If it’s not immediately obvious, Left Alive is trying its absolute best to be the next Metal Gear Solid. Set in the mech-based universe of Front Mission, Square Enix’s latest experiment attempts to mash together a whole host of buzzwords into one cohesive experience that places the emphasis on stealth, but it fails on every conceivable level. Left Alive is an enraging, unfair, and lifeless stain on the portfolio of a company struggling to gain traction on anything outside of its biggest franchises.
The most heartbreaking fact of all though is that things could have gone so differently. In a world where Solid Snake has been laid to rest and Sam Fisher is missing in action, there is absolutely a gap in the market for the type of game that keeps to the shadows, but Left Alive is most definitely not it. A myriad of faults and flaws hold the title back from achieving literally anything worthy of note, to the point where progress is best attained by ignoring the systems and mechanics put in front of you and sprinting to the next objective instead.
It’s a damning statement to make, but Left Alive’s stealth-based gameplay is a colossal misstep. As you complete basic tasks such as reaching the next waypoint and fending off waves of enemies, fairly open-ended locations allow you to explore the environment as you please. However, in practice, this is next to impossible thanks to the presence of what feels like an entire army on your heels the entire time. The most frustrating aspect of all though is that there’s no consistency to the enemy AI, with some that’ll spot you from 100 metres away to others that don’t bat an eyelid as you stroll past at arm’s length. Because of this, you can’t accurately plan a route through a street or building as you simply cannot rely on combatants to follow simple pathing. It’s the most annoying thing when a guard spots you while hidden behind cover, putting the whole base on high alert in a matter of seconds.
On top of that, Left Alive is a brutally difficult game. It’s recommended that your initial playthrough takes place on the easiest difficulty setting, but even then, it’s a supremely challenging experience that is going to test your patience over and over again. Once you are inevitably caught by the unfair AI, it’s best to just restart at a checkpoint because your puny loadout is no match for the onslaught of soldiers, tanks, and mechs you’re about to face. In fact, even taking a single bullet can be enough to put an end to your bid at progress. When you sustain damage, the game takes away control and plays a short animation as you react to the blow, but during that time, you’re still being wounded by the other bullets raining down on you. It’s possible for the animation to repeat over and over again to the point where you die in the space of a few seconds, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
We suppose these imperfections wouldn’t be so bad if the gunplay was up to par, but of course it too is nothing short of abysmal. Possibly the most egregious part of the experience, engaging in combat is an utter chore. There is absolutely no way to take an enemy out quietly due to the complete lack of a stealth takedown, meaning you have to resort to melee weapons or going loud with your guns every time. In a game that places so much importance on not being seen or heard, it’s absolutely baffling that there isn’t a means of dealing with enemies silently.
So, much to your annoyance, you take your handgun out aiming for the head and take the shot. The enemy gets straight back up. That’s right, headshots are the opposite of a guaranteed kill, meaning you’ll have to pump further lead into opposing bodies before they’re out for the count. To make matters worse, the act of actually doing that feels atrocious.
You’ll get your hands on the typical pistols, assault rifles, submachine guns, and shotguns, but they all feel terrible to shoot. Floaty and inaccurate aiming makes you question whether your shots are even landing, while adversaries are bullet-sponges that soak up all of your ammunition. It’s commonplace to find yourself scavenging the battlefield for a single bullet after running out in the previous conflict, further increasing the difficulty to the point of cruelty. You can craft throwable deterrents using the resources you find across maps, but when an enemy can survive two Molotov cocktails or explosive canisters to the face, they hardly seem worth it.
It’s not like the story is enough to save the experience either. Told from the perspective of three different protagonists, you’ll experience the invasion of war-torn Novo Slava in the year 2127. You'll fight back against the enemy, uncover military secrets, and rescue survivors caught up in the crossfire. It’s a dull and dumb narrative that tries to fuel itself with twists and turns to catch you off guard, but nearly every one inevitably falls flat. Player choice is somewhat of a factor with dialogue decisions in certain scenes, but their effect on the overall narrative is marginal at best.
It’ll take no longer than 10 hours to see your way through to the game’s conclusion, and during that time you’ll have a handful of opportunities to pilot the mechs. Known as Wanzers, they’re probably the highlight of the experience, but even then the biggest compliment we could give them is that they play host to a bit of somewhat serviceable action. They’re fun to control for a hot second, but once you tire of their weak weapons and a movement speed equivalent to a snail, the last place you’ll want to be is the cockpit.
There’s nothing good to say about Left Alive’s visual and audio design either. Graphically, it’s not going to leave any sort of impression thanks to dull and decrepit locations that all merge together, while character models barely reach the standard on the PS4 Pro. It’s audio that really drops the ball, though, to the point where you won’t actually hear any of it thanks to rare glitches that cut all sound. It’s not like you’re missing out on much, however: the sound of a shotgun blast could be likened to that of a pea shooter and the same music clip will play over and over again every time you’re spotted.
Left Alive categorically fails at everything it sets out to accomplish. Wonky and unreliable AI makes engaging in stealth a frustrating chore, poor gunplay leads to numerous misplaced shots whizzing past the bullet-sponge enemies, and an unfair difficulty means you’ll need to repeat those enraging moments over and over again. This game could have filled a gaping hole in the market, but instead it needs to be taken round back and put out of its misery. This is a truly miserable experience for even the most die-hard supporters of the genre.