I Am Alive has had its fair share of changes since it was first announced back in 2008. It was a full retail title with industry poster-woman Jade Raymond rumoured to be at the helm. Everything then went dark, nothing of the game was mentioned and indeed it looked like it was to be condemned to the Canned-Bin. But no, I Am Alive has now arrived in a new format, digital download, and with veteran developers Ubisoft Shanghai as its creators, needless to say, this was one title that we couldn’t wait to get a hold of.
We did our best to make this review spoiler free; the story is key to the experience of I Am Alive and thus we will touch on it but only in outlining what is already known.
The plot line for I Am Alive revolves around a cataclysmic event that has wiped out most of humanity and left the world’s cities in ruins. You play as an unnamed man, who was on the other side of America to where his family lives when the event happened. The game is set after the protagonist has reached the fictional city of Haventon, where our unnamed man used to live. It then plays out over a series of video recorded episodes showcasing events that link together with the search for his missing wife and child. As I said previously, this is all I will touch on about the story and how it all fits in within the greater scheme of things.
The core gameplay is very much reminiscent of the free-form running that plays a large part of another Ubisoft franchise, Assassin’s Creed. Within I Am Alive the climbing and free running is limited compared to the levels of freedom that you can see in Assassin’s Creed. I Am Alive is an immersive game which makes the inclusion of white coloured objects to denote where you can climb a strange break from the reality that the game is trying to create. These objects tend to be rails or drain pipes which are uses to show you were to start your climb, although once you’ve have started normal colours for the objects return making the break with reality even bigger. This highlighting is useful as some areas of the city are covered in a dense fog which can make navigation hard. In addition, the camera is covered with a fine grain effect that makes the environment darker and while you can understand why the developers have done this, it still feels somewhat jarring considering the world that they have created is so immersive.
Speaking of the world, the detail of it is the biggest draw back when it comes to I Am Alive being a downloadable game. It really feels like it should have been a full retail release. Due to the limits of the media type the environments have suffered. The buildings that you will scale have some very low resolution effects on them and while there is a film noire like grainy effect on the camera does hide when farther away, close up the lower resolution is raw to the eye. Given that I Am Alive offers an impressive array of content for a game that’s clocking in at just about 3 gigabytes, you can overlook some of the problems with low resolution. Furthermore, the game runs on the Conviction engine used in the Splinter Cell series, so while the buildings and environments have been scaled back, the character models at least look good; with the only drawback being that the enemy encounters always seeming to be identi-kit models of each other.
I Am Alive is a very brave take on the survival horror/ action adventure genre. There are some very clever mechanics layered within the game. One of the best is the concept of conflict, the game deals with combat in a particular way; you need to assess the situation and respond to the environment around you. There are scripted moments where you will need to fight to survive, but how you tackle these moments is up to you. Combat related resources are limited in the game, bullets in particular are rare to find. This means that you will sometimes come to combat situations with no ammo and just an empty gun. Understanding the AI in the game is paramount to getting out of these circumstances.
Progress in the game is saved via a checkpoint system that logs your game position at certain points; this for the most part works well, except that in a game like I Am Alive exploration is a must. If you don’t explore every building and street that you come across you will find it harder in the later points of the game to succeed. But this is also where the checkpoint system fails. There were numerous times in the game when I died while exploring and as I hadn’t triggered a checkpoint moment for some time I was thrown back to the beginning of the episode, losing a lot of items and progression at the same time.
I Am Alive has had its problems in the past and to some extent it shows in the finished game. For a game that has been in and out of limbo as many times as it has been, this is an impressive title. There are minor let-downs here and there, the graphics can be forgiven due to the limitations of the media type, but issues like the checkpoint system do annoy a little too much at times. In the end I Am Alive is an decent game and worth the wait we have had to endure, but only just.
Rating: GoodReview Policy(version tested: Xbox 360)
I Am Alive is released for Xbox 360 via Xbox LIVE on on March 7. Why not buy some instant LIVE credit from ShopTo and save yourself some cash on this and other games.