Don’t let the Yoji Shinkawa artwork trick you. Left Alive isn’t the Metal Gear Solid revival you’ve been hoping for. Nor is it a quality entry in the Front Mission series. It’s a clumsy trainwreck of a stealth-action game that does neither franchise justice. Everything from the uneven graphics to the poor stealth and gunplay feels incredibly outdated. There’s a shell of a good game here, but the layers of technical issues and fundamental gameplay flaws bury it far too deep.
At the very least, the story isn’t a complete failure. It follows three figures - a police officer caught in a warzone, a whiny and irritating rookie soldier, and a prison escapee charged with assassination - as they’re unwittingly swept up in a treacherous war between two nations. I don’t know much about Front Mission, but the cool-looking mechs and characters that look like they fell out of manga are fairly entertaining if that’s your jam.
The story features over-the-top charismatic figures and an engaging central mystery that propels the story forward. Major cutscenes have a decent sense of direction and style, appearing (out of context) as though they belong to a tighter and more well-rounded triple-A game. Unlike everything else, these actually have some cohesion and purpose. Dialogue options frequently pop up in cutscenes with choices that sometimes involve voice-acting. There's no rhyme or reason as to why characters speak some lines aloud while leaving others alone. It all seems completely arbitrary. It’s a relief that the story is passably entertaining because the rest of Left Alive is a complete mess.
The survival elements at the core of Left Alive compel you to scavenge for materials. You're encouraged to meticulously search every area for pieces of wire and cloth so you can craft makeshift bombs and traps. You’re given a wide range of tools, but most of them are too weak and clumsy to actually be useful. The detailed early-game tutorials explain how you should avoid combat and try luring enemies into carefully placed wire traps. The game wants you to employ more cunning strategies but none of it is effective or reliable enough to ever bother using. Despite all the options available to me, I found myself mostly just running-and-gunning or relying on limited durability melee weapons.
Playing the game as a straight-up action game would be fine if any of the combat options felt good. Melee weapons are generally more effective than guns, especially for dispatching lone enemies, but they feel awful. Weak, sluggish and aimless. The variety of guns you’ll find are a solid alternative, but they somehow feel even worse than the melee weapons. Aiming feels unwieldy and clunky, about as bad you can get. Meanwhile, the cover system is unresponsive and frustrating. There’s some aim assist to help you nail your targets but the enemies move too sporadically for it to ever help. They love to jump on top of tall boxes for no clear reason. Shot impacts on enemies are lifeless and dull, with enemies dramatically throwing themselves in the air in a laughably over-the-top ragdoll upon death.
The minute-to-minute action feels poor as well. You crouch-walk at a painfully slow speed while the super-fast sprint is unwieldy and too brief. Even on the lowest of four difficulties, the game is brutally punishing. Enemies can slaughter you on a dime, which the bizarre stutter-movement that occurs when you take damage only makes more frustrating. The sounds of gunfire deafen you, making the experience of getting caught janky and overwhelming.
However, the shoddy gunplay and underwhelming action is nothing next to the unbelievably bad AI. It's astoundingly broken and unpredictable. Your foes are simultaneously blind and eagle-eyed, deaf and sensitive, twitchy and sluggish. The dreadfully bad AI, which can spot you behind cover one second and randomly start attacking a box the next, is easily the game’s biggest issue. There are plenty of other problems I could rattle off - like the bland mission design that has you blindly going from cutscene to cutscene, the unintuitive controls (which can thankfully be remapped), or your irritating and unhelpful AI partner that chirps “Enemy Approaching” every 30 seconds - but it’s the shockingly bad enemy AI that ruins any semblance of potential Left Alive has.
It’s difficult to put into words just how disruptive bad enemy AI can be to a stealth-focused game. Any game asking you to engage in stealth - whether the aim is to avoid combat or use sneaking to get the upper-hand - requires solid AI to work. They don’t have to be smart, or even logical in their actions, but they need to be reliable. There’s a reason Metal Gear Solid’s predictable enemies are so timelessly satisfying to outsmart and dispatch. It’s because they behave reliably. You can grasp what they’re going to do in a certain situation after briefly studying them.
Even after finishing Left Alive, I still couldn’t tell you what an enemy is going to do next. I couldn’t confidently say whether or not they can see me despite the fact that five of them are directing their laser sights straight at me from 20 feet away. You can be comfortably hiding in the darkness when an entire area of enemies suddenly starts firing at you. It’s not even that they’re brutally unforgiving. They certainly can be, but they’re also equally dumb and easily exploitable. You can walk behind a soldier and blow them away at point blank with a shotgun and you’ll go completely undetected. At some point, you realize the AI is too unpredictable for true stealth to be a viable option. The illusion quickly shatters and all that's left is a clumsy shell of a game that’s just a chore to play.
Even the mechs (called Wanzers) aren’t as exciting as you would expect from a Front Mission spinoff. They’re cumbersome in a way that feels sluggish rather than powerful. They move and turn awkwardly and yet can utilize booster jets that jarringly shoot them forward with immense speed. It should be exhilarating to glide around in a huge mech that’s agile and deadly, but it never feels responsive enough to be fun. The impacts of the Wanzer’s weapons are weak and underwhelming. Even the act of two mechs clashing at high-speeds looks clumsy. It's certainly somewhat satisfying to mow down hordes of enemies and blow up fellow mecha, but that gratification is mostly a product of how extremely frustrating the rest of the game is.
There are greater issues with the core design of Left Alive that make it an unpleasant experience. For one, the mission objectives are boring and repetitive. You'll be holding down a position as waves of enemies pour through a single entrance more a few times. The game peppers each chapter with various side missions. Most of these task you with finding civilians and escorting them to safety. They can’t defend themselves and simply beeline it to the nearest safe point. You can tell them to stop, allowing you to clear a path for them, but it’s rarely worth the effort.
There's also the bewildering decision to include a skill tree devoted solely to New Game+. It adds a variety of unique gameplay changes, stat buffs, and minor tweaks - like increased shotgun damage, improved stealth capabilities, etc. For some baffling reason, all of these only become available once you beat the game. Some of them even require you to beat the game two or more times to unlock.
On top of everything, the presentation is hugely inconsistent. Parts of it look pretty sharp, with high-quality faces and visually pleasing cutscenes. The rest provide hideous textures, ridiculous-looking blood spray, and PS2-era fire. There’s also major texture pop-in to contend with, where textures take 10-15 seconds to load in after each death. Similarly, the sound of Left Alive is all over the place. The mixing on gunfire and explosions is blown-out and far too loud (and some of it sounds dreadful), whereas the music is varied and effective. It’s bombastic and effective, mixing strings with pounding chaos that sounds very Metal Gear Solid in places. Although Left Alive’s presentation may eventually be ironed out through patches in the coming months, it’s a complete mess in its current form.
Ultimately, Left Alive is a great big ball of potential squandered by far too many problems. There are things about it that are entertaining or executed well enough to not be a total nightmare, but they’re too few and far between to be worth seeing. Future patches may iron out the worst of these issues. However, the true problems are too intrinsic to Left Alive's design to ever be truly fixable. Do yourself a favor and avoid this trainwreck.
Left Alive is a shoddily assembled mess with no real redeeming features. Its broken AI and glaring technical issues only serve to highlight the poor game design on display.
- Mildly Entertaining Story
- Broken AI
- Clumsy Shooting And Dreadful Action
- Bad Stealth
- Brutal And Punishing Difficulty
- Even The Mechs Suck
- Ugly Graphics And Major Texture Pop-In