Square Enix's latest production potentially had it all - a crack team including Yoji Shinkawa, the art director from Kojima productions; a three-strand narrative with an engaging setting; lots of innovative ideas; and comparisons to the Metal Gear series. A third-person survival shooter with an emphasis on being stealthy in a world filled with mechs - the comparisons with Kojima's baby were unavoidable.
We used the word "potentially" before because, sadly, the studio didn't quite pull it off. So, what went wrong? There were lots of great ideas in there, such as an emphasis on building your own IEDs and traps to take out the opposition soldiers, and it reminded us a little of Metal Gear: Survive in this respect. Then there were optional missions you could take or ignore, a map that showed danger zones, and an intriguing story.
However, these promising aspects were all undermined by poor mechanics and a sluggish control system, some wonky AI, and graphics that sometimes looked rather low-quality. But we'll start with the things we like.
You take control of three characters in a war-torn country called Novo Slavia in the year 2127, in an area of the world that looks not too unlike Russia. Genocide is being committed by the occupation forces, and our three heroes have been 'left alive', searching for other survivors and improvising the weapons they'll need to use to help them make it out.
First off you take control of Mikhail, a rookie Wanzer pilot (Wanzers are the mechs), and later a police officer called Olga, and also Leonid, an innocent accused of being a criminal. The setting is bleak, and the intro really sets it up to be a great game. There's snow on the ground, dead bodies are littered everywhere, and we're thoroughly intrigued.
Alas, straight off the bat though you're confronted by a tricky control system. It feels sluggish and like you're not totally in control, with the shooting suffering from the same unevenness, meaning it felt tricky and clunky to aim. It simply didn't feel intuitive, and even after a few hours we were still accidentally throwing cans, alerting enemies, and getting annihilated.
We started off on the medium difficulty, which turned out to be insanely hard, as we ended up getting killed way too easily. We soon found ourselves starting again on an easier setting, but even then it was brutally difficult at times.
We like a challenge, but these difficulty spikes ripped the fun out of Left Alive. Enemy soldiers would cut you down in an instant, and on top of that, they seemed to be immune to headshots, with bullets having very little effect in general. You could throw homemade bombs, hoping for the best, but we often found ourselves replaying the same sections over and over again and becoming increasingly frustrated.