Left Alive Review: a stealth game unable to survive

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When you are facing Left Alive with this stylistic vibration reminiscent of the original Metal Gear Solid and a stealth component just as close to the early works of Kojima, you feel almost displaced, surprised that a day a game like this can exist today. The new title of Square-Enix is ​​a product that seems out of time, like a kind of graceless dinosaur that presents itself in the garden of your home. Left Alive is the son of a way of making videogames that we thought was completely extinct, adhering to the logic and the canons of Japanese game design of the late 90s. To see it, at first, you also feel intrigued; and maybe even happy, because with the video games of that time you grew up like many of your generation, and it's always a pleasure to remember the profound sign that certain ideas have left on the market and in your head.

In an increasingly westernized and often reluctant landscape, Left Alive also takes on the connotations of a hymn to diversity, imbued with an "exotic" charm that perhaps represents its greatest value. Unfortunately, beyond this movement of rediscovery, the game trudges on several fronts: a tiring gameplay and a very frustrating progression would suffice to turn off the initial enthusiasm, further suffocated by a technical backlog and a moderate poverty of content. The peculiar writing, which results in a strange fantapolitica made up of legendary soldiers, fallen heroes and war criminals, tries to raise at last the fate of production, which however falls hopelessly under the weight of too unhappy choices.

three survivors

The events of Left Alive take shape within the narrative universe of Front Mission, even if the game remains almost completely independent from the rest of the saga. Just look at the role that in this case covers the Wanzer huge biped Mechs now essential for the management of conflicts: what has always been a cornerstone of the franchise, even from the playful point of view, in Left Alive is left on the sidelines, and appears from time to time without much conviction, in the course of very marginal action phases for the economy of production. The element shared with Front Mission is therefore the setting: we are in 2127, in a future in which the world is divided into macro economic areas continuously engaged in actions of political and territorial expansion. The story of Left Alive takes place at Novo Slavia a small town squeezed between two large economic blocks, which is suddenly attacked by the army of a neighboring state, becoming the theater of a painful lightning war. In this scenario, through the fourteen missions that make up the main storyline, we will impersonate three different protagonists, each guided by different aims and intentions.
The young pilot Mikhail miraculously surviving the massacre of his unit, will simply try to get out alive from the hell he crashed, while the policewoman Olga Kalinina will try to understand what triggered the conflict. Leonid finally, is a hero of the liberation front of Novo Slavia, unjustly accused of killing his leader and condemned to death, who will exploit the confusion generated by the war to escape and discover something more about injustice suffered.

The three characters, from the beginning of the adventure, will find themselves in an emergency situation, besieged by the forces of siege and forced to act under the fence, avoiding the direct conflict as much as possible. Hunted like wounded animals, miraculously escaping the raids and last remnants of a lost humanity among the burning streets of the city, they will have to use cunning and determination to survive. Given these premises, it is normal that Left Alive takes the form of a stealth game with some survival element, even without disdaining some grafting a bit 'action.

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Stealth of other times

Since first beats, in essence, the game educates the user to act with caution, bypassing the pitfalls instead of facing them. Just a simple mistake after a few moments from the beginning of the adventure to be brutally shot and run into the first of many Game Over. So here you learn to crouch immediately, avoid the looks of patrols, gathering around what is.

Even a rag and a bottle of vodka can be useful, if you can not see ammunition or firearms, since with a little 'ingenuity it will be possible to use them to disinfect a bleeding wound or turn them into a lethal molotov. Structurally speaking Left Alive is an infiltration game in which you have to move from cover to cover, making sure to accumulate raw materials, resources of all kinds and mechanical components. Not all the guards, in fact, can be bypassed, and in this case the crafting system comes into play, which allows you to create traps, explosive cans, smoke bombs and other tools with which to annihilate or confuse opponents.
'basic idea is interesting, also because the survival mechanisms are not too complex: the resources to be collected are not very many, and there is no need to deal too deeply with the health of the protagonists. The problem, on the other hand, is that all the game components suffer from macroscopic defects, starting from the movement system that is extremely awkward and burdened. It will be because of the elementary animations, or because of a camera that gets all the time we get into coverage or take aim, or even for a scheme of controls anything but comfortable when you have to select the gadgets to use: In Left Alive we will always feel tired, and we are almost never in full control of the action.

It should also be said that at the level of infiltration options the game is less thorough even than the first Metal Gear Solid : besides hiding inside some dumpster, we can do very little, since not you can not even crawl, and the only solution available to the player is to proceed crouched, hoping to be far enough away from the enemy looks.

