I Am Alive Review
Survival is the name of the game.
After playing, and thoroughly enjoying I Am Alive, I feel like the Xbox Live Arcade has finally reached the moment we all knew it could, by delivering a game leaps and bounds above the rest in shear size and scope. I Am Alive started off as a retail game, but Ubisoft changed directions at some point and decided to release it on the Xbox Live Arcade instead, and we reap the benefits by getting it for only $15.
I Am Alive follows a man who has returned home to the city of Haventon in search of his wife and daughter following a cataclysmic event that has killed most of humanity and left the rest to survive the best they can. The story is told through dialog with NPC’s, but mostly through the lost tapes on a camera that you and some of your fellow survivors have recorded. Ubisoft have done a great job of making you feel apart of the story, and you start to really feel for the survivors as they struggle to find supplies and protect their make-shift camps from other not so nice survivors who roam around the city. Because the game is so realistic to what it would probably be like in the wake of such an event, you also struggle with the same hardships and it makes you feel for what they are going through, which made me more sympathetic and want to help more than I have in other games.
As I said, I Am Alive is very realistic to what life would be like in a post-apocalyptic world. You will constantly find yourself with only a handful of bullets if you’re lucky, and maybe a few items to heal yourself at best, but only if you take the time to explore. You won’t find shops or merchants, and the other NPC’s don’t offer many items in return, and actually most of them don’t give you anything at all. You’re left to explore the city to find supplies, and if you don’t, well, you will be hard pressed to make it very far. Some enemies will drop ammo or an item, but it’s usually only one, maybe two, bullets and the occasional health item. This is what is so gripping about the game, you are stuck in what would more than likely be the real world if this type of event happened, which creates an intense experience.
The key to combat in I Am Alive is about strategically eliminating your enemies, rather than just opening fire at first sight. A typical situation you will run into is you stumble upon a group of survivors armed with machetes and maybe one or two of them have a gun, but since you may or may not have any ammo, you have to think about how to kill them, and ideally killing them without wasting any ammo. To do this, you can surprise kill the first one that gets close enough with your machete, then intimidate the others by aiming your gun at them, which will back them up. If you are able to back them up near the edge of a hole or top of a building, you can kick them off, or if you make them get down on their knees, you can strike them with the gun to knock them out. It only gets harder as the game goes, as you will start to run into enemies with body armor who aren’t scared of your gun so you will need to use precision aim by clicking the right stick to get a head shot. If you run into one of those with no ammo in your gun, your bow comes in handy, if you have any arrows that is. I only ever had 2 arrows at once, but since you can retrieve them afterwards, you don’t need that many if you are careful to remember to pick them up.
I Am Alive is also a semi-open world game, so you have the freedom to explore the city as you wish, aside from a few spots, that are marked on the map, that you can’t access. To get around the city you can climb buildings, which is done really well and seemingly taken right from the Assassin’s Creed Engine. As you climb you will lose stamina, and if you lose too much stamina before finding a resting spot, or using a piton to hitch to the building and rest, you will start to lose your grip and fall to your death. Certain parts of the game will actually task you with climbing an entire skyscraper and can get pretty intense as you make your way up. Exploring the huge city is crucial to your survival as there are items scattered throughout it, and you never know where you’ll find them, so I would recommend taking the time to explore. The scope of the city for an Xbox Live Arcade game is impressive to say the least and sets a new benchmark for future arcade games.
The retry system in I Am Alive is also something that plays on the survival theme of the game. Basically, you start with three retries, which are used to restart the last checkpoint when you die rather than the start of the last mission. If you use up all your retries, the next time you die you will start over at the last save point, which can be pretty far back, depending on how far you are into the mission. After each mission, on Normal anyway, if you have less than three retries left, you will automatically go back up to three. You can find more retries hidden around the city, and you will receive them for helping out other survivors around the city who are in need of certain supplies. There are 20 of these survivors in the game and each needs a specific item, so be sure to pick up everything you see, as you never know when you might need it. Survivor mode does not replenish your retries, and also has less ammo and supplies around the city, and is only recommended for those looking for a serious challenge.
Running on the Unreal Engine, most of the game looks great but parts of the character models could have been better, such as their hair, but it’s not a huge issue. The one issue I do have with the overall look of the game is that when you are down on the street level, in the heavy dust it is very hard to see. Even with the flashlight on, it’s hard to find your way around and I was lost a few times, even with the help of the map. At night-time, it’s almost impossible to see and made it very hard to see the path you had to take. It’s part of the survival experience, but can be a bit annoying too.
Between the limited ammo and supplies, and the harsh element of poisonous gas on the street level, I Am Alive can get quite hard at times. I died 34 times in my playthrough, which was over 8 hours long, and while some of them were my fault while still getting used to not just shooting the first enemy I saw, the majority of them were from having no ammo or health when running into a gang of enemies. The last mission in the game can also be quite difficult, so I recommend being as well stocked as you can get before attempting it. The other thing about the last mission is that once you do beat it, the game ends and you can’t go back, so you should also make sure you find all the victims first. It is a bit disappointing that you can’t just load your last save like most other open-world games allow, but in the end it’s not a major issue, but it will be an annoyance for those who want to earn that 100% complete status without having to play the entire game again.
Ubisoft push the limits of what an XBLA game can do for such a low price, and deliver a superb survival experience that left me wanting more. I really hope that we see a sequel, and since, without giving it away, the ending is a bit abrupt and will leave you with more questions than answers, it’s very possible we will get one. Sales are going to be crucial for a sequel, so even if you don’t think the game is going to be good, buy it for me.
There are no multiplayer modes in I Am Alive, and I don’t think any would really fit, even co-op. As much as I love a great co-op game, I Am Alive is about surviving with limited resources and I think having a friend join in on the adventure would drastically take away from the gripping experience of staying alive.
I had a great time with I Am Alive, and while it is a bit unforgiving in ways, that’s what makes it such a great survival experience. The size of the city and the accessibility of being able to climb around it is huge for an Xbox Live Arcade game, and for only $15, it’s a steal.