Here at STHQ, I’ve gotten a bit of a reputation as a grumpy old man. You can often find me wandering about, looking like a slightly chubby Rainman, muttering such things as “games don’t take chances any more” and “where is the innovation?!” In an effort to shut me up for a few hours, and possibly to try and prove me wrong, a copy of I Am Alive was nervously given to me, along with some Werthers Originals. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised.
Taking place around one year after ‘The Event’ (I don’t know what ‘The Event’ was, but it pretty much destroyed everything in the world. I can only assume, therefore, that it has something to do with Justin Bieber reaching puberty) you play the part of a man trying to find his wife and kid whilst trying not to die. So, a complex narrative and engaging storyline is absent, but that’s really not the point with this title. It’s about trying to make you think about your actions and challenge you to, well, stay alive.
Some rather interesting gameplay mechanics help to create this feeling. First of all is the stamina bar. Virtually everything you do will drain it, and faster than you think, including climbing. Run out of stamina and you plummet to the ground. The first time I experienced one of the climbing sections -of which there are a lot- I was on the edge of my seat, hoping to find a rest point before I fell and died. This has the effect of making you look before you leap, planing your routes in advance and impressing upon you the idea that you are not Spider-man, but a normal person.
It’s an excellent addition and means that, more often then not, you will be more bothered about the state of your stamina bar then your health bar. While you do have a safety net in the form of ‘Extreme Effort’, using this will permanently deplete the amount of stamina you can store. Again, a great mechanic which adds to the drama.
There are more twists to traditional gameplay, which make themselves known the first time you come across another survivor. Upon seeing your first human being, he instantly pulls a gun on you. Now, normal gaming instincts scream at you to pull your own weapon and gun him down. However, do this and you suddenly find you have no ammo and in return, find yourself on the receiving end of a few well placed bullets. To survive, you have one choice. Walk away. It’s interesting just how effective this is, and works wonderfully to further cement the feeling of being an average Joe, caught up in a tragic event.
That’s not to say your gun is useless, even when empty. Pull your gun on someone giving you trouble who is armed with a stick or a knife, and you can take control of the situation. After all, they don’t know that it’s not loaded. There is a certain sense of satisfaction in ordering an annoying, scumbag looter to back away to the edge of a hole with an empty weapon, then push them into it. Londoners will know what I’m talking about here!
That’s not to say that I Am Alive doesn’t have it’s problems. Graphics are poor here, and look dated and grainy. This can actually cause a few issues. At one point, you are tasked with escorting a small girl back to her father. After the cut-scene which informs you of this scenario, I spent a good five minutes wondering where the little brat had run away to, before realising she was strung to my back instead of my rucksack. The graphics were so confused that I could not tell the difference!
Overall, I Am Alive is a lesson in challenging the norms. For an XBLA title it’s a wonderful change of pace with it’s unique gameplay and one I certainly recommend. Sure, it has it’s problems but overlook these and it’s a fantastic little title.
+ Climbing animations are nice with lots of interesting touches
– Colours are grey, brown, and rather dirty
+ Some fantastic mechanics that really makes you think about what your doing
– Lack of checkpoints in Survivor mode
+ Some of the voice acting is nice. Superb atmospheric sound effects
– Can get boring. Some of the voice acting is just plain shocking