Imagine you got to play a video game version of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Awesome, right? Now imagine the gameplay is similar to Uncharted. Sounds like a game of the year candidate doesn’t it? It could’ve been but in the case of Ubisoft’s I Am Alive it isn’t even close.
After being in development hell since 2008, Ubisoft finally finished the game and released it as an Xbox Live Arcade title. The story takes place one year after an unidentified cataclysmic event that has left most of the world’s population decimated. You play as Adam, a man searching for his wife and daughter in the fictional city of Haventon. The city is in rubbles and you have to venture through it in order to find your family. Adam documents his journey through the wreckage by making videotapes for his daughter. The story isn’t all that original but it was interesting enough for me to keep playing through and I wanted to see how it ended.
I Am Alive is a platformer. Most of the gameplay revolves around climbing and exploring. There’s a stamina meter that depletes with every action that you do, from tiptoeing on a ledge to jumping up to higher ground. Everything depletes your energy but eating food can recover that lost stamina. However if your entire meter is empty and you’re still performing an action, a chunk of your meter will disappear, meaning your energy capacity will be significantly less. It can be recovered by drinking water but it becomes a nuisance especially during long stretches of climbing. Unfortunately for a game that relies on pinpoint controls, this is where the game falters the most. There were multiple times in which all I wanted to do was pull myself up onto a ledge but instead I would end up moving right or left causing countless fits of frustration. And speaking of frustration, the combat in this game is terrible. You have a gun but bullets are extremely rare. Your machete becomes your primary weapon. Enemies are fellow survivors fighting for any scraps they can find and hold onto. Groups of three or four approach you and combat consists of faking surrender, cutting a dude, picking up his ammo, shooting the other gun wielding enemy, rushing the next guy before he can get the gun and struggling with him until you eventually stab him. It’s lather, rinse and repeat the entire game through and gets pretty boring fast.
The game looks good enough. The dust clouds convey a foggy Silent Hill-ish atmosphere and Haventon truly looks like a DMZ. The voice acting is well done but the music can get annoying. When you’re in trouble of losing all your stamina this annoyingly tense music kicks in. This music is in synch with a specific part of your meter, so every time your stamina reaches that point the music starts causing you to rush even in situations that don’t require you to hurry.
I Am Alive shows signs of being good but at 1200 Microsoft points (or 15 bucks) the price might be too steep for almost. The premise is one we’ve seen before but it kept me hooked long enough to want to finish it. Even with the side missions it should take you no longer than 6 hours to complete, but with controls this frustrating and combat this lame it may become more of a test of patience than anything else.