Strive for survival and trek through the ruined cityscape of Haventon
As you stand beside a crippled bridge looking out on the decimated city that once, before the catastrophe, you called home, you are struck by one thought – I am alive. I, in this story, is Adam, a man who has been travelling across a broken American landscape hoping to find his wife and daughter in the fictional city of Haventon.
There are no brain hungry zombies fueling this tension, nor a lurking alien predator with laser in hand. I Am Alive sees an angry world that, like a flea-ridden dog, has been trying to dispel those living on it. Earthquakes pervade throughout the story, causing neat cinematics and interesting situations for our protagonist. One key factor for the game is the dust storms and choked air Adam has to wade through that are caused by all that crushed cement and chemicals.
After taking in the breathtaking Haventon, Adam must traverse the bridge wreckage. Here the player is introduced to I Am Alive’s climbing and stamina aspect. The climbing is straightforward, and sideways, and at times upside down, but is always a safe process. Adam has his own survival instincts and will not blunder off the side of a beam because you pressed the wrong button. That said, without finding the right beam, or spot, Adam won’t do much of anything. This simplification is fixed with the jaw-grinding tension of the stamina bar.
The moment Adam starts scaling, the stamina starts draining, and once it’s depleted the player must battle to reach a ledge to climb on, or fall to Adam’s death. The stamina bar wasting away is also accompanied with a high-pitched dramatic tone to help the nerves rise. Running and navigating the soupy dust storms will also quickly eat away at Adam’s vitality.
There are assortments of items Adam can use to help him through the game. Various foods, drinks, drugs, or equipment can recharge stamina or health, or repair a crippled stamina bar if the player runs out too often. A piton can make a safe spot for Adam to hang from and backtrack to – useful while on particularly puzzling climbs. Items are strewn through the map and illuminated from beneath for easy scouting. Another crucial thing to look for is retries. These items, represented by abandoned camcorders, allow you the ability to go back to a previous checkpoint. The alternative is running out of retries and starting back at a distant save point.
The items are also a focus for the game’s main side quest of helping survivors. Throughout the story, Adam comes upon people injured or questing for that one last cigarette. Here the player has the option to give up the specific item in favor of a retry and savior stat, or keep the item in case they might need it later. This plays well to the brutal survivalist world. People are fighting over scraps and forming up into gangs to assert some kind of control after civilization has been destroyed. Will your Adam be a hero to the average person or a realist?
As Adam moves through the city he comes upon some people brandishing guns out of fear, warning him away without attacking, and others actively looking to harm him. Armed with a likely empty gun and a machete, Adam has to bluff and surprise his way through swathes of enemies. A weapon hierarchy works here, with machete-wielding thugs cowering away from your drawn gun, and those with guns firing at anything. You acquire a bow about mid-game that no one seems all that afraid of but will be good for sneak attacks. Henry, one of the supporting characters, will tell you arrows are extremely hard to find… I only came across the one I started out with so try not to lose it. Also, best not to let anyone know that gun you’re pointing at them is empty.
The reason for taking on the majority of Adam’s enemies is a young girl named Mei that he helps continually through the story. After reaching his old neighbourhood, he saw Mei in a nearby park and, thinking it was his daughter, immediately formed an attachment. This bond is all I can justify his steadfast loyalty with. As you make it through perilous situation after dire circumstance, having only just met Mei and her guardian Henry that day, you start wondering about Adam’s mental security. However, if you can let it be, the story is fairly decent. Adam must scamper around the city, finding Mei medicine and equipment, and uncovering stories about what happened after the initial quakes.
There is no dialogue wheel when it comes to Adam’s interactions with fellow survivors, but the writers found a way around that. Characters talk to Adam when he gets near and if they need a quest item they will react to his walking away from them. “Let me guess….you want to help but just can’t right now…” one said to me when I lacked the inhaler he needed. You can feel the raw emotion from other characters as they desperately guard their meager belongings and ‘accidentally’ get shot by Adam, “You killed me……why…?” cough, choke, death.
Trying to avoid being in the dust too long creates a compelling puzzle element to the game. You’ll have to time runs from rooftops, through streets, up to the skytrain track, or to other such safe places, before the stamina’s depleted – while referring to your map for directions. The dust kicked up in the streets is akin to a dense fog and leaves you rather helpless in seeing very far ahead of you.
The graphics for I Am Alive is where the game falls short. Albeit, this is not a full budget title, but for a finished product it feels a bit outdated. The images are very grey (which is fitting but over-powering) and the characters move robotically with low facial definition, such as in scenes when Adam’s talking with a puppet-like mouth. Ubisoft did well in using the dusty environment to cover some of their flaws while fitting to the game though.
All in all, Ubisoft came through with a fresh execution of a familiar scene. The fact that you’re battling the elements and Adam’s own stamina keeps you on the edge of your wits. Though the game itself is formed around a fairly simple idea, the stamina bar really adds to a certain rush and desperation for the player. The combat also requires more than pointing and shooting, or aggressive attacks. The oppressive atmosphere and fast-paced strategy make I Am Alive a good choice for any collection.
Tested on 360
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