The Nameless Apocalypse: A Frustrating Trope

Perhaps I'm jaded. Maybe I've seen too many movies, played too many games, read too many books. Perhaps I'm the minority on this particular issue even. But damn it, I'm kind of tired of these post-apocalyptic stories that like to ram vagueness down the consumer's throat about how the world has come to be what it is.

The first two games that spring to mind quickly are I Am Alive and Left 4 Dead. I'm willing to write the latter a pass on my frustrations because, let's face it, it wasn't a story driven game and it never intended to be. Left 4 Dead was a co-op shooter that focused on resource management and teamwork. The story was limited to brief, twenty second conversations in elevators or what have you and your character screaming about pills and ammo.

I Am Alive, however, is grinding on certain nerves, ones that I didn't even realize were so sensitive. "The Event" -- a phrase that is causing me a great deal of frustration just by reading it or hearing it. I just can't stand the faceless apocalypse, which might perhaps be excusable if the characters I've talked to thus far didn't refer to it literally as that: "The Event". "Hey, go look around for one of those government crates, y'know, the ones they dropped after... the event..."

It just bothers me in ways I'm finding it difficult to even describe. This seems like one of the biggest cop outs, design and script wise, that anyone could take, regardless of their artistic medium. It's true that I Am Alive is a $15 downloadable game that is rounding out Microsoft's "Alright, they're not quite good enough for summer release, but they still should get some advertising" House Party, but I'm finding it hard to forgive it just on account of that. It's clear that going in to this game, they are working to establish a tone and an atmosphere unique to this game. They want to make you feel alone and hated by the world, they want you to be just as in the dark about what happened and how it came to this as everybody else would be, but as a consumer, it just. bothers me.

And it's really just that obtuse nature of speech, the kind the accompanied those awful NBC commercials, where they talk in fairly non-descriptive fashion and go out of their ways to call this cataclysm "The Event." Just tell me something, anything. Tell me a bomb went off, tell me something happened somewhere that caused this, tell me that it was divine intervention. Just give me something, as a person. What the fuck is happening?

This isn't souring my opinion too much on the actual game thus far -- there's plenty in there frankly that's already working to take care of that. But it's certainly not helping. The story of the game right now seems to be fitting in incredibly well with the actual gameplay mechanics; a wonderful concept that, while cool on paper, plays out very mechanically and less than intuitively.

As far as gameplay goes, I've been fairly keen. The designers of this game clearly know how to make you stress your actions and choices, forcing you to make knee jerk decisions at times. Having gone through the first few chapters, one of the most irritating things to occur were scripted sequences in which tutorial messages would come up late and be detrimental to gameplay. The first time I encountered a group of enemies, I quickly drew my gun. This caused two to shoot at me while one charged me with a machete. After dying and wondering, what the hell just happened?, I loaded the last checkpoint and hit the same point and waited. The men approached me and uttered some dialogue, then a message popped up saying "Don't draw your weapon in this situation." Admittedly, early on in the game, this serves as a good lesson, but my issue with this stems from the fact that it sort of kneecapped me early on, demanding that I perform better for the rest of the game as my retrys were burned on tutorials sequences that my reflexes just happened to beat.

Despite anything negative I may say about it, I really am looking forward to completing I Am Alive. I've managed to get my expectations of what it was originally supposed to be under wraps, so I'm hoping that this can live up to the potential that it promises. Failing that, I hope that this game is used as a precursor to future game development. Taking the basic concepts of human interaction and survival and developing them farther in other games could go a long way, and I'd relish in the idea of a survival-horror game that cribbed from I Am Alive.

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