The wait is finally over for Ubisoft’s I Am Alive. Six long years and many changes later it is finally available on the Xbox Live Arcade and I wish I could say that I was more enthusiastic about it. I love post-apocalyptic games like Disaster Report and Raw Danger and I Am Alive is in the vein of those titles, but doesn’t resonate with me the same way and let me tell you why.
I Am Alive places you in the fictional semi-metropolis of Haventon. You are on a quest to find your wife Julie and your daughter Mary. An “Event” has rocked the country and even more so in Haventon. Earthquakes have ravaged Haventon and plumes of killer dust encapsulate the city and while it creates great atmosphere, everything looks overly drab. The utilization of the Unreal Engine generates some great effects for lighting and shadows, but the environments and character models lack the detail of other Unreal powered games. The collision detection needed some more polish and that lack of polish really diminished what little visual quality the game had to its credit. The main character’s animations are stiff which is more troublesome in a game like this where navigation and exploration are integral game components.
Navigating and exploring areas falls short in comparison to the game’s scale. The areas in the game present multiple potential avenues for moving forward, but the game dictates one single linear path for you to pursue. The climbing mechanics were supposed to be a staple in this game and prove to be generic and frustrating. A stamina gauge is placed on the main character in order to create tension for climbing and if your stamina runs down you are going to fall, presumably to your death. This would have been an awesome mechanic, but it will never happen unless you let it happen. Stamina reserves in conjunction with a stamina “boost” feature will guarantee success in all your climbing endeavors. In addition to visual indicators really intense music kicks in when your stamina is low and it gets very annoying very quickly. This music continued to play after my stamina gauge was low until I used a recovery item to replenish it. With the world in shambles you might also assume that searching for resources would be important. I wasn’t looking for a fallout loot fest, but it would have been nice to search containers or abandoned vehicles for supplies. The environment is littered with both and nothing can be searched which I found it to be particularly aggravating.
The lack of exploration is also met with lack of story development and character interaction. I understand that the “event” wiped out a large portion of the population, but the encounters with NPCs, showcased some missed opportunities for dialogue, bartering and story progression. This first NPC interaction involves some old sewer hobo pulling a gun on you and yelling nonsensical banter at you. “Get away from me” and “Don’t come back ya’hear” could have been replaced with more engaging dialogue options where the main character could have probed for information about what lies ahead or possibly traded goods with the poor sewer dweller. The only occurrence of such dialogue was when I helped a victim that had been stabbed by curing them with a health pack. Other than that random stragglers just yell at you. The options could have been limited and still would have created another layer of immersion that the game is lacking.
The combat in I Am Alive never seemed like a focal point in the design and it shows. You start with a pistol with no ammo and your enemies are none the wiser. The aiming of ranged weapons such as the pistol is done in first person and while it doesn’t look bad I think it narrows your focus too much especially when dealing with multiple combatants. Like I said your enemies are oblivious as to whether your pistol is loaded or not so pointing it at them will intimidate them pending they don’t have a fire arm of their own; in which case they will shoot and kill you. Assuming you are intimidating an enemy with only a melee weapon you will yell at them to back up and if you are lucky they will back up to an edge where the game will prompt you to send them plunging to their death. I derived much satisfaction the first time I did this, but can see the process becoming very repetitive. One caveat about intimidating with your ranged weapon; enemies do not remember that you are packing, so the minute you holster your weapon they will charge you almost immediately. This is a major design flaw that almost renders the intimidation function useless. The machete melee combat had promise, but the surprise and struggle kills are slow and boring. Another hiccup with collision detection is also present and your machete passes through enemies as if they were vapor.
If I Am Alive didn’t take so long to develop and hit the market it would have been a much more impressive title. Other disaster games like Raw Danger and Disaster Report may not have been gems, but they had personality and worked better within the context of the genre. Games like Uncharted, Assassin’s Creed and Prince of Persia offered great exploration and navigational controls and games like Alan Wake created a more aesthetically dynamic atmosphere. I Am Alive is unfortunately overshadowed by all of them. The game proposes some great ideas, but the implementation leaves a lot to be desired. I had huge expectations for this game and was let down. Let us know about your experiences with I Am Alive by sounding off in the comments section. If you saw something differently than us be sure to tell us, it might get us to view it from a different perspective. As always you can follow us on Twitter @GamersAbstract and like us on Facebook for more content.
*Disclaimer* I have only played the trial version of this game. It is available on XBLA for 1200 MSP ($15). The trial version was approximately 40 minutes in length and I played it to completion. My comments are based on this experience and this experience alone. If you wish to see further criticism check full reviews.