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User Review : I Am Alive

  • Convincing portrayal of humanity in a suffocating atmosphere
  • Great sound design
  • Novel concepts
  • Poor AI
  • Stiff animations

The Road: The Game

Originally announced at E3 2008, I AM Alive showed promise on redefining what to expect in post-apocalyptic survival adventure games. After its original announcement, the game went on a hiatus. Originally under development by Darkworks from 2008 until 2010, Ubisoft Shanghai completed the title. With the news of the change in developer also came a slightly different direction in the title: a $15 (1200 MSP) price point and a different look for the protagonist. Now the question only remains if the game will deliver on the awesome amount of promise it had when initially announced.

While Adam, the playable character, is away from his wife and child located in the fictional city of Haventon, a tremendous earthquake known as ‘The Event’ has rocked practically the entire US to its core. After taking nearly a year of marching back to his home, Adam-unsurprisingly-finds it to be abandoned. As he attempts to follow any leads, he runs across a stranded little girl and decides to bring her back to her safe house. As Adam slowly begins to piece together clues of where his family might be, while also helping these friendly strangers, so does the player begin to face the most violent breed of enemies, when plunged into desperation: humanity.

As stated in the title, many themes mirror that of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” in the most nail-bitingly depressing ways. I AM Alive is able to capture a stark portrayal of the human condition from the very beginning. After successfully vaulting the challenges of getting into Haventon, you’ll be greeted with an implied rape scene in the middle of what used to be one of the busiest roads in this ravaged city. These disgusting portrayals only become worse as Adam is forced into a situation of protecting Mei, the young girl you find, from a group of deadbeats. As mentioned in the short descriptions above, it only takes a matter of seconds for any player to be impelled to drive forward for the sake of protecting an innocent life or just getting out of this hell entirely, rather than because an objective is pointed out on the map. Emotional drive is one of the core elements that keeps I AM Alive’s story above the typical post-apocalyptic situation.

The storytelling is presented in a piecemeal flashback presentation through the use of Adam’s camera. Each chapter is segmented with a brief overview of the current situation through the use of this device, which is later found to be a video diary of his past actions; he could be describing where his next objective is or giving a general “I love you” line to his wife and child, hoping for them to find this if he doesn’t make it. The only problem with this interesting storytelling nuance is a butting of heads during the final scenes of the game. While there’s an obvious reason for this series to continue, the final camera recording snippet gives the implication that the journey forward will be irrelevant anyway. It could be labeled by some as a grizzly fashion to excellently display that inevitable end we’ll all meet, but this confusing sacrifice of a self-contained story incommodes the player into believing the developer is unsure whether or not to continue the series. Despite this confusing narrative decision, I AM Alive’s grim portrayal of humanity sets an excellent precedent in displaying those demons inside all of us and how easily they can be set loose by one natural disaster.

From teetering buildings to dirty homeless people, I AM Alive is capable of producing exceptional scenes of artistic and technical mastery in the arcade price range-if somewhat inconsistently. Since ‘The Event’ rocked the city to its core, a dense cloud of dust has covered many of the structures in a greyish, soot-like color; much of the dust secluded in the open-ended area of the game still hangs in the air, slowly reducing your stamina. Considering how often indie titles utilize some of the most gaudy color palettes in any of today’s games, it may be tough for certain gamers to approach this style with the same verve as those other titles; at the same time, the atmosphere it’s trying to evoke calls for a bleaker-than-expected paint brush. While the environmental designs hold up well to tough scrutiny, details like character animations are supremely lackluster. Whether it’s gutting enemy combatants with your machete or climbing pipes of a skyscraper, every animation is going to feel recycled to some degree. While the art style and stiff animations may be off-putting at first sight, the details made to arouse a sense of loneliness outweigh these complaints.

One of the most important aspects to such a moody environment is the tailoring of sound to fit appropriately with the setting, which is something this game delivers in spades. The weakest aspect, though still exceptional, would be the voice acting. While the main and supporting characters aren’t always going to deliver perfectly-paced back-and-forth conversations that has started to become expected in this generation, the amount of succinct lines given are ample enough to draw you into this world. What truly excels in I AM Alive is the soundtrack that ranges from oppressive to tense-sometimes changing in an instant. The mixture of synthetic and organic compositions employed do a great job of keeping you engaged. Even the eerie silence while trekking the open area of Haventon makes this torn city feel like the ghost town it should. Overall, the sound design is probably not destined to win any accolades, or nominations for that matter, but attention to details in both the loud, unremitting moments and the quiet ones correctly imbue a depressing post-apocalyptic adventure.

