Like so many other games in the past couple years, I Am Alive had its troubles coming to the market. Originally designed to be a full-fledged release from Developer Darkworks, it ended up in the hands of Ubisoft Shanghai and went through some extensive changes. After a couple years of lying low, with the odd trailer here and there, the post-apocalyptical title has finally seen the light of day and has been released as a fifteen dollar downloadable exclusive for Xbox Live Arcade.
I Am Alive follows a man as he searches for his wife and daughter through the dust and ash covered ruins of his home city, Haventon. While the destruction of the city and by all accounts, the rest of the world, is easily visible in your surroundings, it is never fully explained what it is that has occurred. There are instances throughout the 5-6 hour campaign of earthquakes and floods that still happen, and there are small references to “The Event” that caused the destruction a year ago, but that’s as deep as the information gets.
During your search for your family, you will find yourself climbing walls, poles, and just about anything else that can get you vertical through the washed out and filth covered, broken, dust choked city. Much like the Uncharted, Tomb Raider, and Prince of Persia franchise of games, you will need to make your way from ledge to ledge, hopping your way from one safe perch to the next.
There are two major differences between those games and I Am Alive, however. The climbing controls can get a little finicky at times, and can be downright infuriating as you try to get to get up a ledge, only to have the character proceed left instead of climbing upwards to safety. Those moments do happen, and when they do, you will curse them. You will curse them like a sailor. The other difference is that your movements are all based on your available stamina. You have a stamina meter that depletes with each action you make, but as long as you are on stable footing, it will replenish quickly.
When you are climbing however, it will continue to drain until you can get somewhere to rest. If your stamina meter runs out, you will then enter a panic-like mode and the overall amount of stamina that you can recover will start to diminish, until you can no longer hold on. If you do make it to solid ground while in the panicked state, your stamina meter will remain in the shortened state until you can find an item to return it to its normal position. This aspect of the game is part of what makes I Am Alive such a nerve wracking experience. That and the uncertainty of other people that you will run into while trying to scrounge up items.
Through your travels, you will run into many people; some who need your help and some who want to harm you. Telling the distinction between the two isn’t always easy. For the most part, when enemies come to make your life hell, they’ll walk towards you with their weapons brandished, spouting insults. In these situations, you need to make quick decisions on how you will handle it; either by fleeing or taking your chances with the limited weapons you have at your disposal.
For your protection, you have a machete (as does everyone else in this city for some reason) and a gun to start with. Bullets are a rare commodity to come by, so using them isn’t always the best idea. There is no running and gunning through this game. Every shot needs to be made true and should only be used as a last resort. Also, if you shoot an enemy who has a gun, another enemy will run over and pick it up, which makes each encounter all that more strategic.
To kick that strategy up another notch, you not only need to watch your stamina when traversing obstacles and encountering enemies, but you also need to watch your health level. There is no regenerating health here and hiding behind cover when you’re hurt isn’t going to do squat for you.
During your travels you will come across items such as cans of food, water bottles, rat meat, and the like, that you can use for a health top up, but you may also want to keep them in your inventory for those less fortunate that you come across. While helping people may not be at the top of your to-do list, if you do decide to share your found treasures with people, you will receive a retry for your troubles. Yes, a retry.
Adding to the uniqueness of this already distinctive game, you have a limited number of retries that will allow you to restart at a checkpoint should you take one too many bullets or should you lose your grip while on the side of a building. If you run out of retries, you will have to start all the way back at the beginning of the chapter, making the decision to help other survivors all that much more crucial. Retries can also be found by exploring areas and finding them in hidden spots- in the form of camcorders- the main method of storytelling found in the cutscenes.
I Am Alive is not a “Survival Horror” game. It is a “Survival” game, in every sense of the word. There are no monsters, no zombies, and no weird blue monkey men. There is nothing other than the fight for survival in a dehumanized civilization with only the limited supplies you can scavenge to aid you, and honestly, there is no other game quite like it. The game tugs at your heart strings when you don’t have the ability to help someone, and after you have had an altercation with someone, and they beg for your mercy, you question your own actions.
The game causes you to feel the tension of climbing hundreds of feet in the air, holding your breath, as you make one last ditch effort to try and jump to reach a platform before you lose your remaining ounce of strength and plummet to your death. I Am Alive doesn’t do everything right, but what it does do correctly and the absolute uniqueness of the game, more than makes up for its shortcomings.
Title: I Am Alive
Release Date: March 7th 2012
Platform Reviewed: Xbox 360
Retail game purchased for review