Review: I Am Alive (XBLA/PS3)

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I Am Alive finally hits XBLA on March 7th and PSN shortly thereafter. Is this survival action adventure worth the wait?

The short answer to that question is yes. I Am Alive is a lengthy and enjoyable survival game that is intense, strategic, drips with atmosphere, and is an easily recommendable game; especially considering the price. Often I felt like I was playing a full retail release and was amazed at the amount of game that was stuffed into the nearly 2GB download. If all you want to know is whether you should buy the game then consider this a thumbs up.

The long answer, however, is a little more conflicting. Though the game is a solid purchase there are some flaws that bring down the overall presentation of the game. Also a word of warning before we get into the bulk of the review: WARNING: IF YOU HAVE A DEEP FEAR OF HEIGHTS TRY THE DEMO BEFORE PURCHASING THIS GAME. There are moments of intense vertigo and due to the nature of some gameplay elements the fear of falling can be heightened. I’m not exceptionally afraid of heights, but due to the nature of the game there were times that even I felt a little uncomfortable.

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If this height makes you uncomfortable you haven’t seen anything yet

You begin the game in the shoes of a man who has had a very poor last year, to put it mildly. Flying out east away from his home moments before an apocalyptic event, he spends the next year walking back across the country in search of his wife and child who he left behind in the city of Haverton. Upon arriving he finds the city, like most of the world, is in utter shambles and dust coats and clouds every inch of its streets.

The event itself is left intentionally vague, instead of some long cutscene explaining the nature of the event you are given basic information and let out into the world to find the rest out for yourself. In some games I might find this grating, but it fits the setting perfectly. The story itself is played out through interactions with different people and by a video camera that the protagonist occasionally stops to record a message with to his wife and daughter; essentially documenting his progress through Haverton.

The aforementioned gameplay elements are the heart and soul of I Am Alive and the reason the game just works so well as the survival adventure it is. Within the game you have two bars: a health bar and a stamina bar. The first bar explains itself as it’s featured in just about every game ever created, but the stamina bar is what truly sets the game apart. Your character is no super hero though as mentioned before, just an everyday guy trying to find his loved ones. As such, he can’t climb endlessly like Nathan Drake or Lara Croft; instead whenever he must climb his stamina meter is drained. Reaching a resting spot will enable you to regain your stamina and refill the bar.

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If your playing a video game and you see a train hanging off a cliff you just KNOW your climbing that

Once the meter depletes though in mid climb, the bar’s permanent capacity begins to deplete. At this moment you can go for an extreme effort by jamming on the right trigger and trying to finish your climb in a hurry. A circle will begin to narrow and once it reaches the center you’ll plummet to your death. Even if you manage to reach solid ground you’ll have lost whatever length of bar coordinates with the time it took you to reach the top. This creates a intense and thrilling scenario with each and every climb. In most games, such as Uncharted, you can hang from a ledge indefinitely, but just like in real life you only have so long to reach safety before you just can no longer hang on. Because of these factors you’ll find yourself stopping and plotting out your climb before you begin.

To offset this you can find pitons for exceptionally long climbs that you can shove into the side of a building to rest. All the stamina that you have left capacity wise will instantly refill making these little climbing tools God sends for the tougher areas. Wasting them though is a poor idea so you’ll want to use soda or whatever else may give you a boost so you can stave off death for those few extra seconds it takes to reach the top.

To regain the capacity of your stamina you’ll need to use resources such as water or food. In true post-apocalyptic style these aren’t easy to come by and so you’ll need to make judgement calls on when and where to use them. Using a water now may replenish some of your lost stamina bar, but there may come a time you need it far more then you need it in that moment. In addition to your needs you also can decide to be kind and think of whether or not you might need the items you scavenge to assist other victims within this world.

Victims are another interesting addition to I Am Alive and the strategic usage of resources that leads you to the decision to save them or not is probably one of my favorite parts of the game. Especially on the harder Survivor difficulty things like First Aid Kits can be pure gold and handing them over to a random person can sometimes be hard to do. I always choose to play the good guy in a video game in which I have a choice; but I found myself hesitating in this game.

Saving citizens by giving them your valuable supplies will lead to getting a retry which is the ability to start from the nearest checkpoint when you die. Otherwise if you die, and have no retries, you’ll be sent back to the nearest chapter start which usually is quite a ways back. Still, if you can never progress because you handed out a piece of vital supplies then it doesn’t matter how many retries you have.

