Categories: Featured, PSN Reviews, TopImage, Xbox Live Arcade
Written By: Seamus.CA
Have you ever been in a toy shop and witness to an impatient parent with a child in hand? In this situation the parent is usually in a hurry, looking for a present for another child but their own child can’t stay easy because there is excitement all around them. Every toy wrapped away in a brightly coloured box is just screaming at the child to grab it but once the child moves the stressed out parent berates it for not staying still. I Am Alive puts gamers in the shoes of that scolded child but it also gives them a toy, if they are patient enough.
I Am Alive follows an everyman as he journeys back to his fictional hometown of Haventon a year after an “event” which has left the cities of the world destroyed by earthquakes and are now home to a kill-or-be-killed population and a toxic dust-cloud in the atmosphere. Players guide this man through his home town as he searches for his wife and daughter who he hopes are still alive. Further information on the “event” is delivered to players from any survivors they choose to help. Note the use of the word “choose.”
Exploration of the world does a great job of relaying the scale of this disastrous event. As players walk through the city they can see buildings destroyed, cracked in two and many make-shift living areas abandoned by survivors. Climbing is also an important gameplay mechanic and these sections will see the hero scale very tall buildings and dangerous areas with drops into deep open craters. The views from these locations further showcase the scale of destruction caused and convey the feeling of hopelessness for the man’s situation.
The real strength of this game is when exploration brings you face to face with survivors. A certain number of survivors you come across will be in need of help, usually a share in your limited supplies but there will also be gangs of thugs who will intimidate and threaten you. Combat is not a major part of this game and players are instead given an interesting tactic; bluffing. Players are equip with a gun at the start of the game but only one bullet. If approached by a gang this gun can be pulled out and pointed at attackers who will then react in different ways. Some will kneel down and surrender while others will stare you down and if left long enough, will assume that you have no bullets or, in the case of large gangs, not enough bullets to handle all of your foes when rushed. This gameplay mechanic creates great tension throughout the game and while more bullets are available to collect, they are very scare so each shot taken must be carefully considered first.
In addition to threatening attackers players will also come across survivors in need of help. As mentioned above these survivors will want a share of your supplies but like bullets, these supplies are few and far between. Players may find themselves with low health and one medical kit that could replenish their health but can that kit be spared to a Mother whose Son is bleeding to death? There are twenty of these situations throughout the game, some more dramatic than others and even some that are extremely dramatic to witness. How you treat these situations yourself is fantastic question to be faced with and really made for intriguing gameplay. There are also other survivor characters who simply walk the streets or hang around certain areas. They may not threaten you or need help but their presence greatly adds to the atmosphere as players will be approaching these survivors with caution and looking over their shoulders when they pass them just to be sure. Each corner turned was either a new threat to handle or survivor to try to save and this very much kept the game interesting and also kept us coming back when we threw the controller down in frustration, because that does happen.
The game is broken into episodes and as such, computer determined check-points. When the main character dies, usually through an in-correctly handled conflict or through falling off a building, players are granted a limited number of retries. When these retries deplete players are forced back to a previous game determined check-point, which can be 20 – 25 minutes back. It is not fun to be forced to replay a large section of a game, especially if you are on limited game-time. Furthermore while this post-apocalyptic world cries out for exploration, players can find this difficult as certain areas are covered by a dust cloud and if exposed to that area too long will mean death for the players and the loss of a valuable retry. Furthermore the main character has a stamina and health bar. When climbing, this stamina bar begins to decrease and so players are encouraged to stop along a climb in order to rest and rebuild stamina. However when the stamina bar empties the player’s health then drains, very quickly. This puts players in a sticky situation when they come across a building with an open roof. While players might want to explore that area, the risk may be too high once they consider their health supplies, certainty of the right route to the top and the prospect of being on their last retry from a 30 minute previous check-point.
While the game does succeed an engaging world we can’t help but be annoyed with this above harsh gameplay mechanic. On our play-through we did have to replay two areas because we ran out of retries and while we were frustrated, we did go back again. Despite this flaw Ubisoft Shanghai have created a world we wanted to explore. We wanted to know more. We wanted to be presented with more “what would you do in this situation?” scenes for so we replayed certain sections just to progress further. The game is flawed but not fatally. It is playable and needs a little patience and greatly rewards those who can handle the occasional two steps forward and one back.