As someone who games on PC and has a fairly busy schedule, I tend not to get my hands on games until a while after the console world gets their hands on them, so I’ve been excitedly looking forward to Metal Gear Survive after the beta it held last weekend.
Now it’s out, and (after a somewhat tumultuous launch) I’ve gotten further into it without any major technical issues, but I’m having a less pleasant experience than I had during the multiplayer beta for a number of reasons.
First and foremost, the most annoying factor is that after being the better part of three hours into the game, I have not yet unlocked the multiplayer that I enjoyed so much over the weekend. This is somewhat exacerbated by factors I’ll talk about later.
I will grant that Metal Gear Survive is supposed to be a survival game, but its first few hours are rough. Constant tutorials don’t really provide helpful information, and actually pause the game while resource counters are ticking. I found there to be a serious lack of resources in the game, and it suffers from having a Minecraft-esque problem where players constantly need to be attending to their basic needs.
In a game where there’s not a whole lot of high-octane action going on, that’d be fine. However, in a Metal Gear title it adds occasional suspense and frequent busywork. While the hunting and gathering mechanics are fun in and of themselves, clean water is incredibly scarce in the early game, only being found from scavenging locations (to my knowledge). While this encourages players to spread out, it also means that people who return to their home base will be wasting resources as they do so.
In addition, the difficulty curve seems arbitrary. Having played the beta, I still found myself in situations where the gameplay just didn’t seem to be intentionally designed: places where I had to fight through hordes with a starting spear and (if I had not played before) no previous tactical experience in fighting the not-zombies that are the primary enemies.
Stealth is, of course, an option, but zombie hordes don’t do as well for stealth as human opponents; their patrol routes are erratic, they rely on sheer numbers, and the ways they detect and chase the player just aren’t as engaging; you can avoid them by finding a cliff or ledge, but they are so numerous that it’s not really feasible to find a stealthy route through them. They don’t alert other zombies outside their (very) short range of perception, so you’re not going to have to wait and hide for everything to go back to normal, but it’s not the same.
The combat, likewise, is snail-paced. In order to get the first bow (and the first large cache of ammunition crafting materials for the first pistol, which you find somewhat earlier), you go to the location of the first wave attack mission.
I forgot to bring a fence to this mission. I died horribly (and understandably, because I had made an obvious-in-hindsight mistake), but the game had the AI navigators (who are incredibly annoying and frequently pause your menus while you are trying to get stuff done as your precious resources dwindle away) jokingly remark that they should have pointed out that activating the device as the mission required you to do would attract enemies.
Of course, I knew this, but it wasn’t any more fun to realize after the fact that I should have brought defensive structures with me (especially since Metal Gear Survive is actually refreshingly good about how you can place defenses around in real time).
However, to the point I was originally making, you weren’t actually given the bow itself, but rather crafting blueprints for the bow. Death means that you return back to your home base with everything as it was before you left.
In order to get the bow for the defense mission, which would be most player’s presumable goal, you have to grab the recipe, return to base, craft the bow, then return to the place where you found the recipe and start the mission while your vital resources, which determine how far your stamina and health regenerate (stamina generally being more important than health, because it determines how far you can sprint and make good use of your time or evade enemies).
Basically, as a designer this would have been a great opportunity to give players an option to choose between going back to base and having an easier fight (but still have to wait), or having a fight immediately. Because of the resource system, it was a lose-lose scenario; players not able to fight off hordes with a spear (and who don’t remember to use the fence; something that I, having experience, overlooked on my first go) have a frustrating time.
Meanwhile, cooperative multiplayer remains locked (even though the game proudly announced that I could join multiplayer games after hitting a certain point in the story, it did not care to actually unlock any multiplayer missions).
This is important because the cooperative play has a much better resource balance: your hunger and thirst are refilled between missions (if it is like the beta), encouraging you to bring food and drink but not making it imperative. By comparison, someone who makes poor decisions in singleplayer is going to be locked out of progression because their hunger and thirst play a role in major mechanics.
Metal Gear Survive isn’t a bad game, but it is a frustrating one from the perspective of a designer. The released version includes microtransactions that allow for greater resource harvesting and faster character advancement, which feel like they have been tacked on. This, of course, adds to the frustration when the mechanics feel like they have been designed to punish the player for mistakes.
I look forward to continuing playing. Metal Gear Solid V was the first non-mobile Metal Gear game I played to completion (barring Revengeance, but that’s not a core title) and I really enjoyed its gameplay and systems.
Survive has those, but they’re buried under annoyances. A great melee combat system just falls apart when it’s paired with mechanics that don’t use it wisely. The shooting and archery is fun. Combat is frustrating at first, but quickly becomes challenging and rewarding. But when you play you feel like you’re under a ticking clock; even looting fallen enemies (a must if you don’t want to trek back to base and you’re using up arrows) can take a fair amount of time and may have to be sacrificed for the sake of survival.
I’m really disappointed too, because the story is hinting at some potential great moments down the road. I’m just not sure the journey will be worth it.