I Am Alive Review
Some of these moments are when I Am Alive is at its best, although the tension is never too great. That’s because you’ll always be carrying some amount of food, water or other items that can be used to replenish stamina. Even a mostly cursory glance around the game’s environments can provide you with a fair number of items, and these always become useful during especially long climbs. You’ll also get climbing items that allow you to stop and rest by planting them along the way, so while the puzzles work as races, they’re usually more about inventory management.
Having a decent supply of food means you can usually get through any climbing puzzle, even the tougher to figure ones that take you to hidden areas and usually reward you with extra resources. The climbing gets a bit troublesome, however, because it’s sometimes unclear what objects can be scaled or how easily. Most climb-able surfaces will flash or otherwise kind of glow, but it’s not always apparent what’s a surface that can be climbed and what isn’t, and this gets especially annoying when paired with a dwindling stamina bar and the foreknowledge of your impending death.
In fact, if there’s one thing that weakens the presentation of I Am Alive more than anything, it’s the visuals. The game is attempting a post-apocalyptic world where everything has been destroyed, but the game is basically presented in black, white and brown for how few colors there are. The whole world is tinged in gray because of the dust cloud, and this gets problematic in a hurry because you’re often exploring, usually under the gun, and it’s really hard to tell what’s what. Everything looks the same — which is to say, boring — and telling the right path from the wrong one can be very difficult. In a game where the air kills you, as does climbing too slowly, this means saying “screw it” to finding new things because navigation is too difficult to justify the trade-off of effort.
“Effort” in this case refers to just how much of the game you’ll have to replay and whether it’ll be worth it if you die. I Am Alive is set up with a system that basically gives you lives at certain points in the game, and you can also find some scattered rarely in the world. There’s one final way to earn these replays, and it speaks to the fundamental weirdness of I Am Alive that made it hard for me to decide just how I felt about the game.
That method is by helping other survivors. You encounter people in I Am Alive at a fairly regular clip, and they can be broken into three groups. The first are jumpy folks who will threaten you but don’t really want to kill you, whom you can engage or slip past if you’re sneaky or careful. The second are victims who almost always need help in the form of a resource or object from nearby or that you’re carrying, and helping these people rewards you with a replay.
The third are hostile people who have banded together to make a rough, violent gang, and they’ll accost you, “bully” you, and eventually kill you. Presumably, they want to take your stuff, although they never take any. These people you must kill — not talk down, not bargain with, not incapacitate (mostly), but kill.
Dealing with people is where I Am Alive gets really hinky for me. On the one hand, one would expect hostile survivors who use force and violence to better their chances to stay alive; it’s a law-of-the-jungle kind of situation. But what’s irritating about it in particular is that Adam has very few options for dealing with these people. You have your gun, which is almost always nearly empty (although I never struggled with finding ammo, even if the most I ever had were four shots, and it’s nigh impossible to miss), and a machete you find early on. Every encounter plays out as the following, regardless of the enemy’s numbers or variety:
- Enemies sight you. They fan out. Adam raises his hands slightly and looks defenseless. One of the guys comes toward you, saying menacing things. As he nears, you hit “X” and slice his throat in a surprise attack.
- Everyone brandishes either melee weapons or guns and charges you. If they have melee weapons, you can threaten them by pulling your own gun, even if it’s empty, causing them to back off you in fear for a time. If they have guns, you need to shoot the gun-wielding foes immediately, as they will always kill you.
- You menace the remaining guys with your gun and order them to back up, your only option for talking to them. If you can force them near an edge or an open flame, you can kick them over that edge or into that fire. You can also knock out anyone smart enough to drop his weapon and get down on his knees.
This is how almost every encounter in the game goes down, and for a game whose story tries to paint you as this random good guy who helps out a mother and daughter for no reason other than that they need it, you do an awful lot of murdering. You have no options when dealing with gangs, and while at some points you’d feel righteous in your killing — there’s one section of the game in which you encounter what is essentially a rape factory, where a gang is kidnapping women and holding them prisoner — most of the time you’re just killing people because they, somewhat understandably, threatened you slightly.
Hell, the very first guy you encounter who threatens you, you immediately kick off a cliff and steal his machete. That doesn’t sound like being a good guy to me.