Review: I Am Alive
Visions of post-apocalyptic life are nothing new in popular culture. Films such as The Book Of Eli and The Road present something so intrinsically scary, yet also intriguing for an audience. The idea that the world we know now could be flipped upside down in a split second is frightening to say the least. Many visions of the future feature people who have lost aspects of humanity such as compassion and empathy, turning on their fellow humans in an attempt to survive in such a desolate landscape. Eerily haunting, yet beautiful at the same time, the main theme lets you know what you’re in for early on. I Am Alive presents the story of a man on his way back home in an attempt to reunite with his family a year after ‘The Event’. After a troubled development period, and originally planned as a full retail release, Ubisoft Shanghai has finally brought the title to us via downloadable form.
I Am Alive attempts to encompass the core themes of desolation, suffering and survivalism, but does it rise above the rubble to have an impact on the gaming population, or should it be left to fend for itself?
Presenting a desolate world is always hard for a game to achieve. It needs to put the player on edge, unsure of what’s around the corner, always striving to keep their inventory stocked, but also not afraid to use force when necessary. The setting for I Am Alive, Haventon, is shrouded in dust; skeletons remain on the streets and in cars, frozen in time, unable to escape what occurred. A number of the environments present other small details showing a world that changed in a split-second, allowing you to slowly piece together what might have been. The sound works perfectly to enhance the mood, and many post-processing effects are used to mask the distance, creating a more claustrophobic environment than you’d expect.
After a linear tutorial section, I Am Alive opens up into the downtown streets and provides quite a large area to explore, as well as acting as a hub. The streets are filled with thick dust, meaning that you’ll need to seek high ground often, as your stamina is slowly reduced, proving to be quite a tense experience at times as you attempt to find the nearest ladder or pole to climb. Survivors are scattered throughout this area, and each require a particular item to aid them, and as well as achievements, they’ll give you a little backstory.
The primary narrative is pretty straightforward, requiring you to head to a number of locations as you help the family you discover to escape the city. I found each environment to be quite memorable and areas including the Skyscraper, Railway Tunnels, a Mall and a very intense Hotel location really provided some great moments. The climbing is functional, if a little clunky, but the spots where you can move to are very well signposted, meaning that you’re never unsure of what you can and can’t use to get around. Of course, stamina also comes into play here, but you’re given pitons so as to provide a safe spot for your stamina to recharge. If you happen to run out of stamina during a climb you enter a panic state where you’ll need to mash the trigger in order to keep moving, and once you reach a stable surface you’d best top up your meter with the various consumables you’ll pick up on your travels.
Combat is much more a thinking-mans game, and really emphasises a quick mind as much as a quick trigger finger. This is due, in part to the scarcity of ammo, meaning that you’d better have a plan once you pull that trigger. Early on you’ll be asking yourself many questions during the combat, and for the most part this is a very unique experience for the game. Should you use your single bullet to scare the group? They might call your bluff if you don’t. What about a scared citizen just trying to protect their stash, do you kill them and take it for your own? Fire only when you have to, and don’t empty fire on an empty chamber, less the enemy will know that your gun is empty. Killing one enemy grants you a single bullet, and you’re soon rushed by a number of other gang members, do you fire off that bullet, or get them to back away to near a more advantageous position such as a pit. You’ll soon learn that a sneak attack is the best start to any fight, waiting for an enemy to approach before slitting his throat with your machete and potentially making the other members of the group surrender.
While the combat is quite tense throughout, I never quite felt that it reached its true potential. There’s only a handful of possible scenarios, and it usually comes down to reading the environment and enemies effectively in an effort to conserve as much ammo and items as possible. Once you have access to the bow later on in the game, I felt that I started to abuse the system a little, as at points I’d end up with 6 bullets for the pistol. I tended to gravitate towards the bow and arrow for a lot of the combat, primarily since you can pick the arrow back up, and combined with both effective crowd control and pointing the gun to push enemies back, I’d often get through a encounter of 3/4 with a single arrow! There were of course the situations where armoured enemies would require a more precise hit, but I had plenty to spare. Keeping an eye out for steep drops and fires also help to do the same, and enemies happily sit there as you kick their friends into a fire
Enemies don’t just come in the form of other humans however, the environmental hazards will cause just as much damage to both your health and your supplies. From thick dust to treacherous climbing, you’ll have to contend with the forces of nature.
For all the moments where the music adds to the mood, it also can ruin it, for instance the tension music kicks in whenever you use the jog ability, meaning that a simple run around the streets to check for supplies soon leads to an accompaniment of drums and strings as if you’re being chased. There’s some poor audio looping as well, leading to some awkward jumps in the music from time to time
The Normal mode will provide a good challenge, however, the Survival mode really puts you to the test with very limited retries and tougher combat. There are a number of points in the game where it evokes an atmosphere which is unmatched in the majority of downloadable games. The desolation and predicaments often make you realise what an event such as this could really do to society.
While this is all well and good, there are areas which seem a little unpolished. The climbing is quite finicky at times, requiring you to be very precise, and as your stamina is constantly ticking, this can lead to some frustration. You’d also be best off waiting till you obtain the gas mask to explore the downtown streets, as it can get a little repetitive having to head up a ladder every minute or so early on in the game. The save system is also a little frustrating, as it’s impossible to revisit an earlier chapter without wiping your progress after that point, meaning you’d better see everything the first time through as there’s no chance to save a survivor you missed out on. The final scenario in the game also caused me a lot of frustration. The majority of the combat is pretty straightforward, and even if you’re hurt, you’ll likely have the items in your inventory to fix you up, but the last sequence proved to be more annoying than challenging, as the amount of enemies who could swarm you was slightly overwhelming, meaning that you’ll have to either lead one off at a time, or simply run for it.
For all this however, I Am Alive is one of my favourite downloadable titles in recent memory, and while there isn’t really any replay value, it’s hugely enjoyable while it lasts. I spent nine hours roaming the world of Haventon, and for the most part, had a unique experience which I will remember for a long time. You may have to put up with a little frustration from time to time, but in some cases it somehow adds to the experience. I would have loved to see this released as a full retail game with added polish and expanded gameplay mechanics, but for what it is, I Am Alive is truly an experience worth having.