Giant Bomb Review

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I Am Alive Review

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I Am Alive starts with an exciting premise, but it's hard to imagine a wider gulf between the promise of its ideas and the reality of its execution.

Nobody said the apocalypse was going to be easy.
Nobody said the apocalypse was going to be easy.

For the first 30 minutes, I Am Alive seems like one of the most refreshing games to come along in years. You're a determined guy who's spent the last year trekking across a ruined America to get back to what's left of your hometown, where you hope your wife and daughter have eked out their survival among the wreckage, or at least managed to evacuate to a safer place. Sifting through the rubble won't be easy. This is a survival horror game without the horror, in which every single bullet is precious and the evil lurks not in hordes of zombies or a shadowy corporation, but within the base hearts of those formerly ordinary people who have traded their humanity for a better chance of staying alive. But there are just as many innocents in the city trying to get by without resorting to killing, and possibly eating, their fellow man.

The game focuses on the mundane exercise of surviving in a modern-day ruin, and makes an implied commitment to extreme realism by limiting your supplies and turning every encounter with other characters into a life-or-death affair--just like it would be, presumably, if the world really did end. In practice, I Am Alive breaks down pretty evenly into fetch quests, rote combat situations, and urban climbing sequences of the Uncharted variety, so it's already more video-gamey than its stark concept would suggest. Still, I was more than willing to stomach a few old-hat design tropes in the hope they would cohere into a unique and memorable experience. In that light, it's a real shame I Am Alive falls so far short of making good on any of its grandiose ideas, almost right from the get-go.

The most successful of I Am Alive's concepts is the focus on health and stamina as finite resources. Health never recharges after you lose it, but you can replenish it with predictably scarce food items. Stamina comes back quickly when you find a place to rest, but your total stamina capacity can drop if you push yourself past the limit in situations of duress. Those include any time you're climbing, or when you descend into the dusty netherworld of the city's street level. That Uncharted style of climbing has been criticized in the past for leading you by the hand with little chance of failure through absurdly dangerous situations, so I love the idea of adding some time pressure to your exploration. But the climbing controls are too awkward and unreliable to consistently get you where you want to go, so you often end up burning more stamina than you ought to. It's tough to comprehend the directions your character will sometimes climb when you're explicitly pushing a different direction on the stick. It's not fun.

The combat has some great ideas, if it only worked properly.
The combat has some great ideas, if it only worked properly.

That clumsiness extends to the often lethal instances when you're interacting with other human beings. Similar to the way stamina constrains your climbing, I was more than ready to embrace the idea that not every enemy wears his ill intent on his sleeve, and some people aren't exactly friendly but also aren't out to kill you just for the sake of malice. But the game takes such a bald three-tiered approach to presenting NPCs that it's hard not to feel cynical about it after 15 minutes. People are either attack-on-sight bad guys, immobile innocents who want you to fetch them items, or (in rare cases) people who are perfectly happy to let you pass by, as long as you don't pass too close.

It's the first group you'll spend the most time dealing with, as there are roving gangs all over the city ready to cut your throat just for laughs. Again, your methods of dealing with these guys break down into a tidy little list that includes shooting them, getting into a button-mashing "struggle kill" with your knife, kicking them into a fire or off a ledge, or performing a surprise throat-slash of your own if you let them approach you without attacking them yourself. It's that ability to threaten enemies that initially makes the combat seem interesting; if you don't pull your own weapon, enemies will saunter up to you, letting you get in that one crucial surprise kill without wasting one of your precious bullets... which you're not ever likely to have more than three or four of at a time. Once you do aim your gun (when the game switches to first-person), enemies with melee weapons will stop their advance, and you can even demand that they back away from you, which is handy for maneuvering them toward the nearest pit or fire.

