When Left Alive was announced in 2017, it’s fair to say it turned its fair share of heads. Unveiled with a vague (but dramatic) 60-second teaser trailer alongside some striking art from legendary Metal Gear designer, Yoji Shinkawa, gamers were soon clamouring for more information on this mysterious, new mecha-based adventure. I mean, it’s a game about political intrigue and giant robots made in conjunction with ex-Metal Gear alumni. It’s not hard to see why it caused a stir.
After almost a year of complete silence, FANDOM finally got an in-depth look at Left Alive… and, well, it’s not exactly the game we expected. Serving as a spin-off for the popular mech simulation series, Front Mission, Left Alive throws players into a grim, post-apocalyptic world — but bizarrely, players will spend most of their time playing without any of the series’ signature mechs at all.
Put in the shoes of three different (but equally serious) military types, players will have to fend for themselves in Left Alive‘s desolate, war-torn world, as they scrounge the ruined city for weapons and sneakily take out the ruthless military corps that have invaded. In other words, it barely resembles a Front Mission game at all.
“I think in a lot of ways that’s the reason we changed the title and made it Left Alive rather than a Front Mission game with a new subtitle,” explains Left Alive director Toshifumi Nabeshima. Still, what it lacks in mechs, it certainly makes up for in all-star collaborators. If simply having a Metal Gear artist on board for Left Alive wasn’t enough robot royalty for you, long-time series collaborator and Gundam artist Takayuki Yanase is back on board for Left Alive too. It seems a bit of an odd choice, given how little a role those mechanised suits play this time around, yet, according to Nabeshima, having Yanase involved is one of the things that keeps Left Alive feeling suitably Front Mission.
“We’ve still kept a lot [of things] from Front Mission, the good stuff that we think makes Front Mission what it is, but we also really want to appeal to a new audience,” he says. “We didn’t want to lose the great stuff that Front Mission had before, the very deep, complex stories and great characters. [But now] you don’t have to have played the previous games to understand the story, you can just jump straight in.”
Watching a few minutes of the game in action, it was hard not to get PS2 vibes from this bleak-looking Japanese shooter — and we mean that both in a complimentary and snarky way. Sporting a grey and gloomy aesthetic and charmingly shlocky voice acting, whether intentionally or not, Left Alive feels like a nod to the mid-tier games of yesteryear, giving us strong flashbacks to Monolith Soft’s bizarre (but endearing) Wii curio, Disaster: Day Of Crisis. It’s a fairly surprising reinvention of Front Mission — and clearly a game that’s attempting to sidestep its core fans by dropping robots for rifles.
“Front Mission has always previously been a simulation, strategic kind of game,” says Nabeshima, “Obviously, the traditional gameplay where you get into your armour, your robot suit, and you fight against another are fun kinds of gameplay. I wanted to keep that in the game as well, but to use the suits in a slightly different way. This time, you have them as this really imposing, powerful enemy that will turn up, and you’ve got to take them on with very little in the way of weaponry of your own.”
Don’t worry, though, Front Mission fans. You will eventually get to pilot a mech of your own in Left Alive — but in order to do so, you’ll have to earn it.
“Obviously if you just continued having to run away from these big, powerful enemies all the time that would get a bit too much for the players,” explains Nabeshima. “So, I really wanted to add that extra element where you finally get your own robot suit — and then you can get your revenge.”
From Robot Sim to Cover Shooter
Despite making his name by drawing characters for the world’s most-beloved mecha gaming franchise, the famed Metal Gear artist has once again spent more time designing human characters than mechs for Left Alive. “Originally, Mr Shinkawa was only contracted to do the designs for the three main characters,” says Nabeshima, “but he kept making more suggestions and eventually we asked him to do the major NPCs in the game as well. So, he drew the basic designs of the characters for the major NPC characters and did a little bit to help out with the adjusting of the character modelling. He got a lot more involved in the project than we anticipated.”
While the recently released story trailers give off a Metal Gear vibe, having seen a few snippets of gameplay, Left Alive looks to actually be a very different game than Kojima’s beloved stealth ’em ups. It’s also (unsurprisingly) going to be a lot more linear than the open-world playground of Metal Gear Solid V. While Nabeshima attempts to make the game sound more open, he all but confirms that Left Alive is essentially a linear third-person shooter.
“Generally [Left Alive] has a story-driven, mission-based structure to the game, so you’ll have an objective you need to reach to progress the story,” admits Nabeshima. “But within that large area you’ve got to travel through, there’s not one fixed route — and the routes that you take, the way you get to that objective, and how you overcome the trouble on the way is really left to player choice. So, for example, if in a certain area there’s a lot of different enemies you have to get through to reach your objective, you can choose to use stealth and evade them, go around the big concentrations of enemies, and try and get your objective that way. Or — if you happen to have collected a lot of bullets and have enough ammunition — you can just rush straight at them and take them on with the weapons you have. [There are always] different approaches that you can take.”
A Tale of Two Cities
Still, having tense and linear gameplay isn’t necessarily a bad thing — as long as there’s a story that will keep players invested. While we saw very few cutscenes during our time with the game, we probed a bit more about what to expect from Left Alive‘s narrative.
“[The story begins] with a war between two countries,” explains Nabeshima. “A city, Novo Slava, is positioned on the border between two rival nations, and one day, one of the two nations invades the city and occupies it. Of course, this is not a tale of a very simple border dispute between two countries, there’s actually a lot of [intruiging] reasons why this war happens in the first place, which you’ll have to uncover. [The player is in charge of] three main characters who are trapped in this war-torn city [who] have to find a way out to escape. They’ve all got their own histories, their own traumas to overcome.”
Interestingly though, as you attempt to escape this war-torn land, it will be up to the player whether they choose to help the desperate NPCs stuck in the occupied streets of Novo Slava, or abandon them in order to save precious resources.
“You don’t have to rescue any of the civilians you find. You’re always given the option to not do that and to leave them to their fate. They may sometimes give you rewards for saving them, they may help you or give you items… but a lot of the time, they won’t. You’re in a very perilous situation anyway, so, do you use your limited resources in that situation to save someone else you find in the same situation as you? Do you save them because you think you’re going to get something [in return], or are you going to be completely selfless and save them anyway? I really wanted people to worry about that and to add that element of moral decision making to the gameplay.”
With very little gameplay being shown off, it’s still too early to make a proper judgment call on the game. Still, based on what we’ve seen so far, anyone expecting a technically impressive, Metal Gear-like action experience is going to be mighty disappointed. If however, you’re looking for a bleak and nostalgic-feeling Japanese shooter, Left Alive could well be a fun throwback to simpler times.