I Am Alive CES 2012 Hands-On Preview -- I Am TerrifiedBy Stephen Johnson - Posted Jan 12, 2012
I Am Alive, Ubisoft's forthcoming survival-adventure title, has been on the fringes of gaming’s consciousness since it was announced at E3 2008, but CES 2012 was the first time we had the chance to get our hands on it. And just so you know, it was totally worth the wait. If it were legal in the state of Nevada, I’d freakin’ marry this game (at least, the part I was able to play). Going from perusing endless orderly, shiny screens at the Consumer Electronics Show to the chaotic, blasted, violent world of I Am Alive made for a fantastic Wednesday afternoon.
The plot of this downloadable, third-person game is bare bones and basic: Some unspecified cataclysm involving earthquakes has struck the planet and killed nearly everyone, and the main character must traverse a dangerous, nightmare-scape in a quest to reunite with his wife and child. Not a terribly original concept, but an affecting one nonetheless.
Now,You might be expecting zombies, or aliens, but nope. I Am Alive is survival-horror without the supernatural. Enemies are simply other people, driven to madness and extremes by a worldwide collapse. It’s not cheery, but it’s a powerful idea. Think Cormac McCarthy’s The Road instead of The Road Warrior.
Speaking of The Road, I Am Alive’s bleak tone is similar to the novel, and the muted, gray and black color scheme definitely seems influenced by the film version. It’s awesome to see games paying homage to art that isn’t science fiction or fantasy.
As for the gameplay itself: You guide the main character, a mountain climber, over sometimes deadly obstacles on his journey home. The game starts with a harrowing trip over a twisted, wrecked bridge. You try to find handholds on the spans of the bridge, and avoid plummeting to your death, but, unlike the protagonists in just about every other video game, the main character in Alive isn’t some kind of superman. He’s just a guy. He’s a fit guy, sure, but ultimately just a guy.
That means you can’t climb forever. You can’t fall from great heights without dying. You get tired, as indicated by a fatigue bar, so if you try to swing from bar to bar, you’ll quickly exhaust yourself. This forces you to think about the best way to cross obstacles smartly; where to conserve your energy, and how to stay alive.
When I eventually made it across the bridge, it was on to the even more dangerous locale of the city itself. In I Am Alive’s world, disaster didn’t bring survivors together so much as break everyone down to his or her most savage elements. A gang attacks a helpless person and drags them into the omnipresent dust, while you watch helplessly. You run from raving lunatics and paranoids in the sewers. A mother begs you for a first aid kit for her dying son, but you only have one and you need that thing. Instead of the fantasy of adolescent power that games never seem to tire of engaging in, I Am Alive is a fantasy of powerlessness in the face of a brutal world. But it’s still fun, trust me.
My first encounter with another person set the tone for the whole game. I had to put my video game instinct to “shoot first and ask questions never” aside for this one, mainly because you start the game with a gun, but no bullets. Encounters with other people in I Am Alive are designed to mimic the way these kinds of run-ins might happen in real life.
The first “enemy” I encountered seemed just as scared of me as I was of him. He just wanted me to leave him alone, so I drew my gun and backed slowly away without firing. We weren’t friends, but we both ended up living. Is that a win or a tie?
While my gun was used initially only to bluff, I soon found a precious bullet, but it didn’t make me feel much better. First, because my character has no experience with firearms, and secondly because: When you have only one bullet, how can you decide who to shoot?
The bluff mechanic really shines when you are confronted with more than one adversary. You can pull your gun, but two guys with machetes might decide to challenge you instead of walking away. Then what are you going to do with your single bullet? Maybe you should run? Maybe you should slowly back away?
My encounters tended to begin with a relatively long period of sizing up the other person or people–trying to guess intentions and likely actions–but ended in a few fast-moments of adrenalin-fueled chaos and death. It’s brutal, fast, and surprisingly fun.
After a half an hour or so of video game bliss/terror, the demo version of I Am Alive ended, and I am now left to wait for the eventual release of the game. I Am Alive is planned for release during the Xbox Live House Party in February.