Title: Left Alive
Release Date: March 5, 2019
Reviewed On: PS4
Publisher: Square Enix
The Front Mission series was one of my favorite series growing up, but even then, I understand that it wasn’t popular because absolutely no one was talking about it. Still, I showed it to my friends and decided that it was a game that was just meant for me. The series took a small dip and then I never saw it again. So when Left Alive was announced by Square Enix, you could image how excited I was to hear that it was based in the Front Mission universe.
Sadly, it seems my dreams of a true Front Mission successor would have to wait because Left Alive is definitely nothing like the series that I loved and really nothing like anything that I’ve played in recent years. With a focus on Metal Gear style systems using steal and resource management, Left Alive has a few great ideas that somewhere along the way lost direction and spun out into a mess of a final product.
Left Alive begins with a war that connects three main characters together, Mikhail, Olga, and Leonid. Each character has their mission and personal reasons for being in the situations that they are in and their respective introduction are actually well crafted and engaging. I ended up liking the characters throughout most of the game, but the string of supporting characters introduced throughout the game felt week and forced. Each supporting character felt like they were only there to play a strange personality reminiscent of extremely weird and over-the-top characters from the Metal Gear series. However, they never stuck out in your mind and never truly felt consistent when encountered in random places on the battleground.
The story of Left Alive is also fueled by player choice which dictates the fate of survivors and the progression of the story. It’s tough to know what effect your responses will have on the story, but there was a time when I was honestly trying to calm a survivor down, but then she killed herself. That’s the nature of this game, I began to play it if only to see where the hell the story was going which arguably wasn’t something too interesting, to begin with. Don’t get me wrong, in the event that you actually make it to chapter 10 you do have a subtle connection and the conclusion of the game in the final acts are well pieced together, but it is a chore to see this game through and there were many times where I held my hands on my face and asked, “Why am I still pressing on? Oh, that’s right, I want to see what happens to Olga.” And this frustration all stems from the game’s terrible UI, AI, controls, and difficulty.
Let’s clear the air here, the game isn’t ugly, but there is definitely something off about the cut and paste approach to level design as piles of rubble block your path and watchtowers leading to nothing are sprinkled around the battlefield. There’s a lot of distraction in Left Alive level’s that make it seem like an open world playground where you can choose your own path, but let me assure you that there is the only path to take and finding it is the only way that you’ll get through the level. Often times, I found hidden barriers that if passed will automatically trigger the enemy no matter if they saw me or not. Stealth is finicky because the enemy AI’s line of sight is so haphazard and unpredictable. One minute you can be hiding behind a box when the enemy just decides that he spots you this will happen multiple times.
The frustration that comes out of dealing with enemies is fueled by the lack of resources at the player’s disposal. You’ll find that you’re limited bullets, materials, and carrying weight will hinder you at multiple times and what’s most upsetting is the moments when you’re completely out of materials but are stuck in an area where you have fight your way out of a building. This is not good game design, and I had to find ways to use the insanely idiotic enemies to my advantage by killing them off with land mines and melee attacks. The enemies get even worse when you do things like throwing a Molotov cocktail in the middle of a group of enemies, they burn for a little bit and then just go back to guarding moments later.
Terrible enemy AI also bleeds into the game’s horrible animations where enemies will hero jump onto characters or a player will jump to grab a ledge but the animation would just show them lifting up there arms and flying up. Similarly, the sneaking and moving animations look stiff as the characters don’t interact with the environment like what you’d find in a game like The Last of Us, but instead have only one prone stance.
What rounds this all off is how players are supposed to take down these enemies. 70% of the time, getting caught leads to death. While that’s fine, the designers place things like boxes and garbage bends to hide in as if you’ll ever need to use them. Trust me, you won’t unless you really want to. This happens because if one enemy spots you, then they all spot you. No, there isn’t a radio call or alarm sound. If you’re in an area with multiple enemies, the second one spots you every enemy, even if they are a mech, will turn and look at you as if playing out a bad dream. Additionally, there are side missions where you can help survivors, but some of these survivors are so unlikable that I didn’t really care whether they lived or died. However, some times that was out of my hands as they would just die on their way to the Safe Zone and there honestly nothing I could do about it.
The controls are equally at fault to where even after playing for around 10 hours, I still get confused about how to exist being prawned against a box. Pair this with terrible shooting mechanics and enemy health that doesn’t make sense, such as when I beat a guy down with a pole 3 times, but he still didn’t die or when 2 headshots didn’t faze an enemy soldier. These bad controls also plague the mechs, which have some pretty awesome designs, but sadly firing the missiles and dodging requires players to use all four shoulder buttons and the face buttons simultaneously. The difficulty also is a bit overwhelming with the Standard difficulty testing players patience as it is and knowing there are two difficulties above that doesn’t make things any better.
Are there any redeeming qualities of Left Alive? Aside from the story and characters, I’m sad to say, no. What’s worse about it all how much potential the setting has. There are some truly great features touched on in this game like crafting traps and using stealth before ever thinking about encountering an enemy. The audio design is also pretty good with a choice from the player is the main drawing point for a unique story told depending on their responses. However, hearing “An Enemy is Approaching” every time an enemy is within distance over and over again is an obvious oversight by the developers and should have not been in the final game.
Left Alive is not Front Mission or Metal Gear, I’m not sure what it is. I held out so much hope for this game to be good as I booted it up and immersed myself in the war that follows these three characters. However, nothing could have prepared me for the let down after the first time I threw a grenade at an enemy and the event had no impact on his partner standing only a few feet away from the explosion’s radius. This game is a chore and getting through it all is a true testament to wanting to see what actually happens to these characters.
For most gamers, it’ll hit them in Chapter 2 after their 25th Game Over when they ask themselves, “Why am I still playing?” The ones that progress will discover hints of some unique features that have plenty of promise, but the ones that quit will not exactly be missing out on anything save for a few headaches and moments of frustration. What’s most surprising is how the game grades you after every mission and it gives the option to replay the mission, which is when I whisper to myself, “Not in a million years.”
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