I Am Alive Review

It’s frustrating because I Am Alive wants to make an interesting comment about good, bad, circumstances and humanity. In one encounter, you accidentally surprise a group of people in an office building and they tell you to move along, but if you muck up the situation, you end up killing them — only to find their respective families one floor higher. Or at least, you could have it go like that, or you could find a way to climb past all of them and never talk to them at all, and miss that poignant moment (I only know about it because I read about it in other reviews).

But by the same token, every time you meet anyone portrayed as “hostile,” your option is to slice their throat, kick them off a cliff or shoot them in the face. (If you shoot them and they’re writhing around on the ground, you can finish them with the machete in an animation that feels unnecessary and kind of gross, considering you were responding in self-defense.) That severely limits the game’s ability to make it feel both fresh and interesting in its way of dealing with enemies, and also to put you in a world where you can be pushed hard against your own morality. I Am Alive misses a big opportunity to ask you what kind of person you might become given these circumstances, and when it does present the question, it already has answered it for you by incentivizing you to play savior to whomever you meet that you don’t kill outright.

And then there’s one final criticism about the game mechanics when fighting those enemies that you’ve no choice but to kill. Adam is surprisingly limited in his abilities, almost to the point of being overly handicapped. You can quickly slice a throat if you get the drop on someone, but fighting anyone up close means a grappling battle in which you have to tap the trigger button in order to overpower and stab your opponent. It’s completely impossible to do so if there’s more than one person because Adam has no way of breaking up a tussle or defending himself; people murder you. A lot.

It feels like the game wants you to feel weak and human, but what actually happens is you feel like you’re dealing with people according to a script. Surprise slice, threaten with gun, shoot most menacing enemy, kick or stab remaining enemies. You’re forced to do everything in a certain order because it literally won’t work any other way. What could have been an incredibly tense mechanic — threatening enemies with an empty gun to keep them at bay as you try to figure out how the hell to deal with them, and they start to figure out you don’t have any ammo — degrades into repetition and in the later levels becomes either boring or annoying, depending on how often you screw up.

I Am Alive does have its high points. It hits some great moments with destroyed architecture, particularly in a sequence in which you scale an office building tipped on its side, and there are moments when fighting your way through the oppressive, disorienting fog is claustrophobic and tense. But the annoyances pile up, ranging from the lackluster combat to the weak story and character motivations, and even a healthy number of speedy climbing puzzles can’t really redeem them. Ultimately, I Am Alive feels like the beginning of a cool idea for a game that wound up hamstrung by its size and limitations; it’s just not fully formed.

Pros:

  • Some solid climbing puzzles
  • Voice acting is almost always strong
  • Hits a few moments of genuine tension and fear
  • Includes some awesome environments
  • Conveys a great post-apocalyptic atmosphere

Cons:

  • Overly gray color palette can make it hard to tell what you’re looking at, especially in climbing puzzles
  • “Replay” system can be annoying, forcing a lot of, well, replaying
  • Combat mechanics fluctuate between boring and frustrating
  • Misses a lot of opportunities in storytelling

Final Score: 65/100

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1 Comment on I Am Alive Review

truthmonger

On April 21, 2012 at 6:04 pm

Sounds exactly like what I expected..another navigation puzzle game trying to build “atmosphere” with annoying and repetitive game mechanics. This is one of the many reasons I don’t touch consoles.