A brutally honest insight into survivalist human nature.
I Am Alive has been a long time coming, first entering development at Darkworks in 2008, before being completed by Ubisoft. With a focus on survival, without the horror, I Am Alive presents a brutally honest depiction of what the world and human nature will be like when civilization as we know it comes to an end.
What I Am Alive Got Right
The Event - I Am Alive aims to be a true survivalist adventure, taking place a year after civilization as we know it has ended. We’re never fully informed about what has happened, but that’s all part of the mystery. The paths of destruction and deadly amounts of dust offer hints as to the nature of “the event”, but we are never meant to know for sure.
Limited visibility and a surprisingly compelling narrative will suck you in for the 5-6 hour adventure, which can be extended by being a nice person and rescuing all of the survivors. I found myself intending to check it out for a few minutes initially, and still playing two hours later. You’ll want to know what happens next and immerse yourself as the Event continues to unfold.
It’s intuitive - I Am live doesn’t do much to innovate the action-adventure genre, but it doesn’t need to. If you’ve ever played a third person climb-around adventure, you’ll feel right at home with the addition of stamina.
Everything in I Am Alive is scarce, including your own stamina and health. Running, hanging around in dust and climbing -- which you’ll be doing a lot -- all reduce your stamina. Resting allows most of it to be replenished, but if you push yourself too far, the size of the meter will decrease, and won’t allow full potential until you use a rare item to heal.
That’s where I Am Alive comes into its own. Generally, there are obvious resting areas, but sometimes you’ll have to tactically plan ahead and ensure you have the energy and supplies to avoid falling to a grim death.
Survivalist - I Am Alive isn’t shy about the reality of survivalist human nature. You can often save people from being murdered for a small amount of food or even inhumanly raped, but only if you so choose. Combat plays a key role in establishing planet Earth after the breakdown of society. Bullets are limited, so most kills will be executed by machete. Some survivors will leave you alone if you don’t venture too close, while others are looking for trouble. Gangs, meanwhile, will nearly always want to fight. The best tactic is to let the leader approach you, take him down with a swift knife to the throat, quick-fire at anyone with a gun and bluff your way past the rest, hoping they don’t notice your lack of ammo.
It’s a unique take on combat, and always results in one of two possible outcomes: you either breeze past, or it all goes horribly wrong and results in antagonizing death.
Characters - As one of the good guys in a world turned bad, your objective is to reunite with your family whom you haven’t seen since the Event. However, it’s easy to get sidetracked, and you’ll quickly be united with a young girl named Mei, who has also been separated from her family. While she acts as the token helpless girl that fuels the need to perform a number of quests, the character actually adds a lot to the story and the dynamics at play. It injects a human element into the otherwise depressing, destructive world.
What I Am Alive Got Wrong
Morality fails - I Am Alive clearly is meant to offer a moral compass. The player is meant to be divided between survival and their own moral conflicts. However, it doesn’t really play out that way. You have the choice to help some other people, but the rewards aren’t worth it, and you’re constantly forced into violence. When a gang approaches, you know you’ll have to murder each and every one of them. It would have been great to be able to avoid conflict more often.
Checkpoints - “Replays” are gained as items through the game and allow you to restart from your last checkpoint, rather than the beginning of each episode. It is pointless to have a set number of replays in this day and age, considering the episodes aren’t all that long. Later in the game, trial and error becomes a key element along with a string of constant death, especially on the hardest difficulty. The replays system serves only as a vehicle for frustration.
Can become repetitive - While most mechanics are executed very well, I’d be lying if I said they felt fresh from beginning to end. Combat is more or less the same throughout the game, with an increase in difficulty, and there’s only so much wall-scaling one can accomplish. However, that’s exactly why it’s a shorter downloadable game, and not a 20 hour full retail release.
The Final Verdict
I Am Alive continues the rise of downloadable games with an atmospheric world, compelling story and well executed gameplay. It channels the survivalist instinct into some interesting combat, and has you wanting to find out what happens next after the breakdown of society. It has a few minor flaws, but these are easy to overlook when considering the value and the frankly disturbing insight into the harsh realities of survivalist human nature.
By Ben Salter