The world has suffered its greatest cataclysm in recorded history. Rendered nearly uninhabitable, ash, dust, and destruction have spread across the face of the planet, leaving humanity a mere shadow of its former self. As things slide further into ruin, the remnants of humanity slide with it, at times becoming territorial, violent, and feral. I Am Alive, the long awaited and long delayed title that Ubisoft Shanghai has finally brought to our consoles as the final entry of this year’s XBLA House Party event, starts one year after “the Event,” with your character returning to his home in the fictional city of Haventon looking for his wife and daughter after a year long trek across the nation. Was it worth the wait?
Well, if you’ve been eagerly anticipating it since 2008, then you’ll probably be disappointed in what you get. Ubisoft was smart to move I Am Alive from its original retail packaging plan to the current downloadable title plan. In its current form, it does not have nearly enough content or polish to justify a retail packaging. As a downloadable game, the content and polish can be somewhat forgiven, though that’s slowly becoming less and less the case as some downloadable games are really stepping up and bringing some incredibly good looking content to our consoles.
As I mentioned, the story puts your character in Haventon, a fictional American city, as he looks for his wife and daughter. Now, given that he’s spent a year making his way across the ruins of the United States on foot, from one coast to the other, you’d think that finding his wife and daughter would take a much higher priority than it seems to take. Once he meets with a group of survivors in town, he becomes sidetracked by fetch quests and their goals, heavily detracting from the main point of the game.
Visually, the game has a very grainy and gritty look to it. There is a great deal of fuzz and contrast, with a very grayscale palette and occasional muted colors splashed throughout the city. Pickup items are thankfully highlighted with a bright glow, making them easier to locate and grab in a visual environment they would be lost in otherwise. The derelict ruins of the city and the aftereffects of the global catastrophe are generally well designed, and platforming options are fairly easy to locate and navigate. Character models are decent, and move well. Overall, while the game could look better, and needs a bit more polish, the game’s graphics do a good job of reflecting despair and resignation.
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There are two mechanics that really define I Am Alive: bluffing and stamina. While not perfect, the bluff mechanic is an interesting concept that could have benefited from a bit more depth and consistency. When faced with aggressive individuals, drawing your pistol, whether you have incredibly rare bullets in it or not, will give pause to all but the most determined or desperate of foes. This intimidation can be used to position enemies or keep them away. Firing your gun without any bullets, by accident or on purpose, will alert them that you are bluffing, and they become aggressive again. Put it away for even a moment, and they completely forget that you have a gun. With the incredible rarity of bullets in the game for you to pick up, it seems that enemies will have no end to their ammunition supply. Fortunately, you come across a bow and arrow in the game, with arrows that can be recovered and reused, providing a fairly steady source of ammunition.
Stamina is the second defining mechanic of I Am Alive, and it most often comes into play during platforming. Your stamina bar begins depleting as soon as you start climbing, and if you let it drain while still climbing, you will fall. There is a safety feature, called the last ditch effort, which can be activated by spamming the RT as soon as your stamina runs out, but this is very limited, and reduces your full stamina capacity. Stamina recovery resources exist in your inventory, to be used for recovering stamina mid-platform or for recovering your full stamina capacity. Being able to use these mid-platforming does take away from the urgency of successfully navigating platforms within your stamina limit, however you will find this very useful when battling the controls, which need sharpening. With the stamina bar limiting how long you can platform, and platforming areas designed to tax your stamina bar, you need sharp and responsive controls to navigate quickly and accurately. I Am Alive’s controls aren’t quite what they should be.
Thankfully, in cases of failure, I Am Alive has a save and checkpoint system. You start with three “checkpoint retries,” which are replenished at each save point (the checkpoint and the save point are different things). Additional retries can be earned in other ways, but relying on anything other than a save point retry is inadvisable. The retry will let you start from the most recent checkpoint. If you fail to reach a save point before running out of retries, you restart at the last save point, regardless of how many checkpoints you may have successfully passed since then. While the retries are nice, the punishment for failure can be very severe.
I Am Alive is not the strong finish to this year’s House Party event that many were hoping for. It’s not a failure, by any means, but it’s definitely not the star of the promotion either. At 1200MSP, it shares the top price tier of the promotion, but I find that it may have been better priced at 800MSP. The concepts are interesting, and work, but need a lot of polish to really be successful. It is, however, a great way of looking at post-cataclysm survival without resorting to mutation, monsters, or demons, pitting one man against a society that has completely fallen apart. At the very least, the concepts of this game deserve praise and recognition.
[review pros="Map automatically updates to reflect obstacles
Grainy visuals reflect the story and environment
Interesting bluff mechanics" cons="Controls need to be sharper
Checkpoint system punishes failure
Loses focus from main plotline" score=65]