There hasn’t been a Front Mission SRPG (Strategy Role Playing Game) for decades. Left Alive isn’t Front Mission but it’s the next best thing for us fans, since it’s set in the same fictional universe as the games.
Set between Front Mission 5 and Front Mission Evolved, Left Alive is unlike any entry in the series…which you’d probably have guessed isn’t really a good thing.
What is Left Alive?
At its core, Left Alive is a stealth game mixed with survival elements. It’s a semi-open ended game, with somewhat open maps and linear mission progression.
There’s no exploration outside of missions like in Grand Theft Auto or Red Dead Redemption. You just sneak around, rescuing people, avoiding soldiers, scrounge for scrap to craft traps and supplies and then move on to the next map when objectives are finished…that sort of thing. It’s like Metal Gear Survive, but without the weird monsters and way clunkier.
Playing as three different characters caught up in a war, Left Alive has you trying to survive the conflict, while saving civilians caught in the crossfire. The story is a bit on the heavy-handed side but it’s nothing too outlandish. Despite it being set in the Front Mission universe, there’s little indications to show it other than the Wanzers, which is rather disappointing.
In a nod to modern RPGs though, the game has branching dialogue paths you can choose, with the game reacting to what you choose. A dialogue choice can get somebody killed while helping out a person in an earlier chapter can have consequences in a later one. It gives the game some much needed replay value, to offset its otherwise linear nature.
Make no mistake, at its heart, Left Alive is mostly a stealth and survival game through and through. Combat is an option, but the scarcity of ammo makes shooting (and any confrontation really) a very bad one.
The game’s stealth system doesn’t seem to be very thought out though. You can’t whistle or tap on walls to get the attention guards (you’ll need empty cans for that). There are no corner takedowns and even hitting somebody with non-lethal equipment like stun guns don’t take them out in one hit.
It’s incredibly weird that somehow (I don’t know how), somebody completely forgot about an essential part of stealth games; the sneaky takedown. For a stealth title to completely omit it is blasphemy, yet that’s exactly what’s happened here.
You can sneak right up to an enemy but there’s no way to take him down quietly with a melee weapon. Instead you’ll have whack him with a slow 3-hit melee combo and then finish him off with a strike when he’s down. Of course, that pretty much blows your stealthy approach, as everybody even remotely nearby will come running.
The game then becomes a race for you to hide and get out of alert mode, or luring enemies into traps that you’ve laid out in preparation. I’ll admit, it is pretty fun luring enemies to ambushes, but once you realize the A.I. is brain dead, it just becomes pathetic and predictable.
Even more frustrating, the melee weapons degrade with use. How does a sledgehammer degrade you ask? I’m wondering that too. Degraded weapons eventually break, meaning you have to constantly find new weapons to keep yourself armed.
Even if you tell yourself that the degradation is a way to offset how melee weapons are severely overpowered, that still doesn’t explain why guns are nearly useless in Left Alive.
Not only are they inaccurate but it takes 3 direct shots to the head (minimum!) to kill humans. Ammo is incredibly scarce and you’re never able to pick up enemy weapons when they die, adding to the frustration.
We’re hunting wabbits…
Luckily, you can craft traps (remember I mentioned them earlier?) to even the odds.
It’s honestly one of the best mechanics in the game, as you can lead enemies into kill zones of your choosing if you have enough materials to work with. Sometimes, when it all comes together, you’ll catch glimpses of how fun the game can be.
You get the materials from picking up trash like empty cans so make sure to be as much of a hoarder as you can. There’s a weight limit system in play, but if you find a decent bag (which isn’t that hard to do), it’s very manageable. The only problem is finding stuff you require since items all have different material requirement.
I honestly feel that with a more refined stealth system in place, Left Alive could’ve been something great.
Right now, sneaking around is passable (even if you’ll need to keep rolling around to move at a reasonable pace) but the AI constantly chiming in ‘Caution! The enemy is approaching’ will almost immediately get on your nerves.
Even when you’re spotted, enemies will resume their patrol routes with barely any searching of the area as long as you’re out of sight. To say enemy AI is inconsistent is to give it too much credit.
Sometimes they’re barely able to hit me up close, other times they’re sharpshooters with their rifles, able to pound me with shot after shot from long distances. Sometimes they’ll do room clearing while searching for me, other times they’ll just abandon the search after shooting at a wall I’m hiding behind for a while.