In general, I AM Alive’s gameplay hits two targets in recurring fashion: the employment of interesting nuances and the lack of polish in said nuances. The main pull to I AM Alive is survival. Throughout the adventure, you’ll run into a handful of different items that affect your stamina bar, health bar, or both. Your health bar never regenerates on its own, so it’s vital to find certain items (generally food and first aid supplies) to replenish it. The stamina meter (which is interconnected with the health meter at the top of the screen) is a two-tiered system: the grey color that’s shaded in is your diminutive stamina which resurfaces back to full once you stop exerting energy while the grey outline is overall stamina that only starts to deplete once your diminutive stamina is completely empty. This causes many climbing situations to have a greater sense of urgency; and with a limited amount of supplies to choose from, these segments constantly encourage you to make decisions at a brisk pace. Besides a few responsiveness issues in the climbing, this risk/reward system is a fair challenge.

Like the climbing, combat sections also utilize an on-your-toes puzzle mechanic of taking down the king of the next fierce group and watching the pawns fall down with him. During each group encounter, Adam initially feigns intimidation by raising his hands; this lures one of the enemies over for a quick machete kill to the throat. Once enemies are in their alert phase, displaying your gun is necessary to force them to back away from you, even requiring you to fire if the situation isn’t handled with prompt timing. The jarring problem with all of these encounters is the inconsistent enemy AI in alert phase that will blindly attack whenever the pistol isn’t drawn. This faulty aspect makes retrying scenarios feel burdening to the player, rather than an entertaining old-school, trial-and-error approach.

Since the checkpoints are few and far between, a retry system is used to give more precedence on gameplay decisions. Extra retries are awarded both in seeking them out throughout the map (they look like a glowing box) and helping survivors in their time of need. With important resources being scarce, the decision to hand over a first aid kit in exchange for a retry and clues about where your family might be located can be fairly tough-especially when in dire straits.

Overall, the gameplay does tread a rocky slope in general. In one hand, there’s a constant flow of solid concepts in this five to six hour game while having a decent amount of replay value thanks to online leaderboards tracking the difficulty completed, survivors helped, etc.; on the other hand, poor handling of the AI and the a feeling of tedium towards the end harm what could’ve been an excellent, nuanced shooting/puzzle meta-structure.

I AM Alive is arguably one of the best mixed bags to become available for the XBLA market. While it has a staunchly-delivered narrative and interesting concepts to boot, the fumbles in core mechanics will make replaying certain sections feel like there’s only one way to advance, rather than giving adventurous new ways to surmount each engagement. Even then, there’s still that...pull in appreciating everything the game sets out to do in the wake of so many other “survival games" typically being more action-oriented. Ubisoft’s newest indie game isn’t exactly one known for its sheen, but enough plans drawn up under the hood will be pleasing to gamers looking for an austere depiction of human degradation.

coolbeans' *FresH* badge

The "40 shades of grey" and the archaic animations do harm to what is otherwise considered a great looking arcade title.
An impressive soundtrack with decent voice acting. I did encounter a few audio bugs throughout the game, though they were few and far between.
Despite all of the novel concepts, I AM Alive's flawed executions only make its gameplay above average. If a sequel is to be made, a new system for brandishing your firearm needs to implemented.
Fun Factor
Despite being disappointed by certain concepts never following through, I enjoyed every minute of this introspective survival game that never felt in any way "declawed".
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coolbeans2166d ago (Edited 2166d ago )

Hope everyone enjoyed the review. :D

Like that of Dear Esther, I implore you to look at both ends of what I AM Alive received from critics and users (except IGN's review). I honestly can't blame anyone for utterly slamming this game for certain missteps. The aspect that really stuck to me was how depressing the game was able to be without overdoing it. *SEMI SPOILER* There was even one person I helped whom later hanged herself. *END SPOILER*

In the end, liking it or hating it depends on whether or not you care for the smaller details in this type of atmospheric game.

Christopher2165d ago (Edited 2165d ago )

I believe you are too kind in your review. I found the "bottleneck" approach combined with the limited retries concept to completely destroy my desire to finish the game. I also felt no attachment to the world or its people. Certain mechanics didn't make much sense (dust storms are impossible to be countered by... covering your face with a scarf or similar wrap?).

