Review: I Am Alive
Goodness me, I Am Alive is a bleak game. I feel like I need to sit down and think about life for a moment after playing through Ubisoft’s ambitious PSN release. I Am Alive doesn’t do everything right, but it does enough stuff well to get by, and makes up for its shortcomings by way of atmosphere and a pervasive tension that doesn’t let up until the closing moments. Every now and then, you’ll feel safe, as you plug a piton into a wall and hang there, panning the camera around a destroyed city. Once you reach your destination though, you can bet that you’re going to find yourself in a situation where you have one bullet in your pistol, 3 pissed off looking guys, and very little in the way of a plan of action.
The first guy will always approach, I Am Alive is handily predictable in this department. He won’t have a gun, a simple machette is all. Of course, you have your own. One slice and he’s down, and his friends are panicked. You pull out your gun, and start pointing it at either of them. One of them gets restless, and rushes at you. Panicking, you fire your only round into him, and watch as his companion looks around, terrified. Approaching him, he makes one last effort to survive, and pulls out his machette. You struggle momentarily, but you can mash R1 like nobody’s business. He goes down, and with his last breath he simply says “your blood is on my hands”. I wish I was kidding about that line. I Am Alive isn’t afraid to put you in a tricky situation, morally speaking. You’ll regularly come across other survivors, and everybody in this world needs something, and they seem to have stumbled across the only nice guy in the apocalypse who isn’t a child, unarmed woman, or in a wheelchair. Sometimes you won’t have the thing they need, and to hear them say that they “understand” as you walk away is almost too much.
The ratio of Atmosphere to Gameplay in the game is dramatically in favor of the former. I Am Alive is workmanlike at points, with awkward controls leading to many a needlessly dramatic segment when climbing. I found myself humorously shimmying across ledges, in the hope that my character would stop in just the right position to transfer to a vertical bar. With a stamina bar ticking down all the way through said climbing segment, it never failed to add some needless drama to the proceedings. There’s quite enough tension in the game without shoddy mechanics adding more, thank you very much. This strangeness extends to the combat, with a marker showcasing your target sometimes disappearing off-screen when you need it most. Of course, this led to situations where I’d aim at the guy with a knife rather than a gun, get killed by the guy with a gun, and then have to restart at my previous checkpoint. This would have been ok without I Am Alive’s needless rationing out of retries. You start the game with 3, and if you lose all of them, you’re back to the beginning of the chapter, which can sometimes be up to 15 minutes back. Its frustrating, but at least you’re not losing hours of progress. The game is pretty good about splitting things up in to smaller chapters.
I Am Alive is, as I mentioned before, bleak. There are occasional moments where the game’s world feels at peace, but its all brought down soon after by just how desperate everything feels. The world is against you, and you can count your friends on one hand. By the end, you’ll feel like you at least accomplished something, but that something wasn’t necessarily what you set out to do. In a way, I suppose that’s a pretty good way of summing up this game’s development, but the end result isn’t nearly as apocalyptic as the game’s world is. In fact, it’s quite the phoenix metaphor. I Am Alive crafts a well told tale, and provides mechanics that, while sometimes shaky, allow it to tell that story to the best of its ability. Its well worth worth experiencing, and if you can find it in yourself to forgive a few mechanical missteps, you’ll be glad you played it.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here. This review is for the PlayStation 3 version of the game.
What I Like:
- Great atmosphere and sense of place
- Threat mechanics allow you to approach encounters differently
- Excellent sound design
What I Dislike:
- Sometimes awkward controls
- Snap aiming is often useless
- The map, while cool looking, is borderline useless for navigation