I Am Alive – Review
I Am Alive
By Anthony Fitchett
When a game appears out of development hell you usually can’t expect too much – Duke Nukem Forever being a prime example. But sometimes a game recovers from limbo to become a classic with so much more to offer than anyone ever expected. The question is, has I Am Alive come through this a success or failure?
Originally announced at E3 2008, I Am Alive has been through a change of developer and, after an announcement in 2010, a total re-engineering under Ubisoft Shanghai – a quite prolific part of Ubisoft which is best known for its work on the Tom Clancy games.
I Am Alive is a rather basic survival game and very reminiscent of SOS: The Final Escape (Disaster Report in the US), a PlayStation 2 title released in 2003 by Irem. You play Adam, a young man returning home to his wife and child one year after ‘The Event’. It soon transpires that one year ago Adam took a flight to the East coast and before he could return to the fictional town of Haventon ‘The Event’ happened and he was forced to walk back across the US to return to his family.
But enough of the story; let us get to the gameplay. You have two options when starting a new game: ‘Normal’ and ‘Survivor’. As with most games there are certain achievements that cannot be obtained if you play in Normal mode, but seeing as this consists of one achievement for completing the game in Survivor mode don’t let this sway you unless you must have that full 200G.
At the top of your screen is a two coloured bar, one side representing stamina, the other health. All too often in games one of these is superfluous but in I Am Alive you can’t take either for granted. In fact, letting one run out will usually result in death.
Stamina is mostly used by climbing and running, but even walking when in the lower levels – where the dust cloud fallout of ‘The Event’ lingers with choking and deadly consequences – can use this up at an alarming rate. It is this lower level dust cloud that gives I Am Alive its graphical style. Dull greys and washed out colours depict a world where everything is covered in a layer of dust; remember the photos of the dust cloud fallout from the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 and you get the idea.
It appears that Ubisoft has used this dust layer as a cheap way to excuse some rather ropey textures. Some of the scenery items, for example vehicles, have textures that even in 2005 would have seemed low resolution, but it is easy to ignore these and they don’t detract from the game too much.
Your survival throughout the game depends upon what items you have within your inventory. Bullets are scarce, whilst food, water, soda cans, packets of cigarettes, inhalers, etc., can be found lying around the game world making exploration a must, even when walking through the dust cloud. Without these items your chance of survival is less than slim; climbing uses stamina at such a rate that there are times when only eating on the climb can get you through. And you don’t want to have to let your stamina run out as retries are limited and checkpoints are sparse, so repeating sections, or in fact entire levels, becomes a matter of course.
As the game starts the world appears to be one massive open area, but it is soon revealed to be a series of separate areas that you will move between. It is disappointing at first but soon you get used to the minor inconvenience of waiting for the next section to load.
On your way through the world you will encounter 20 survivors in need of your help, be it food, an inhaler or a simple packet of cigarettes. These survivors are not a required part of the game but add interesting and welcome side quests that are rewarded with equally welcome achievements for those achievement junkies out there. But these are not the only survivors you will encounter; there are also ones that are out to get you. Gangs of thugs wielding guns and machetes who will try to take all that you own and these guys are brutal! You start the game with a gun but no bullets and soon learn that bluffing by aiming your gun at enemies can sometimes be your only form of defence.
It is an interesting choice for combat, one where the element of surprise and timing can be the difference between life or death, and Ubisoft Shanghai should be congratulated for trying something so out of the ordinary.
In addition to the optional survivors there are also important plot element characters spread throughout the game. These characters will set you tasks to complete which, although benefiting them, will also aid in your search for your lost family.
It is from this that the bulk of the gameplay arises, whether it be climbing buildings to reach high rooftop deposits of supplies or clambering over the beached wreckage of a ship on Main Street to gather essential radio equipment. Our hero springs to action with the enthusiasm of a master climber and free runner but he is no Ezio Auditore. Climbing appears slow and laborious with Adam tentatively shimmying up pipes and across fallen buildings.
Overall I Am Alive is a pleasant surprise, one that starts with great promise and, whilst it sometimes fails expectations graphically, its mechanics and story draw you in to keep you playing.
Developer: Ubisoft Shanghai
Release: 7th March, 2012
Initial Price: 1,200 Microsoft Points