A good survival game forces the player to make decisions that dictate whether or not they will succeed in the game and survive its outcome. Thus, it’s fair to say that games within the survival genre are, themselves, made and broken by decisions. Did I Am Alive make the right ones?
Many may not know, but I Am Alive has been a developmental idea since 2008. Since that time it has been passed amongst a handful of developers, causing the game’s scale to be reduced from a full retail release to a downloadable title. However, don’t let that lull you into believing that I Am Alive is anything short of an incredible gaming experience – an experience that will have gamers reflecting over every decision made, every life spared, and every bullet spent.
The story of I Am Alive is stereotypical for the survival genre. We all know how this goes: an apocalyptic incident occurs (referred to as the “Event”), humanity is left in shambles, and unnamed protagonist is trying to return home, obviously driven by aspirations to reunite with his family.
Now, while the framework may be typical- the story and game play is anything but. One of the first things players will notice is tat the protagonist chronicles his difficult quest with a camcorder which is utilized periodically as a cut-scene mechanic, showing players the story from a different angle and adding subtle point of view and realism elements to the game which feel interestingly refreshing.
Predictably enough, human society following the “Event” is hostile and quite wary of strangers and, as a result, interacting and manipulating bands of deranged survivors quickly becomes a very important skill set to learn. I Am Alive pits our lone hero more often than not against groups of 3+ enemies- making surprise machete kills, bluffing with an empty gun, and kicking guys into ravens and off of rooftops intense experiences, to say the least.
Making these altercations all the more suspenseful (and rewarding) is the fact that checkpoint reloads are limited; too many mess-ups and it’s back to the beginning of an area you go. Nevertheless, your good deeds make up for some of these problems as honorable actions (mainly helping other survivors) are rewarded with earn extra retries. This help usually involves spending a few moments searching for, or attending to, the needs of other survivors- bringing an asthma inhaler to an elderly man, finding food for the hungry, and mending the injured. Generally speaking, however, these instances are typically “side-missions,” allowing players to decide whether or not to partake in any given situation, and choice is, above many other factors, one of the most important aspects to survival gaming.
All of this said, the true rewards within helping others is that it provides are the morsels of story-expanding dialogue that shed light on the ambiguous “Event” which left the world a dusty wasteland. Yes, you can go straight through this very open-world without helping others or veering from the “main storyline,” but this will cut down on your understanding of the mythology behind why the world has become so desolate.
This main storyline is driven by what some are referring to as Uncharted/Infamous meets the survival genre. Now, while I will say that this game is by no means on the level of those two references in terms of size and fluidity, its mechanics are cognizant of both. Parkour in a post-apocalyptic world wouldn’t be easy, and the developers made sure to include that feel in-game. Scuttling up drain pipes, across window ledges, and swinging from grappling hooks feels a bit loose, making it easy to “accidentally” miss your intended path. This at times can become rather frustrating- especially with the limited retry system of the game.
Intensifying matters is a “stamina meter” that drains while climbing. Without playing the game, this implementation might seem like a small change, but it is one which entertains big consequences within the game and adds a sense of realism to parkour elements that has yet to be seen in the genre. During the climbing sequences, when the meter runs dry, unless you have the necessary items to replenish your energy, or a climbing “piton” which allows the character to rest, you’re liable to fall to your death.
Referring to I Am Alive as “just a downloadable game” would be a mistake- this is a title that makes surviving in a broken world a gripping experience. But, it does have its flaws. One of my biggest gripes about the game is that our hero vigorously writes every detail of the city on his map (which is accessible at any time while playing), but never makes any notes as to the locations of survivors. Secondly, there are some glitching and clipping issues with the map and enemies. Now, while these don’t necessarily break the game, they do diminish the in-game mood when they occur.
Great survival games have been hard to come by in our current console generation. Most either focus too much on the action elements, or the inventorying and conserving elements of game play. However, I Am Alive proves that developers can find a healthy balance between these two facets while simultaneously finding room for innovation. The hazy, harsh atmosphere, the constant struggle to find supplies, decisions about how/when to use them, and the struggle with parasitical scavengers transported me into a world reminiscent of films such as I am Legend and novels like Cormac McCarthy’s: The Road. This game finds an interesting stability between inventive game play and despairing scenarios and makes itself a formidable title which should not be missed by fans of the survival genre.
I Am Alive is available now on Xbox Live and is set to be available on the Playstation Network in April.
Final Score: 4/5
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