Artificial intelligence is another huge complication. It happens to observe completely dazed opponents staring at an explosive can thrown in their midst, and watching them then return to their seats as if nothing had happened. At other times the soldiers ignore beautiful gunshot and rifle shots shot a few meters away, and the bodies do not trigger the alerts. There is never a real security on what are the sensory capabilities of the guards, which in some instances identify the protagonists behind the covers, while in other cases they seem to ignore its silhouette – very visible – that passes under the street lamps. The only certainty is that once the alert is given, all opponents will know your position immediately, in real time, and that there will be no possibility of circumventing or confusing them. The only way to stop the alarm will be to flee far or to slip into a manhole cover

To be a stealth game, in short, Left Alive is tremendously awkward, and often forces a bleak trial & error operation. Although the game maps are open (macro-areas with dimensions that are not really exorbitant), in many cases it is necessary to proceed following a path "imposed" by the team development team, or rather by the structural blocks placed along the path. For all the above mentioned problems it will not always be possible to have a clear situation of the positioning of the occupation forces, and it could happen to inadvertently end up under the eyes of an indiscreet guard. In Left Alive even with "simple" difficulties, triggering an alert often means being overwhelmed in a few seconds: projectiles arrive copious from all directions, and the player finds himself in a confused and trapped instant. The idea of ​​playing a ruthless stealth game is certainly not unpleasant, but in the case of the production Square-Enix the adjectives that we would choose are more " unjust " and " frustrating ". There are some sequences that turn into a hell of badly finished tests, endless loading screens and as many attempts to force the system.

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Old-fashioned action

The situation does not improve when you switch to action, a largely contemplated eventuality from the game itself. In fact, despite its stealth soul, Left Alive forces the user to overcome intense and prolonged shootings, in specific moments of adventure. Barricaded inside consulates or buildings under construction, we will have to resist several waves of fully armed adversaries, exploiting the few resources provided.

The aiming system is so cumbersome and the hitboxes so fanciful that these situations are all except fun, and even in this case it is better to circumvent the difficulty by exploiting the total inability of opponents to react to gadgets: just a series of molotovs launched on enemies to see them go completely in confusion, stop to burn in the middle of the flames. To mention the presence of (a few) phases aboard the Wanzer : in this case the title turns into a heavy shooter based on Mech, where you have to manage the weapons mounted on the body of our robots and at the same time dodge hostile shots.

Incredibly, the development team was able to make this point wrong: the robotic duels are not distinguished by rhythm, duration and intensity, and a strange visual distortion (which simulates the effect of the battlefield displayed through a screen) makes the scene mixed and difficult to read. Left Alive from a playful point of view, is a continuous disappointment, a test of strength and determination imposed on the player.

It is a profoundly wrong title, and not so much because it recovers such an ancient canon, but because it brutalizes it with glaring game design errors. The dream of a ruthless but stimulating difficulty is transformed into the nightmare of a perfidious and inattentive balance. Not to mention that many of the titles from which the game is inspired, masterpieces of the late 90s or the beginning of the new millennium, have done better what Left Alive tries to do today. If there is something that very shyly pushes the player to continue, it is the narrative compartment, which is made up of a series of interlude scenes from mission to mission. During some of these filmed sequences you can choose the attitude to keep in front of allies and opponents, and our behavior will have slight repercussions on the end of the adventure. The personalities of Left Alive are very stereotypical, falling into the clichés already seen in the Japanese productions: from the insecure newcomer to the accursed soldier, through the stoic and irreproachable policewoman, the characterization of the protagonists does not reserve many surprises, unlike of the actual plot, which instead turns out to be mysterious and fascinating.

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Among the shady dealings of men, sudden retreats and top secret operations, behind the incident of Novo Slavia there is more than one suspected. Unfortunately, the narration fails to straighten out completely the distortions of the product, but among other things also has the merit of showing with extreme crudity the ruthless face of war and the bestiality that emerges from the hearts of human beings in such situations. This aspect also manifests itself when interfacing with the few survivors scattered in the settings, which will be conducted to the underground shelters.

Each of them has a story to tell, and in many cases they are people on whom the war has left terrible scars. Even in these moments we are involved in multiple choice dialogues, and a wrong word can make the difference between a person's life and death. Saving the survivors represents the only secondary activity available in the internships, and our conduct on the subject will also influence the final outcome of the mission. Unfortunately, given the problems we have discussed and the almost criminal disposition of the points of rescue, very often the player will consider too great a risk to accompany the survivors to the nearest shelter.

About maps, the failure perhaps bigger than Left Alive consists in the scarce quantity of scenarios. We imagined that each mission would take us to a different district of the city, while the game continues to send us in the same four areas for all the thirteen hours necessary for its completion.

In practice we will cross the same levels with Mikahil, Olga and Leonid, finding ourselves in front of already known structures and plans. Frankly this is a productive commitment to the downside, which makes the amount of content insufficient. In this regard, it should be noted that longevity estimates are very difficult to make. Saving all the survivors and playing at high difficulty can happen to remain "locked" in a single mission for several hours, while proceeding sent to the main goal can happen to hurry up in a few tens of minutes.
Undoubtedly mediocre is also the technical segment, which net of imperfect animations showcases a very basic polygonal modeling, low-resolution textures, an extremely reduced draw distance and special effects made in a cheeky manner. Left Alive uses a less common engine, the OROCHI 4, proprietary software of Silicon Studio, a software house that has distinguished itself more than anything else for middleware capable of managing the effects of light (its tool ] Yebis is used – among others – by Bloodborne, Final Fantasy XV, Pokémon Let's Go). Unfortunately, the overall engine (used by a few jRPG including, recently, World of Final Fantasy Maxima) seems to be much less rewarding, and perhaps not easy to program, at least judging by the results of Left Alive .