Some games are just bad. Left Alive, on the other hand, is disappointingly bad.
Set in the Front Mission universe, which many will remember for its turn-based battles featuring hulking mechs called Wanzers, Left Alive seemingly tries to capitalise on the apparent death of the Metal Gear franchise. The Yoji Shinkawa art and steath-based gameplay kind of gives that away. But unfortunately, no-one who’s had a hand in developing the Left Alive has apparently played a Metal Gear game recently, otherwise it wouldn’t be missing such basic features that are pretty much a must.
In a nutshell, what makes Left Alive an absolute waste of your time is that it’s a stealth game that doesn’t allow you to perform stealth takedowns in any way. You can engage your enemies in gunfights, sure, and can even whack them to death with melee weapons. But sneaking up behind them to either knock them out or kill them without being detected is a no-no. Or at least in most cases, anyway. If you’re lucky, you might get away with hitting them with a metal pole a few times before landing a final killing blow while they’re on the floor. You’ll just have to hope that there’s no-one around to catch you while you’re carrying out your bloody deed.
I guess instead of sneaking up behind enemies and taking them out silently, Left Alive wants you to sneak around undetected instead. It also wants you to use the various items you find while sneaking around to craft your own gadgets and traps which can be used to hinder and injure your enemies. The only problem is, enemy AI is both so sharp and moronic in equal measure that neither of those tactics can be relied upon. Sometimes you’ll be sneaking around and a guard will detect you like they have a sixth sense. Other times you’ll need to fight your way past enemies and so will set up traps in which to catch them. Despite making yourself known to them by firing some stray bullets their way or doing a fan dance, however, they’ll forget you ever existed shortly after going out of their sight. It’s truly inconsistent and maddening.
Left Alive‘s stealth mechanics feel truly broken, and to add insult to injury its other mechanics don’t exactly shine, either. Movement is incredibly sluggish unless you hold the run button – which obviously isn’t recommended in a stealth game – and the gunplay has no feel whatsoever. Playing Left Alive is a frustrating experience from the very get-go. From the fact that it rarely tells you what you should be doing, to the ease at which you die after being spotted, you never really feel like you’re having fun playing Left Alive. And when you do die, you have to repeat large chunks of gameplay thanks to the game’s punishing save system. It makes you lose the will to live.
What makes Left Alive‘s missteps most disappointing, though, is that the game has some neat ideas buried underneath all of its awfulness. Its Telltale-style dialogue choices that affect how the game pans out are intriguing in a game of this type, and a heat map that shows where other players have died when you’re connected to the internet is a nice touch, too. And then there’s the task of rescuing survivors by guiding them to safe zones. Along with the game’s decent crafting system and fun that can be had when you do get to pilot a Wanzer, they plant in your mind the idea that Left Alive could have been really good if certain mechanics weren’t absent or wonky.
As it is though, Left Alive is simply not worth your time or money. It has a fairly interesting story to unravel, but only the most patient and persistent of players will be able to enjoy it, even if they pop the difficulty down to its lowest level. It may look okay once its textures have finally loaded in, but Left Alive feels old in most regards. It’s clunky and awkward and mostly ignores the advances that games have made in the last 10 years or so. Imagine what a below-average PS2 stealth game would feel like if you played it today. That’s Left Alive. And the gameplay suffocates anything that’s interesting about the game until the only thing that’s left alive is your desire to turn it off.
Left Alive is available on PS4 and PC. We reviewed the PS4 version.