Left Alive Review

March 20, 2019
Also on: PC
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Left Alive was announced in 2017 and I think everyone thought that it looked very similar to early Metal Gear Solid games but set in the Front Mission universe. I, like many others, was excited at the thought of a game that scratched the MGS itch, and therefore I was really looking forward to it. But It wasn’t until late 2018 when we started to see new trailers, and as each trailer came, things were looking less and less promising.

You'll spend a lot of time in cover if you want to survive.

After viewing a fifteen-minute gameplay trailer I went into Left Alive knowing it wasn’t going to be the best-looking game, but I was hoping that the gameplay would make up for it. The introduction cutscene was good, it laid foundations for the premise and brought me up to speed with the world I was about to be dropped in to. The year is 2127 and wars are fought with the help of giant mechs called Wanzers. You jump between three different characters who have been left in a war zone in some kind of futuristic Soviet country. The first character you play is a soldier called Mikhail Shuvalov whose Wanzer has been damaged, forcing him to make his way to safety by foot — which is where the problems begin.

The first thing I noticed was how bad the graphics and character animations were. I would not have been surprised if this game was originally made for the PS2 but never got released. It looks and plays like a bad game from 2004 that everyone has forgotten about. The shooting is the worst I can remember playing in a game. I had to turn down the aim and look sensitivity as it was way too high, but even after that it was very hard to aim with precision. It turns out that Left Alive is primarily a survival stealth game which lacks a lot of stealth abilities. A stealth game requires stealthy gadgets or at least a gun silencer that allows you to take enemies down one by one without anyone noticing, but the best you get is a metal pipe for melee and tin cans for throwing. Every weapon you have is an explosive device or unsilenced gun, so it’s impossible to take down enemies quietly unless you get up close. But in a lot of cases this isn't possible as enemy soldiers are in groups or in an open space. To top things off, the enemy AI is awful in every possible way. Sometimes you can walk right up to an enemy without any problems, whereas other times you’ll be spotted while you’re hiding around a corner. One time I threw a grenade at a group of enemy soldiers and the ones that didn’t die came looking for me, but wouldn’t come far enough to find me even though I was just crouched nearby. They quickly gave up searching and went back to standing at their original positions as if nothing had happened, so I then just repeated this until they were all dead. There were also other enemies nearby, but they somehow didn’t hear any of this. This is another reason why the game feels old, today we are spoiled with incredible graphics and advanced AI but those in Left Alive remind me of the early 3D games era.

The mechanics scream MGS, but the graphics say otherwise.

The cutscenes look surprisingly good in contrast to the rough in-game graphics. The story has some mildly interesting moments, but I was often too distracted by how frustrating the gameplay had been that I just didn’t care enough to get invested. There are some dialogue choices which felt hollow and ultimately pointless because apart from triggering a different response, they didn’t seem to affect the story at all. The one mechanic I didn’t mind was the inventory and it’s management. You are constantly picking up various scrap that can be crafted into explosives, traps or healing items. You have a maximum weight which can be increased by finding different sized backpacks to wear, but like everything else in this game it still has its issues. For example, I finally came across a machine gun to replace the default pistol, but I didn’t have enough space nor did I have anything I felt I could throw away. I left the machine gun because up to that point stealth had been the only option, but unlucky for me the next section was an unavoidable gun fight and the pistol made it much harder to get through. In any other game this would just be a bad decision on my part, but in this case it was another irritating design flaw on top of the many others I had dealt with in the game up to that point. It was the first time I was given the chance to pick up a better gun, but all the game had taught me so far was that stealth is the only way to stay alive so I didn’t think I would need it.

Front Mission has its influences, but this is nothing like the series.

I learnt early on that getting into a gun fight was not an option in most cases. With the frustrating aiming and clunky cover shooting, it is usually game over once you’re seen. At first I tried to get myself into the mindset of the game’s logic and not think about it like it was a real situation, but more like a puzzle. Although this helped me a bit, it didn’t stop me from constantly dying and having to replay the same parts over and over again. Save points are dotted throughout each level and can be viewed on your map, but my experience would have been ten times less frustrating if I could have saved from anywhere or if there were frequent autosaves. If you’re going to create a stealth game with no good stealth mechanics or items whilst including terrible AI, then the least you could do is give the player the ability to save anywhere so that they don’t lose their minds playing your game!

One thing that should have been fun was controlling the Wanzers, but sadly they lacked the weight or power that you’d expect from a giant walking machine. You get a taste of how they shoot early on when you enter a broken down mech with guns that still work, but it just ends up feeling like a static shooting gallery with waves of tanks and soldiers all coming at you for a few minutes. All you do is just fire missiles and shoot a gun at them with no real feeling of danger or challenge. You might think that all of that would attract attention, but once you are finished you are back to sneaking around the war-torn city. After this early encounter there are a few missions later on where you get to stomp around in a Wanzer, but as mentioned it just doesn’t feel particularly good to control or fun to play.

It's surprising how brown everything looks.

The most irritating part of the game is the voice of the comms unit each character has equipped. Every time you are near an enemy it repeats the message “Caution, enemy approaching” and as you are often near enemies, this message is repeated endlessly. I found myself swearing at it every time it started up again. And what makes it worse is that the enemies aren’t actually approaching, they are just near you. This was one of the most irritating things I have ever experienced in a game and it caused me to turn off my PlayStation on numerous occasions. I am just thankful that this is a fairly short game.

By the time I was done with Left Alive, I wanted to smash up the disc with a hammer due to the eight hours of frustration and boredom I had been forced to endure. I wanted to love this game, but at every turn it forced me to hate it. It's strange how much it clearly wanted to be like Metal Gear Solid, but it was like Square Enix had never actually played any of the series. The music and sound effects were straight up rip-offs of early MGS, but that is where the similarities ended. Some bad games have some redeeming qualities which mean they could even recommended to some players regardles of their deficiencies, but this game should not be touched by anyone unless they enjoy pain.

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A confused, badly designed and derivative mess of a stealth game, which should be avoided at all costs.
Joe Sheldrick

I have a deep love for story-driven and cinematic games, but after one of those I love to play a game where I can just run around shooting mindlessly. I will take stealth over action any day, and I mean in real life as well as in games.