I Am Alive Review
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On 03/21/2012 at 11:37 PM by Mike Wall
I Am Disappointed: Beautiful at a distance, disappointing up close.
For those looking to experience an interesting concoction of survival horror and platforming, just be warned the experience is short-lived.
I’ve always loved the climbing aspect of the Uncharted series. Scaling larger than life structures gave the games an added sense of adventure. There was one problem though; Drake’s ascents were little more than eye candy. There was no danger, no strategy, no challenge just mash the X button until you arrive at your destination. That’s why I was so excited when I first heard about Ubisoft’s new IP, I Am Alive, which looks to meld similar Uncharted-like mechanics with the unforgiving realities of the survival horror genre. Unfortunately much like the scenery of this dystopian title, I Am Alive represents a great deal of potential that is tragically lost.
Undoubtedly unoriginal, the post-apocalyptic scenery of I Am Alive is quite fitting. The solar flare of the vibrant sun casting down on the dust covered ruins of the once prosperous Haverford city, makes for an eerily beautiful city skyline that cannot help but leave players with a sense of dread. While breathtaking at a distance, the graphical fidelity of I Am Alive is far less impressive up close, often times appearing pixelated and dated. Crude character models are amongst the worst offenders; the intensity created by the scenery is greatly diminished as a result.
“Beautiful at a distance, disappointing up close” is a tagline that is all too reflective of this title. At first glance I Am Alive appears to harbor an interesting tale that centers on Adam, one of the survivors of that catastrophic disaster known only as the Event. After painstakingly traversing the continental U.S. for the better part of a year, Adam reaches Haverford in search of his family. All of this is told to us within the first fifteen minutes of gameplay; and that's effectively where the story ends. Small details are sprinkled here and there, but it hardly constitutes an effective storyline. Instead, everything is shrouded in ambiguity in what I can only assume is a misguided attempt at creating intrigue. While leaving some details unknown to the audience can help stir the imagination, telling us nothing leaves the characters devoid of meaning. Sure, we know Adam wants to find his family, but we know nothing else – so why should we care?
Perhaps the only thing more tragic than the intriguing story left untold, is the interesting gameplay left underutilized. One of I Am Alive’s most engaging facets is its use of "stamina." Adam uses stamina for pretty much everything: climbing, sprinting, fighting off enemies, and traversing through dusty areas are all dependent on stamina. If Adam exerts too much of his stamina then his reserves begin to deplete indefinitely; when the bar is completely gone Adam’s health will slowly decline and he will fall while climbing.
At first this system adds a degree of tension that is often missed in other titles. The unknown provides players with a sense of risk and reward as every move could be their last. Unfortunately due to the game’s limited scope, the danger and excitement is short-lived. The experience appears to be open world exploration, but with only a few possible routes and countless invisible walls restricting your movement, I Am Alive feels much more like trial and error than exploration.
Players will also be able to hoard medicine packs and food items to restore stamina and health. At the beginning of this game strategic item usage is a must to be successful. This is further augmented by the fact that Adam will be given choices on whether or not to save survivors he meets by sharing his inventory. Helping other victims will net players an extra life, but sometimes the cost of that extra health pack is too great. Items become far more bountiful as the game progress, and oftentimes the difficult choices that existed in the beginning of the game no longer remain.
Large scaling walls and ominous dust clouds are not the only foes players will face in Haverford. After the Event things changed, and it’s a dog eat dog world out there. While not every person you come across will be a blood thirsty looter, most are. In true survival horror fashion every encounter you face will be trying. Taking on two enemies at once is near impossible unless you have them outgunned, or you make them think you do…
Ammo is scarce, forcing players to be stingy with their shots – even when facing multiple foes. This results in a combat system that is actually much more akin to a puzzle than any shooter I’ve ever played. With some enemies armed with guns, others with machetes, and a few with body armor, it’s up to you to prioritize who to shoot, who to fool, and who to fight hand-to-hand all within seconds.
It’s extremely rewarding … at first. The first dozen encounters were a breath of fresh air, providing a truly unique combat experience. However, after the first hour or so the game revealed just how formulaic the combat is. Every time it would be the same thing with different variations. Needless to say, puzzle-based combat without much deviation loses its luster quick, especially when you already know the solution.
The worst part about I Am Alive is its wasted potential. Every aspect could have been great with a little more work. The scenery was beautiful, it just lacked polish; the story was fundamentally strong though it needed be fleshed out, and the gameplay was interesting, but needed to be expanded upon. Unfortunately we cannot grade I Am Alive on what it could have been. It’s definitely not a bad game, but it’s only a shadow of its untapped potential.