The list of problems I ran into with the combat is a mile long. The biggest problem is that the special kill moves (and even the ability to threaten enemies back) all use the same button, and you're at the mercy of the game to provide you the right prompt to pull them off. But it's ridiculous how picky it is about where you and the enemy are standing, and how often it gives you the wrong prompt, or doesn't give you one at all. You might have a guy lined up with a fire expecting to kick him in, but instead you get the "struggle kill" prompt, which locks you into a button-mashing animation, and if there are other enemies around, they'll run up and cut you to death while you're trying to mash your way out of being totally defenseless.

I'm not holding my breath for a sequel to make good on this game's terrible ending.
I'm not holding my breath for a sequel to make good on this game's terrible ending.

I could give example after example. Armed enemies are always supposed to drop a bullet, but sometimes don't. Occasionally they dropped their guns on the level geometry in a way that prevented me from picking them up. Later on you get a bow and a single arrow, which is meant to be reusable, but the arrow disappeared several times after I used it, forcing me to restart to a checkpoint. Your retries are as finite as your health and stamina items, so it's inexcusable that you have to waste them so often just to make up for the game's basic mechanical failings. And don't even think about rolling back to a previous chapter via the ordinary-looking chapter select menu. When I did that, the game erased all of my progress past the chapter I picked, making me play through it all again.

All that wonkiness might be worth putting up with if I Am Alive made good on what initially looks like a highly personal story of struggle and hope, but it doesn't even do that. The game frames the tale with occasional shots of a camcorder on a table, showing sequences of your quest recorded by your character himself, but that device is never used for anything meaningful. Worse, you abandon the search for your wife and daughter after about 20 minutes, spending the rest of the game acting as an errand boy for other characters you meet with almost no reference to the primary, personal reason you're here in the first place. Then the game culminates in one of the hastiest, most ramshackle endings I've seen in ages, resolving almost nothing and leaving at least one major character pretty much totally unaccounted for.

I Am Alive is extra disappointing because it has so much potential right up front, and then wastes no time squandering all of it. Its premise is exciting but its promise goes wholly unfulfilled, and at some point you've got to stop lauding a game's good ideas and think about how much you actually enjoyed playing it.

Brad Shoemaker on Google+
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Avatar image for jd18b
Posted By jd18b

That's too bad....was looking forward to this one. I might pick it up if they ever have it on sale.

Avatar image for rekt_hed
Posted By Rekt_Hed

Really wish this title could of had a solid backing from its inception but this is what you get when a title changes hands to many times :/
Such a shame

Avatar image for schultz
Posted By SCHULTZ

Spot on review.

Had really high hopes starting out. By the time I was making my way back to the Mall after the skyscraper section, my patience had worn out.

It won't happen, but I'd like to see the developer patch this game to allow infinite retries in the level, or get rid of the diminishing permanent stamina mechanic.

Avatar image for phatmac
Posted By Phatmac

Yeah pretty much what I expected.

Avatar image for unsolvedparadox
Posted By UnsolvedParadox

I was so excited when the first trailer came out, the reviews skew so differently for this game...think I'll wait and see before potentially picking it up.

Avatar image for jozzy
Posted By jozzy

@UKSamwise said:

From what I played of the trial I really liked the opening to the game. It really immersed me into the world and set the atmosphere. It's a shame to see so that it doesn't execute well with it's game mechanics :(

If you liked the trial I bet you will really enjoy the rest of the game. Remember this is only one opinion, this game got some really positive reviews too.

Avatar image for sirdancelot
Posted By SirDancelot

@TheShrubber: Just be prepared for tower defense in I Am Alive Revelations.

Also your comment made me lol.

Avatar image for eyz
Posted By Eyz

Called it!

Since they announced the project was being moved from an AAA-title similar to Assassin's Creed, multi console and on disc/retail stores to digital only.

Dayum... I wish'd it had turned better than that... I liked the concept/premise...

Avatar image for bonorbitz
Posted By BonOrbitz

Judging from the Quick Look, the score is dead on. What a disappointment.

Avatar image for klei
Posted By Klei

@Undeadpool

You've got to understand that not everyone can write troll reviews and have credibility. You say that like if it was common, but in reality, it's one in a hundred. Do you think Sterling gets sympathy from people when he bitch-slap a game? No, he doesn't. And for the other dude who calls me a troll, well, whatever bro.

