I Am Alive Review: More Man vs. Wild Than Survivorman

Xbox Live Arcade has been in full swing these past few months, with several big name releases. Among them, was the release of Alan Wake’s American Nightmare which was a new take on an existing franchise. There was another big title, with lots of promise, I Am Alive. This was intended as a new take, on an old genre. The promise was a post apocalyptic survival game, where the focus is on survival, and not horror as so many games are. So did it live up its promises?

The game takes place in Haventon, a fictional city, as a man named Adam returns to the city. He has trekked across the country by foot, surviving along the way, trying to return to his wife and daughter. He was on a trip, and stranded across the country due to a cataclysm known only as “The Event”. Since then, all civilization has broken down, the world is now a post apocalyptic wasteland where resources are scarce and so is trust. We begin the story with Adam entering the city, and trying to make his way to his old home. The story deviates from there, when he sees someone he thinks is his daughter. The story then becomes more about him helping this girl and her family escape the city, with the original plot left by the wayside.

Significant parts of the story are told through the use of “found footage”, since Adam has a video camera he is using to create a sort of video journal of his trip for his family. Who is watching the video is actually never made fully evident. I won’t go much further into it, as to avoid spoilers. However, I can say, that the story ends in a cliffhanger. It may very well be that they intend this to be an episodic series, although the way the cliffhanger works leaves this very ambiguous. All in all, it’s an interesting premise, without any real payoff. That said, the short part of the story you get to see in this episode is satisfying.

Unfortunately, the story is mostly linear. Meaning you will just move from plot point to plot point. There are side quests, helping out random strangers, but they all involve fetch quests. Although they will add some backstory to the world once you complete their quest in the form of telling you their story. However, it is largely just going from point A to Point B, completing whatever tasks you’ve been set in whatever order you’re expected to.

This is easily the weakest part of I Am Alive and there are a couple of reasons why. However, let’s talk about what they get right first, and that’s the health and stamina system. Two resources that are essential to get things done in the game. Stamina is required for most any task, from running, to climbing, to walking in the heavy dust storms that blanket the city. It depletes at a consistent rate that feels realistic for the tasks you do and can be replenished by resting for a few seconds, or consuming and item that restores it, like water .

However, where it gets even better is, unlike most games where as soon as your bar runs out you die, they take a more realistic approach. Once your stamina runs out, say, if you’re climbing, your character is forced to make a more drastic effort, as you now have to keep pulling the Right Trigger, to keep him holding on. Each second that passes permanently lowers his stamina capacity, and once it’s all gone, he loses his grip and falls. Even if you make it, your stamina is permanently lowered, unless you can find an item to restore the bar to its full potential again. If you do die from one of these encounters, you get a retry. You get three at the beginning of each chapter by default and you can collect more by finding cameras hidden in the world, or helping out victims.

However, there are unfortunately too many places where the game goes wrong. The least of them is the platforming elements. This wasn’t quite apparent in most previews, but the game features platforming elements akin to those of Assassin’s Creed or Uncharted. However, unlike both of those series, the controls aren’t quite as good. That’s not to say it’s bad, but it does take getting used to, and can be rife with annoyances. Often when climbing, your character goes in directions you had not directed him, often due to bad camera angles. However, the biggest issue comes from the fact that you have to press the A button to climb onto ledges. This becomes a huge hindrance as it doesn’t flow naturally, and doesn’t always work right. With every moment in your climb being crucial due to your constantly depleting stamina, those split seconds where you can’t get up to the ledge can be frustrating.

The game also has issues with combat. Honestly, the game really should have been given a cover system that could be used for proper sneaking. Too often you’re put into combat situations with no way out. It can be an enjoyable challenge to work out how to take out a group of enemies, but oftentimes, the controls get in the way. One of the touted features is the ability to use the environment to kill enemies in order to preserve what few bullets you have, but these kinds of environmental hazards are rare. Even when you do have them, enemy AI rarely works as it should, so directing them with your gun usually just elicits blank stares from them. There’s no way to order them into a kneeling position to knock them out, it seems to happen at random. On top of that you need to be careful of approaching too closely, lest you accidentally trigger a struggle kill, which leaves you wide open to all of the other enemies around you.

That said, the biggest issue with I Am Alive lies in the fact that it doesn’t live up to its central premise. It’s not a survival game. It’s a shooter with no bullets. There is no scavenging, no work to be done to survive. Items to replenish health and stamina are casually strewn about the world, and you just pick them as you walk along. There’s no need to make or find shelter. No need to scavenge for useful parts, maybe make weapons out of them. Or useful items for day to day use. No worry about keeping fed or hydrated, and keeping your weapons maintained. Everything is handed to you so you can move onto the next fight. If you want that kind of deep survival gameplay, you’re better off playing Fallout New Vegas on Hardcore Mode.

Sound & Visuals
If there is one place where I Am Alive can be said to have done well is in these two aspects. From a purely technical standpoint, the visuals are competent. Nothing special, but certainly well done. However, from an artistic standpoint, they are extremely well done. The environments really evoke a sense of desolation and devastations, in a way that feels real and totally immersive. Walking through dust clouds, at night, or in dark tunnels, really gives the world a sense of urgency and foreboding. There is a clear sense that people lived here, and what they were doing when The Event happened, and how life just stopped for so many.

A huge help in complementing the visuals is the sound. It’s extremely well done. It really helps set the mood, especially in dangerous or precarious situations. The way the music changes when your stamina runs low, or when an encounter is about to get ugly. Or even in certain eerie situations in the environment. It lends a real sense of tension and urgency to events in the game.

Final Thoughts
So all in all, if you’re coming expecting a survival game, you’ll be disappointed. To be honest, it’s not a bad game, and it has some clear potential, if they expand on what they have here. However, as it is, the game has too many frustrations, and missed opportunities. It’s a decent title for a few hours to pass the time, but it doesn’t deliver on it’s promises.

Score: 6/10


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