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Gaming Review

'I Am Alive' review (Xbox Live Arcade)

By
Released on Tuesday, Mar 6 2012

'I Am Alive' screenshot

© Ubisoft


Also available on: PSN (later this year)
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Genre: Survival Adventure

The survival horror genre was first born from the combination of providing players with cheap scares and limited resources. Over the years, the genre has evolved more towards its horror half, keeping the scares but offering abundant tools for a more action-oriented approach. I Am Alive is the polar opposite of that evolution, stressing survival above all else.

You play as Adam Collins, the survivor of a cataclysmic event that devastated the world. Away on business at the time of the event, Adam finds his way back to his home city in search of his wife and daughter, only to find the city in ruins. The atmosphere is laid thick, with allusions to cannibalism, suicide and rape, among other dark themes that games seldom dare to explore. Comparisons to Cormac McCarthy's The Road are inevitable and justified, as I Am Alive takes a similarly chilling and mature approach to its post-apocalyptic landscape.

In true survival fashion, your greatest foe is actually Adam's own limitations. As you climb over and through the rusting ruins of the city, your stamina will slowly deplete. Should you let it fall entirely; the stamina bar's maximum capacity will begin to drop, as will your health. Mashing the right trigger allows you to make a last effort to reach level ground, where your stamina will refill, but the stamina depletion only quickens. And though level ground offers respite, your stamina will only recover as far as your new maximum, leaving you with less stamina to overcome the next obstacle.

Careful movement and meticulous planning of routes can reduce the damage taken but it is impossible to prevent entirely, making some amount of damage frequent and inevitable. If not from climbing or the roving gangs of ruthless survivors, from the poisonous fog that eventually covers the city's street level, draining your stamina simply by walking through it before needing to scamper up a building for fresh air. The feeling of danger and unease is constant, making even safe areas unnerving and threatening locations downright frightening.

Sparse supplies can be found in the rubble to alleviate your physical condition. Bottles of water, soda cans, canned food and certain medicines can help you recover either health, your stamina bar's capacity or even restoring some of your stamina mid-climb. Finding these resources is rare, often requiring exploration into the fog and fighting past defensive survivors or armed gangs for their own spoils.


Combat is subject to its own limitations. Adam finds a machete early on, which can be effective against single opponents, but leaves you open to attacks when facing multiple foes. A gun is your constant companion, though bullets are even scarcer than food. If you are extremely careful you may manage to accumulate three bullets at once, but your ammunition count will most often fluctuate between one and zero bullets at your disposal.

This often forces you to bluff your way out of dire situations, as enemies will stop their charge once a gun is pointed at them. Eventually a bow and arrow can be found, with a single arrow that can be retrieved after use. However, enemies are not intimidated by the bow as they are by the gun, making it a tool of stealth rather than assault.

But not all survivors you meet are hostile. Many survivors lack the means to defend themselves, and will beg for assistance at the cost of your stockpiled supplies. Your charity will be rewarded with an additional retry option, which can be stockpiled like any other resource, granting you the ability to return from death at one of the frequent checkpoints rather than the beginning of the chapter.

And you will need those retry attempts, with the severe lethal quality of every enemy encounter or opportunity to climb. Surviving a post-apocalyptic wasteland is no easy feat, and I Am Alive makes no attempt to hide that fact or soften the blow. Death will be constant, but much like Dark Souls, each failed attempt teaches a valuable lesson of how to better survive.

They will also tell you their accounts of the cataclysmic event that created I Am Alive's post-apocalyptic world, piecing together the backstory like a tapestry. Survivors in need of help can also be ignored, but they are not all so hardy, and may weigh on your conscience after a mother and child that were once refused help are later found hanging from makeshift nooses.

What may surprise players is that I Am Alive is a rather linear journey through the dilapidated city. The aforementioned poisonous fog and conveniently placed rubble barriers dictate the path ahead. Guided as it may be, this means that the ten-hour campaign seldom lets up, sending you off to all corners of the city in search of Adam's wife and child. Even when there is a lull in the action, the tension and sense of danger never disappears, making every moment without incident feel like the calm before a great storm.

If I Am Alive were to be described in a single word, that word would be bleak. It is unapologetic in its presentation and unafraid to cross lines that most games never dare to approach. Those crossed lines are certainly through its subject matter, but also in its gameplay through the possibility of causing permanent damage to your stamina bar. It all comes together to make I Am Alive an uncompromising game of survival, quite unlike anything else on the Xbox 360.

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