A game we decided to play in public – check out our playthough of ‘I am Alive’ on youtube in our playlist.
Can a game that went through development hell really be worth your time, and was it worth the wait?
Can a game survive being relegated from AAA to downloadable title?
Is ‘I am Alive’ a fully-fleshed game or the charred remains of what could have been?
First announced in e3 2008 as Ubisoft’s now famous “one more thing” moment, ‘I am Alive’ was originally intended to be a triple A title. however something happened during it’s development it ended up being passed around Ubisoft’s internal developers and ended up as a download title in 2012.
As we all know any game that goes through such a protracted development process is never going to live up to it’s promise. Unfortunately ‘I am Alive’ does fall foul of it’s past in several major ways.
The first of these is the controls, oh my god the controls. They are intrinsically linked to the direction the camera is pointing; when the camera changes direction so too does the direction forward is on the analogue stick. This led to some frustrating moments (and a few deaths) during my time with the game. Is it game breaking? No of course it isn’t. I equate it to the original ‘Resident Evil’ ‘tank’ controls – you learn its eccentricity and you can then compensate for them. In saying this you make progress in spite of the controls, not because of them.
The second major issue is the story that the game follows. It kicks off with your character (who never gets named; or if he did I completely missed it. I called him Jeff) searching for his family. He has spent the past year walking across America in the hope of finding his wife and daughter. He arrives home and it is empty. And so ends the search. What occurs next is a series of fetch quests with a girl called Mei, and man called Henry and a woman called Linda. The story was so flippantly told that I actually forgot that Jeff had his own family to look for.
In saying this though the side-story is quite well told, I became invested in the Mei and her mother, hell bent in trying to reunite them and it was satisfying when I succeeded.
Overall the story is awkwardly told and the ending will annoy some gamers out there with it’s ambiguity. Want a definitive end? Do not play this game.
Other issues are with the combat – it is hard to get used to because there are very strict rules about engagement. First you surprise kill the first guy, shoot the gun man, kick a guy off a ledge and struggle kill the last. This was a real shame as during the tutorial it suggests that you do not have to fight everyone, as the game progresses it becomes clear that choice is very much an illusion. An obvious casualty of the drop from AAA to download title.
Lastly there are parts of the game that rely on a frustrating trial and error premise to succeed, these are usually combat sections, but there are also a few climbing areas in which it took me a few tries to solve (again check out the youtube videos to see these).
It’s a real shame that these faults exist as the game does get a lot right, the atmosphere is superbly built through the plot device (or McGuffin) of a camera. At points you see what the camera see, it creates a distance and allows you to feel that Jeff is truly alone. It works well and it works with the tone of the world.
The world is an incredibly bleak one (it almost rivals TLoU on bleak levels, but inevitably falls very far from here), almost everyone you meet will be suspicious of you and more often than not they will attack you if you get too close. Some of these people are merely watching their own supplies others are genuinely evil..there are cannibals, criminals and bandits. In the other hand there are victims who need your help (and give you vital clues on the whereabouts of your family and lore).
The art style of the game also contributes to the game feeling bleak, desolate and isolated. It is almost grey scale with flashes of colour, when you’re in dust the drawing distance is reduced (in one scene it is almost impossible to see – but it happens only once and it is a real shame that dust storms didn’t play a bigger role). There are however a few times which you climb above the desolation and the colours bathe over you, creating a sense of freedom, the fact that these only happen after particularly gruelling climbing sections create a sense of achievement and satisfaction. When you climb back down the dread and depression showers over you making you feel physically drained.
Overall everything about the world feels oppressive and you can never truly relax – survival of the fittest indeed.
As you progress through the story you’ll see little vestiges of humanity (you’ll even be welcomed into one) that shows that maybe all is not lost…only some. However the end betrays this tone somewhat and as a result it is very unsatisfying.
As an idea ‘ I am Alive’ is a superb one, I was excited to traverse a city that had fallen foul of mother nature, i wanted to see everything that it had to offer, struggling for food and water. Idea’s only carry a game so much. Rather than being a survival game – food is reduced to nothing more than a medipack, water a stamina fuel…this game falls short of it’s potential and it is a real shame.
Don’t misunderstand it is not a train wreck. I enjoyed my time in the world it created and I saw it through to it’s conclusion…i wouldn’t rush back but i don’t feel robbed of my 6 hours and i would play it again in the future. I left me with a sour taste in my mouth, i wanted this game to be so much more. What it could’ve been with a proper budget and development. A sequel would fix these obvious flaws and project the game towards greatness, that’lll never happen unfortunately. Another game with wasted potential left in the scrap heap of failed new I.Ps.
What are your thoughts on ‘I am Alive’?
Please tell us below in the comment section.