I AM ALIVE REVIEW
Moody and dark, a true survival game.
Posted by PlayDevil.com Staff on May 24, 2012 14:37 (May 24, 2012 14:37)
Written by: Alex
"I Am Alive" had a troubled development that has made its title as relevant to its own existence as the game itself. Beginning development for Wii it was years in the making, constantly teetering on the brink of cancelation. Now it has finally found a home as a downloadable title on 360 and PS3.
Personally I am just happy the game has made it out. Bringing survival horror mechanics into a natural disaster setting, it is a concept I have been excited about since I first heard it was in development. Now I have to concede that I can see its Wii roots, and why publisher Ubisoft felt that it would be a better fit as a download title. But where it may not get everything right, it provides a very different experience with a range of interesting mechanics and interactions rarely seen in games.
Something has happened, a disaster of such proportions that America’s entire infrastructure is in ruin. For the sake of the game it is simply referred to as ‘The Event’. I Am Alive takes place a year after this catastrophe, and it has become so much a part of life that its effects are now excepted so the details are never revealed.
Our hero, Adam, is retuning to his home in Haventon having been stranded on the other side of the country when the disaster struck. It has taken him a year to make the journey home to his family. Discovering them evacuated from their old apartment he discovers a note from his wife telling me she and their daughter Mary are evacuating and they know if he is alive they will find them. With nothing else to go on Adam renews his search.
Along the way he meets a range of people, from small gangs, to individuals in need. Every situation requires careful consideration as helping others or dealing with enemy frequently places a large strain on the games limited recourses. From the use of a bullet to kill a gang leader to the donation of a first aid kits to those in need, every choice limits Adam’s later options and ability to heal.
Of all the people you meet along the way Mei is the most significant, they young girl reminds the hero of his daughter. The young girl has lost her mother and proves a window into the events of the town while providing a tangible emotional tie to the world. Trying to reunite her with her own family provides the moment-to-moment drive as Adam searches for more information about the fate of his own.
There are two core mechanics in I Am Alive, navigation and combat. While both draw on the same resources they are never mixed, to the point that running from a combat situation or trying to out manoeuvre attackers using the environment is rarely a viable option.
Moving through the world makes up the majority of the time spent in I Am Alive. As more items are found new routes becomes available, but due to the limited sizes of the world most of it is open from the start. Though early on much of the world is open to exploration there is always an objective, so a good grasp of your next goal is always recommended… though the game will unsubtly nudge you if you really get lost.
There are a number easy parallels between Uncharted’s world clambering mechanics, but I Am Alive takes a far more brutal view of a person’s capabilities. A stamina bar is constantly draining as you move through the world, running, climbing, every action burns a little of this limited resource. Reaching the end of the stamina bar sees a number of options come into play; a piton can create a rest point when climbing, consuming the items or trading some of the stamina bar’s total length can all be used in a last ditch attempt to reach the goal.
Lower levels of the destroyed city restrict further Adam’s already limited stamina. Dust that lingers in the streets constantly burns stamina and prevents it regenerating, but at least (most of the time) these areas are as dangerous for the world’s inhabitants as they are for Adam meaning combat is rarely met during these prone moments.
It’s a good thing there are few challengers in these lower areas because combat can be a slow and thoughtful process in I Am Alive. Haventon’s collapsed society sees small gangs running through the world and facing more than one of them at a time will spell instant death unless the combat is well managed.
One of the first big confrontations of the game sees three attackers, armed with blades, closing on the hero. With a machete and a pistol with a single bullet options are limited. Waiting for the first to close it is possible to perform an instant kill with the machete, putting the others on the defensive. Pulling the gun Adam can then intimidate the others, telling them to back up. Edging them towards a hole I knew it would be possible to kick the attackers down rather than attempting more prolonged combat (or wasting my precious bullet). Before the hole could be reached however one of them starts to suspect that I don’t have any ammo and attacks. Knowing a direct attack by two opponents would spell death I am forced to waste Adam’s final single bullet. The other attacker is once again scared by the gun (not knowing its empty), and he drops to his knees, allowing me to use my machete, gun butt, or even leave him, before continuing on.
Larger situations often see even greater planning required for success. Taking out those wielding guns is vital even at the cost of a bullet. Identifying the ringleader is also vital in dealing with these gangs, making them buckle and surrender more easily. As more weapons are discovered even more options become available. Using the bow with its reusable arrow for example may prove slower, and will not intimidate opponents like a gun, but will allow enemies to be killed without wasting items.
The constant balance of I Am Alive’s resource and strategy are not often seen, but what is really interesting about he mechanic is the faux social element. I Am Alive’s unique use of enemy AI seem them reason through their chances of beating Adam, weighing it against the chance of their own death. Unfortunately I Am Alive is slowly broken under its own self-awareness that it is a game. As the game progresses it offers increasingly greater rewards to the player for besting challenges. Eventually this sees you more than enough ammo towards the end of the game (assuming some care is exhibited). The number and capabilities of enemies also rapidly increase; leaving gunplay increasingly vital and other weapons less significant.
The odd upshot of this (combined with a hard lock on with the gun) is that I Am Alive’s hero fast looks like a stone cold killer, who murders dozens of people on his quest to find his family. I know society is in ruins, but it becomes a bit much in a game that tries to leverage realism in so many other elements of its design.