Title: Left Alive
Genre: Survival action
Developer: Silicon Studio, Ilinx
Publisher: Square Enix
Release date: 28 Feb 2019 (JP), 3 Mar 2019 (WW)
This review was written based on the initial Japanese release of the game, and may not reflect changes made to versions released later and/or in other regions.
Left Alive is Square Enix’s first return to the world of Front Mission since 2010’s critically panned Front Mission Evolved, which departed from the series’ roots of being a turn-based strategy game, and turned it into a lackluster third-person shooter, with development being outsourced to the American studio Double Helix Games. Despite this failure, however, Left Alive deviates even further from the series staples: It is, like Evolved, a TPS outsourced to other developers (this time Silicon Studio, which has up till now mostly worked on mobile and handheld games, and Ilinx, known for the Gundam Breaker series), but also shifts the focus from the series’ Wanzer mechs to the individual humans trying to survive a brutal war almost entirely.
Though initial details left those familiar with the series skeptical, the staff including former Armored Core series producer Nabeshima Toshifumi as director, and art by Shinkawa Youji (Metal Gear Solid series) and Yanase Takayuki (Mobile Suit Gundam 00, Break Blade, Xenoblade X) left many hopeful. As it stands, though, it seems that any hope one might have had in Left Alive may have been misplaced.
Left Alive puts the player in control of three individuals- A rookie Wanzer pilot, a police officer, and an escaped convict- In the midst of a sudden invasion of the border city of Novo Slava, in which the enemy forces one-sidedly occupied the entire city and began a wholesale slaughter of all of its denizens, military or civilian. The game is survival-oriented, in that the player has a limited inventory and has to scrounge for weapons, ammo and materials with which to craft makeshift weapons such as IED landmines and molotov cocktails. Enemy troops are often found in large groups and are heavily armed and armoured (with powered suits that make it so that not even headshots can take them out in one hit), and tanks and Wanzers can be found in the streets blockading off areas.
While the idea of having a survival game set in a modern sci-fi setting with the player going up against overwhelming odds seems like a sound concept, Left Alive unfortunately does not manage to execute it very well, to the point that many might go so far as to say that it failed. The stealth aspects of the game are egregiously done, with enemies that seem to randomly switch between being blind and deaf and being inexplicably able to see through walls for miles, and an enemy proximity warning that is absolutely useless.
The lack of a stealth takedown and the sheer impotence of most of the available weapons in contrast to the enemies’ makes head-on confrontation usually impossible, and so the player instead has to scrounge for materials and craft items with which to defeat enemies: Tripwires, mines, and a myriad of lethal and non-lethal throwables. Sometimes, however, enemies will refuse to leave their posts even when aware of the player’s location, and will instead opt to remain where they are until the alert status goes down and they forget about the player, even if the player has not moved, and this makes traps unfeasible in most cases. There are, however, several sequences in which the player has to defend an area against several waves of enemies and is given time and a large amount of materials to prepare, and these can be quite entertaining.
While not the main focus of the game, the player can also take control of Wanzer mechs at certain determined points. Unfortunately, these Wanzer sequences somehow manage to play even worse than the much-hated previous attempt in Front Mission Evolved: The controls are awkward, movement feels off, combat is permeated with a lack of feedback, and the camera and cramped city environments result in the player’s Wanzer covering most of the screen and thus a persistant inability to see the enemy.
The game is wrought with countless bugs and lesser issues as well: An encumbering manual save system with awkwardly-timed auto saves, various sound-related bugs with the game sometimes going silent or playing sounds from far away as if they are nearby, bad NPC pathing on side quests, immersion-ruining graphical issues, frustrating and out-of-place boss battles, and questionable localisation and voice acting quality. The story, too, feels needlessly convoluted with its focus on conspiracy and twists, and also fails to really define its characters: Both protagonists, who feel shallow, and antagonists, who partake in outrightly cartoon-like villainy and have unsatisfying resolutions.
Though Left Alive clearly aspires to be something big, it feels like a PS2-era oddity made by an obscure developer, and someone approaching it with the appropriate expectations and an open mind might very well glean some satisfaction in its eccentricities.
The Good: Fantastic art by Shinkawa Youji and mechanical designs by Yanase Takayuki.
The Bad: More problems than can be realistically summed up in short. Bad level design early in the game might also leave players with a far worse impression of the game than it actually is overall.
Conclusion: Left Alive is, to put it bluntly, not a good game. Countless contrivances, bugs, questionable level designs and balance decisions, and system-level issues make for an extremely rough experience. If one adjusts their expectations accordingly, however, it might offer some modicum of satisfaction at points.
(This article was updated on 5 May 2019 to add information regarding the game’s development)