Feels like only half a game
This is a game is a game I've been looking forward to since I first heard about it back in 2008. It was a survival-horror genre game with a few slight twists that showed a lot of potential, so when I heard it was coming out on XBLA, I admit I was a little deflated, especially given the development troubles. I Am Alive has been in development for over 4 years, essentially because Ubisoft out-sourced it to Darkworks (a dev company famous for making absolutely nothing of note), who apparently did such a terrible job, that when Ubisoft checked what they were up to, gave it a big red rubber stamp that said "NOPE!" and decided to do it themselves (you think they would've learnt from Splinter Cell!). So basically, everything that you've seen and read prior to about a year and a half ago has totally changed and is no longer true or relevant. So my usual practice of doing a little research about the game and it's development cycle before I write the review (because I'm enough of a geek to find stuff like that fascinating. You know those people who buy movies on DVD and Blu-Ray, and go straight to watching the version with director's commentary? Yeah, that's me), has pretty much gone out the window, because you can find one story about the game only for it to be totally contradicted by another story.
For example, here's a description I found on another gaming website:
I Am Alive has been in development for 3 years and will take place in Chicago (whether partly or fully is unknown). Throughout the game, your main mission will be tracking down your girlfriend, who Adam loses contact with following the earthquake. Your other goal will be to gather together enough survivors to gain the attention of the government rescue teams.
Three other characters have been revealed so far. Riley, a female doctor determined to save as many people as possible. Virgil, an African-American former soldier trying to protect the group of survivors and Peter, a disabled ex-fire captain who was responsible for setting up the refugee camp.
Now let me cross out the bits that didn't make the final cut:
I Am Alive
has been in development for 3 years and will take place in Chicago (whether partly or fully is unknown). Throughout the game, your main mission will be tracking down your girlfriend, whoAdam loses contact with following the earthquake. Your other goal will be to gather together enough survivors to gain the attention of the government rescue teams. Three other characters have been revealed so far. Riley, a female doctor determined to save as many people as possible. Virgil, an African-American former soldier trying to protect the group of survivorsand Peter, a disabled ex-fire captain who was responsible for setting up the refugee camp.
The reason why I mentioned the paragraphs above, is because there's a real feeling of half fleshed out ideas through-out the entire game. Oh, and this bit has changed too:
The game starts as the main character (who's name is Adam Collins, but I had to research that to find it out, because it never mentions it in the game, so who knows if that even IS his real name), makes his way back to the fictional city of Haventon (once again, it was originally meant to be Chicago), in search of his wife and daughter after a disaster that's not really explained beyond being referred to throughout the game as "the event". Basically, the entire city has gone to shit - half the buildings have fallen down, everyone has basically gone feral so it's every man for himself, and there's also a thick dust cloud that envelopes the entire city which makes it also near-impossible to survive in for more than a few minutes at a time.
The tasks that follow are the very definition of a survival game. I Am Alive is quite punishing in the way that it handles the basic health meter, which is split into two parts: your health bar, plus a stamina bar that drains when you do anything beyond walking. It's a method I've not seen in too many games, which at the start feels overly punishing, but makes for some truly gripping game-play that literally had me sweating on a few occasions, while I swore at my tv for him to climb or run faster.
The other main element that makes for some gripping gameplay is the preciousness of your possessions. You start off a gun that has no bullets, then eventually get yourself a machete, and if you're lucky enough, you'll pick up a bullet or two. At one point in the game I had 5 bullets, and I felt like the most powerful man alive. This is definitely not a game for the trigger happy. Every combat situation has you second-guessing everything, and trying for a better way to get out which, in a world full of Call Of Duty's nearly endless bullet supplies and your Assassin's Creed with it's effortless climbing ability, gives the entire game this sense of realism that makes for some truly panicked feelings that felt real. At one point I got jumped by 3 guys who were all armed and wanting to kill me and I instantly panicked and whipped out my pistol, wondering how long I could fool them into thinking that I actually had bullets in the chamber. It was a deep emotional investment into gaming that I seem to rarely feel lately.
If things during game-play weren't frantic enough already, you get 3 "lives" per level, known as Retries, before the game takes you back to the last save-point, which aren't manual, so there isn't any feeling of "oh well, I'll just race through this bit and get to the next bit, who cares if I die a few times doing so".
Along the way while trying to find your wife and daughter, there's a few other side-missions to be completed. Around the whole game, there's 20 strangers who need your help. This is usually easy enough in theory, however what the strangers need are usually really helpful items that you could always use for yourself. If you decide to not be selfish and help them out, you're rewarded with a Retry.
But, these great moments are let down by some horrible story-telling. It's full of half-told stories, character back-stories that don't really seem to logically add-up, plus even from the very start, I don't ever believe the motives of the main character - he's been travelling across the country for over a year looking for his wife and kid, yet he seems so overly-eager to risk his life to save people he met 5 minutes ago. Maybe I'm the cynical one here, but I just didn't believe the characters motives. The worst part of the story-telling is in the ending. I won't give anything away, but the game ends really suddenly, leaving the game completely unresolved with way more questions than answers, without so much of a hint at a sequel. It actually left me feeling quite ripped off. I WANT MY SEQUEL, DAMMIT.
Graphically, the game isn't the prettiest to look at - everything has a brown gravel shade to it, and most of the city is covered in a dust cloud, which reminded me a bit of cross between Alan Wake and Silent Hill in it's effects, but even up close a lot of the textures are rough and jagged. It feels a bit like it has a Monet quality to it - background scenery and anything that's supposed to be viewed at a distance is quite pretty to look at, but spin the camera around to get a close-up of Adam's face, and the graphics start to resemble a game you'd play on a PS2. A lot of the NPC characters that you meet along the way all look disturbingly similar, and oddly enough, judging by a lot of the home-made signs you see on the side of buildings that read things like "NEED WATER" and "GONE TO FIND FOOD", everyone in Haventon has exactly the same handwriting.
The other main thing that lets this game down is it's terrible controls. The combat is okay at times, but mostly feels awful and results in some awful QTEs, which could've been avoided if there was maybe more emphasis on stealth, or at the very least, some kind of cover-system. The climbing mechanics feels clunky and awkward at times too, which is especially frustrating given the short windows of time that you can use climbing up walls and buildings. I did fall and die a few times because the character climbed sideways rather than climbing up to safety.
I understand that given it was an XBLA release, they're limited in game file-size, meaning the game isn't as large as it could be, but I can't help but feel that this should have been a full-retail release. Everything about this feels cut in half. There's some great climbing puzzles, but it never feels like there's enough. The weapons are limited, and I feel like I could've done more with the bow and arrow weapon. The story, which I completed in a little under 5 hours, is only half-told and even then, is never resolved, the back-story about the main character is never told in any great detail, and all the victims you help out along the way are shallow and empty in their character depth.
I really wanted to love this game, and despite some rare moments of pure gaming joy, there's far too much wrong about this game to make it a satisfying gaming experience and anything I can really recommend with full confidence. It has horrible story-telling, terrible janky controls, awful combat, a storyline I didn't believe in with a super-short campaign that gives me very little incentive to play through again.
- some purely tense and exciting game moments
- good voice-acting
- an original premise
- clunky controls
- frustrating combat
- half-finished storylines
- shallow one-dimensional characters
- terrible ending