From my first interaction in the world, which was to kick a fellow survivor, who was defensive and not aggressively attacking me, over the edge of a destroyed road without any choice or freedom to my final moments in the game when I found out that exploration got even more aggravating as I dealt with the poor swing mechanics once I got the grappling hood, the game rubbed me completely wrong.

It's as if the developers pushed game mechanics that didn't make sense, especially not from a story telling point, on you just to have some gameplay mechanics for you to work around. I mean, seriously, I start the game with a fully functional digital camera and a gun with no bullets, but during all my travels I didn't find a machete or similar weapon to use? And I'm supposed to want to explore in a world where I am penalized at every moment for doing as such and may have to restart as much as 45 minutes from where I was?

And these issues are only exacerbated by the piss poor controls that only result in you quickly going backwards to regain your stamina or wasting much needed resources to increase stamina because while you thought you were pushing up on the analog controller, it took that ever so slight degree shift to the left or right as a reason to suddenly start climbing in a completely different direction, forcing you to waste that much needed stamina in the process.

And don't get me started on the "bottleneck" gameplay concept, where they give you just enough to do what they want. Every single encounter where I had to use gun and machete to destroy other survivors had a specific way that I had to take them out and I ended up with just enough bullets to get it done in my chamber. No more, no less.

I refuse to review the game because I refuse to finish it at this time, but I don't see how I could give it anything above a 6/10 considering how what I've researched has shown that the same flaws I found in the game persist throughout and actually get worse at times.

coolbeans2165d ago

- While I'm not going to disagree that certain game mechanics like the heavy storm or ability to gulp fruit cocktails while hanging from the side of a building are unrealistic, that never became a relevant complaint to me. I could understand the use of silly game logic for the sake of giving me such a great sense of urgency. The dust storm in the city really felt similar to the idea swimming underwater in a cave for so long and plotting certain points to come back up gasping for air. This felt even better when certain points of coming up would give you a situation with enemies.

- You fail to mention the bow and arrow in your mention about weapons; did you give up on the game before making it to that point? A few different avenues of planning your attack open up after making it that far.

- There are many points when I enjoyed the "bottleneck" approach when facing enemies. I liked the idea of holding up a group of guys without having a bullet in the chamber because it falls back to that sense of desperation I mentioned earlier.

- When it comes to the punishments mentioned of going back to a distant checkpoint, I simply never came close to running out of retries. I'm not trying to come off with the poor "I'm just good at the game" argument, but I just honestly never found that to be a problem once I came up with a patient system of planning out the climbing sections as best as I could. I did mention that COULD be a problem in the written review (although in the combat related section), but I simply couldn't allow a problem that never came up in my experience to change the score.

- I suppose we'll have to disagree on the attachment to characters and the world.

In the end, I can understand where you're coming from. The main reason for its score is how well it sets out to be a breath of fresh air compared to other video games. Sure, their could be ample awards around every place you search, but having an overpowered character detracts from the oppressive atmosphere. It adequately resonated with me a flawed character who's trying just as hard as everyone else to eke out an existence in this new world.

Christopher2165d ago (Edited 2165d ago )

The game mechanics weren't a huge issue with me, but they were something added on top of everything else that prevented me from having any attachment to the world.

I gave up on the game when I got the grappling hook and, at least on the PS3, resulted in a ton of failings because you couldn't tell if you swung over a ledge enough to let go. Truly, the horrible controls is what made everything in the game that much worse. Climbing was horrible, even with planning things out because at any moment it would do something completely different than what I had planned or it wouldn't recognize that I was jamming the analog stick really hard to the left to move to the left.

*** but I just honestly never found that to be a problem once I came up with a patient system of planning out the climbing sections as best as I could***

An example for me of how difficult this was to do was the mall on your first trip. I'm leaving the girl alone and part of this is going around and getting that one item for the guy below you. The problem is, at no angle could I see my options well enough to determine if I needed to go up at this point (I didn't after giving it a few tries and wasting some stamina on that -- hell, I even went across the way to try and get a better look at the elevator shaft to see if I could see more from far away, but the game just didn't want me to see what my options were) or down. For a game that penalized you for not having an idea of where to go when you went exploring, it did nothing for me in aiding me in seeing what my options were, only part of it and then I was either SOL when I went to explore of lucky to have chosen the right path.

