I Am Alive Review
The entire time I was playing I Am Alive, I struggled to decide if I was enjoying myself or if I hated the game. On several occasions, I Am Alive was able to elicit either or both responses, often nearly back to back. There were points when the survival horror (survival definitely, but horror? maybe not) title had some very interesting things to add to the video game conversation and the post-apocalyptic genre. There were plenty of other points when I was just frustrated at the game’s heavy lack of options or agency.
Much like the way the Resident Evil series limited players’ abilities in order to make its games more frightening, it feels like Ubisoft and developer Darkworks have deliberately limited players in I Am Alive to make them less capable. The trouble with that is, the game fails to convey the feeling it’s going for — that you’re a normal person with normal limitations, and you can’t rely on superhero kung-fu prowess in a fight for your life. What it conveys instead is that you’re handicapped, or maybe suffering from a debilitating brain injury, and you can’t properly defend yourself.
By the end, I Am Alive was both a good time and an infuriating one, and it’s really a shame that the game couldn’t put together a more even experience. I Am Alive could be thought-provoking and interesting to the larger sphere of gaming, if only it had received more polish and seen more care taken in creating its mechanics.
I Am Alive (2012): Xbox Live Arcade (reviewed), Playstation Network
Released: March 7, 2012
A year after “The Event,” the United States — possibly the world — has gone to s–t. You play Adam, a man returning to the fictional city of Haventon in search of his missing family. It has taken Adam a year to cross the country from where he was on the west coast, and he’s finally home. Unfortunately, “home” has been wracked with earthquakes, tearing up the ground and making simply walking to his apartment impossible. And there’s an ever-present cloud of strangulating dust that blankets the city, which Adam can’t survive breathing.
So the premise of I Am Alive marries environmental climbing puzzles, which force Adam to figure out the path forward or to climb clear of dust in order to replenish his strength, with a fair number of run-ins with the last vestiges of humanity to be found in the city. The first mechanic is actually pretty solid for the most part, and easily makes for the most fun parts of the game.
As a survival mechanic, I Am Alive makes climbing both important to staying alive and potentially deadly. Everything Adam does is dictated by a stamina gauge which runs out slowly when he engages in physical activity. When it depletes, Adam’s stamina capacity starts to go, which makes it harder for him to get back to 100 percent when resting. The results are a lot of race-against-the-clock climbing sessions, especially when the dust is involved. When in the dust, Adam’s stamina doesn’t replenish when he’s resting, so every time you duck below the cloud layer, you have to haul ass and get out of there quickly.