OXCGN’s I Am Alive Review
Dead in the Dust?
©2012 Gav Ross
After more than five years in production – including a change in developers in 2010 – the latest post-apocalyptic game has staggered onto the 360 with little fanfare.
Weighing in at a hefty 1.7 gigabytes, I Am Alive is far from bite-sized; and it’s a reasonably meaty single-player experience, although its jarring introduction fails to impress.
It’s the end of the world as we know it… again
Something sinisterly dubbed ‘The Event’ took place around 365 days before, obliterating most of the world’s population, leaving sparse numbers of survivors left to fend for themselves in a crippled society.
Want to know the cause of ‘The Event’, or even what the protagonist has been up to for the year prior?
Don’t expect any answers on that front.
The lead character wanders along deserted streets, the ashen landscape looking somewhat like downtown New York City hours after the September 11 attacks.
Shells of cars litter the roads and footpaths, parts of rotting buildings lay in crumbling heaps and the sun is a distant, pallid glow behind drifting, toxic clouds of dust.
Upon entering his old apartment, the man calls out fruitlessly to his wife and young daughter, their presence now only a fleeting memory.
It’s here that the obligatory flashback sequence should be expected, but it doesn’t come.
He’s only unfocused for a few moments, however, until he glimpses a girl who looks suspiciously like his daughter in an old car park across the road from his former home.
Rescuing her from a pack of hoodlums reveals she’s actually not his offspring, but a needy youngster named Mei.
Mei wraps her arms around the stranger’s neck and grips to his back like a little helper monkey.
When it’s discovered that she’s ill and needs medicine, the man becomes even more focused.
Enemies in I Am Alive aren’t hideous mutant monsters suffering from radiation exposure following a worldwide catastrophe, nor are they cannibalistic aliens following up on their attack on earth. (Ed: Hurrah!)
They’re simply people, or, more precisely, the ones who somehow managed to survive the unexplained disaster.
The first time the protagonist comes across a frightened thug, a screen prompt pops up advising the player to draw their gun.
But what’s this extra message – ‘you have no bullets’?
No, this isn’t a game where your character wanders through environments piling up corpses with his trusty magnum, this game requires much more finesses.
After another early confrontation, the man picks up a machete; it’s not quite a round of bullets, but it’ll do.
From then on, combat becomes something that relies on intuition, judgment and, sometimes, luck.
Each and every aggressive outcast you come across is different; some will strut defiantly towards you looking like they expect nothing but a fight, others will hesitate, sometimes waiting for you to make the first move.
And when enemies come in packs of three or more, things get even more interesting.
Usually, the rooster of the pack will come forward, only to be silenced by a quick throat slash with the machete that requires precise timing.
If one of the others draws a gun after the quick-kill, you’re toast.
Dealing with enemies is a constant learning curve and a refreshing approach in a game such as this.
Judging the intent of non-player characters takes time, and there’s always going to be mistakes.
Very early on in the game my character came across an old woman standing at the doorway of an apartment block.
She was brandishing a rifle and vehemently shouting out to me that I wasn’t welcome.
Thinking she was simply an elderly citizen I could perhaps talk to or even breeze by without a fuss (she could have been protecting something valuable in the building, after all), I put my arms up nonchalantly in a surrendering pose and started towards her.
Less than a second later my character was lying crumpled on the ground, blood from a bullet sound oozing from his skull, while the lady could be seen turning away back into the building like she’d just shot a pesky rabbit.
I will survive
Limited resources mean just that….limited.
Forget about picking up health packs every five minutes – there’s only one to be found in the first hour of play.
There are small doses of painkillers to be had more often, but their effect is minimal.
If your character cops a strike in a fight, the health bar can go down by as much as half, and, to make things even more interesting, there’s no recharging.
There are times when your character can literally wander around for half an hour with only an ounce of life left, the screen pulsating with a red glow at the sides to indicate your moments away from a retry.
Retries – there’s another aspect sure to make palms sweat.
Each level – or episode, as they appear to be called – comes with a couple of retries.
Fall to your death or bleed out and you’ll be cast back to a recent checkpoint, using up a retry.
Run out of those and you’ll be thrown right back to the start of the level.
Next to the ever-present health bar is another meter sure to frustrate – the stamina bar.
Everything your character does is linked to his diminishing level of stamina, for better or worse.
Climbing pipes, ladders and poles in order to reach higher levels of buildings, shopping centres and bridges is where stamina is truly tested.
If your character isn’t fast enough traversing around something above ground his stamina will soon drop to a dangerous level, causing loss of health.
There are a few items to be picked up along the journey to help with climbing sections – such as water bottles to increase stamina for a few seconds – but run out of those and you’re history unless your clambering is swift.
Finish the game once on ‘normal’ mode and you’ll be granted the opportunity to play again on ‘survival’ mode – which is the same game and difficulty, just with less pick-ups.
There’s little reason to play through again, but it’s nice the extra challenge has been included.
Its grainy, pixellated graphics and awkward movement animations (wait’ll you see what the guy looks like when he slides down a rooftop) won’t win the game any technical achievement awards.
But as a survival-driven, nail-biting gaming experience, I Am Alive succeeds.
If only playing through it didn’t feel so much like work.