It’s rare that a game polarises both gamers and critics the way I Am Alive has. From 9.0’s to 4.0’s, Ubisoft Shanghai’s action adventure title has undoubtedly put the gaming community in an argumentative spin.
Focusing on your protagonist’s search for his family, it is a title that will have you covering a ravaged town, after the unexplained major disaster known only as ‘The Event.’ From there, you will be shimmying pipes, slitting throats and piggybacking small children. Yep, this guy can do it all.
Few games convincingly emanate the feeling of desperation, despair and the ultimate drive for survival the way I Am Alive does. This is not an experience that will have you blowing any poor fool’s head off, but rather scrounging for those precious bullets so you can avoid the Grim Reaper if, and when it all starts hitting the fan.
This desperation is amplified all the more by NPC’s scattered around the city, most on death’s doorstep or brutally injured. Oftentimes they will demand the most critical items in your inventory, like major health packs or refills for your stamina. Morality has been a recurring theme amongst this generation, allowing you to change how your character looks, feels and completes their journey. I Am Alive however, preys on your most primal instincts more than any other experience in recent memory. Do you help a dying civilian, or would you rather horde your health pack for yourself? You know, just in case.
That’s not a knife…
With the subconscious knowledge of your new-found desolate landscape, initial encounters become truly terrifying. You will be forced to quickly establish the tough guys amongst the weaklings and action your plan of attack, all while trying to avoid fatal injuries or a bullet to the face.
Despite it all however, it’s not long before you develop a basic and consistent rhythm for survival in this deadly environment. Surprise kill the first thug, shoot anyone else with a gun and then simply pick off any remaining stragglers, one at a time. Sure, your heart rate will still be pumping, but if you’re prepared, there is always a high likelihood you will be walking away relatively unscathed.
Unless you have the trigger finger of Steven Seagal, it’s unlikely that you will ever need to stray too far from the formula, or not possess enough ammunition to get out of a particularly sticky situation, especially once you obtain and start making the most out of your trusty bow. By the time the final hours rolled round, I had amassed eight bullets and numerous health-packs in my backpack, ultimately destroying any tension that should have been a dominant concern. Instead, I roamed the city, ready to pop caps into anybody who was stupid enough to cross me.
Combat also brings one of I Am Alive’s most destructive flaws to light – it’s terribly designed damage system. Early into the game’s campaign, I had gotten myself so injured that red tinges filled the edges of my screen, instantaneously muting the world around me. A direct result of nearing death, it was as though someone had thrown a pair of fluffy ear muffs around my head, only nowhere near as ‘cute’ and ten times more annoying.
While it might sound like a nifty mechanic, the game became so muffled that it completely cancelled out every other sound present, including in-game dialogue; completely derailing any indication of the next objective. I’m all for realism in video games, but when I’m forced to wade through menus and turn subtitles on just to understand what is happening directly in front of me, that’s not realism, that’s bad game design.
Does whatever a spider can
After action franchises like Uncharted popularized the belief that our everyday heroes can fly through the air and scale buildings like Toby Maguire in blue and red spandex, I Am Alive’s approach to traversal is instantly refreshing in its execution. Almost every action you make; from running, to making your way through scaffolding, will burn your all-important stamina bar. Take too long to reach a point of reprieve and your stamina will completely deplete, allowing gravity to do the rest and place you straight onto the death express.
The reliance on stamina transforms itself into a very interesting and tense mechanic, yet is still disappointingly undercut by I Am Alive’s core progression mechanic – trial by death. Too often you will be uncertain of the exact route to take, wasting precious resources, time and most importantly, lives, until you master the most direct path.
Climbing is further hampered by occasionally frustrating controls. Overly sensitive button and stick responses or conversely, failure to register your exact input desire can quite often lead towards unintended peril. For a game that attempts to make your survival dependent on precious seconds, it can turn proceedings insanely frustrating.
It’s a sentiment that is echoed through the entirety of I Am Alive’s design. While Ubisoft Shanghai has presented an experience that presents new ideas woven amongst an interesting landscape, it’s still a fairly unattractive game, wrapped in what feels like undercooked base mechanics. The brief six hour campaign might prevent the game from outstaying its welcome, but I Am Alive remains a shining example of unrealised game design.
I unashamedly enjoyed the time I spent in this modernised wasteland, it just simply left me wanting more, as I wondered what could have been.
- Reviewed On
- Xbox 360