Left Alive is an underwhelming return to the Front Mission universe

Eight years after the critically-panned Front Mission Evolved, we find ourselves in the Aspen Room of the Sheraton in downtown Seattle watching a behind-closed-doors showing of Left Alive, Square Enix’s upcoming survival third-person shooter. No effort is being made by Square Enix to conceal the setting for Left Alive: It takes place in the Front Mission universe, though they're keeping tight-lipped about where in the timeline it falls. Still, there's no cheeky dancing around the subject. The slice of the game that we were shown even features the series’ staple mechas: Wanzers.

Piloting customizable wanzers is the most tantalizing thing we saw during the demo at PAX West. The wanzer was agile and sported a shoulder-mounted rail gun, and demonstrated the ability to tackle enemy mechs and pin them to objects in the environment. You can even sever the weapons from enemy wanzers and slot them into one of four available weapon slots on your own.

A Square Enix representative emphasized that the majority of the game will take place on foot, however, and that's where Left Alive stumbles into forgettable territory.

I watched 20 minutes of scenarios mere hours ago, but the details are already growing hazy. I haven’t been bleaching my brain with an overload of new games on the packed convention center floor in those hours, Left Alive just failed to leave a lasting impression.

The first thing we saw was an extensive series of crafting menus followed by one of the game’s three playable protagonists painstakingly showing how each item she crafted was useful. Bullets and molotovs were used to draw enemies towards a tripwire mine, resulting in a misty red explosion. She next used a grenade that pinged the locations of enemies in the adjoining room. Tactically, that option seemed appealing, but enemies planted their feet for the most part, and a bog-standard gun fight broke out.

Details about the story were scarce, and all we know for now is that the plot kicks off with a surprise attack from an invading nation. The three playable protagonists are caught unaware and thus have to scavenge for their supplies. Starting the game with nothing and have to forage for gear may add to the tension, but the shooting that was shown to us seemed neither fresh nor appealing.

Mech morals

What we know for sure is that Left Alive will feature multiple endings, and you have a number of ways to go about making ending-altering decisions. First, there are branching dialogue-based choices. We were shown a scene in which one of the male protagonists—featured in Yoji Shinkawa’s consistently striking art—comes across two fleeing refugees. The pair, a dad and his adult daughter, are reluctant to follow the player to shelter. A choice is given to try to talk sense into the daughter or speak directly to her dad. Eventually, the player is given the choice to give the daughter a hard dose of reality, and that’s where another issue surfaces.

“Stay here and die like your dopey dada,” the protagonist says in a gruff deadpan.

The dialogue doesn’t do much to bolster confidence. The scenario ends with the daughter following you and the dad staying behind waiting for the military to swoop in and save him.

Everything that I saw makes Left Alive look uninspired.

Later, the second type of decision-making scenario plays out. Instead of being based on dialogue trees, these moments will hinge on the actions you choose to take, or not to take. A group of survivors are being mugged off in the distance and you can choose to give the altercation a wide berth, which may be preferable given that supplies are scarce. Alternatively, you can take down the attackers, though doing so can be costly to your ammo supply as enemies are remarkably spongy.

Everyone you save comes back in the game’s ending, but they won't help you out in the interim, so the decision to save anyone seems to rest on the player’s own moral fulcrum and curiosity about how the endings may change, rather than the promise of extrinsic rewards.

The game is early in development but it doesn’t just look unfinished, it looks uninspired. That’s a shame, because it boasts a menagerie of talent including Shinji Hashimoto, Takayuki Yanase, Toshifumi Nabeshima, and Yoji Shinkawa, names any fan of Armored Core, Final Fantasy, Xenoblade, Front Mission, or Metal Gear should recognize. Hopefully, Left Alive crystallizes into something that shows some spark to match its pedigree.