If I said this game was set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, that wouldn’t be entirely accurate. The term ‘post-apocalyptic’ would suggest that it was after end of the world and the total and universal destruction of all mankind, which would suggest that everybody is dead. However, as the name of the game suggests; I Am Alive. Despite the dust cloud that now makes being outdoors a hazardous place to be, a small handful of other survivors are also alive. You have to survive on limited resources and face the inhospitable environment and they frequently inhospitable inhabitants that inhabit it. I Am Alive… but staying that way may not be easy.
• Publisher: Ubisoft
• Reviewed on: Xbox 360 (XBLA)
• Also Available on: PS3 (PSN)
• Release Date: XBLA 7th March, PSN (Q1)
One year after the “Event” that nearly destroyed the world, you find yourself back in your now desolate home town of Haventon, desperately searching for any signs of your lost wife and daughter. What exactly caused the Event is never really explained much beyond the following: “It was an Event, it happened, most people died and now everything is covered in dust.” Anywhere near ground level, the air is thick with choking volumes of said dust, making it difficult to see let alone breathe. Hardly the best environment to go looking for your family, but needs must.
Negotiation and exploration of the environment take up a large proportion of your time in I Am Alive. Every moment spent in the “fog” dust cloud depletes your stamina; if all your stamina gets depleted, your stamina capacity begins to decrease and then, finally, the “fog” starts draining your health. As golden game rule No. 101 states: “Lose all your health and you won’t be Alive!”
Thankfully, you can avoid the dust by finding the odd safe building or by scaling other handy structures so as to get above street level. Sound good? Kinda, but it would be distinctly better if climbing didn’t drain your stamina even further. Stamina and health can be topped up by using some of the precious resources you have managed to scrounge from the environment; other equipment and items can also come to your aid, such as climbing potions to give you a much needed rest point on longer ascents. As you progress, you also unlock other bits of kit that give you other abilities or make getting around the environment a little easier.
The exploration takes place in third person and switches to first person for the encounters with hostiles and other survivors. Bullets are scarce to say the least; the most I ever had at one time was seven – and that was in the final level – meaning that I felt pretty lucky if I had three or more bullets at any one time. Groups of multiple enemies must be carefully negotiated using a tactical mix of empty threats, intimidation and by unleashing a surprise kill – a perk that you get for free when people walk up to you.
People with guns, understandably, should be your priority targets – mainly as they have a tendency to shoot you – but another good reason to quickly dispatch these gun-toting individuals is that they will often drop a precious bullet. Beyond that, weaker enemies may give up when intimidated, but those with stronger wills will start to challenge you if you are taking too long and may start doubting whether or not you’ve got it in you to pull the trigger. Non-overtly hostile people in the environment may also threaten you if you come too close and, should the mood take you, you can take the decision to kill them and steal their resources. You should be able to get by without the resources that you collect in this manner, but they certainly will make your life easier. You’ll also come across a number of victims in need of saving – a process that usually require a specific resource item to heal them or otherwise satisfy their needs; successfully doing so will result in another precious continue.
A lot of the gameplay mechanics feel quite experimental and, when they work well, can lead to some interesting, if reasonably challenging gameplay. While I Am Alive is tough in places, it is generally feels fair, but life can quickly become very difficult if you leave yourself with little or no resources at the start of a checkpoint. Some of the basic climbing and weapon mechanics can be a bit inaccurate and this can lead to deaths that feel like they weren’t entirely your fault; this situation is made worse by a lack of a decent or consistent checkpointing system and the inability to save. These problems meant that I was forced to replay long and often tricky sections of the game.
I do not know how much my knowledge of the troubled history of the development of this game tempers my opinion. I am glad that they went with the downloadable route as it makes it easier to forgive some of its shortcomings. The design choices which have led to a number of good gameplay elements are I Am Alive‘s biggest strengths in terms of producing moments that challenge and engage – but some of those same elements are also the game’s biggest weaknesses.
There are some points in the game where the features actively prevent it from being enjoyable and, as such, it is difficult to recommend to all. One of the principle problems was with the retry system employed in I Am Alive is that, whilst it adds to the tension, it is a system that clearly flawed. It even seems that the designers were aware of this shortcoming – a collectable retry item is often found immediately before a number of the more difficult combat situations in the game; this completely negates the whole system since the retry can be picked up every time. There are moments that die-hard fans of the survival genre will like and perhaps even revel in. But for me, it felt a little bit too much like someone stole the zombies from my zombie game – and the unsatisfying non-resolution of the over-arching story of I Am Alive further reinforces the feeling that this game feels as though it is part of a larger whole rather than a self-contained experience.
I am glad to have survived I Am Alive, but I’m not so sure that you will be.