At one time, the survival-horror genre was all the rage. Games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil were experiences people talked about and other companies wanted to emulate. But like most video game genres, its popularity has dwindled and the hype for similar titles has dissipated. I am Alive is a special case. It’s certainly not a survival-horror game but it is a one about surviving.
It also happens to be one of the most talked about games in recent years because of its intial hype. Hot off the heels of the success of Assassin’s Creed in 2007, I Am Alive was supposed to be Ubisoft’s “next big thing”; a game supposedly set in Chicago after what we are led to believe was a devastating earthquake that cripples all of mankind.
But the game quickly disappeared and we heard next to nothing until late 2011 when it was re-revealed. While the setting changed from Chicago to a fictional city called Haventon and the game went from being a retail game to a digital one, the core concept stayed the same: this was a game about surviving and reuniting with loved ones.
From the early portions of the game, there are certainly more questions than answers. You play as an unnamed character that is searching for his wife and daughter. We begin the game watching an introductory clip from a camcorder he was carrying. We’re also led to believe that he is probably dead since someone else is watching it. We also get the sneaking suspicion that his marriage wasn’t in the best of shapes prior to the chaos and his return is heavily associated to guilt.
With all the questions, the objective is pretty simple: locate your daughter and wife; but doing so will be quite the challenge. I Am Alive mixes traversing, basic combat and item retrieval. Again, at its core, it is a survival game.
There are two aspects you have to be aware of: your character’s stamina and his health. Stamina plays a very important role because you do a lot of things. Running, climbing, jumping and in some situations, even regular breathing will deplete your stamina. For a good chunk of the first half of the game, you will be climbing buildings and rubble and every action requires energy. Even hanging from a ledge will cause you to lose stamina, so it is very important to move efficiently.
As for your health, there are two ways it depletes. Once you begin to wear out your stamina bar, your health will begin to suffer. If you lose all your energy traversing the side of a building, once your health goes, you will fall to your death. The other way is getting involved in combat and being shot or stabbed to death.
Unfortunately, while the climbing and searching aspects of I Am Alive are quite engrossing, the combat on the other hand is pretty disappointing. Ammo is extremely limited. You know this and so does everyone you encounter. But when you meet up with a group of thugs, you almost always have to attack them by killing at least one with your firearm.
Since you have low ammo, if there were originally three guys, you first need to kill one with a machete you’re carrying by catching them off guard. For the last guy, you will most certainly have a struggle fight where you will need to over-power them in order to stab them. Having reached the half-way point, there has not been a single situation, outside of the first scenario where you have no weapon, where I was able to walk away or talk my way out of killing someone. You can delay an attack by flashing your gun but this only keeps them at bay for a few moments. Once they get the impression you won’t fire, they pounce on you.
The only positive is that at around the half-way point of the game, you do obtain a bow-and-arrow which makes combat a little easier. Since you can re-use the arrow, if you time it properly, you can kill multiple foes in quick succession. Opportunities like that don’t always happen, but when they do appear, taking full advantage of them is extremely satisfying.
While the combat is the game’s weakest point, the atmosphere, “fuzzy” storyline, and suspenseful moments do make up for it. Although there are plenty of villainous characters in your way, a number of victims and other people in need of your assistance make appearances. In every situation, these people need something from you. Some may require food or medicine; others may simply need you to free them from various predicaments.
These victims can be completely missed as they often need to be found by exploring. But in every situation, they do reveal tiny bits of information that attempt to fill us in on what has happened in the city since the events that led to the chaos. It’s highly doubtful that even if you rescue each person that a proper explanation will be given, but hopefully by aiding them, it makes a meaningful impact once the game concludes.
As we move into the latter parts of the game, it is highly doubtful the combat will get any better but hopefully the story continues to keep us moving. The goal is still to find your wife and daughter but the biggest events so far have involved the protagonist assisting a little girl named Mei. You partner up with the young girl after you manage to save her from nearly being captured by a gang of thugs.
A good portion of the story has involved her, either having to secure medicine to help with a fever she has to re-uniting her with her group. Your interaction with her group leads to in retrieving a radio transmitter to use in the hopes of contacting help. As we move into the second half of the game, it will be interesting how much more they continue to play in the story or if our protagonist leaves them and returns to seeking out his family?
It would be unfair to give judgement on a game like I Am Alive only half-way through. Yes, the combat is weak but the story holds the game together. That being said, considering the game’s history, you can see that the initial concept was something much grander than the final product. Once we’ve reach the game’s conclusion, we’ll talk about its successes and failures and if this is something others would enjoy.