meat could lead to health problems. Because of this, tending to your consumables by the camp fire is an essential step in the process of filling your meters back up.

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This is quite clearly the defining feature that sets Metal Gear Survive apart from any other entry in the franchise. But so far, we can't say we've had a problem with it. It's definitely something you need to keep your eye on, but it hasn't impacted our experience too much in the early game, and that's with our resources at their lowest. With a pool of water very close to the home base and side missions that alert you to nearby livestock, we've managed to keep our hunger and thirst in check so far. Whether this actually becomes an interesting and engaging mechanic remains to be seen.

It's still early days, but we can say with certainty that Metal Gear Survive has made a far better first impression than we expected. The Fox Engine continues to allow for experimental and exciting gameplay, while the story has been far more interesting than we thought it would be. We leave you as we craft an oxygen tank that allows us to step into the Dust, a toxic gas that spells certain death for humans if breathed in naturally. When we return early next week, we'll have a full review for you.

What are your thoughts on Metal Gear Survive? Have you already written the title off as a shoddy cash-in, or do you think it's sounding decent? Hide in a cardboard box in the comments section below.