According to Konami, Metal Gear Survive is based on "a pseudo-historical sequence of events", which seems to be the developer's way of saying that none of this is canon - it's just a fun little spin-off set in a parallel universe to Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain, where strange sci-fi things happened immediately after the events of Ground Zeroes.
A couple of dozen hours into the game, it's tempting to imagine another parallel universe - one in which Konami hadn't sacked Hideo Kojima, denied it for months, canceled Silent Hills, and generally poisoned their relationship with core gamers in the process. Would this game have been well received without all that baggage? Or was it doomed in any case?
Let's start with the wormhole. Metal Gear Survive may not be a Hideo Kojima game, but it picks up from where he left off at the end of Ground Zeroes, with Mother Base in flames after a surprise attack by XOF forces masquerading as UN weapons inspectors. Then out of nowhere a wormhole opens above the desolation, sucking helicopters, soldiers, base supplies, and even entire platforms up into the sky and onto who knows where.
Shortly afterwards a member of the UN aid team sent to clean up the mess is seen picking through the endless coffins of fallen soldiers. Eventually he finds the corpse he's looking for, and we fast forward to six months later, where the corpse is mysteriously alive again, and the UN aid team member is revealed to be a member of Wardenclyffe Section, a shadowy government agency investigating infectious organisms and wormholes. You are the corpse, and you need to go to another dimension and complete a mission. Obviously.
For all his faults and detractors, Kojima used to be able to pull this sort of nonsense off in such a way that you bought into it even though you knew it was silly. Metal Gear Survive falls short in that regard - the lengthy conversations about "the Section" and wormholes, and your mission to visit the other side and deal with the infection, lack spark and intrigue. Instead you find yourself checking your watch as the game winds up to let you loose on the alternate dimension of Dite, where the game proper begins.
Fortunately when you get there things start looking up.
Survival of the fiddliest
Following a brief introductory sequence where you fight past infected enemies known as Wanderers and the game tutors you in basic action and stealth controls, you find yourself setting up base on Dite with help from a fellow survivor, Reeve, and Virgil AT-9, a dormant AI that was part of an earlier expedition that seems to have gone awry.
Your first priority is to get a handle on your vitals. They weren't kidding when they said "Survive", because your most dangerous enemy in the opening hours will be the lack of food, and of medicine to counteract the vomiting and convulsions brought on by drinking the water. Metal Gear Survive is a bit too fussy about this stuff, and it can be a bit of a drag for the first few hours until you work out how to build a potato farm and produce clean water.
That's not to say it isn't a satisfying process though. At the behest of AT-9, who insists on calling you Captain, you split your time between exploring your surroundings to gather the technology needed to travel home, and scrabbling through the wilderness in search of food and building materials. And all of this is fun, in large part because Survive recycles wholesale the movement and action mechanics from Metal Gear Solid 5, which is one of the most robust and versatile third-person games of this generation. Creeping up on a wolf and taking it down for food is fun. Crawling past Wanderers to retrieve boxes of old nails is fun. And all the additions the developers have built on top to support the survival mechanics, from placing fences to stabbing sheep with pipe spears, are fun.
Things really get interesting, though, when you find an oxygen mask that allows you to penetrate the wall of toxic fog known as Dust, which begins a short distance from your base camp and goes on seemingly forever. Up to now Metal Gear Survive has been pretty much what everyone assumed it would be: the excellent mechanics of Metal Gear Solid 5 wrapped in survival game ideas harvested from Steam's best sellers list of two years ago. Once you head into the Dust, it takes that and rolls it up in Frank Darabont's version of The Mist.