Welcome to Finishing Thoughts, hopefully a continuing series where I look back at controversial, bad or even hopefully good games and pen out my thoughts to them. Wanna play a game without playing one? I’m here for you. Want to know my opinion? Why would you but I got you covered. Want spoiler-free content? Not here pal, look elsewhere.
I’ll be breaking these down into sections. ‘SPOILER TIME’ is me summing up the story for you, so you don’t have to sit through the trauma if you don’t want to, though reading it is not necessary for the rest of the article. ‘What Happens Now?’ sees me talking through the postgame content and what exists in that mystical realm. ‘Thoughts and Wonders’ is where I delve in to what made the game good, weird, or bad and other therapeutic ramblings; and ‘What’s it Worth?’ is where I place my own price on the game, based on all possible factors for the end user, that I would happily pay.
So what better place to start than this year’s most controversial Konami move so far: Metal Gear Survive.
I put a whole day of my life into Survive. I’m done with it right now. I have worked my way through everything I could possibly get out of that game. I really wanted to hate it. I wanted to be right that Kojima is what made the series; that people would cry from the rooftops that this game was the epitome of awfulness, that this would be payback for the ruining of The Phantom Pain.
What I had instead was a confusing time. Survive has merits to stand on in its own right early on, and places where it falls down badly after that. It’s mix of stealth, survival, crafting, and action make it difficult to place its genre; and its heavy reuse of assets from Phantom Pain probably make it one of the most AAA asset flips around.
So consider this therapy for me. Survive is far from perfect and its strange mishmash of styles means that it is hard to encapsulate not only what was bad but also what went wrong.
WARNING —- WARNING —-SPOILER TIME
Survive kicks off at the end of Ground Zeroes. You play as a Mother Base Soldier, referred to mostly as ‘Captain.’ Captain fights formidably in the attack from XOF, saving Big Boss from an RPG wielding soldier and watching him fly away. As he removes his balaclava, a portal opens above Mother Base, dragging various parts of the structure and soldiers into its midst, trying to survive and save your friend, you grab a crane arm and barely manage to keep on the side of the living before the portal closes, taking your arm off and plunging you to your death in the ocean.
Here you are revived by a character referred to as ‘Goodluck.’ He explains that the portal opens to another dimension, full of former human creatures known as wanderers. The organisation he works for, known as ‘Section’ has been monitoring these creatures since they first appeared in the Vietnam War and working out ways to use the crystals, called Kuban crystals, for clean energy. With no choice, you are sent to the dimension of these creatures, known as Dite, through a wormhole with two goals: To recover the information of the unit previously sent through, the Charon Corp; and to find a way home.
After a tutorial you encounter your first contacts in the area: Reeve, an XOF soldier (I think, they never explicitly say) and Virgil, an AI with two separate personalities who was designed to assist the Charon Corp. From here the game begins to lumber, you collect memory boards littered across the map with little story progression, only finding a soldier who appears to have died from a gunshot wound with no explanation as to why.
This continues for a while. You collect memory boards, save people and mine enough ‘Iris Energy’ to open a portal home. The characters are an interesting bunch; alongside Reeve and Virgil you get three other people. Miranda is an EMT nurse and Reeve’s love interest and moral compass; Nicholas is a Navy Cop (again, never clarified) meant to bring a comical element but is never given enough airtime for that to pay off; and Chris is the most important, a paraplegic young boy who learned to program as it gave him an escape from his slightly grim reality.
After collecting enough Iris energy to open a portal home you are contacted by Gruen, Goodluck’s boss. He claims Goodluck is dead, and that his formula for the portal is wrong and that you need to jack up the power to max to get home. Despite apprehensions you do so, which summons the Lord of Dust, a behemoth monster which roams the Dust freely. After a short sequence which sees you run to the portal before he rips you to pieces you jump in the portal home.
WRONG. You wake up in Africa, the Africa map from The Phantom Pain, in a Forward Operating Base for the Charon Corp. Virgil plays a message from Goodluck, which reveals the real reason the Charon Corp and Captain were sent through was to destroy the Lord of Dust before he creates a wormhole to our world and destroys humanity, and it is hypothesised that Gruen wanted the portal to be maxed out to summon the Lord of Dust to our realm so he could mine its body for energy. Goodluck’s message also says that there is a surviving Charon soldier who knows how to destroy the Lord of Dust.