Avatar image for legxend
Posted By Legxend

I really enjoyed the game, sure it has flaws but they can be easily over looked.

Avatar image for xpgamer7
Posted By Xpgamer7

It's cool but broken. They more had great ideas but when thinking about implementation did it so game like it ruined it. Developmentally I was already worried as it was downloadable.

Avatar image for honkyjesus
Posted By honkyjesus

I played this trial last night? What was that?

I forgot that this was a Jade Raymond project, and it shows. The pointing a gun at people until they fall into a canyon, the silly stamina stuff, not to mention I am tired of playing cancelled games that end up on Arcade for fifteen bucks. Have some humility and just make it ten, it seems so petty.

Avatar image for foggel
Posted By foggel

What? I loved it.

Avatar image for kingfalcon
Posted By Kingfalcon

@Undeadpool said:

@Klei said:

@Ruggington:

It doesn't change what I've brought up. Brad fucks up over and over and gets irritated at anything that poses him trouble. It's been like that since... huh, forever. Saying I Am Alive is shit is a lot easier, since it got mitigated reviews. Saying Super Meat Boy is shit takes a lot more balls, since it's a critically acclaimed titled. What I'm saying is, in the industry of video game reviews, you have to, sometimes, follow the flow more or less if you don't want to burst your credibility.

Oh and by the way, I think Super Meat Boy to be amazing, same with I Am Alive. You do know how Giantbomb hates Dark Souls? Hence why there's nothing on this site about it? Same thing. They preferred NOT to review it instead of slapping it with a 2 out of 5.

So your argument is that he gave a good review to Super Meat Boy and Trials HD is...because he was afraid of what would happen if he didn't?? Yeah, because giving a bad review to a critically acclaimed game wouldn't gin up way more siteviews and comments. Busting his credibility?? For reviewing a game unfavorably? What about people like Armond White or (at times) Jim Sterling? You can make a GREAT career out of ridiculing things that are ultra-popular and ultra-beloved.

Don't feed the troll...

Avatar image for aceofspudz
Posted By aceofspudz

@steelknight2000 said:

YO WE SHOULD GET TOGETHER A PETITION TO CHANGE THE ENDING!

"Then the game culminates in one of the hastiest, most ramshackle endings I've seen in ages, resolving almost nothing and leaving at least one all but three major characters pretty much totally unaccounted for and ruining the setting for future games."

Avatar image for avidwriter
Posted By avidwriter

I'm 100% with you on this review. After watching that quick-look I know exactly how you feel.

Avatar image for undeadpool
Posted By Undeadpool

@Klei said:

@Ruggington:

It doesn't change what I've brought up. Brad fucks up over and over and gets irritated at anything that poses him trouble. It's been like that since... huh, forever. Saying I Am Alive is shit is a lot easier, since it got mitigated reviews. Saying Super Meat Boy is shit takes a lot more balls, since it's a critically acclaimed titled. What I'm saying is, in the industry of video game reviews, you have to, sometimes, follow the flow more or less if you don't want to burst your credibility.

Oh and by the way, I think Super Meat Boy to be amazing, same with I Am Alive. You do know how Giantbomb hates Dark Souls? Hence why there's nothing on this site about it? Same thing. They preferred NOT to review it instead of slapping it with a 2 out of 5.

So your argument is that he gave a good review to Super Meat Boy and Trials HD is...because he was afraid of what would happen if he didn't?? Yeah, because giving a bad review to a critically acclaimed game wouldn't gin up way more siteviews and comments. Busting his credibility?? For reviewing a game unfavorably? What about people like Armond White or (at times) Jim Sterling? You can make a GREAT career out of ridiculing things that are ultra-popular and ultra-beloved.

Avatar image for steelknight2000
Posted By steelknight2000

YO WE SHOULD GET TOGETHER A PETITION TO CHANGE THE ENDING!

