Left Alive Review — Better Off Left in the Dust
Left Alive is a tremendously disappointing return to the Front Mission universe.
Left Alive is a culmination of unoriginal ideas that never click together to create a cohesive gaming experience in 2019. Ultimately, it isn’t fun, and it’s certainly not good. On the surface, Left Alive appears to have some potential but upon hopping into the game’s first chapter, all hope seemingly washes away in an instant when you have to go toe-to-toe with its downright unbalanced and poorly designed mechanics.
I’ll give Left Alive this, I think the game gets an unjustifiably bad rep on its visuals. They’re fine, but certainly, nothing to write home about. The game has this weird B-movie charm that made me excited to go in. A strange tie-in to the Front Mission series of games that could’ve been something cool, if not for its many faults. As it stands though, I’m at a loss for where to actually begin.
The story of Left Alive has you playing as three separate characters who are incidentally left alive to fend for themselves in a war-torn country known as Novo Slavia. This setting amounts to a sort of cyberpunk Cold War era Russia, if you will, and it’s genuinely cool, if not all too original. It’s the gameplay mechanics that are not as cool.
Our three protagonists aren’t the most interesting of characters. You have the rookie mech pilot Mikhail, the police officer with a mysterious military past, Olga, and Leonid, a man who should be dead but escapes imprisonment in the chaos of war. Right off the bat, we’re not given much time to really get invested in these characters, and the poorer qualities of Left Alive immediately get in the way of the story it’s trying to tell, which is quite a shame.
You have some control over the dialog options during cutscenes but it never really feels like the stakes are all that high during these decision making sections. Additionally, there were times where I’d choose a dialog option only to have the character I’m speaking to respond back at my choice, whereas in other scenes you’ll hear your character deliver the line you choose. It ultimately makes the experience feel a bit disjointed and tacked on. Whether or not you’re a newcomer or returning player to the universe of Front Mission, no prior knowledge of the series is really needed to get the most out of the story.
The voice acting overall also doesn’t do the game any favors. The main cast themselves do a fine job at trying to make the story as dramatic as possible, it’s just every other NPC you encounter that’s mediocre at best and not interesting in the slightest. Also, Left Alive somehow finds a way to make voice acting even worse as the AI that interacts with each character will blurt out the same warnings over and over again until you want to beat yourself over the head with the PS4 controller. Anytime you’re even near an enemy this AI seems to think it’s appropriate to blurt out, “Enemies approaching, enemies approaching, enemies approaching.” It’s awful.
Gameplay-wise, Left Alive promotes itself as a stealth-action title, and with mechs included, the game will and has already received comparisons to the Metal Gear Solid series, which set the bar for the modern genre back in 2015 with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. As previously mentioned, Left Alive has some ideas that sound good on paper. Most of these ideas stem from other games, but nevertheless, they’re ideas, I guess. Unfortunately, they almost always never seem to work in the game’s favor.
As far as stealth goes, enemy AI is far too broken and predictable. You’ll typically find that so many enemies are littered throughout the map it’s nearly impossible to find a route that’ll work best to reach your objective. This results in one of two things: dying or rolling. I think I completed almost every chapter by simply rolling as fast as I could through enemy hordes and praying that I just wouldn’t get hit. Even on the easiest difficulty, I found that Left Alive is simply just too difficult. You would typically expect a situation to present itself in a stealth game, one in which you’d have multiple options to overcome this obstacle in your path. Left Alive never has that, not once, unless the game throws you into a scripted event where you have to fight off a swarm of enemies or pilot one of the Wanzer mechs.
Controlling the game is another issue entirely as nothing ever feels up to the modern standards players expect. Movement feels bad, and combat somehow feels worse. With all of the problems I previously mentioned, combat seems inevitable most of the time, and aiming your gun is really just an absolute pain. On top of that, bullet spread is insane and it can sometimes take more than a whole clip of ammo to take down a single enemy in the earlier missions where you’re only given a pistol. This problem is somewhat alleviated when you’re given more weapon options later on but guns themselves just feel bad due to their weak sound effects and poor controls.
You’ll find components throughout a chapter’s map, which you can then use to craft special items to help you on the way. The crafting system is easy to understand and can actually come in handy, but I found simply making a bunch of small explosives came in more handy than some of the more intricate devices available.
There’s also a weight system that’s a real pain in the ass. You’re only able to equip a set amount of weapons that you find. This becomes a problem simply due to the fact that Left Alive’s ammo drops seem geared toward specific weapons during certain chapters. Your ammo is already pretty low and if you find yourself in a pinch with no pistol or shotgun ammo at your disposal, you might just not be able to find any at all — which can lead into that fun little gameplay loop I mentioned earlier where you’re rolling past all of the enemies as quickly as possible.
Easily the most enjoyable sections of Left Alive come in the form of the Wanzer mech battles. During these sections, you’re nearly unstoppable and will fight other Wanzers that stand in your way. It amounts nothing more to dodging and spamming your strongest weapon but it’s got a silly charm to it that I actually enjoyed. These sections are few and far between though so don’t expect to encounter them all too often.
Outside of your main objectives, Left Alive encourages you to save civilians. These events act as the game’s side quests that are completely optional but have some kind of impact over the stroy. Left Alive does have the audacity to tell you to wait until your second playthrough to do this because it clearly feels the need to tell you how to play so you don’t see how much crap it has to offer. If there’s one thing I don’t like in a stealth game, it’s being told how to play. The whole key to these kinds of games is presenting the player with what gameplay mechanics they have at their disposal and letting them run wild in fun and interesting ways. Well, saving civilians sucks (they get killed 90 percent of the time anyway on the way to safety) and it wouldn’t be good whether the game wants me to do it or not.
Another terrible thing about Left Alive is the music. Like that nifty little AI I mentioned earlier, you’ll hear some of the same tracks played over and over again. There’s one in particular whenever you get into combat that just becomes so frequent that I contemplated going into the game’s settings to see if I could turn the music off entirely. Stealth kill an enemy? Action music plays. Get seen by an enemy? Same action music plays. I think you get the gist. It’s not even an inspired track in the slightest, it sounds like something ripped straight out of a Metal Gear game.
I don’t have much else to say about Left Alive. If you’re feeling up to buying it — why? I’d stay as far away from Left Alive as possible. For all of you hardcore Front Mission fans hoping for a proper sequel in the series, you can bury those hopes and dreams. With a team consisting of so much talent behind it, I truly wonder what went wrong with Left Alive. I love Square Enix games to death typically but this is frankly unacceptable…and it’s $60.