After a short jaunt you meet him: Seth, the soldier you tried to save at the beginning of the game and a member of your fire team on Mother Base. After saving him from another Charon Corp soldier attempting to kill him, known as Dan. He reveals the secret to destroying the Lord of Dust, in what made this game go from reasonable to outright laughable for me.
Sahalanthropus. Goddamn Sahalanthropus!
After a long horde mode you recover Sahalanthropus before a shocking twist. Seth betrays you, stealing Chris and transporting himself back to your base camp demanding you arrive alone. Dan appears, as it is now apparent that he is not the crazy one, and comes with another teleporter, allowing you to transport Reeve to another location and have him ambush Seth with you. Once you arrive, Seth reveals that he is actually part of the Dust, a series of medical nanomachines with AI that have razed the dimension to propagate themselves and wish to continue so in your dimension. After this monologue, Reeve shoots Seth in the head and saves Chris, revealing Seth’s true form, and leading to a pretty cool boss fight.
Sadly afterwards you find out that the Lord of Dust is coming to mess you up, and that both Captain and Virgil are infected with the Dust. You must prepare for the Lord to appear and destroy him with Sahalanthropus’ weapons. Over the preparation you learn that you are in fact not in another dimension. You are actually in the future, around the year 2200, and that humans made the medical nanomachines which destroyed everything to stay alive. To continue its goal of propagating, the Lord of Dust creates portals back in time, destroying the world and perpetuating a cycle of destruction which you are aiming to stop with its destruction. The team also decides to send Chris back through the portal with all of the collected data in the hopes that he will one day figure out how to come rescue the rest of the team.
After sending Chris through the portal you manage to trap the lord of dust using Sahalanthropus’ blades to create stone spikes, and defend the machines making these spikes until the railgun charges to destroy the Lord of Dust. After shooting it, you appear to make not a dent despite the strength of the gun and the information you have used from Dan. Here Virgil reveals a final message from Goodluck saved in his software. It turn out that Chris was not sent back to the correct time period, he was sent back to 1943, landing smack dab in the middle of the Philadelphia experiment. From here he is taken in by Section and work his way through the ranks, using the nickname of Goodluck. Virgil then reveals that the reason the Lord of Dust does not die is that the Dust HAS NO CONCEPT OF DEATH. To change this, Virgil slams its body down the throat of the Lord of Dust, providing it with a concept and allowing you to destroy it with the railgun.
The post credit scenes show that Goodluck/Chris survives in the changed timeline, and is working to get the team home. Virgil also survives the railgun attack thanks to its design comprised of mostly nuclear bunker shielding. Virgil compels you to continue surviving in the hopes you manage to find a way home.
What happens now?
There really is not much post-credits. You continue the same gameplay as before. Side missions continue along at their own pace, but there are 4 main missions: You save one new team member, gain a memory board which allows you to mine for supplies in camp and gives extra classes, and two bosses. These two bosses are uniquely designed: Hothead is a bipedal dinosaur creature which spits acid, and Frostbite is a floating octopus. It is strange that there are just two random bosses. It feels like there should have been more content, but the higher ups decided to stop there for unknown reasons (cough cough DLC.)
The memory board also gives you 4 more character classes, each is focused on one of the base stats, and are interchangeable there. These seem strange late game as well. It is fully fledged, and getting them up to max level is a chore despite the humorous payoff of your maximum level being 69.
But if you got bored of the repetitive nature of the game during the story it is not saved post game. You repeat the same boring activities over and over with no story payoff. It does not compel play which is not good in a survival game.
Thoughts and Wonders
It is hard to pin down what Survive is aiming to be. If I had to take a wild stab it is trying to not only be a Metal Gear game, but also a survival game akin to MineCraft and Konami’s version of Destiny.
The problem is that amalgamating all those together results in its being a failure on all fronts. As a Metal Gear game it only manages to be one by name, and the fact it uses almost all the assets from MGSV and Ground Zeroes. The new assets look good though, I cannot deny that Konami put work in the make the game look good. But the Metal Gear feeling is forced, never really hitting home and feeling artificial.
