I Am Alive has a familiar storyline with a fantastic setting of a post-apocalyptic world in the dismal aftermath of a calamitous “event.” The greatest challenge our protagonist faces is finding his wife and daughter, who are lost in this dystopic, monochromatic expanse of rubble, tangled metal structures and toxic fog. The plot is advanced via cut-scenes taken from the protagonist’s video camera, and replayed on the LCD monitor.
The game’s environment renders a palate of stark blacks, greys, browns and reds that sets an emotional tone of desperation and loneliness. What is immediately apparent is how effective the onscreen tutorials are. One of my biggest problems with games is how non-intuitive and needlessly cumbersome tutorials can be in video games. I Am Alive‘s tutorials (and the hints during game-play) are direct and easy to follow, so you can carry on climbing, running, opening gates and smacking thugs in the head.
One innovation in the game mechanics that Ubisoft has introduced is the limiting of “retries” in the game (the chance to redo your last actions in the game) and putting these retrials partially in the hands of the player. Completing a chapter in the game will give you three retries. For even more chances to redo your actions after you die in the game, you have to pick up as many “retries” as you can in the form of glowing shapes hidden within the structures of buildings. Once you grab them, you will have the ability to reattempt the game action from your last checkpoint. I like the feeling that I can control (to a greater extent anyway) how many times I’m able to try a sequence in the game again, as opposed to just being handed a silver spoon of redos without limits.
I Am Alive‘s movement controls are very similar to those of the Assassin’s Creed series. The protagonist is no master of parkour like Ezio and Altair, so he can’t skip and run up buildings. But Assassin’s Creed players will find the controls for his other moves of climbing and moving along the edges of buildings, walls, etc., very familiar. Players will appreciate the usefulness of pitons (found in various hidden areas of buildings) that saved my life on more than one occasion as my stamina ran out while climbing, stretching and swearing my way up rock faces, dusty walls and iron pipes.
The game’s combat controls are somewhat simplistic at first glance. This could be because the designers wanted to put more emphasis on the psychological overtones of the main character’s ability to bluff his way out of situations with a gun. Taking out the weapon (a gun inside the protagonist’s knapsack in the beginning of the game) tends to intimidate his weaker thug opponents who are constantly trying to defend their turf of rubble and rebar. When you are wounded in the game (and have low health), there’s an annoying heartbeat sound that constantly drones on. So while you freak out at the sight of your blood-jellied screen, you will not be able to improve your health until you find some medicine.
I’m throwing down the gaming gauntlet to all dad gamers. I Am Alive can be a challenging game, which is what makes it such a quality game to play. You need these skills and habits of mind to play this game:
- know your movements and how well you can execute them (this will become more apparent as you use more challenging climbing tools and make use of more complex maneuvers.
- understand that the game is like a series of graphic puzzles, and following the visual markers will enable you to do what you have set out to do — find your beloved wife and daughter and beat down any one who stands in the way.
- understand that the unknown potential of the weapon you carry is more intimidating and, in the end, stronger than when it’s casually discharged in “shoot first, talk later” moves in playing the FPS game genre.
I Am Alive‘s stamina system seems cumbersome at first glance. Why the hell am I getting so tired just climbing this damn wall? But, being forced to balance out and apportion your stamina in the game adds a very intense level of realistic difficulty to the game. For one, it forces you to slow down as you are climbing that wall, or scaling that building, or just hanging on for dear life. When you are climbing, you will lose stamina quickly, so look for those valuable fruit cocktails and bottles of water and inhalers to replenish your reserves of chutzpah. You will need every bit for the challenges ahead.
I Am Alive‘s appeal as a challenging, intelligently crafted game is obvious. Plus, saving the wife and kids will be a strongly motivating theme for those of us who are dads first and gamers second. Ubisoft Shanghai has raised the bar. Now we just have to edge, step, reach, and scratch our way to find the top of our game.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a review sample of this video game.