Survival thriller title I Am Alive
hasn’t had the most straight forward gestation.
First announced at E3 in 2008, the game initially appeared to be a first person title, focussed on surviving in Chicago after an earthquake. The teaser suggested gameplay focussed on stealth and careful rationing, with items from the old world extremely scarce. It also, not incidentally, looked damn cool.
Development later shifted from original company Darkworks
(who made Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare
and Cold Fear
) to Ubisoft Shanghai
who were initially tasked with completing the project as is, then it was confirmed that the entire game was being remade from scratch. Years went by, release dates were missed and the project was feared dead til last September when a new announcement trailer appeared online, as well as brand new footage from the retooled survival title.
I Am Alive
is a markedly different animal in a number of ways, not least the fact that that game is now a downloadable only title, coming to XBLA and PSN and instead of an earthquake we’re merely given references to a mysterious event. We recently had a chance to get hands on with a short piece of preview code, read on for our impressions.
The story concerns an unnamed protagonist, venturing back to his home city of Haventon a year after the unexplained event. He’s on the trail of his missing wife and daughter and the gameplay sections are interspersed with his confessionals to a handheld camera, telling his story in the hope the tapes might make it to his family.
I Am Alive
is grey. Really, really grey. From the very first screen, everything is covered with a monochrome pall, a layer of all-encompassing dust and a remnant of the Event. At first, it’s a little disconcerting, perhaps intentionally, but splashes of colour do appear, in our nameless heroes wristband (no doubt an important piece of plot) and in certain areas of the environment. You’ll soon learn to head towards these hot spots, visual cues to navigating the world in the same vein as runner vision in Mirror’s Edge
Navigation is pretty standard for a third person title, though movement is a little stiff and counterintuitive – jumps for example are wholly contextual, so while the environment may feel like an open world, only certain routes are open to you. Our heroes is an accomplished climber and will clamber up any surface the game thinks appropriate. But rather than dangling there forever without a care in the world, climbing rapidly, and realistically, drains a stamina bar in I Am Alive
. Linger too long and you’re left with a few options – chew some food for more stamina or engage extreme effort to move those last few feet. The latter permanently diminishes your stamina bar, so you’ll have to be tactical. You’ll also gain items along the way that can help, like single use pitons which must be used strategically during long, tension filled climbs.
It’s certainly a unique addition to the third person platformer and makes the very act of moving from one location to the next into a kind of puzzle, forcing you to plan a route beforehand and adding to the realistic style of the game. Combat also follows that lead – firstly by giving our hero very limited health and presenting him with limited weapons and some openly vicious foes. Fights can be avoided by playing passive and keeping your distance but once they engage you’ll often find yourself outnumbered three or four to one in I Am Alive
. You’ll start the game with an empty pistol that can be used to dissuade some foes but they’ll soon become wise to your ploy if you don’t make the first move.
The puzzle element comes into play here as well, as you must size up your opponents in order to make your first move count. More powerful enemies are likely to have a single bullet on them, so if you can lure them in close enough for a gruesome machete kill, you’ll have precious seconds to load and fire, and you better make sure you choose your target carefully as their companions will be closing in on your throat. When it works, it’s marvellously fluid and more than a little bad ass but I Am Alive usually has a single solution in mind when it presents you with a fight. Falter even a little from their chosen course and it spells near instant death and a frustrating retry, while the encounters themselves can become repetitive.
Your arsenal is likely to expand later in the game, with the appearance of a bow and arrow confirmed but this rigidity makes the encounters almost like QTE’s. I Am Alive
also works on a limited retry system so if you fail the same moment thrice, you’re back to the start of the area. Admittedly retries are scattered around quite liberally but that doesn’t stop success feeling more like an iterative process than anything requiring real skill.
These linear encounters reveal that I Am Alive
is not as open world as it appears. While you can wander the city map, many streets are blocked off and you’ll rarely have more than one objective in mind. And while the graphics are a step above the norm for a downloadable title, the levels themselves are rather barren, with iffy collision detection and zero interactivity.
That said, I Am Alive
is far from a disaster, particularly in its climbing sections. The sense of tension gives the game a unique feel and some large scale clambering mixes in moments of faster paced action and edge of your seat slides and jumps.
There’s also some decent gameplay variation to be found, including descending into the choking dust which depletes your stamina and doing extra missions for NPC’s, earning you pieces of the narrative puzzle. The visuals are decent too, so much so that punters may expect a full triple A experience from the game but it lacks the necessary depth.
I Am Alive
bridges the gap between downloadable titles and full retail games with solid presentation and some impressive gameplay, though it remains to be seen if a longer play session reveals any hidden depths.
I Am Alive is headed for XBLA in February and PSN sometime this quarter, pricing is likely to be about €15.