While most of the game is sneaking around, there are instances where you do get to unleash all the pent up frustration by using Wanzers to murder soldiers/ tanks/ whatever the game throws at you.
Wanzers are awesome in the Front Mission games and they’re just as awesome here. The weapons are deadly and the game doesn’t shy in throwing tons of bodies at you when you’re in one.
It’s incredibly cathartic to gun down soldiers you would have trouble beating down on foot with overwhelming firepower; homing rockets, dumbfire missiles, heavy machine guns…all of them are equally fun and devastating to use.
It’s a bit of a bummer that Wanzer sections aren’t common though when they do come around, they’re great fun.
On top of that, there are also some rather interesting mechanics for the game that hopefully gets tweaked and reused in other games.
The heatmap feature for one is rather intriguing. It’s like the bloodstain function in Dark Souls.
If you’re connected to the network, you’ll be able to access a heatmap to see where other players meet their demise in their games. If you go to those areas, their bodies might still be there, along with useful items you can use.
Troop deployments (called the Vigilance by the game) can also dynamically change on the fly. Say you keep getting spotted in an area but keep on eluding them. The enemy can call upon more troops down there to aid them in their hunt for you. Naturally, the increased manpower leads to a decrease in enemies in other areas of the map.
It’s a very cool feature, but it’s severely underutilized, especially since evasion is usually best. I do hope other stealth games utilize something like this though.
I also got a kick out of helping survivors. In your explorations, you’ll sometimes get secondary missions where you’ll need to guide survivors to hidden shelters. Guiding them through enemy controlled territory is incredibly tense but VERY fun, though I wish you had more direct control on their movement and routes.
I wasn’t going into the game expecting a visual tour de force.
It was obvious that the team making the game wasn’t given a large budget but I’m still amazed how bad looking the game is, especially after all the fuss made of the art being done by Metal Gear Solid and Zone of the Enders artist (on loan from Kojima Productions), Yoji Shinkawa.
At first I honestly thought it was my fault; after all I opted to use the game’s High Stability instead of the High Resolution mode. So I decided to see how the other side of the coin looked like and found out it wasn’t much better. I’m playing with a PS4 Pro by the way.
Textures (despite the game saying the high resolution mode is optimized for 4K screens) still look muddy and incredibly plain on High Resolution mode, while the whole game looks like it has been smeared with Vaseline on High Stability (framerate) mode. In other words, blurry.
Even worse, on High Resolution mode, the framerate is unstable, constantly dropping even when you’re just sneaking around with barely anything happening. The High Stability mode isn’t perfect (there are hitches here and there as the game streams in data) but at least the framerate is much better.
Environmental objects are laughably low detail (both in polygons and texture), with static non-destructible cover. I’ve hidden behind cars that have been shot at with high explosive rounds from Wanzers, then blasted by LMGs and even had grenades explode right beside it. The only telltale sign of all that trauma? Some bullet holes along its side.
Even environmental effects are lacking. Flames don’t cast dynamic shadows and they look like something from a PS3 game. Footprints don’t even appear in soft ground (like mud or snow). I’m not expecting Metal Gear Solid level of slavish attention to detail, but I’d at least like to have some basics in place.
The game does nail the bleakness of war look though. Everything is run down, broken or dirty and the game doesn’t seem to have a color palette beyond black, brown or grey. Yoji Shinkawa’s art influences don’t really show that much, though the character designs (I’m unsure whether they’re done by Shinkawa or by another designer) are pretty decent.
In the end…
Left Alive is a mixed bag. It certainly has moments of fun that makes playing it worthwhile. Then again, you’ve also got a ton of issues that makes it a chore to wade through. It’s truly a divisive title, though one with some truly innovative systems that I wish will be copied in other games, as they really deserve a chance to shine, when done right.
It’s incredibly frustrating as a Front Mission fan to have TWO different games based on the series with no word yet on full fledged installment. The amount of money wasted in developing this (and Front Mission Evolved) could’ve gone to making a truly great SRPG, like Front Mission 3 was.
Hopefully, Square Enix wakes up and finally give us what we all want, instead of ancillary games like this.
Massive gameplay issues but there are some nice things about the game. May want to skip it for now and buy it on sale later.
– Some innovative gameplay systems.
– Setting up ambushes is fun!
– Branching dialogues leads to different outcomes.
– Wanzers are fun to use.
– The visuals.
– The stealth gameplay.
– Inconsistent AI.
– Performance issues.