Game: I Am Alive
Developer: Ubisoft Shanghai
Available on: Xbox LIVE Arcade Only
First revealed way back in 2008 and originally in development under Darkworks studio, I Am Alive underwent a complete re-engineering sometime around 2010, when Ubisoft Shanghai took the reigns and decided to get the game ready for some kind of release. None of us really knew too much about the game, but for some reason interest was high. So here we are, I Am Alive is finally being released, via digital download on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace (for now), but was the wait worth it? More importantly, what is it?
Fundamentally, I Am Alive is a third person action adventure game. Whilst there is gunplay involved, it is done in a wholly unique way, and despite there being absolutely no monsters involved, I Am Alive manages to be more of a survival horror game than most other titles in recent memory.
The premise is a simple one, there has been some kind of catastrophic event – literally referred to as “The Event” and never explained or fleshed out fully, though it’s clear something catastrophic has happened – and you have been separated from your wife and child. You were injured in the event and have spent the best part of a year walking the length and breadth of the country to get home. Upon returning, you find a note from your wife; she has gone to a safe haven, she hopes you’ll find them…and she forgives you, she loves you.
Devastated but more determined than ever, you set out into the dusty streets, choking through the clouds of smog, smoke and dust to find them, encountering other survivors along the way who need your help. Whether you assist them or not, is completely up to the player. Throughout the game, pivotal moments are told from the perspective of a mystery person watching the things our hero has recorded on his handy-cam. Who is watching his video? You’ll have to play to find out.
The first thing noticeable about I Am Alive is the striking visuals. Whilst not on a par with the best this generation has to offer, the aesthetic is one that is both eye catching yet desolate. Right from the off, you’ll be captivated by the devastation that “the event” has caused, forcing you to climb bridges and hang precariously from ledges just to get across what would normally be a simple walk. As you progress through the game it gets darker and harder to see, the visuals become akin to that of a Silent Hill title, and you’ll be forced to use a torch to see even the closest of objects.
So there’s the first mechanic, climbing. However, there’s more to it than a simple Uncharted-style climbing experience, as you have a stamina bar that is constantly draining whilst straining yourself physically. Whether it be climbing a building, sprinting, making a particularly big jump or walking through dust-infested low level streets, that stamina bar will drain and you’ll have to use all sorts of survival pickups, such as bottles of water or an adrenaline syringe to keep yourself going. There’s a distinct feeling of panic that sets in as you are so nearly at the top of a climb, when the stamina bar is nearly drained and the tense music kicks in, the controller throbs and you just make it, it’s exhausting yet brilliant.
If you run out of stamina you will have to perform an act of desperation, by timed button presses of the right trigger. Whilst this may save your life, it comes at a cost and your overall stamina bar will be lower than ever, meaning you’ll have to find certain pickups to get it back to the full 100% that it can be. When climbing you can also use pitons, which allow you to take a breather and catch your breath, but you’ll only want to use them when you have to, they are also in short supply.
The game has been designed very cleverly too. That health pack you just used; the next person you encounter will need it, but you’ve just used it. You selfish fool. I Am Alive is littered with human trauma and desperation and it is down to the player to decide what is important to them. Do you really want to give your last painkiller tub away, knowing that to find more you’ll have to venture into the fog? If you do assist these people though, you are rewarded with an extra retry, which is the game’s version of extra lives.
The gunplay is probably the most unique, yet satisfying thing in the title. Ammunition is in short supply, but you can still draw an empty handgun on a machete wielding foe, hoping to scare them into submission, whereby you can knock them out. However, if you take too long they will rumble you and attack you, shouting “You don’t have any bullets!” or “You don’t have the guts to pull the trigger!” and the thing is, with such short supplies of ammo, sometimes you really won’t want to fire that last bullet.
The combat is absolutely wonderful and taking on groups of enemies is tense and nerve-racking to the end. Later on enemies will have body armour, meaning you can’t use the auto-aim that is present for the most part, instead relying on you to manually aim at their head or legs to put them down.
I Am Alive makes all the right moves. Where other games would bog you down with collectibles, it refuses to distort the immersion by doing so. Even escort missions are done in a clever way. Instead of you having to protect a small child through the fog and enemies, our protagonist straps her to his back, meaning that whilst she is there and conversation continues, there is no negative effect on the actual gameplay. Even balance beams are present, but they are just objects to walk across, there’s no frustrating falling mechanic here.
Likewise, where most titles promote themselves as being a survival experience with short supply of ammo, they really aren’t. I Am Alive is most definitely a survival title. Make no bones about it, you’ll feel like you are in the universe portrayed on-screen, with all the desperation and exhaustion that the people within it feel.
If there’s to be a negative though, it’s that the game does feel unfinished in terms of its story. The first playthrough, which will probably get you about 80% completion, takes around 5 hours and the ending makes you wonder if the development team were told to just get a game ready to ship, because there’s certainly more to be had from I Am Alive and you’ll be left wanting more due to a fairly flat ending. Luckily though, there is the option to play “Survival” difficulty, that has to be played in one sitting (there’s an achievement for completing it like this too), but whether you’ll want to play it again knowing how it all ends is debatable.
VERDICT: I Am Alive offers an extremely unique take on the third person survival genre. It does so much right, where others add things to the gameplay that obstruct and irritate, I Am Alive avoids those pitfalls and gives a streamlined, enjoyable experience. I Am Alive is finally here, let’s hope we get to see more of it in the future, because this is the kind of title that could really take off as a franchise.