This week, Yahtzee reviews Left Alive.
You know, I could have reviewed Devil May Cry 5 this week. I didn't, for three reasons: firstly, contempt for my fellow man, as usual; second, release drought has got to hit sooner or later, so it's wise to keep your nest feathered; and third, Square Enix put out Left Alive and hoped I wouldn't notice. I think the first time I saw it advertised was, like, the day before it came out, and even then, its completely unmemorable title wouldn't leave a fingermark in a bowl of watery porridge; I kept thinking it was called "Still Alive", but of course, that was the name of the song from Portal. That's my immune system in action: when it detects the presence of mondo-shittiness, it starts thinking about really good games to keep my hormones balanced.
Left Alive is bad, I have no doubt, but it's not the usual boring badness, i.e., the same hacked-out shit as always, callously designed to wring from the mentally disadvantaged the money that their schools and workplaces give them if they promise not to show up; it's the much more interesting, for my purposes, bafflingly horribly-designed bad that some idiot actually published. Come on, Square Enix; you're old enough to know better! What happened to the sterling business minds that published... hmm. If I gave you money, would you go away?
Left Alive is about a haunting vision of the future in which two parts of Russia populated mysteriously by people with American accents decide to call themselves silly names and declare war on each other, with the focus being on some individuals from the less shitty country struggling to survive in a city occupied by the more shitty country as the occupiers move to exterminate everyone non-shitty. "Oh, spare us the detailed plot summary, A. J. P. Taylor; just tell us what kind of game it is." Do you know, audience? I'm not sure. I can tell you what it isn't: it isn't very good.
But in gameplay terms, I suppose it's primarily a stealth game; you can see the Metal Gear Solid influence as our protagonist springs into a dodge-roll like a teenager leaping to slam the laptop lid closed as his mum walks in. And it does the MGS thing of giving us tons of unnecessary solutions; you can craft grenades and sticky grenades and remote grenades and sticky remote grenades, but then, 99% of the time, all you need to do is chuck an old tin and leg it in the opposite direction. But then, at other times, it feels like survival horror with evil Russians, although it might just be because the first two cunts you control are American-accented Russian Leon Kennedy and American-accented Russian Claire Redfield. And then every now and again, the game lets you pilot a giant robot for about nine seconds in a sort of tone-deaf attempt to spice things up equivalent to splicing Transformers movie clips into the boring bits of The Hunt for Red October.
Each mission is set in an open-ended part of the city, and the objective is usually "move your fat American-accented Russian arse over to where the check mark is", but there are also side-objectives in the form of escorting civilians to safety. Oh boy! Let's add the shittiest parts of Dead Rising to the list of things we're not sure if we're ripping off or not! It does do the Dead Rising thing where, before you subject yourself to the terrible gameplay, you have to prove that you're "worthy" of it; I ran into one civilian who wouldn't let me escort her until she went through a dialogue tree, and if I picked anything but one specific thread of responses from a list that all seem to mean the exact same thing, she fucking popped herself in the skull, and then I had to pretend to look disappointed.
But the true shit shower of Left Alive all falls upon one flimsy umbrella, and that's bad A.I.; in fact, if there were a "bad games" version of Captain Planet, then I Am Alive would be chosen to wield the power ring of bad A.I. It all starts when you get near the enemy, and you will know about it because the computer voice goes "THE ENEMY ARE APPROACHING" every fucking time like a forgetful sat-nav. So you get into cover, as long as you press the button when you are within the regulation half-centimeter from the cover and didn't do a flying somersault into the open instead; you poke your head out the side of cover to observe the guards, at which point, the guard goes, "Oh, look! It's someone's head!", everyone gets alerted, and you get shot fifty times in the botty. Granted, yes, that would happen in real life, but I've grown used to a sort of gentlemanly etiquette where stealth game cover systems are concerned.
But it's in the subsequent conflict that the big brains come out to flex; I chucked a Molotov and the enemy screamed and ran away from the fire, then ran straight back into it to double-check that it was the thing making his eyeballs melt. At another time, I was pinned down in an alley behind a box with no means of escape, and the 17 guards that were pinning me down just stopped firing and wandered off, presumably because they hit the union-mandated 30-second alertness cap. At other times, after popping out, I couldn't tell if a soldier was still unalerted or if he'd had a little Alzheimer's brain fart and forgotten how to move or shoot.
Those Alzheimer's brain farts can be contagious, too; at one point, I was escorting a lady, and when she was barely six feet from the shelter - incidentally, yeah, let's put refugees in obvious inescapable holes in the ground, in the middle of occupied territory; I'm sure they'll be just fucking dandy - when she caught a whiff of enemy fart and immediately screamed and hugged the ground. Then, like, six enemy soldiers all came over and clustered around her like a rugby scrum, possibly to compare notes on how to make their guns fire. Fuck, did this army recruit all its conscripts from the special schools, or will I take off one of those evil faceless helmets and discover naught but a stack of confused hedgehogs in the shape of a man?
I think the game itself had an Alzheimer's brain fart and forgot whether it was courting Adolf Action or Slobodan Stealth; I mean, you have no stealth takedown - unless you count stun-locking a lone enemy with repeated crowbars to the mush, which is as quiet and subtle as a hippo using a portaloo - and most of what you can craft are explosives. But said explosives damage the average enemy soldier about as much as a three-star Yelp review, you can carry less ammunition than a lark's nostril, and if you get spotted and enter combat, you're rolling the dice and either getting your botty atomized by gunfire from all directions or escaping because the enemy all forgot how many legs they had and fell over. But then, again, Adolf Action wrestles control back and I'm suddenly expected to use my nostril full of ammo and sparrow-fart grenades to escape a fucking corridor with fifty alerted guys in that I got dumped into after a cutscene.
Five Alive is mesmerizingly bad. It's like the world's worst lasagna; I keep finding more layers of dog shit. I'd almost recommend it for the sideshow factor, if it weren't so frustrating and unrewarding to play. The precise moment where it all came crashing down for me was when I found a hidden document that displayed a piece of flavor text, stating that "The city council rejected a proposal to overhaul the sewer system." In that moment, the scales fell from my eyes. What the fuck am I doing here?! Why the fuck am I reading this?! "Flavor text"?! Only in the sense that "plain" is a flavor of crisp!
- And what's with all the World of Tanks references: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- And also keyboard controls should not need to spread 5 or 6 entirely contextual actions across different sodding keys
- Comments: Speculate on the other four bad games' power rings and their wearers