Within moments of loading into the game you are presented with a desolate city-scape, previously ravaged by an apocalyptic occurrence. Welcome to the aftermath of The Event.
I Am Alive is set one year after The Event, one that wiped out most of humanity, and puts you in control of an unnamed character. His objective; to find his wife and child in what remains of their home-city, Haventon. But, as you can imagine, a city broken and damaged makes this quest somewhat more difficult. This is the basic premise of the title, and doesn’t need much more explanation then this. The main character does make use of a video camera to record the going ons and help further the story progression as a form of video log for his loved ones, and probably as a form of keeping his sanity.
One of the first encounters in the game sets the tone quite well. Your character, proceeding through a tunnel looking for a makeshift entrance into the city itself, passes by another survivor armed with a pistol. If you decide to draw your weapon, he will have no hesitation in firing his. It is from this point on that contact with another person has to be assessed before hand, making most encounters a nerve-wracking experience. Is that person amongst the dust armed with more then a blade? Are they a threat? Can I pass by unnoticed? What’s the best course of action with only one bullet in the chamber and four potentials enemies? These are the tactics that need to be explored in almost every situation. While you have a couple options available to you, the scarcity of resources always weighs in heavily.
A key aspect in this game is resource maintenance, and it’s distribution. To go further, this includes handling your stamina, health, weaponry and items. Speaking on the part of stamina and health, we have two bars up the top representing each. Stamina is expended anytime there is a physical extertion. Specifically, running, climbing and moving about in the toxic dust layer left behind after The Event. If your stamina bar fully depletes you will need to begin furiously tapping the right trigger to continue, while this is happening the total amount of stamina you once had, will also begin decreasing. So when you reach an area where you can actually stand again to rest, your stamina bar will only refill to a point permanently. From this point on it will lower the amount of time you can run and climb before depleting your stamina bar again. In the instance that you are climbing and your stamina is drained and you cannot keep ontop of the button mashing you will most likely plummet to your death. The health bar will also suffer permanent reductions after loss and will not recharge. It sounds quite harsh, and it is when you have limited items to replenish this bar (which thankfully you can).
To really hone in the idea of a world gone apocalyptic, we inhabit a plane which has very few items available to the player. Items left behind by other survivors and some the were not so ‘lucky’. Seeing a soda can or first aid kit in the distance can be a godsend when you the teeniest of stamina or health left. But again, sometimes there is cost to gaining these items. Will I have to travel through a layer of deadly dust to get there? Will I have a battle on my hands to pick that up. Will I make it there before my stamina runs up and I fall a long long way down? The great thing about I Am Alive is that it does reward the player for exploring their environment. This could probably add a good couple of hours to your playthrough, but will make the ride somewhat more comfortable as you close in on the ending. Whilst stumbling around the city you may also encounter friendly survivors looking for aid in the form of an item donation. When items are scarce, you will be confronted with the situation of doing the right thing morally over what is right for your own survival. While there is no real morality system in place, there is value to giving up your hard earned goods, as you will rewarded with a retry (more on this below). Still there is a choice and perhaps, like me, you feel compelled to do the right thing. Or perhaps, also like me, you like achievements, of which there are several tied to helping out your fellow survivor.
Additional to handling combat, survival and item management is the retry factor. You are awarded several retries per checkpoint. So if you die in combat, you may end up only having to retry that part moments before the combat begun. If your retries are all used up, you will then be taken back to the last checkpoint. This could potentially be a long length of time, depending on how long you spent in that area collecting items and whatnot. It could be seen as frustrating, but it also forces a change in your tactics and to instil constant caution as retries can be precious. Having said that, there are additional retries that can be picked up by exploring and, as mentioned above, you will also be rewarded a retry when you help out survivors.
Maintaining tension is something that I Am Alive hardly ever lets up on. It is also echoed in the sound and visual space. Whenever you engage in climbing, for example, and your stamina bar begins to run out, the music will change and start pounding to a point that you feel compelled to reach a safe area and rest. If you think Shadow of the Colossus, you probably aren’t that far off. I don’t believe that had music accompanying those epic climbs, but damned if seeing that meter run down, wasn’t tense as hell. Especially when you know that drop isn’t onto a cushy mattress. So now add nailing-biting music accompanying that spectacle and you get the idea.
Graphically, the visuals aren’t anything crisp, clean or of a high quality. In fact they can be quite rough, but for the most part, I don’t believe it matters. The world you are exploring has taken a beating, and add to that, the thick layer of dust that covered most of everything on the exterior you could hardly expect a beautiful sight. If anything the beauty is portrayed in it’s overall grimness. But still, I think that the character models themselves could have used a little more loving if anything.
Onto controls, and while for the most part the movement of your character is quite sound, there was a small issue that sometimes resulted in frustration when attempting climbs that came close to depleting your stamina bar. In those ultra tense moments when it counts, occasionally I’d find my character shifting from left to right instead of continuing straight up. While this was something you probably can quickly compensate for, it did provide an extra unwanted layer in this super fine moments when a slight deviation from a path you have set can bring about a swift death. As far as combat controls go, the movements were fairly simple to grasp with a flick of your control stick being able to target a different enemy when your weapon was drawn. About the only problem I had with combat was the actual animation of the ‘struggle kill’ move. Mostly because it was the same animation every time. Some variety would have been welcomed on that front.
I Am Alive, is a nice change of pace from the usual suspects that have been released this year. It brings about an almost Silent Hill-esque method of maintaining tension through isolation and scarce resources while being unique enough that it isn’t branded a clone of some pre-existing game. I found that 95% was thoroughly engaging and the remainder to be a little too ‘actiony’. This, perhaps, was more due to my play-style built early on in the game of resource gathering and being quite stingy on it’s use. Once I knew I was close to the end, I was quite liberal with my pistol usage and as a result wasn’t as challenged or worried as I had been for the bulk of the game. It’s one of the very few negatives I can put against this experience and in saying that, for the most part, it was a damn fine one and a credit to the developers. The game took me just shy of six hours to complete from start to end at 87% completion and by the end of it all I was quite relieved to have reached the finish point knowing I wouldn’t have to worry about dealing with an angry mob of characters, with nothing but a machete in my backpack, at least for awhile it may seem.