I Am Alive is a post-apocalyptic title that sees a father make his way through a devastated US city in search of his family. An adventure game with a survival twist, climbing and exploration uses up stamina, while combat has you take on enemies with limited ammo, relying on surprise attacks and bluffing your way past with an empty chamber. We go hands-on with the downloadable title before its release in a few months' time.
First revealed in 2008, I Am Alive was seemingly vaporware until Ubisoft recently rebooted it as a shorter, sharper downloadable title with big-budget ambitions. The key details that garnered it a fan following remain, however; it's a tale of a world battered by earthquakes and duststorms following an unspecified cataclysmic event, and a man who returns to his home city after a year travelling across the US on foot to find out what happened to his wife and daughter.
Swinging and hanging for dear life
I Am Alive takes familiar action-adventure tropes and gives them a darker, survival-oriented twist. One of the first tasks has you make your way into the city proper via a bridge - now a mesh of hanging girders and twisted metal following the event - which is a task that requires deft climbing skills and thoughtful planning.
Such moments see our hero athletically leap from point to point, but there's a catch; declining stamina means you have to plan your path ahead of time, otherwise you'll be shimming above an open chasm with your fingertips and fall to your demise. This constantly-depleting energy gauge makes this usual brand of Uncharted-style climbing surprisingly more engaging and notably more panic-inducing.
Later on, certain points in the environment allow you to plant a wall hook mid-climb, hang still and regain your energy. Other sections see thick, choking dust storms smother entire streets, having you to rely on a limited viewpoint and a spot of luck to find drainpipes that you can ascend briefly for fresh air. Also, constantly dropping stamina to its lower levels can bring on exhaustion, where the overall energy gauge will be hampered for a limited period until you find food, a limited resource in the post-apocalyptic world.
Unarmed and dangerous
While navigating the many destroyed environments is a thoughtful affair, it's the gunplay that offers the most interest. That's because there's very little of it; equipped with just a knife and a handgun with limited ammo, the idea is to avoid combat where possible. But with small pockets of hostile survivors desperate for supplies, or simply roaming the streets and subways to cause misery, confrontation is often unavoidable.
A encounter can play out in a number of ways. When outnumbered two to one, the cocky thugs will taunt and slowly approach. You could shoot both for a quick dispatch, providing you have the ammo, but bullets are hard to come by. You can aim your gun to intimidate - even when the chamber is empty - and while cautious, enemies will soon find a way to approach and flank you. Surprise is the best tactic; standing seemingly unarmed, by letting one person come close you can quickly (and brutally) slash their neck with the knife and aim the gun at their friend, giving them no choice but to surrender.
It can also go horribly wrong, of course; even one-on-one, with one moment seeing me accidently pulling the trigger on an empty gun, inviting the adversary to rush and overcome me. Melee combat appeared difficult to succeed in, and since chapters have a limited number of restarts, the game reinforces the need to nip dangers in the bud before things turn sour. It's intense stuff, requiring a solid plan and quick timing to make it out unscathed.
Later encounters will see you take on larger groups, some carrying guns and body armour, requiring you to dispatch the leader of the pack with quick and accurate headshots in a bid to deter the rest. You'll also often come across other survivors defending their makeshift homes - often a huddle of boxes and a burning barrel at the end of an alley - at which it's best to turn and walk (running will startle them) the other way.
Hell on earth
While exploring the city is a linear affair, alleys and pockets of debris hide additional ammunition and food supplies, and there are moments where you must work your way past fallen buildings and crashed cars, checking off blocked routes on a map. In time, our hero makes his way to his home to a recording from his wife saying she was seeking refuge somewhere in the city, a discouraging message since it was left almost a year prior.
Soon after, a girl around the same age as his daughter is rescued from hostiles, sparking a short-term goal to reunite her with the father, a story device that will introduce more characters and provide more details on how everyone manages to survive in this bleak setting, and perhaps information on how and why civilization was destroyed in the first place.
There are flashes of other survival games in I Am Alive; its monotone, dust-covered buildings are reminiscent of Silent Hill's foggy streets, as well as a strong Alan Wake vibe with its staggered, more thoughtful combat, hostile encounters and overarching plot mysteries. I Am Alive's strong presentation, engaging combat and exploration makes this one of the most anticipated adventure games in the months ahead, and thanks to its downloadable nature, should offer a shorter but far punchier campaign as a result.
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I Am Alive will be released on Xbox Live and PlayStation Network this winter.