I Am Alive
AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+
AMD Radeon HD 2600 XT
Back in 2008 we were teased with a cinematic trailer of a guy trying to survive a recent cataclysm where he didn’t have to shoot his way through hordes of monsters or zombies but rather just had to survive with basic resources like food and water. Then, a few years later, Ubisoft was gracious enough to cancel the PC version and leave us hanging. With the console version released in April, Ubi snuck in the PC version without any major announcements. So is this game anything like we were teased or is the release being “under the radar” saying it all?
The trailer that we saw in 2008 is all we get about the early days of the apocalypse. Now it’s a year after and our player character has reached his destination city - Haventon. When “the Event” happened our survivor was in another area of the United States and it took him all this time to cross back. His goal was to return home to his wife Julie and daughter Mary. Unfortunately nothing more is known nor about our hero, nor about “the Event” that consumed the whole United States of America (possibly the whole world) but your guess is as good as mine. And this is where the problems start.
The Apocolypse's worst crime? Rendering truck wheels with low resolution textures. The humanity!
There is so very little backstory given from the start that it’s hard to care for the protagonist and the lack of information about the cataclysmic happening is just frustrating. The developers clearly intended this to be unwrapped as the story progresses but in most cases it’s something that raises even more questions than anything else. The unveiling of the story pieces is done by helping other survivors. They ask of you something rare and/or valuable (like a med kit that you could use yourself) and if you provide it they give you some information and a “retry” that is a kind of exhaustible checkpoint. This mechanic is actually pretty neat and forces you into a moral decision – help out others or be an ass and go away. But as I mentioned the resources are quite valuable and the information provided is more often than not more confusing so it takes an effort to be “nice”.
After playing a few levels you can see that the game was meant to be something much bigger and more complicated than it ended up. Most of the mechanics seem like remnants of something bigger that aren’t just there yet. Climbing, running, fighting and just being in dusty areas deplete stamina. Stamina is a two layered thing, if you run out of it while climbing you start “burning up” your stamina bar and if you run out you will fall to your death. To prevent the burnout you can drink some water or use a piton if you have any. You cannot just replenish the burned out stamina and need to restore it back with special items. While in dust, if you run out of stamina, it will start eating up your health. All of it might sound good and deep but in the game it doesn’t feel so. It feels lacking and unnatural.
When homeless fight back.
The fighting in the game is also a mixed bag. The enemy reaction to your actions is quite remarkable. You start the game with just a gun without any bullets and whenever you draw that gun enemies lift their hands and start advising you to calm down. The AI doesn’t know if you have any bullets or not and it assumes you do. You can order enemies to back up and they might end up on a ledge or near a fire where you are able to kick them in, instantly killing them. When the game progresses you start getting enemies that wield guns too and “leader” enemies. The best tactic in a mixed group I found was to pretend to give up at first, just to quick slit the throat of the first guy that comes up. Then quickly draw a gun and shoot the gun bearers. You have a bit of time until the leader of the group starts doubting if you have any more bullets. If you do then shoot the leader and the rest will just kneel on the ground with their hands up. You can knock them out easily. The fighting mechanic being so deep you start wondering why you can’t just make the enemies throw down their weapons and run away? Why do they forget that you have a gun as soon as you lower it? The smarter the enemies act the more noticeable every dumb move or inability to perform something becomes and here it really shows.
The levels are quite good looking with a lot of detail to the world: the rusted cars, the broken buildings, debris and litter all around. The climbable objects are usually well placed and fit into the environment all the way till the few last levels. But unfortunately the design of the levels isn’t. The smallest object can block your path and prohibit you from exploring further on. The game consists of a Hub level with stages from missions branching off. Every level besides the Hub is very linear without even the ability to come back to it in most cases. While wandering through the world you will see so many places where you will stand thinking “but I can squeeze through” or “I could jump that”. And it’s a real shame that you can’t. It leaves you disappointed, frustrated and taken out of experience. The same is with the loot in the world. Even though it’s quite scarce, usually it’s in quite unrealistic places which again leave you in disbelief and thinking “It can’t be real”.
Long lost brother to Just Cause 2's Rico Rodriguez.
I Am Alive looks quite bad for a 2012 game. It’s very inconsistent with some elements looking ok or passable and some just unacceptably low quality. Some textures are so low resolution and flat that makes you think if the developers spent more than 5 minutes working on it. The environment is quite static and the enormous amount of blur and fog (dust) really makes the game look awful instead of stylised. The world is bland, without colour or detail. There are sections of the game where you literally can’t see anything because it’s all washed out. I understand what the designers were trying to achieve but it looks unnatural and annoying especially for someone who likes to explore and get involved in the world they are in. But it’s not all just bad: character and NPC models are decent and some animations can even be considered cool...but just some.
The voice acting is quite ok. I’d actually say that the actors did great with what they had. The dialog itself isn’t the best but the emotions are portrayed pretty great in a believable fashion that helps you get involved or start caring for people around you. Similarly with the music – on one hand it is quite repetitive but on the other it’s quite suiting.
I Am Alive is like a person who bought all the climbing gear but didn’t really cut it to join the mountain climbers club. It has some explorations, progression, depth but all of those mechanics are very shallow and unflushed. The ugly visuals will keep you guessing what is that object in the distance and unsatisfying story will leave you with a scratching head. But it’s not all bad and gloomy. Even being shallow the character progression is quite satisfying and using the bow was one of the most pleasurable experiences I’ve had with a weapon for a long time.
- Emotional roller-coaster: you will start caring for the characters around you.
- Character evolution: the new tools and weapons you get feel like real character growth instead of just tools to help you pass the next obstacle.
- But I can climb that: the level design is ranging from ok to really bad but the small obstacles blocking your way are just ridiculous.
- Duh: AI reacts well to your present actions but forgets what you did 3 seconds ago.
- Oh my eyes!: the levels feel static, look blurry and pail.
- Jump this, climb that: there is a lot of climbing in the game but it doesn’t feel satisfying
- Let’s just get it over with: it’s just a sloppy post at best with weak performance, imprecise controls and unsupported modern hardware (multi-GPU systems).