Breaking it down, no aspect drawn from MGSV really works when applied to a living reactive player. The stealth would work if it did not have the same failures as V in that it is very easy to simply dart past enemies and stealth kill them. The CQC is pointless as the joke about fighting enemies though fences with a spear is legitimately the best method available. You have less motions available, such as being able to roll, use cardboard boxes to hide in and travel across the map quickly. The game mechanics work in the sense they do not break, not as a single cohesive system when you make the enemies hordes of mindless zombies which cling to chain link fence.
As a survival-crafting game, it also sucks. There is no real incentive to push on the base building as supplies take far too long to collect early game through building and it is easier to find animals and food in the wild. I spent most of the game with just tents and crafting benches and didn’t really feel the need for much else. The survival aspect also draws all the worst elements from No Man’s Sky, particularly the constant messages telling you to drink, eat, breathe and not run your stamina into the ground. And Konami ruining Metal Gear by emulating No Man’s Sky just seems somehow not shocking.
Now Destiny may not be the right game to compare Survive to. But the ilk of the kinds of games seems to be Konami’s goal: A sponge game with a long lifespan making continuous money for the company through multiplayer and microtransactions; a ‘service’ instead of a game. Konami wants their own money maker, but Survive just doesn’t provide the gameplay to support that. Work hard and smart and you’ll manage to have pretty much everything in the same time I have. Unless there is perpetual DLC being released, which would not surprise me, then I see no reason to pick up the game again.
This leads on to the two main bugbears people have cited with Survive: Its use of the Metal Gear franchise, and its brutal microtransactions. Now the microtransactions are passable in the sense you never really need to touch them. This does not excuse their horrendousness however and in fact a close look shows just how scummy the system is designed to be.
Take the main bugbear of paying 1000 coins, or £10, for a character, 1000 coins can seem fair for those who will invest loads of time and have a small head injury mitigating cognitive processes, but you can only buy coins in increments of 100, 550, 1150, 3500 or 6000. And if you buy the 1150 is there something you can buy with your leftover 150? Like hell there is. Every mechanic in the game has microtransactions hiding in the back like the dealers our parents warned us about. In a game which wants us to spend time, and therefore money, limiting the saves to one seems backwards thinking. People who would have tried multiple playthroughs for the multiple endings (there is one secret ending) are now put off from doing so by the fact they either have to delete their completed game or pay £10 for an achievement.
Then there is the use of the Metal Gear brand. It is hard to tell if this was done to sell more, or to allow reuse of the previous assets and save money, and the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. It is debatable if using the Metal Gear name did more harm than good. Sure people were annoyed they did, but would people have considered buying a brand new IP from them to the same degree. Not having the name was possible with a little revamping of the story, but doing so would have made the asset reuse much more prominent in the early stages. It is a mixed bag of benefits and risks, one which I am probably putting too much thought into, and Konami probably ran with the name because they thought it would make them more money.
Yet despite these annoyances, the game released to mixed and positive results. In fact we gave the game an 8/10. I can see why though, it’s fully understandable. The early hours of the game are fun, the story gives you just enough to be curious and push on, and the first few hours are the best designed pieces because you are still learning and playing with the mechanics. But the longer you push the more prominent the repetition feels; the more the survival mechanics annoy rather than add pressure to your play; the more you game the hordes with fences and spears; the more plot holes appear. Survive ironically survives for very little time before starting to fall apart.
What’s it worth?
In short, Survive is nothing much more than a really fancy MGSV mod. The story is engaging enough, even though the gameplay becomes repetitive quickly. Characters sadly get far too little screen time to really develop their personalities, and the world has too little to do in it to keep you engrossed for the amount of time Konami wants. How much you love this game is entirely dependent on how much of a Metal Gear fan you are, and how much you can put up with repetition.
I came out of the game not hating every moment of it. But I cannot help but feel the niggling of how many errors were made here, errors which Kojima would have never let through. Konami just wanted another Metal Gear game and they wanted it so quickly they happily peddled you the same assets and gouged out room for microtransactions rather than giving the series the time and respect it deserves. From this I would only pay:
You will be playing Survive in bursts thanks to the lacklustre and repetitive gameplay, especially in the late game. Poor design choices and cheap methods of not only taking your money but stretching out the game mean that the £40 price tag does not make this a bargain.