As anyone who has been monitoring Ubisoft's I Am Alive
can tell you, this game has taken a rather long and winding path toward release. First envisaged as a retail title in 2008, it was converted to an Xbox LIVE Arcade title before finally hitting the console as a digital download this week. Did the extra development time help the game or did the conversion from a 6GB disc to a 2GB downloadable title harm the game's potential? Read on to find out.
In I AM Alive
, you take on the role of a nameless hero, a man who was far away from his home of Haventon when a horrible tragedy, referred to throughout the game as 'The Event', changed his world - and the world of other survivors- forever. Seperated from his wife and child in Haventon, our hero has no choice but to trek over the destroyed landscape in hopes of being reunited with them. The game picks up nearly a year later when the unnamed protagonist finally reaches home and, hopefully, the final sprint toward his reunion with his family.
There wouldn't have been much of a game had he found his wife and daughter right away, so you can predict what happened there. Upon finding a letter left by his wife nearly a year earlier, the protagonist steels himself to explore Haventown and recover what he has lost. Now, one important thing to note is that the main character is no 'hero' in the special-powers or abilities sense. He is a regular man who has been tempered by the world in which he finds himself. There are no magical powers, no super-strength or health regeneration. It's just one regular man (Ok, maybe a little stronger than a typical person, but he's not flitting around the torn landscape like Altair or Ezio could) against the world.
The exploration of the protagonist's destroyed hometown makes up a good portion of I AM Alive
's gameplay. If you've ever played a Silent Hill
title, you'll be familiar with and welcome the map system as, similar to that series, the map in I AM Alive
updates dynamically every time you hit a dead end or find a new passageway. You also get a prompt letting you know this is the case, so there's no mystery to when the map is altered. One thing that would have been a nice addition to the map is the locations of the victims you meet so you can easily relocate them later in the game, but that detail was unfortunately skipped.
Shortly after arriving in Haventown, you are introduced to the core mechanics in the game. As everything released about the title to this point suggests, survival is key. To that end, you not only have a gauge that measures your health, but a second one that measures your stamina. Stamina is burned when you do tasks that require exertion, such as running and climbing. Doing tasks that require extra effort, such as jumping to reach a far away grapple point, burns a large amount of stamina in one go. Another twist in the system is that you can burn through your stamina and thus effect your stamina capacity. Essentially, the main character has it in him to make that great last ditch effort, but it will cause you to have a shorter stamina meter. Thankfully, there are items scattered around town that can help you recover stamina, stamina capacity and health. Many of them are located beneath the dust cloud that settled over Haventon after The Event. Walking through the dust burns your stamina even when you're just walking normally and can eventually start to drain your health, so you have to weigh the risks of exploring for that can of food against the value of using those items needed to keep your stamina and health at a decent level. There is also a small negative to be found here, and that's that you have to be mindful of climbing up onto objects. Where most games of this type will let you lift yourself onto a ledge by holding the analog stick in the direction you want, that will only make the protagonist keep moving along the ledge burning precious stamina. It's not a great design decision, for sure, but it's thankfully something that simply pushing the A button remedies.
Where I AM Alive
really shines, yet also where the game leads to my greatest reservations, is the gameplay itself. On one hand, it's brilliant in how you really have to get in to the mindset of a survivor in order to succeed. For example, you have to get comfortable with pushing your stamina up to and sometimes above its limit. In the end, this will often lead to you expending less of your items and having an easier go of it. On the other hand, combat, especially melee combat, is very sluggish. It's understandable that it is, as it goes along with pitching the hero as just a guy who is trying to survive in this horrible landscape. For the most part, if you find yourself meleeing an enemy and there's another enemy nearby, you will get killed or suffer significant damage without getting the kill at the very least. This becomes less an issue as you progress and have more than just a machete and a pistol at your disposal, but the early difficulty of the game may turn some gamers off.
Should that difficulty turn you away though? Absolutely not. The difficulty is part of what makes the game experience somewhat unique. Every time you figure out a better strategy for taking on a group of bullies, you'll find it rewarding to get through while using minimal resources. Like bullets and restorative items, retries are also limited, and you burn one of them not only when you die, but also when you choose to restart from a checkpoint. The number of retries you have always resets to a minimum of three on normal mode when you hit a new chapter, but you can earn more by either finding them scattered around the land or by helping the victims you come across. Be aware, though, that victims need the same scarce resources that you do, so aiding them may mean that your chances to get through your next encounter with the bullies that occupy Haventon won't go as well as you hoped.
Here's what it all boils down to: Is I AM Alive
worth your $15? Absolutely. The game takes about 5-7 hours to complete and is, at turns a somber, frightning, and uplifting experience all while remaining engaging. The difficulty inherent in a game that doesn't spoonfeed you hundreds of bullets and other resources may cause you to put the controller down for a moment, but you will want to return to it to see if the main character finds his missing family. For the achievement conscious, the game requires one playthough of its Survival mode - where you get less resources and ammo and are not given the retries the normal playthrough gives you - but it's better to play it through once on normal to learn the sticking points (and there are a couple) before diving into Survival. Sadly, the switch from retail to arcade likely led to a couple of missed opportunities (for example, saving victims or leaving them to die could have had a bigger in-game impact), but it all serves to make it better than your average entry on the Xbox LIVE Arcade Marketplace.
Good luck surviving. It's quite a ride.Final Score: 4/5
This review is based off of pre-release code provided by the developer. The reviewer spent seven hours playing the game and completed a single playthrough of the game on its normal setting.