I Am Alive First Look Impressions -- Survival-Horror on a Grand ScaleBy Miguel Concepcion - Posted Oct 28, 2011
Sometimes we encounter game spokespeople who don't like it when we bring up older games as presumed influences to their upcoming title, perhaps out of concern that we're pigeonholing their game. But others sensibly enjoy the flattering comparison, as was the case during a recent demo of Ubisoft's intriguing survival action game I Am Alive. You too will notice the similarities to some of your favorite third-person adventure games, but you'll also quickly see how I Am Alive adds a few dark twists and more ominous and disturbing than even some horror games, which says something because this isn't what you’d call survival horror.
If you want to equate I Am Alive to film, the first movie I thought of before I even saw a second of gameplay was the post-apocalyptic film The Road starring Viggo Mortensen. This was mostly due to the similarities in overbearing bleakness. Yet whereas The Road depicts a journey, I Am Alive actually starts off at the end of a journey. The game's hero arrives at his home city, but not before having to traverse the American landscape for a year on his way home. He hopes to find loved ones, but at first we're not even sure if anyone else is alive.
Before any kind of search for life, he actually has to make it into the city. This is where I started to think of the Uncharted series as I Am Alive features platforming and climbing where we see our hero traverse the sides of bridges and buildings with animations and poses not all the different from Nathan Drake's. Yet I Am Alive takes it up a notch in realism by limiting your time climbing with a stamina meter, similar to the shrinking grip circle in Shadow of the Colossus.
Depending on how you best use your time while climbing there'll be times where your stamina is depleted but you need just that last ditch push to reach for that last rung of the ladder or that ledge where you can finally take a breather. This act of willpower can be activated with the controller triggers, but the price you pay is a shortened stamina meter after you reach your goal. Luckily, the game features its share of consumable items like most any adventure game and that includes nourishment to bring back up the stamina meter.
Visually, many will compare this game to the Silent Hill series due to the pervasive fog. This ends up giving the game a look that is sometimes black and white, but also sepia tone at times. I Am Alive adds its own twist by making this fog harmful to our hero when he goes into the thicker parts; like climbing, you need to be efficient with you time.
It is when you're out of the fog and make your way to the indoor areas that you straddle near the heart of darkness. Yes, there are survivors, but with a year away from this kind of "civilization," you almost can't blame the survivors for having more than just a handful of loose screws. It's that post-apocalyptic world you've seen many times before where the strongest group together to overpower the weak. Yet one thing that trumps size and strength is having a gun, and that's one advantage our hero had in a couple confrontations with some thugs.
Our Ubisoft presenter didn't even need to fire the gun; simply waving and pointing it at hostiles was enough to chill them out; or at least, make you think you had the upper hand. As is the case with human nature and survival, some thugs will try to look for an opening to assault you the moment they're not facing down your gun barrel. Provided you have ammo, you're welcome to fire off a round, fatal or otherwise, to show you mean business. One amusing altercation involved one guy who was a little too proud of the padding and armor he was wearing. It was all for naught because our hero silenced the thug with a single headshot.
Hands down the most disturbing scene was when I came across a campfire where those around it were friendly enough to offer me some meat, which unsurprisingly is a rare commodity in this world. What you soon learn is that this isn't your regular cow or chicken meat. Nope, these guys have a system, and it involves some captive humans nearby who are freaking out over being someone's next meal. Our demo didn't delve into how we could free them, but it did present a character development choice knowing that there's this consumable piece of meat in our hero's inventory. The game doesn't have a morality system so much as it gives humanity bonuses for not eating human meat.
This sense of humanity made for a good transition to another part of the game where we find our hero carrying a child on his back. How they met is unclear but perhaps this encounter was one of the many meetings the player has the option of engaging in; I Am Alive doesn't have side missions so much as it has opportunities to meet people and perform favors for them.
It’s refreshing that I Am Alive is a survival game without zombies or aliens, where the dangers are simply the environment and your "fellow" human being. I wouldn't put it past Ubisoft Shanghai to disturb me in ways I haven't felt since Silent Hill 2. And with Lexis Numerique also putting a twist on survival style gaming with Amy, we're looking at some very psychologically upsetting games in the near future.