It’s this constant strategic management of resources that lends a palpable post-apocalyptic survival feel to the game and sets it apart from other games that use the popular thematic setting. In a survival situation the things you have to eat and drink are integral to staying alive and sharing that with a stranger in the real world would be hard to do, no matter your morals. This game brings you about as close to the real thing as you want to be and gives you a little taste of the things you see in movies like The Road.

As you can imagine the city isn’t filled with nothing but helpless victims, there are people who are protecting their own or the worst of humanity that’s been set free to do what they wish upon others. You’ll often run into small bands of survivors, some who want what you have, and though your gaming instincts may tell you to immediately open fire that would be a poor idea. First of all bullets are hard to come by and secondly you’ll want them to come to you. Assessing a situation is often the best way to live through one as taking out the people who have guns first is a sound idea. Also if you isolate and kill the toughest of the group the others will often surrender.

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Oh yeah this is going to end bad for you

Luckily you can find a machete in the game and as the thugs approach you and begin to shove your character around you can whip the blade across their throat and draw your gun. Most times in the game you don’t even have to fire. There were times where I actually had an empty pistol, but the simple act of pointing it at others got your message across. Like in real life just the fear of the weapon is enough to make opponents pause and decide if they really want to tangle with you.

To make it even more intense and interesting you’ll run into small bands of people who aren’t bad people, but simply protecting their loved ones. Often you can simply hold up your hands and back off from these situations without fighting at all; though some more greedy players might decide the goods they have are worth a little blood on your hands. After all, we are talking survival here and when it comes to that it’s usually every man for himself.

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Friend or foe? Jumping the gun can end up with you killing innocents.

It’s these sorts of decisions and constant awareness of what resources you have that really make this game special. You can’t just reload a save and play through something you regret either. These are your decisions, your supplies, and whenever you do decide who to save or what to use there is no going back (unless of course you die and are forced to reload from checkpoint then everything from that point is restored). This makes every decision important and gives your actions greater meaning.

[quote]Once in the game I had made it through a particularly trying climbing segment and upon reaching the top encountered unfriendly faces. I put my hands up showing I wanted no trouble and as the nearest approached I slashed out my machete taking him by surprise and ending his life. Not paying attention to his friends I realized the closest had a gun, but I was too late in my realization. He fired and seconds later I fired a shot killing him. My vision was blurred and my life very low and he still had two friends. I pointed the weapon at them desperately, but not knowing how many shots I had they both knelt on the ground surrendering. Taking no chances I thudded the pistol down on the back of both their necks.

Low on stamina and bleeding out I used a med kit and drank my last bottle of water. Continuing on my journey I heard a cry for help and navigated through the thick dust to find a person begging for help. Sadly they needed a med kit and I had used my last moments before. The way they cried in desperation as I left affected me as few NPC’s in something even as epic as Mass Effect had. I had let them down because of my selfishness.[/quote]

These are the perfect examples of why the game is so fantastic. This is not some once a game scenario these stories are littered throughout the entire 8 plus hour experience and you’ll create your own stories to tell your friends as you proceed through the game.

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It’s about to get all Robin Hood up in here. Unlike bullets you can retrieve your arrows;.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows for the game though. While I greatly enjoyed the gameplay and even the presentation of the story, I was greatly disappointed by an ending that was abrupt and left no sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, or closure. I’m not sure what Ubisoft Shanghai intends here and I can only speculate that it means that they wish to make a sequel to the game.

Unfortunately that wasn’t the end of my problems with the completion of the game. After the final scene, I was actually met with the first glitch I had encountered in the entire game. My screen went black and stayed that way for five or more minutes. Deciding that there was no way to move forward I tried to reload my last checkpoint. Once it reloaded I was stuck in a place that I couldn’t proceed through the game and trying to reload checkpoint or restart episode didn’t work. Finally I gave up and powered my system off and back on. Once the game reloaded I went to the continue screen only to find my game gone.

I’m not sure what should have been there, whether a to be continued screen or some sort of score record of my playthrough. Overall the experience left a sour aftertaste in my mouth for what was otherwise a brilliantly executed game.

I Am Alive is an amazing value downloadable title that feels like a full retail release. The graphics are decent, the gameplay is gripping and intense, and the quality that is put into the game is top notch. It’s too bad that a last minute glitch and an abrupt and head-scratching ending marred my final impressions of the game.

For more information on how we review games check out our criteria here. A copy of this game was provided to The Paranoid Gamer by the publisher for review purposes. If you have any questions about this title feel free to ask in the comment section. Our reviewer will be able to answer any of those.