This is my last review, the last review i’ll ever write. What a journey it has been.
Why this is my Last Review
In 2015 I was in my first year of university and was looking for a job. I saw an ad for a local men’s lifestyle magazine, looking for writers. I decided to apply, but because I didn’t know much about cars or sport, I offered to write about games for them. For that application I wrote my first ever review. It was for The Witcher 3.
I didn’t get the job. However a year later after a stint in a clothing store and construction, I decided to try my luck again. I wanted to see if I could make writing about games my part time job. I wrote a review for Dying Light’s The Following DLC and a feature piece about my opinions on multiplayer games. I applied to half a dozen or so publications and was hired by a small British site called One Up Gaming. It was there that I received my first ever pre-release review code and wrote my first professional review as a freelance games writer. It was for a game called Dungeon of the Endless. I gave it a 4 out of 5.
I was thrilled to be part of the industry, even if the people reading my work were in the dozens rather than the millions. But I was also hungry and eager to grow. So I started doing more. I hosted podcasts, wrote news articles, feature pieces, Wiki’s, produced and hosted videos and handled websites social media pages. I ended up freelancing for a variety of publications, including, Game Skinny, Gotaki Gaming and My Trending Stories. I collated all this work in one place, my personal blog, What Should I Play Today.
Within a year I was predominantly writing for an American publication called The Nerd Stash, mainly putting together news articles and branching out beyond video games into; film, television and comics. By my final year of university I was solely working for Goomba Stomp, a mid-tier Canadian publication. I’ve loved working for them, mainly producing features around how video games relate to social matters such as relationships, mental health and meditation. They are a great publication and I admire everyone who writes for them. However it is coming up to the one year anniversary of when I founded Quiet Stories, and we are deep into development of our first game.
Although I love writing about games, and I got my my first break in this industry writing reviews, it no longer seems ethical. It doesn’t seem right to critique the quality of other developers work, while asking others to believe in my own titles. I haven’t written a review since I began investing in game dev, but as I recently graduated from University, I wanted to write one last review. A final farewell to this chapter of my life.
I’ll still write about games on this blog, but it will be more focused on celebrating games, analyzing the industry and discussing our own projects. I’ll also still contribute to group pieces on the Goomba Stomp website. I’m just saying goodbye to writing news articles or reviews or things of that nature. My last review is below, I hope you enjoy it.
You Can’t Run From Your Past
In 2015 Hideo Kojima, one of the games industries most beloved developers, parted ways with one of the industry’s most polarizing companies, Konami. A tumultuous period for both sides, it was anything but an amicable separation. With news slowly leaking over the issue, consumers, press and passionate fans made it clear who they were siding with. Kojima is now working on Death Stranding in partnership with Sony, and receives an uproar of applause whenever he chooses to appear in public. Konami on the other hand has become one of the most hated companies in all of gaming.
Yes they created Castlevania and Metal Gear, but they also let go of the two creators of each franchise, released an unfinished Metal Gear Solid 5, scrubbed clean of Kojima’s name, and killed the highly anticipated P.T. and Silent Hills remake.
So how would the world react to Konami’s new Metal Gear game? A game lacking the influential Kojima, completely disconnected from the series lineage, and boasting a strange sci fi theme rapped in the mechanics of a survival game. As you might of guessed, it didn’t go down well.
“A threadbare connection to the 30-year history of Metal Gear and a comparatively shallow game made in the shadow of The Phantom Pain, it’s hard to recommend enduring the whole thing.”
“Defending the same points from the same zombies. Exploring the same zones for the same materials. Mining the same resources for the same small amounts of gear.”
“Metal Gear Survive feels oppressive, demanding, and obtuse, and needlessly so.”
It’s clear to say that critics weren’t kind. Middling reviews mixed with the internet hatred of long time fans lead to an abysmal launch for Survive. But at the end of the day, did the game itself, and all the hardworking developers who put this together, really deserve the response they received?
An Unbiased Opinion
First things first, this is a Metal Gear game, but it also really isn’t. You’ll find members of mother base, XOF and A.I., connecting to the Phantom Pain. You’ll also find a familiarly camp, yet engaging story. However you won’t find Big Boss, Solid Snake or Kojima’s name. For many fans, this was enough to slander Survive. Critics were also quick to judge Survive for not being a traditional stealth-action game.
None of that matters to me. Konami’s practices have been questionable at best over the last few years, but that shouldn’t affect judgement around the game. As someone who played and enjoyed both Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain, but has no nostalgia or love for the series, I wanted to take a look myself.
If it’s not Metal Gear, Then What is it?
Survive, like Revengeance, isn’t part of the core Metal Gear Solid series. It’s a spin off game, that takes from the core series, but is it’s own beast. You play as a customisable, and silent protagonist, known simply as the Captain. After the destruction of Mother Base in Ground Zeroes, several of the soldiers left behind are sucked into a strange wormhole in the sky. You survive, but are soon tasked with entering the strange dimension on the other side of these portals, which have apparently popped up sporadically over the decades, and save those trapped in a place regularly referred to as ‘hell’.
