Left Alive review

Release Date
5 March 2019
Square Enix

Release Date: 5 March 2019
Developer: Ilinx
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PS4
Review platform: PS4

On paper, Left Alive sounds pretty good. It’s a stealth-action game in which you’re heavily outnumbered and outgunned, using clever tactics and craftable gadgets to get by and rescuing survivors along the way – it’s certainly the kind of premise that gets my attention. And the ideas were good, they’d make for an excellent game… if only they bloody worked they way they were supposed to. Yes, this is yet another case of good idea, bad execution.

Apparently Left Alive is a spinoff of the Front Mission series, which I’ve never played, so there’s already a disconnect there, and the ham-handed storytelling doesn’t do much more to get me invested – although I couldn’t help but notice that the opening cinematic felt like someone plagiarised MGS4’s script with it’s corporate-run world, proxy wars, and bipedal mechs. Also, as is worryingly prevalent in Japanese games, rather than skilfully weaving a narrative the game provides reams and reams of glossary items to fill you in on the story. It’s a feature many games have, but glossaries are supposed to colour the narrative, not carry it!

Players control three characters intermittently in their own set of missions, but the formula is mostly the same – sneaking through a handful of re-used maps, avoiding enemies at all costs, and hoping like hell you don’t have to fight because the game’s controls are effing crippled.

How am I even going to fit this explanation in here? Well, the idea is that you’re supposed to find or craft explosives and traps to deal with the enemies because they’re heavily armoured, trigger-happy, and plentiful. Some of these gadgets work enough of the time that you can get a section with several retries and dogged determination – but reliable they are not. I can’t count how many times enemy soldiers have barely flinched even though they were clearly caught in the blast radius of a grenade. Other gadgets are a joke, such as the smoke grenade that creates such a small amount of smoke for such a short time it can’t hide anything – or the auto turret that barely tickles enemies and gets destroyed by a few enemy bullets. What’s the frickin’ point?

And that’s the best case scenario. On the occasions where you either end up in or are forced into combat, you’ll die, die, die, die, and die over and over again. The first mandatory combat bit is early in the game where one character has to fight her way out of a hospital right after a cutscene, but unfortunately the autosave is before the cutscene – so every time you die, not only do you have to wait for the reload, but then you open the door and wait a minute for the cutscene to load before you can skip it and try the combat again. Whichever dickhead did this, I will find you and kill you.

It took me 15 tries to get past that bit and really drove home what’s wrong with the gunplay. The enemies are tough, as I’ve mentioned, and they take four or five headshots to kill, and ten to fifteen body shots. The aiming is also stiff and slow but the enemies are fast and move erratically, so good luck getting those much-needed headshots with your severely limited ammo. Your crosshair also flies all over the place every time you get hit – which will happen, because the enemies are deadly accurate, use automatic weapons, and can somehow shoot you behind cover. And sometimes you’ll even be yanked out of cover when getting shot so everyone can riddle you with bullets and kill you in two seconds.

The stealth barely works too. Enemies can usually see you through objects unless you’re so deep behind something that you can’t do anything anyway. And it’s bad enough when it’s just you, but when you’re trying to rescue a survivor, they’ll run right out in the open – so the only way to help them is to kill every enemy between them and their exit point. Refer back to my description of the combat.

Apparently some things in the game change if you rescue enough survivors and make certain dialogue choices in the cutscenes, but I’ll never know. I didn’t finish the game, probably not by quite a bit – and I sure as hell don’t ever want to play it again. At the very least I’ll get some of the money I spent back as payment for this review.

With it's broken combat, fiddly controls and barely-working stealth, Left Alive is probably one of hardest games you'll ever play, but not in a good or fair way. The idea was sound but it needs an overhaul to make all of the systems work the way we expect them to.
The HDR looks nice if you've got a TV that can display it... I had to think of something
Enemies can see you far too easily for the stealth to work, and when you end up in combat you can barely aim because the controls are so stiff and slow and every time you take a hit your aim flies off target even further
The graphics are barely good enough for the PS3 era, never mind the PS4
Also, it's one of those games where you can equip armour, but not see it on your character - but trust us, you're wearing armour, the menu says so
Most of the gadgets are useless.
The enemies are way too tough. I mean, seeing how we're so badly outnumbered and outgunned is it too much to ask for a single headshot to be fatal?
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