On the face of it, the premise of I Am Alive is extremely enticing: a post-apocalyptic survival horror which focuses on the harsh realities of the human psyche after a cataclysmic ‘Event’ has decimated the planet. Imagine ‘The Road’ as a video game and you’re not far off.
Right from the start, the game keeps things simple. This is what Armageddon would really be like. There are no aliens; no irradiated sewer rats. There’s not a zombie in sight. Our protagonist, Adam Collins, absent of any special skills or abilities and weakened by the acerbic dust and ash that hangs heavy in the air, has returned to his hometown in a desperate bid to find his family.
The fact that this game ever made it to release is a minor miracle. Originally announced at E3 in June 2008, it was quietly unveiled on the XBL Marketplace on 7 March, with a PSN launch to follow this spring. Delays in development are clearly evident in its rather dated visuals. Various setbacks have seen it re-engineered and scaled down, with a play through time of around five hours. This is probably for the best.
In reality, this is a game that neither excites nor inflames. Playing as Adam, you simply exist in a world which is beyond redemption. The story, though at times lacklustre and ultimately formulaic, is told in retrospect through a series of vignettes captured on a battered old video recorder.
But it’s the actual gameplay which makes up for any shortcomings. For starters, there’s the very interesting climbing mechanic. Unlike the protagonists of Assassin’s Creed or Uncharted, Adam has a very limited amount of stamina when scaling any obstacle. His stamina bar begins to deplete as soon as he leaves the ground, and can disappear in huge chunks if any balletic mid-air leaps are required to traverse fissures. This means that even relatively simple climbs can quickly turn into tense battles for survival, as Adam’s grip slowly fails. Over exert yourself on a climb and you will either fall to your death or become stranded halfway up a skyscraper.
Another interesting feature is the intuitive combat system. Come across other survivors and you are faced with two choices: back off slowly, or stand your ground. Choosing the latter leaves you with two further outcomes: kill or be killed. The system is context sensitive and works rather well, although its limitations become evident once you’ve survived a few encounters. Confrontations always end in death; usually in the same way. Facing off against a number of aggressors, the game advises you to placate your enemies, lulling them into a false sense of security, before springing a surprise attack. This tactic, however, can bring on a whole new set of problems.
Because, although you begin the game with a handgun, ammo is as rare as rocking horse shit; all too often you will find yourself wielding an empty pistol at a group of assailants, who will remain complicit for a short while, until they start to suspect your bluff. Just like the school yard, you then have to pick on the biggest of the bullies to make the others fall into line. You’ll find yourself in some very tense stand-offs at various points in the campaign, but as already stated, this gets old very quickly and before long you’ll become quite adept at dispatching four or five guys at a time.
Ultimately, I Am Alive is definitely worth picking up, if only to try out these rather novel features. It would have been nice to experience a more open ended campaign, or perhaps even a survival mode that isn’t tied to the story, instead testing how long the player can last in such a harsh environment.
This is a game that has skewed opinion more than any other title in recent memory. Reviewers have either loved or hated it. Like its protagonist, I Am Alive is a survivor, and though it may not pick up any accolades, its bold and innovative take on an oversubscribed genre makes it deserving of a wider audience.
Game reviewed on Xbox 360.