After years of wondering if this game would ever see the light of day, I Am Alive is finally upon us. I Am Alive begins with a man returning to his home town after a catastrophic event has devastated civilization. The event is never detailed, but whatever happened caused earthquakes, floods, and huge clouds of dust to cover cities. The character was away on business when the event took place, but after a year he has finally made it home. This is where his journey really begins.
The world of I Am Alive is a dead one. Dust covers everything, so for the most part everything is gray; gray to the point of being bland. A sun ray may peak through the thick gray clouds, but that’s as close as it gets to a sunny day. Buildings, bridges, and other structures have been cracked, broken, and torn to pieces by earthquakes and trimmers. The terrain isn’t the friendliest, but in this post-apocalyptic world there is no choice but to explore a bit to find the little resources that are left. Food, water, and other various items are littered about the city that may help on the player’s journey – or perhaps someone else’s.
The hostile terrain means doing a lot of climbing, but the act isn’t simple. In an attempt to separate I Am Alive from other games a stamina bar has been put into effect. Anything that requires effort (such as running, jumping, climbing, falling, or fighting) takes stamina, and not having enough of it may mean falling off a ledge or losing a struggle with an opponent. Moving through heavy dust burns additional stamina on top of any activity being done, and sometimes that leads to desperately looking for a place to get above the dust. Luckily, not doing an activity that takes stamina will recharge it quickly.
Running out of stamina doesn’t mean an instant game over. Tapping the stamina button uses extreme effort to pull through a tough spot when the character is out of stamina. The downside of using extreme effort is that it reduces overall stamina capacity until something is consumed that will raise it back to 100%. These are important things to keep in mind since the tipped over skyscrapers, hanging train cars, and other obstacles turn the city into a jungle gym.
Most of the climbing segments are more like vertical mazes than platforming. There are usually multiple routes to take, and these will branch off even further. To be clear, however, there is usually only one correct route to take. While climbing stamina is constantly burning, so moving to the wrong stone, pipe, ladder, or support beam may lead down the wrong path; leaving insufficient stamina to make the trek back. On top of dealing with stamina there are weak points on structures that must be scrambled over to get to the next stable point. It’s very nerve-racking to be 20 stories in the air on a support beam that’s sliding down as it’s being climbed.
Climbing is a big part of the game, but so are the people. Life is sparse, and because resources such as food and water are tough to come by, many have formed groups or gangs to survive. Some people allow the player to pass peacefully and some are more hostile. Some just want to be left alone and will protect themselves as needed. Others, however, will try to take what the character has and leave him for dead.
Players are only armed with an empty gun to start, but soon after will find a machete. As sparse as food and water is, ammo is spread even thinner. But even if the main character doesn’t have ammo the enemy doesn’t know that. He can bluff by aiming the gun at them, which may cause them to cower in fear or, at the very least, back away. Bluffing doesn’t work forever though, and sometimes it doesn’t work at all. Bluff long enough with no action and enemies will eventually figure it out and attack. If they are in a group and at least one person in the group has a gun they will not hesitate to shoot, bluffing or not.
With ammo being rare for most of the game there’s a need to find ways to take out enemies in other ways. In group scenarios, not bluffing will sometimes cause enemies to approach with their guard down. With this method players can get the jump on at least one of them with a surprise machete attack. Also, if the dominant person in the group is identified and killed first a bluff on the rest will carry more weight.
The combat can feel a bit repetitive; come across enemies, sneak kill one, shoot or bluff the rest. As the game progresses, enemies start to come in larger groups and some are covered in body armor from head to toe; forcing the use of precision aiming to find an unarmored spot. Also, there will be several areas where it’s possible to surprise enemies and take out one or two before the fight even begins. Unfortunately, the game has no options for stealth killing. Even if sneaking up behind someone is successful, they pretty much have to be tapped on the shoulder and then engaged in combat. With the minimal resources available, I was disappointed that stealth combat was left out of the game.
Another disappointing thing was the missed opportunities when it came to ambushing or surprising me. There were so many times going through cramped hallways or areas with lots of ambush points where I thought to myself, ”someone’s going to pop out here and kill my ass,” and it just never happened. There was one point where I heard a woman calling for help and when I got to her three guys ambushed me. This only happened one time. Putting more events like this in the game would have made me think twice about helping people and made the game play more engaging.
Besides that one woman, there are many other people that need help. Helping them typically involves giving them an item, which creates a reward versus resource situation. Helping victims rewards a retry, which allows restarting at a checkpoint after death instead of the beginning of a chapter. Players will need to weigh if they can spare that medical kit or afford to use that bullet to free someone, rather than keeping the resources. A lot of items people need are off the main path of the journey; not being the exploring type means there may have no choice to but leave someone to their doom.
There is additional equipment to collect that will help on the journey. Pitons will allow resting while climbing, where as the grappling hook will help access hard to reach places. The gas mask allows for staying in heavy dust longer, while body armor lets the character take some extra damage before losing health.
On the weapons side there is a bow with a retrievable arrow. Arrows are said to be scarce, but I only ever had the one so I think they are non-existent besides the one you get. The bow came in handy as a great way to save pistol ammo. Another weapon is the shotgun. To be perfectly honest, the end of the game would have been much more difficult without this godsend. Unlike other equipment the shotgun isn’t just handed over; but I’m not going to give the secret away.
Something I would have liked to see more of is consequences for different actions. There are a lot of people that only want to protect themselves and they will point a gun at anyone who comes close; back off and they will stand down. Most of these people can be killed with no consequence. There was one time I came across a group of people after scaling a tall building and when they saw me they jumped to their feet. I noticed they all had guns, so without a second thought I killed them all. I went up to the next floor only to find more people and talked to a boy who said, “Have you seen my parents? They were downstairs.”
Once I heard that I ran the scenario back through my head and realized that the people downstairs never pointed their guns at me; I was too quick on the trigger. I actually felt bad for killing the boy’s parents. By the next time I rolled through that area he’d found out that I had killed his parents and was afraid of me. On top of that, other adults in that area where either afraid or more hostile to me. Besides dynamic game play, this is probably one of the most memorable moments for me of I Am Alive. If there were more moments like this I think I Am Alive would be a more memorable game in general.
While the game isn’t buggy, I did run across a few bugs. Some were just annoying, like the flashlight not turning on when I needed it to, or it cutting off in the middle of a gunfight in the dark. Others were infuriating, like being unable to climb to the next rock within my reach – leading to my death – or when the entire game locked up on me. Twice. Something that isn’t really a bug but still annoying is when enemies charge at the character without ever being in their line of sight. The game isn’t riddled with bugs, but when I came across these it was not a pleasant experience.
Ubisoft Shanghai had a chance to make this game an unforgettable experience, but I wouldn’t even call it a must play. I Am Alive could have been a better game, but it’s by no means a bad game. I think many will enjoy its fun and challenging climbing aspects, but don’t come in expecting an engaging story or great action-oriented gameplay. The ending is left open for a sequel, so hopefully Ubisoft Shanghai (or whoever gets it next) will learn from these mistakes and make the next I Am Alive the game it deserves to be.