"Leave the story behind!"
Choosing an ultra-realistic depiction of post-apocalyptia in favor of over-the-top action seen in so many games in the genre, I Am Alive takes on the challenge of implementing game mechanics we've never seen with a plotline that is all too familiar. Like many expeditions that explore uncharted ground, this game pushes boldly forward, but it frequently stumbles along the way.
Unbelievably, I Am Alive managed to make simple tasks like crossing the street thrilling. Entering the town of Haventon, the unnamed hero goes on a wild-goose chase through the rubble and ruin for his estranged family. It's taken a year for him to walk his way back to the small city that was once his home, and during that time Haventon became anything but a haven. A breezy day becomes a nightmare when a toxic dust cloud fills the streets like a London fog. Luckily, the wandering survivor became a master climber with skills to rival Ezio Auditore during his trek back home. We've never seen a landscape quite so perilous, and this makes every inch of questing and exploration an engaging effort.
Traversing the town truly becomes a goal of measuring risks and rewards, thanks to developer Ubisoft Shanghai's inclusion of a stamina bar. Clambering and shimmying eats at the hero's limited stamina, and without a resting point, he'll fall to his death. Climbing is quite possibly the best part of the entire experience, as finding a foothold just before falling never gets old. Equally dangerous to ascending skyscrapers is walking the streets. If the hero carelessly goes singing in the dust, he'll eventually choke to death (so much for an I Am Alive show tune). The repetition of explore-and-retreat can grow tiresome, but with resources being utterly crucial when debris hits the fan, there's a powerful persuasion to scavenge. We're not talking about looting for looting's sake, but for survival.
I Am Alive takes a stab at survival action, and, at times, it achieves gritty drama. Bullets, being extremely rare, take a back seat to cunning. Quick kills with a machete always start encounters with a bang (or slice), and an empty gun buys crucial time to think and plan how to deal with multiple enemies. A bow later makes combat a bit easier, and ultimate scavengers will recover an even better weapon. Sadly, the guns feel wimpy, and the auto-targeting takes the zing out of popping bullies. The bow, however, has a satisfying twang, and baddies make gut-wrenching satisfying death throes.
While combat manages to keep its head above the dust, its stark lack in variety becomes apparent halfway through the adventure. Most confrontations are repetitive, wash-and-repeat entanglements, and the A.I. simply never grows wise. However, enemies seem to have dust-piercing vision and spot the hero for the slightest movement, and even sometimes for squatting idly behind a wall. Needless to say, this buggers stealthy approaches. Players are encouraged to use environmental tools like gorges and fire pits sprinkled throughout I Am Alive, but these are the only two elements available. We'd like to have seen exposed rebar, broken glass, or even the dust itself as potential weapons amongst the infinite options available in a post-apocalyptic world.
[*****Warning: Spoiler in this paragraph*****] In the wreckage of Haventon, there's a unique world to explore and survive. But, sadly, the story is still buried somewhere under the debris. The hero, who traveled for one year to find his wife and daughter, found his old home and a note from his wife. After finding this glimmer of hope, the man spends the rest of his time in I Am Alive saving a wife and daughter that is not his own. Along the way, strangers dole out nuggets of information on where his family could be, but he never tries to retrace their footsteps. Instead, he risks life and limb countless times to save a child that only resembles his daughter and her mother. With an open ending, there is plenty of space for the hero to look for his family in a sequel, but this illogical plot cuts the heart out of the experience.
In the aftermath of an apocalypse, danger lurks around every corner for survivors (especially in a zombie apocalypse). As much as there is the potential for doom, there's hope for salvation just around the bend. I Am Alive explores and perfects this concept. Everything from the murky, ashen environment to the shortage of supplies and desperate survivors cuts a clear picture that you've entered a world of pain and strife. Like the world of Haventon, I Am Alive is rough, but it's not such a bad place to be stuck for eight to 10 hours. Furthermore, this downloadable title holds the potential to prove that games can survive, even thrive, without leaning heavily on gun triggers.
GameDynamo's Score for I Am Alive (X360)
John loves gaming and loves writing about games. He wants to become a known voice in the gaming community and a game designer one day.
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