Avatar image for vinsanityv22
Posted By vinsanityv22

You should play Disaster Report or Raw Danger, Brad. Those games are kinda awesome in a lot of ways this one wasn't. Just expect some low-budget Japanese jankiness....but this is Giantbomb, who played through Deadly Premonition TWICE. You'll be fine!

Avatar image for theshrubber
Posted By TheShrubber

I'm looking forward to I Am Alive 2, this time set in Italy and delivering all the promise that I Am Alive 1 had.

Avatar image for craigaa1028
Posted By CraigAA1028

I Am Alive is definitely clunky in just about every aspect, but I ended up enjoying my overall time with it.

Avatar image for tehjedicake
Posted By TehJedicake

Poop.. =(

Avatar image for jackel2072
Posted By Jackel2072

im going to have to disagree with Brad on this one. where this game is by no means perfect. i had been enjoying its somber atmosphere, and its ideas. i think with a sequel the devs could really hammer out some of the issues the game has. 
 
but never the less, Thank You Brad for your review.   

Avatar image for assinass
Posted By AssInAss

Still going to get the game, because of the goals of the game and wanting something refreshing of a pure survival game.

We need more games to be made about true survival, I hope the Tomb Raider reboot and The Last of Us take notes on the design philosophy of this game, and even execute it better.

Avatar image for robin_smith
Posted By robin_smith

yeah what was up with that ending? and whos the girl watching the tape??

Avatar image for klei
Edited By Klei

@Ruggington:

It doesn't change what I've brought up. Brad fucks up over and over and gets irritated at anything that poses him trouble. It's been like that since... huh, forever. Saying I Am Alive is shit is a lot easier, since it got mitigated reviews. Saying Super Meat Boy is shit takes a lot more balls, since it's a critically acclaimed titled. What I'm saying is, in the industry of video game reviews, you have to, sometimes, follow the flow more or less if you don't want to burst your credibility.

Oh and by the way, I think Super Meat Boy to be amazing, same with I Am Alive. You do know how Giantbomb hates Dark Souls? Hence why there's nothing on this site about it? Same thing. They preferred NOT to review it instead of slapping it with a 2 out of 5.

Avatar image for ruggington
Posted By Ruggington

@Klei:

Because we all know that Brad hates games that challenge him. That's why Trials HD and Super Meat Boy have such low scores.

Oh wait

Avatar image for klei
Posted By Klei

Brad, come on, by the quicklook you've shown, you had absolutely no fucking clue of what you were doing. You're horrible at about everything that isn't Starcraft 2 or Doom. Of course you're going to two-star this game ; it just beat you.

Avatar image for jozzy
Posted By jozzy

@KinjiroSSD said:

"... one of the most refreshing games to come along in years. "

-Giantbomb

Very clever!

Avatar image for kinjirossd
Edited By KinjiroSSD

"... one of the most refreshing games to come along in years. "

-Giantbomb

Avatar image for zmilla
Posted By ZmillA

I enjoyed playing the game. I'd go so far as saying I like the game.

Avatar image for cjduke
Posted By CJduke

I feel like its been a long time since we got to see Brad's back turned in shame picture. This game looked pretty bad.

Avatar image for dvorak
Posted By dvorak

Going back to finish this game after being fucked over by the check-pointing system took something out of Brad permanently, I'm sure.

Avatar image for mrklorox
Posted By MrKlorox

Good thing Brad never played STALKER when it was new. I still say it takes the cake for the review's subtitle. The difference is that the community remembered what was promised and tried to bridge the gap, fixing it a lot. However even if I Am Alive was moddable to the same extent, it would still be lacking major content.

Avatar image for solh0und
Posted By Solh0und

I was pretty close to wanting to play this game....until I saw the Quick Look. I guess I'll try to locate Metro 2033 somewhere.

Avatar image for antihippy
Edited By Antihippy

@PimblyCharles: It looked like he can play the game just fine? If he finished it he probably knows how to play it.

What were your complaints with his playstyle?

Avatar image for sander
Posted By Sander

2 stars ouch. The QL and the demo made it look promising but...

