I Am Alive is a game that lives in a depressing underground setting--should one ask around, one would produce rather disastrous results including gamers who've never heard of it and gamers who thought it was a waste of money...and the latter opinion isn't exactly far-fetched. During an E3 conference in 2008, I Am Alive was revealed alongside a rather impressive trailer that showed great promise and a breakthrough with this kind of genre. However, somewhere down the road, the game took a sharp turn and went from a complete retail release to a watered down downloadable game; the character, background, and overall setting was changed and with the shift, the fire had smothered.
The game follows a man named Adam who is travelling an apparently perilous journey across a run-down and defeated America that has suffered the fate of an unknown and assumed terrorist attack called 'The Event,' that left the country destroyed and its survivors fighting for their lives against each other. Adam arrives in the fictional city of Haventon to search for his family, and finds nothing but hostile and troublesome survivors in the ruined city. Among the initial indicators of the game's problems is the story and your starting inventory. As players assume the role of Adam, you'd be hard pressed to find any usable weapons in his inventory, aside from a Walther P99 pistol without any ammunition. It took Adam a year to journey across the country to return to Haventon, yet somehow doesn't have any supplies or usable weapons aside from a flashlight. There is absolutely no logic behind Adam's year-long journey and his failure to accumulate anything of use. However, in natural survivor style, a few moments after his arrival, he miraculously stumbles across a machete after encountering a locked chain link gate, followed by being ambushed by his first enemy. How convenient!
I Am Alive introduces players to two primary concerns that one needs to be aware of and monitor constantly: Adam's health and stamina. Stamina allows Adam to climb, jog, sprint, and breathe in areas choked by dust and debris, for a short while anyway. When the stamina bar becomes depleted completely, Adam's health suffers as a result, which provides a rather annoying tension while traversing obstacles. There's a lot of trial and error in the game, which requires players to attempt numerous climbs in the same place to find the best path to reach your goal. So yes, you will die time and again before you figure out where to go, since there's no time to idle and survey the area while climbing. From an understanding point of view, this proves to be quite a realistic and appreciative method of going about doing things--in games such as Tomb Raider where you can take your time and observe your surroundings, survival is ensured mainly because that's the design of it. Unlike I Am Alive, where the feeling of tension doesn't feel fabricated, considering your requirement to monitor and give attention to Adam's stamina level. To help better this experience, players may also set "rest points" should you have the required item in your inventory, which allows Adam to place a rock-climbing-style hook or something of the sort that allows for momentary rest to regain stamina. At some points, Adam is required to jump from ledge to ledge, which damages the stamina bar in the sense of the overall size of it reducing until it's restored by drinking water or eating food, which also restores health.
One of the many things that I Am Alive does wrong is showing its hand much too early. Innovative ideas and elements shown in the game are promising, but the game soon runs out of its captivating feel shortly after, making the rest of the experience feel bland and repetitive. Players have the ability to make threats and use intimidation to gain the upper hand on enemies, including aiming your handgun or huntsman's bow at unarmed hostiles to get them to put their hands up or back off. However, in a realistic sense, you cannot do this if you haven't any arrows for the bow, but you still may even without any ammunition for the handgun. Hostiles won't know that you lack bullets unless you pull the trigger and they hear the click, or if you take too long to make a move, where they'll doubt your gumption and charge at you. What rather rustles my jimmies about this element is that when Adam lacks ammunition for the handgun, the slide is cocked backward to show it--for some strange reason, enemies remain unaware of this fact.
Another missed opportunity involves portions where Adam meets groups of hostile survivors, wielding machetes or handguns and I Am Alive requires the player to make strategic decisions to pick the enemies off. Ammunition is a rare commodity, but fortunately for Adam, everyone that has a gun just happens to have the same exact gun he does, so ammunition is universal. Players are encouraged to pick off either the fellow with the gun to avoid being killed themselves, or kill the group's leader which may sometimes cause the others to surrender. Later in the game, armoured enemies show no interest in Adam's loaded gun, even if they're only armed with a machete themselves and will walk straight toward him, despite lacking any sort of protective headgear. Overall, these elements are brilliant and work together in a beautiful symphony, but grows tiresome and worn out shortly after being introduced.
As I've mentioned previously, Adam's journey leads him back to his hometown of Haventon. During the game, Adam is documenting his efforts via his video recorder, in the event that he either fails his mission or does not survive. It helps convey the overall mood and feel of the situation, but it undeniably comes across as just one big exposition that we're watching. It takes away the immersive feel of the game and makes players feel like we're just reliving Adam's story opposed to taking the journey with him.
During Adam's journey, he also comes across friendly survivors who only really exist not to help Adam, but to ask for his assistance. Helping these people not only earn you an achievement/trophy, but also grant the player a "replay" which allows you to try again in the event that Adam dies. I've never run out of retries, so I wouldn't know personally what happens. However, I was told that even if you run out of retries, you start at the last checkpoint. So in a sense, helping people may or may not be a waste of your time, as retries are clearly irrelevant.
Visually speaking, I Am Alive is bland, unimpressive, and suffers terribly. One would argue that it's different and original, but I don't buy it. The game is basically in black and white and there is absolutely no colour to be found, even in areas unaffected by dust and debris. I understand that the developers were trying to convey a depressing and gloomy feel in the broken and run-down location, but it just feels lazy. There's so much potential for visually stunning and colourful environments that properly and creatively convey an apocalyptic setting. Instead, we're slapped in the face with a black and white setting and unimpressive graphics and it's just embarrassing for this generation of gaming.
Overall, the game had originally shown true promise and is just an utter let-down. I was originally ecstatic about the game when I first heard about it and was really on board for a survival-adventure game, but it was disturbingly disappointing. Luckily, Tomb Raider is on the way and will no doubt be a better outing than this game. I originally experienced this game through the free trial on Xbox Live, and while I was originally on good terms with it, after purchasing the full game, it takes a downward turn right after picking up where the demo ended. I'd say that just playing the demo is enough since it's free, you can avoid most of the disappointments, and naturally, ignorance is bliss.