There’s no denying that some games just have a shaky production history. Announced one year then pushed back the next, a game might change hands, release dates, even whole studios before it sees the light of day…maybe. I Am Alive is a recent example. Originally the project of Darkworks in 2008, a ‘mutual decision’ and other obligations lead to the development reigns being passed to Ubisoft’s Shanghai studio in 2009. From then on, it was pushed back again and again, but still the project was kept going, even surviving a slew of unnamed cancellations in May 2011, the fabled Beyond Good & Evil 2 the only other game to come out unharmed. Now after nearly four years, the game finally sees the light of day; and it doesn’t seem to be what anyone expected.
One year after a cataclysmic event leaves the world devastated, Adam returns to the fictional city of Haventon. In search of his wife and daughter, Adam must use his wits, skill and whatever he can find to help him navigate and explore the post-apocalyptic ruin. He’ll also need to be ready to fight, as not all survivors are welcoming.
For a game that seems custom-built for hours of exploration, I Am Alive is extremely linear. While it looks like there’s lots to explore, there’s only ever one route you can take, and any deviations are simply there to let you walk around obstacles on the path. Someone in development must have thought this was too hard to follow though, as objectives and collectible items glow like neon lights. This basically turns travelling into hand-holding.
When you encounter a group of survivors, it’s very likely you’ll end up in combat with them. Some survivors give warnings while others will attack you, but there’s no middle ground so you can tell quite quickly who will do what. There’s even less strategy when it comes to taking them on. You have three methods of attack: A surprise attack, a gun/bow (if you have ammo) or machete, and intimidation, which causes people to back away from you until they reach a ledge or bonfire, whereupon you can kick them backwards to their death. Survivors are also classed as either strong or weak, and taking out the strong will cause the weak to surrender, letting you knock them out with ease.
It certainly sounds like there’s variety, but once you’ve been in one fight, you’ve been in them all. Each plays out the same way: Surprise attack one, shoot any with a gun and intimidate the others. For those running at you, shoot the confident and the rest will fall. Strategy just comes down to working out who has a gun, but even if you die you have retries, letting you pick up from where you left off with no penalty. You can also take more than one hit, unlike enemies, and you’re faster with a gun.
Considering he claims he’s never fired a gun in the opening cut-scene and seems keen to avoid confrontation, Adam’s very accurate with his shots and quite brutal with the machete, slicing the necks of people in a most gruesome manner. He doesn’t show any remorse or emotion either, and the game doesn’t stop so he can consider what he’s doing. This course of action makes even less sense with regard to the plot. While it would seem smarter to recruit allies or find a peaceful way to act with others, Adam would rather leave them or kill everyone on sight. This is no more obvious than with the novel take on escort missions, where Adam must take a little girl to a safe point with her literally strapped to his back. Given the personality seen, he would likely leave her regardless of what the plot says.
By far the best example of the game trying and failing is the stamina bar. Every major action requires stamina. Items or standing still restore it, and you can use pitons you find to create temporary points to rest during longer climbs. The problem is it’s inconsistent. While it goes down quickly, the bar is immediately restored when you reach a surface you can stand on, while Adam is neither out of breath or showing signs of fatigue. Contradictorily, it does go down when you reach somewhere where you could rest while climbing, which counters what ‘resting’ does. Evidence for why this is seems tied to the plot. Adam doesn’t have a sleeping bag or anything resembling camping equipment, items usually used to help someone rest. Admittedly, the plot usually isn’t a gameplay issue, but when it seems to be directly effecting how the mechanics function it becomes one.
As for cut-scenes, these are split into two groups: events that happen to Adam and events that Adam records on a video camera. There’s nothing really wrong with them, they serve their purpose and there are a few engaging moments early on, but they seem awkward or unreal because of how Adam is recording them. It feels like the scenes could play out just as well if the camera was stationary, and there are quite a few times where it just seems bizarre that Adam doesn’t put down the camera so he can focus on what’s happening.
Everything looks like it belongs on a previous console generation. The aesthetic appears dull and washed out and at times is very difficult to focus on, especially when it seems blindingly white at times. Despite a linear path, it’s difficult to see where to go next due to so much blending together, with objects like pipes or ledges seemingly one-dimensional because they’re impossible to find unless the character’s right in front of them. Character models look lifeless and cold, the environment feels incomplete, while textures seem clunky and unfinished and you run in place when colliding with anything non-collectable, as though you’re moving against a brick wall. In short, these are the kinds of things seen in early Resident Evil games, and that’s not a good sign when that was over ten years ago.
Music and sound effects are used sparingly, but what little there is quickly becomes annoying and predictable. The worst offender is once again the stamina bar. Easily triggered by even the slightest use, the music tries desperately to create tension for this. But when it triggers even if you’re hanging from a ledge mere inches from the ground, it just becomes laughable. The same is true for the voice-acting. While there’s more of it than any music or effect, it’s no less riddled with problems. Minor characters and enemies seem to emote in a way that matches their actions and situation but it’s just the one emotion. Major characters either can’t decide what emotion they have or are completely devoid of them. But the most lifeless character is the protagonist, Adam. Monosyllabic often and sort of depressed sounding at other times, there are perhaps a handful of moments where he genuinely seems to convey something towards what’s happening. The rest of the time he’s a robot, bluntly pointing out what he needs to do or coldly killing someone else, despite, as stated before, having never fired a gun.
This is a game where any value to be had lies outside the wallet. Very little is on display, and playing the free demo isn’t so much a taste of the content, but the whole game in a nut shell. If you’re looking to design a game using the Unreal Engine, and want to avoid creating a by-the-numbers experience, this game is a perfect example of how not to do it.
I Am Alive is disappointing on two fronts. Firstly, it fails to separate itself from the myriad of other games set in a post-apocalyptic world. Secondly, it feels cobbled together and is flat-out boring. The game is devoid of character or soul, and what few interesting ideas it has are squandered and not taken far enough. An uneasy production history isn’t always the sign of a game with problems, but in this case it’s a dead give-away, leaving us with a product that seems to want money but not give anything in return. If three words is enough for the title, then I’ve got a better one. Do Not Purchase.
AAG Score: 3.5/10
+ Stamina is an interesting idea
+ Novel twist on escort missions
- Extremely linear gameplay
- Combat devoid of any real challenge and strategy
- Bland aesthetic
- One-dimensional characters
- Appears unfinished
- Feels like a chore to play
Reviewed and Written By Andrew Jones