Avatar image for cstrang
Posted By cstrang

I agree with Brad that the threaten button and the kill button should not have been the same. It's put me into bad situations too many times. I had my arrow disappear on me once, but luckily I had picked up another one from Godknowswhere. I also agree that the game feels only about a third-to-a-half finished. But, I did enjoy most of my time with the game, even if I think the heavy dust system was used to artificially lengthen the experience.

...And this dude can scale pipes and shit like none-other, but somehow it really takes it out of him to climb ladders.

Avatar image for pimblycharles
Posted By PimblyCharles

I knew just because Brad doesn't know how to play the game that he'd give this is bad review

Avatar image for bkbroiler
Posted By bkbroiler

I really like the climbing aspect of the game. The multiple routes to get to the same place and stamina time limits are really good. Brad's right, though, the combat sucks. It just isn't any fun.

I'm still enjoying the game, though. I'm interested to get to this horrible ending.

Avatar image for wii60bigscreengamer
Posted By Wii60BigScreenGamer

yeah, the game's sorta incomplete and a lil janky in places, but i have to disagree with brad.... i played through this game and very much enjoyed it. the traversal was enjoyable because it didn't hold your hand in the way that Uncharted or Enslaved does, and that's refreshing in an old school Tomb Raider-y kind of way. having to repeat difficult combat encounters until you get each one right can be a bit frustrating, but it's very rewarding when you get it right, and the difficulty just seemed to make it more of an immersive experience, because i felt genuine fear when encountering a group of aggressive thugs. no, the game's not perfect, sure, it lack polish, and the ending makes it feel unfinished, but i'm grateful for the DLC of this generation, because just a console generation ago, none of us would have been able to experience this game; it wouldn't have been salvaged for an XBLA release, it would have just been scrapped. 1200 microsoft space bucks well spent, IMO.

Avatar image for deathpooky
Posted By Deathpooky

For all the technical faults and gameplay weirdness I was really hoping they'd nail the story in this game. That they didn't just makes the entire game seem kind of pointless.

Avatar image for krakn3dfx
Posted By Krakn3Dfx

I'll probably still pick this up at some point, I like the look of it. I can deal with clunky controls and an f'd up checkpoint system if I enjoy the atmosphere.

Avatar image for moncole
Posted By Moncole

Probably got a low score because what happened to Brad in the QL.

Avatar image for beaudacious
Posted By Beaudacious

It seems this review is complaining about this game being an actual game while trying to deliver survival gameplay instead of being another Heavy Rain. I don't know if its the constant abuse Brad gets from the community about dying, but its fine to die in a game, to screw up, or fail. Being stressed out about just making a wrong turn while platforming due to stamina, about your inventory, enemies, combat seems exactly what a survival game should be.

A $15 XBLM game, with flaws, but a decent execution, with decent ideas gets only complaints. But a game that almost isn't a game, and is $60 gets almost a glowing review for being an episode of Dragon Ball Z with some interactivity. What the hell? Don't tell me price doesn't matter, its the whole point of reviews.

Avatar image for artgarcrunkle
Posted By artgarcrunkle

I'm sure most of his points are valid but after watching his ineptitude in the quick look I can't really trust Brad's review.

Avatar image for theodacourt
Posted By theodacourt

I was really excited by this premise and I've been looking forward to it for years. Perhaps the 'years in the making' has proven its downfall. Such a shame. :-(.

Avatar image for inhale
Posted By inhale

one thing i'm not sure on in this review is the comment about dropping bullets. The way I understood it, the enemies could fire their bullets and then have their gun empty when they died, in that case, no bullets makes sense (as is the 'empty gun' that pops up when you pick it up).

In fact, in one situation on my playthrough an aggressor didnt have any bullets and despite all his threatening had nothing to fire, much like the player can threaten with 0 bullets but eventually the enemies wise up.

that said, brad's gripes are valid but I think for many people they wont be as detrimental to the experience as they were for him. But hey, that's what the demo is for, right?

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