Almost every game has some issues to critique. Maybe the controls are a little finicky at times, or perhaps the story is a bit weak, but when it comes to truly bad games, it’s the opposite. There’s usually one or two decent elements, but they’re simply brought down by a bunch of truly flawed elements and systems. It’s rare for every single part of a game to be broken, busted, and just plain bad; these sorts of all-encompassing failures almost never happen. Left Alive is absolute trash.
It was hard not to get excited when Left Alive first got announced. Here was Square Enix combining the masterful artwork of longtime Metal Gear Solid designer Yoji Shinkawa with the dark and well-missed universe of Front Mission. Rather than making a straight-up sequel to the long-running mecha strategy franchise, they decided to create a brand new stealth-action game that focused on the people caught up in the middle of these giant robot battles. In a world where Solid Snake is retired and Sam Fisher is on the bench, a new major stealth action title would be a shot in the arm to the game industry. Unfortunately, the stealth action in Left Alive just doesn’t cut it at all.
As soon as I started playing and moving my character, I wanted to stop. Movement and animations are choppy, clunky, and extremely stiff. Still, I persisted, crouching down and sneaking up to an unsuspecting guard, only to discover that this game lacks any sort of stealth kill or take-down system. Every engagement in this game focuses on sneaking through hordes of enemies and getting to your objective unnoticed, so to have no way of stealthily dispatching enemies up-close feels like a major oversight.
The focus on silent and unseen movement is especially tricky because of how absolutely broken the enemy AI is. Some enemies will see you from 1000 yards away through three different walls, while others will barely notice the breeze as you walk right past them. The placement and positioning of enemies on the map is already unforgiving, but the added uncertainty of their reactions makes it nearly impossible to plot a reliable course to your destination.
Because of this, you will frequently find yourself noticed by guards and thrown into a firefight. Either that, or you’ll take the initiative and fire at the enemies before they get the chance to notice you. The problem there is that gunplay in Left Alive is just as much of a busted mess as the rest of the game. Aiming is floaty and weightless, and shooting lacks any kind of impact or oomph. Furthermore, you’ll probably be dead before you even get a chance to fire your weapon. When enemies are alerted to your presence, they chew through your health in seconds thanks to insane damage, ridiculous magnetic bullets, and a frustrating animation that your character loops through whenever they take damage. The second you’re involved in a gunfight in Left Alive, it’s better to just reload a save or accept your fate.
Of course, that comes with its own frustrations, because checkpoints and manual save stations are few and far between. As you struggle through rage-inducing escort missions and infuriating enemy placement, one false move can (and will!) send you back 20 minutes or more, forcing you through the ordeals all over again. The downright miserable gameplay of Left Alive could still be put up with at least a little bit if it weren’t for how often you’re forced to retry and re-do so much of your progress.
This game takes place in the mecha tinged world of Front Mission, so at certain points you will be able to take control of those big boxy robots. They’re called Wanzers, and they control a bit better than the on-foot characters. They also rock some weaponry that has some more oomph than what you experience in the rest of the game. Unfortunately, they still aren’t a huge amount of fun to play with, and you play as them so infrequently that it does nothing to improve the game.
It’s a shame that such talented artists are attached to this game, because the visuals aren’t very spectacular either. Left Alive has character designs by Yoji Shinkawa and mech designs by acclaimed Gundam designer Takayuki Yanase. Their contributions lead to the only interesting visuals in the game, with protagonist models and robots looking crisp and unique. The rest of the game is bland. Environments are a mess of low quality brown and grey textures and cheap fire effects, and it’s all complimented by ho-hum music and sound design that frequently cuts out due to audio glitches.
It might have been worth slogging through all of this terrible gameplay and bland visual design for the sake of the story, but alas, the story is also a mess. War has broken out between two countries in the land of Novo Slava, and you play as three different protagonists who have been caught in the middle of it. They each have different reasons for being there and different paths they’re going down, but their motivations and character development are muddled by the shoddy narrative choice system in the game. Almost every cutscene in the game leads into a series of dialogue-choices that dictate what your character does, but when these fully realized and voiced characters suddenly drop into silence as they follow your dialogue choices, it creates a weird disconnect that robs them of any of their natural agency.