The world of ‘Dite’ (as it is referred to) is overrun with infected humans, known as wanderers. These wanderers are far more lethal than the zombies you might find in Dead Rising, and are more akin to those in State of Decay. They are lethal in packs, and if you’re not equipped, pose a serious threat even on their shambling lonesome. The story is told predominantly in text based conversations, rather than the cinematic cutscenes the series is known for. It starts slow, but by the end Survive manages to tell a story that is moving, campy, dramatic and twist filled. Despite having arguably the least narrative focus in the entire Metal Gear history, written without Kojima and disconnected for the most part from the rest of the series, Survive captivated me from a story perspective.
In fact Survive’s narrative helps it stand out from the crowd. From Ark: Survival Evolved to Stranded Deep, there are a litany of games within this genre to enjoy. However they all suffer from similar issues. Their UI and menus are often obtuse and uninviting, their combat systems feel like they were implemented as an afterthought, and they punish you constantly without any form of direction or guidance on what to do.
State of Decay helped bridge the gap between the survival genre and a mainstream audience, providing specific missions and a slight introduction for new players. I hoped State of Decay 2 would be the first AAA game to merge an open world action game, with a narrative and a challenging survival game, but it did little to build on the first. Survive on the other hand achieved this with confidence. It isn’t a walk in the park. Survive will punish you heavily if you aren’t careful. You can only save at your home base, and some missions can take up to forty five minutes to complete. So even if you complete several missions, collect an abundance of resources, and explore the world for several hours, if you take a few hits before returning to base, you’ll have to redo it all.
But with the guiding hand of its narrative and a well-designed introduction to each of the games systems, there is a sense of growth and accomplishment that few survival games provide.
The Best Survival Game Ever Made?
You’ll find many hallmarks of the survival genre here. You’ll need to manage your hunger and thirst. You’ll find pools of water and animals to hunt out in the wild, but you’ll also need a cooking pot back at base to clean your water and cook your meat. Your base becomes a big focus a third of the way through the game, as you’ll be able to build a variety of facilities that will allow you to craft weapons, clothing and gear for out in the field. Provided you’ve collected all the needed resources of course.
Combat is clunky but fitting. The game clearly reuses many of the assets from The Phantom Pain. You’ll see many familiar animals, landscapes and even weapons. However Survive puts far more of a focus on melee combat, as ammunition is rare and costly to produce. This leads you to avoid combat in the first few hours, drawing attention away from yourself, singling out enemies and stealthily taking them out, rather than rushing in with a spear and enough stamina for a mere two jabs. However as you explore the world you’ll discover new recipes that allow for the crafting of better gear; like shotguns, bows and grenades.
The games biggest selling point is the dust. The world of Dite is covered in a thick layer of dust, that obscures vision and indicates the more dangerous parts of the map. I wonder where they found inspiration for this mechanic (hint hint, the fog from Silent Hills)? Within the dust you’ll find larger quantities of enemies and rare materials, however the dust zones will also cause your guide markers to disappear and you’ll have to manage your oxygen within this inhospitable area.
The only way to make the Dust a little easier to navigate, is by switching on worm hole transporters, the fast travel points on the map. From there you can teleport between safe zones, and back to base, even within the heat of battle. Turning on these worm hole transporters makes up a good 50% of the games story/ side missions. To turn on a transporter you’ll have to protect it from incoming wanderers, in a horde mode style encounter. These skirmishes can last between 60 seconds to 30 minutes and can come in waves or continuous onslaughts.
This horde mode focused combat has been extremely polarizing, with many calling it tedious. However with the right resources, it can become a tactical and nail biting endeavor. You might start by deploying fences or traps in choke points or open areas. Then draw in larger crowds with decoys and disperse them with grenades or fire arrows, taking out multiple enemies at once. Enemies will attempt to destroy your fences, and eventually break through, so it’s up to you to find the most strategic and conservative way to protect the charging worm hole transporter. Initially they seem like punishing and clunky encounters, but if you take the time to find new recipes and resources, you’ll always have a creative way to survive by the skin of your teeth. That is one of the reasons Survive is so engaging. You always feel like you had JUST enough to survive each encounter.
How much more is there?
On top of everything mentioned above, there are countless other systems to utilize. When killing an enemy, you receive ‘Kuban’ energy from their crystal covered corpses. This energy has an abundance of uses; from refilling your oxygen tank, to crafting new gear, to leveling up your characters health and stamina, and even links in to the games overarching plot.
You’ll also have to manage your base once it is established. You’ll find survivors out in the dust who you’ll have to provide medicine and food for. However they aren’t completely useless. You can also task them with managing your crops, so you don’t have to hunt as often, or distributing food and medicine equally, if you don’t want to deal with that. You can even send small teams out into the field with weapons you’ve crafted, and hope they return with a much needed resource. Survive is as deep as you want it to be. There are many systems that can be managed for you, or ways of lowering the amount of time you need to focus on them. There are even elements that can be ignored in their entirety. The online co-op promoted before release can be ignored and forgotten if you are looking for a more narrative focussed experience. Metal Gear: Survive has a lot to take in but there is enough guidance to manage everything before you’re overwhelmed.
Survive is a Metal Gear game in title alone, which was a poor decision in terms of marketing. However when judged as a survival game, it is one of the best in it’s genre. It is punishing, littered with systems and meters to monitor and at times janky. But it is also polished, well designed and focused in a way most survival games are not. Yes you spend most of your time scavenging, fighting off hordes and simply trying to survive, but surviving has never been so satisfying. I urge those swayed by negative reviews to give this game a chance. Just because it isn’t exactly what you expected it to be, or hoped it would be, doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve praise.