I Am Alive Hands-on Preview
Stressing. Frustrating. Thrilling. Surviving.
I Am Alive is Ubisoft’s triple-A downloadable title in a genre we love, and in a setting done to its apocalyptic ruins. The game was announced in 2008 as a boxed product, before its original developer quit and its development plunged into troubled waters. It was only last year the game was once again put under the radar, but it would come in a demoted form – as an Xbox Live and PSN Arcade title and with a cheaper price collar. After spending a few hours with the game, I am set to wonder if the demotion was connived purely based on its fractious development process.
Because it is different. Ubisoft’s attempt at the genre is an aberration, a refreshing approach to everything we have come to expect from a game set in a post-apocalyptic world. Visually it’s still similar – buildings, cars, shops, roads, all lay in tatter after a series of earthquakes lay waste to everything that was built, including consequence and morality. The color pallet is drained, a sense of gloom, dread and death is well construct.
But here it’s about survival – purely, extremely, and absolutely. It is a struggle on every corner, not from zombies, not from a truculent mother nature, and not from humans themselves (but that too), but a struggle with oneself, a struggle with…stamina. Every action must be meticulously planned and performed – an error in indolence, or tactic could result in the funeral knell. Running, climbing, and jumping – all of the might required to survive – cost stamina. When you run out of it, and let me make it clear, you will, you get final bits of moments to land somewhere safe, and you start paying with your health.
This must be micro-managed with everything that you have got. Every bit that could be used is scraped; stashed away by those who survived, and protected and fought for with life. You will find pills, med packs, and food, but they will be hard to come by and will be contested by impertinent beings whose avarice for survival has clearly overshadowed their judgement and has clouded compassion for others that they would once have. Luckily, you have a pistol to fiend of such attempts. You can use it to threaten, intimidate, kick them off a conveniently placed pit. It doesn’t matter if you have a bullet in it or not, they don’t have to know. Bullets will be a hard procure, the game itself discourages you to carry a shoot-out. But point the gun for too long though, and they will sniff it. They will come at you, and if you have a bullet in that gun, you better place it. And if you don’t, you better run.
Such poverty in resources is thrilling, but at times it could just break the game, or make it so difficult that there is no clear way to get past a particular sequence. For instance, early in the game, I unknowingly used the single bullet I had to get out of a situation that didn’t pan out as planned. While that got me a few minutes, it was to only get me stuck just a bit further in, in a situation the game clearly expected me to have that single bullet in hand. I died, repeatedly, trying in futile to take out two gun wielding goons with a knife. I could pull that off in Counter Strike, not here.
This becomes even more frustrating with a lack of a proper save system. You do get checkpoints, but they are only accessible with the number of ‘retries’ you have. Use them up, and you start way back, at the start of the episode. Collecting these retries becomes vital then, and one of the ways to have them is by helping strangers out – a basic morality system, if you will. Helping means using resources, a dilemma that gets increasingly hard to decide upon as you progress through the game.
I Am Alive then becomes a challenge. Maybe it’s meant to be that way. To stress you out. To frustrate you, to irritate you, and then to reward you and thrill you for doing something right. To achieve that, every move has to be cautious and incisive, and done with alacrity. It might not be for everyone, so I hope there is a demo. It introduces fantastic gameplay concepts that reinstates ‘survival’ in the survival genre. It’s a fresh breath in the stifling post-apocalyptic nightmare.
I Am Alive releases on March 7 for the Xbox 360. PS3 version is planned for a later date.