After seeing Left Alive during a hands-off demo in the summer, I left my appointment with Square Enix feeling better than when I went in. Of course, after playing the spinoff set in Front Mission, I believe what I was feeling was due to the Kingdom Hearts III demo I played that day. Granted, Square Enix has a reputation for releasing quirky titles (The Quiet Man anyone?) that do not do well critically or commercially. After spending the better part of a week with Left Alive, I’m convinced this game is better left alone.
On paper, the formula bringing this game together looks like a recipe for success. Famed artist Yoji Shinkawa, most famous for his designs found in the Metal Gear and Zone of the Enders series worked on the character designs. Toshifumi Nabeshima, director of several Front Mission games returned as well. Unfortunately, this combination is wasted on Left Alive, and the final product is a clunky catastrophe.
With no Splinter Cell or Metal Gear in sight, the opportunity for picking up the mantle of stealth action-adventure. Instead, what we get is everything but good and unnecessarily complicated.
Set within the fictional nation of Novo Slava, their bordering neighbour, The Garmonia Republic wreak havoc within Novo Slava. Anyone resisting dies and the governing body no longer exists. The entire nation is a warzone and cities are in shambles. It’s here within the ruins, that the gameplay unfolds through three select characters. Through the eyes of Leonid, Mikhail, and Olga, we learn about their motivations, why they refuse to leave Novo Slava and how each of their stories intertwines.
If anything, the plot reminds me of any regular mecha anime from the ’90s and early ’00s and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Coming off darker than likely intended, you can’t help but not take events seriously. Villains are comically-evil, often with rather thin excuses to why they want to see the world burn. I think I could accept these missteps if piloting the mechs was front and center.
And while the game is set within the Front Mission universe, the extraordinary Wanzers are few and far between. In this universe, Wanzers are considered the most devastating weapons a nation can use and leave a trail of destruction in their wake. Instead of using these machines of mass destruction, we’re relegated to sulking in the shadows.
It’s a shame that the gameplay is unforgiving. There’s a steep difficulty curve I quite couldn’t get myself past and now for lack of trying. Enemies hear and see every move you make. Not only that, gunplay stinks, enemies are bullet sponges and navigating menus is a chore. Headshots do no register as one-hit takedowns; basically, by engaging the enemy you have little to no chance of success. Instead, crafting is your best bet but even crafting isn’t nearly as fun as in other games.
What stings is the fact that these pieces do not work here. Instead of meshing together in a satisfying and exciting game, nothing lines up and Left Alive fails to deliver. In 2019, when your game plays like something from the PlayStation 2 era, you have a problem and in this case, is not good. Gaming on a budget shouldn’t be painful but this is tooth-pulling bad.
Technical issues run rampant through the campaign. Graphical pop-in, low-resolution textures, technical glitches take you our of the experience. Cutscenes aren’t smooth, effects play out of sync. Add in horrible controls and terrible gunplay for each of the three protagonists. Everything feels outdated. Everything feels stiff. Checkpoints are few and far between so get used to playing sections over.
After spending a dozen hours with Left Alive, I’m not sure where the project faltered. With so many issues ranging from glitches to frustrating mechanics, Left Alive is a hard sell. This game squandered its potential of filling in gaping hole where Metal Gear no longer is and feel squandered by one bad decision after another. Stealth and combat hinder the narrative and crafting leaves little room for experimentation. Left Alive isn’t worth playing and at full price can’t be recommended. Left Alive isn’t a fun game. There are moments where the gameplay comes together but then falls back into the disjointed mess the game actually