And, again, add onto this the issue that the controls sucked so bad that I had to retry my climbing explorations more than a few times as the game had to let you know, when you meant to go left, it throught you meant up or down.

*** I suppose we'll have to disagree on the attachment to characters and the world. ***

First guy I meet, I just kick him over the edge and steal his machete. Why? It's a harsh world?

Come around a corner to find your first aggressive survivor who is overprotective. I thought, hey, perhaps I should try to talk to her. Nope, she shoots me dead quick and fast. This is before I ever help anyone and sends me the completely wrong message.

I then find the girl, who feels more like a burden and not an emotional attachment than anything.

And then I find a few people who need help, and the level of interaction is I give them something and they say one line of text. Didn't feel immersed at all or cared about them at all.

Again, this could have changed greatly after where I stopped, but the gameplay alone made me feel like I wouldn't have had any fun going any further.

And, in a game that is supposed to be about exploration, the only time I find anything is when the game wants me to find it. I explored all cars, alleyways, and more... nothing except for one retry. All those ambulances, nothing. All those buildings, nothing. The world felt built to have me waste time looking for stuff when they should have just told me to not waste my time.

Everything in this game rubbed me wrong. Everything. Nothing came up good, nothing.

I do question if the controls from 360 to PS3 were vastly different. I tend to find that people on the 360 don't complain about them at all and PS3 users bring it up half the time in their reviews (I assume the other half just accept it).

Christopher2165d ago

Let me tell you one thing I definitely don't understand with this game: I bought it because the average score on PSN was higher than 4.8/5 stars. That makes absolutely no sense to me. None. I mean, even your score isn't quick to try and make this game look that good, yet after 2 weeks over 2,000 people on PSN though it was the Bees Knees.

coolbeans2165d ago (Edited 2165d ago )

In regards to PS3 control complaints (first 2 or 3 dashes):

- Even when goofing off and experimenting with things such as grappling hooks, I don't recall terrible issues like that. The shifts he made were a bit touchy, but not to the point of were I would keep missing the right landing spots. Perhaps PS3 owners have to wait some kind of patch.

- I too had a few problems with climbing at certain points, but it was mostly segregated to pipes intersections (could go up, down, left, right).

- I don't mean to keep going with the "I'm good" argument, but I usually seemed to be on top of the pathfinding (perhaps by accident). In the mall level you mentioned, I just went directly for that elevator shaft and got to it, finishing that part with hardly any dim. stamina left. Like I said before, I'm not sure if it's the PS3 at this time, but those "flat" climbing sections (go this way, drop down, and repeat) were fine for me.

- I honestly thought the initial people you find is what had drawn me into this world. Taking over a year to get their (with seemingly no friends made along the way), the first person you meet is a territorial hobo with a pistol. I constantly felt like Adam was begging for communication early on yet only found rapists, deranged civilians with weapons, and a party of two who could do nothing else but ask for help, until he found Mei.

There is a bit more context given about "The Event" and your family later on in the game. I think importance of information was somewhat tied into the difficulty of finding whatever someone needed. While you're still not going to be known an "Event Historian" after saving all 20 citizens, the context given is interesting for the sake of hearing stories of how fast everything went down the drain once the earthquake hit.

I can certainly agree that a 4.8/5.0 on PSN is wrong. In spite of the problems I had, the reason I find this game to be just short of great (7.9 ='s *very* good) is how nice it is to see new concepts employed that could well be used in other future adventure titles. If I AM Alive 2 does happen, it certainly needs to change a few elements, most particularly in dying not being the game's fault so often.

Christopher2165d ago

Just wanted to say that I appreciate the conversation to be had. Like all things, we have different opinions and tastes in things, but it's nice to see your thoughts and how they differ from my own.

coolbeans2165d ago

It's definitely a treat to have an extended conversation on the game I'm reviewing, especially when said game is one of those complete hit or miss titles for critics and users. This discussion especially felt like an honest one-on-one discussion similar to those of reviewer podcasts trying to dive deeper into what made this resonate with him/her.

Thanks for your points, Mr. Goodno. :D

Jurat2165d ago

I really enjoyed I AM Alive. Approached with the right mindset, the concept is fantastic; the first time you experience the innovative climbing/combat mechanics is memorable.
Sadly, it does give the impression of a game that wasn’t quite finished.
Multiplayer survival servers could have been fun.
Review score is spot on for me.

baboom2232164d ago

impressive review.

I had about the same reaction with the game also.