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Left Alive

Posted by GG Goblin On March - 21 - 2019

Stealth survival in a world of Wanzers.

There is something really enticing about giant, powerful mechs. These huge, humanoid mechanical beasts give the player a sense of power and being almost invincible on even the most aggressive battlefield. While not all mech games are created equal, giving the player control over one of these machines of war is a sure fire way to put a smile on the players face. Which is why, in a game based in a mech filled universe, it makes very little sense that Square Enix’s Left Alive would spend the majority of the time with the player outside of their mech.

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Left Alive is set within the Front Mission universe, a series of mostly tactical RPG games that involved mechs known as Wanzers. The series never really made it big outside of Japan, and it has been a fair few years since the last entry, and so it would make sense that the series is due for a reboot. To that effect, Left Alive will cast the player as three different characters who find themselves struggling to survive in a fictional European city that is occupied by enemy forces. This puts the player on the ground and in great danger most of the time. The Wanzers, those massive imposing war machines, are generally used to intimidate in the background or close a path to the player. There are occasional times when the player will be able to take control of a Wanzer, and those sequences really do fulfil that power fantasy, but they are few and far between. Instead, the player will spend most of their time scrambling through the rubble of destroyed buildings and dark alleys, helping other survivors and gathering the raw materials need to survive.

So far as the setting goes, Left Alive does a great job of depicting the less glamorous side of war, putting the player in a situation where they are underpowered and outgunned. It also goes one step further by presenting the player with moral choices that may, or may not, affect the direction of the narrative. These choices mostly involve helping out other survivors as they are found along the way, although the moral aspect will often come from whether or not to bother saving some people who many would say didn’t deserve it. The game really is quite grim and gritty, and sets up well for a decent stealth survival game.

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Unfortunately, most of the rest of the game fails to actually realise this. The decisions of the developers have resulted in a game that feels totally out of time, seeming to come from both a previous generation of console and an earlier period of game development. There is an obvious inspiration from the Metal Gear games here, but the actual gameplay never comes close to that level of enjoyment.

It’s not one thing that spoils Left Alive’s chances of being a great game, but lots of little things that come together to create a frustrating experience. Most players will probably be comfortable with the idea of surviving with improbable odds, where the forces set against the player are simply far more plentiful and powerful. However, in Left Alive the mechanics make this upward battle far more difficult than it needed to be. The enemies are plentiful and have an uncanny ability to see the player through walls and across vast distances at the most inconvenient times. They are also very well armoured, so getting into a gunfight will quickly run through the players very limited ammunition supply, and that is not taking into account that the actual shooting mechanics are not that great to start with. Being a stealth game though, there is emphasis on sneaking around any given area and possibly taking down the enemies in silence. In most modern games, this would mean sneaking up behind the enemy and hitting a button for a stealth take down. In Left Alive though, there is no stealth take down button, and the player has to instead equip a melee weapon and sneak up behind them before striking them repeatedly before knocking them down, and then continuing to strike them, otherwise they will just get up and shoot the player. So much for the stealth take down.

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Which leaves the more improvised devices that the player can craft using the materials they have gathered, such as mines and the like, allowing the player to set traps for their enemies. The problems arise from the fact that the AI really struggles in the game, and often a well laid trap will be completely scuppered by the enemy soldiers not reacting how they should, and the fact that even if everything goes as it should, the enemies still may get back up again as they all seem to be made out of rock.

Left Alive has a high difficulty, and frequently suffers from spikes that make the game even harder. When this is combined with problems that make the game more difficult than it should be, such as the unimpressive gun play, and a cover system that creates as many problems as it solves, and players will often find themselves being jumped back to a previous checkpoint. Making matters worse, these checkpoints can be some distance from each other, leaving the player having to work through large sections of the game over and over again.

Compounding all of these problems, the controls feel stiff and awkward, while the visuals are dated and unimpressive. Characters move in an unrealistic way, and the seemingly open levels that the player will work through all unsubtly push the player along only a couple of viable routes, limiting any sense of exploration.

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It is frustrating as Left Alive certainly had potential. The setting is really heavy and gritty, and the concept of stealth and survival in this grim situation could have really been something special. But the game simply has far to many problems, seemingly suffering from a lack or polish and bad design decisions. And it is also damn difficult in a cheap way. It is difficult to recommend Left Alive, but if you are looking for a challenging, flawed stealth survival game, it may be worth checking out at some point.




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