Many games on the market offer a post-apocalyptic scenario, with games like Fallout, Secret World, Deus Ex, and Half-Life being prolific examples of settings taking place in the aftermath of a tragic event. While being a very popular game theme, approaching it in a fresh perspective can be challenging, and today’s game, I Am Alive, manages to leave its print in the wreckage of this difficult genre.
I Am Alive is a fairly new game in the genre, being released on March 7th, 2012 for PSN and XBLA and September 6th for the PC, earlier this week, that takes place in the aftermath of a disaster known only as the “event,” consisting of massive earthquakes and freak dust storms that wrought havoc to an area of unknown proportions. What caused the event was exactly is never explicitly stated, but what matters now is that it has changed everyone’s lives forever.
You play as the unnamed protagonist searching for your wife and daughter in the ruins of Haventon, where the lack of resources and a crumbling social structure forms a hellish nightmare for the inhabitants trapped in the doomed city. The lack of law enforcement has lead to the formation of several gangs who terrorize for their needs, leaving many to rot in the wake of their primitive instincts. Using simple melee weaponry, a gun with little to no ammo in it, and your climbing skills, you must venture through the city to find your lost family. When confronted with survivors, you can offer them some of your valuable supplies to learn more about the calamity and the whereabouts of your family. Most survivors are grateful for anything you can lend them, but some of the local gangs are less human than they used to be. Uncaring and callous, they will intimidate you into surrendering your resources, and many won’t think twice about taking your life to get them. The main character is not a rugged war veteran, or anything close to it; he’s more of the average man, with a determination to do what he has to save his family. With that being said, what do you do when a lowlife thug gets in your face with a knife? Well, I Am Alive introduces bluffing in an intriguing fashion. You can try to talk your way out of fights, which usually works for the more territorial types, but sometimes, conflict will be unavoidable. But what’s the best method of dispatching hostiles? Do you wait till they close, then go for the quick melee kill? Do you act passive to separate them, and then kill them around a corner? Wave your empty gun at an enemy and bluff that you’ll shoot? I Am Alive gives you many options to ensure that you’re the one who walks away, and it’s up to the player to choose how they’ll deal with the unique conditions of each conflict.
To be honest, I did not find many flaws with this game, but there are some issues that must be addressed. For one, I wish the HUD would fade away when not in use. While seemingly minor, I think the HUD clashes with the environment, but it’s a small issue, if one at all. Also, and I’m not sure if this one applies to the console versions of the game, the camera controls were a bit twitchy at times and unresponsive at other times. While this could be a hardware issue on my side, I haven’t experienced this issue in my other games, so further research is needed on that note. Besides that, the game controls very well. Running, climbing, and combat are well done and control naturally. The graphics are well done, and, while coinciding with the game’s story-telling technique of a video recording, presents a sort of noise filter over it, giving an unobtrusive feeling of a digital recording, which I found to be a very nice touch. The textures are well-detailed, rendering is flawless, and is very well executed for a $15 dollar game. To top it all off, the game has a very emotional soundtrack that sets the mood with minimal effort. Personally, one of my biggest gripes about games is their soundtracks, and I Am Alive gets my seal of approval.
The atmosphere and storytelling techniques are top-notch, and work together harmoniously to produce an organic and insecure environment. The feeling of wandering through the decrepit wasteland of a city once warm and familiar, being forced to kill and survive in a place that was once your home, is truly something that must be experienced. The protagonist, due to leaving the city for some unknown reason, is unaware of what happened during The Event, so he must rely on the information of the locales at the price of resources to unravel the mystery behind the cause of the decimation and the location of his loved ones. Unveiling details through character interactions is a well done concept because you might not always have the resources to assist survivors, which means losing out on part of the story and leaving someone to die if you can’t manage your resources well enough. I think this is a great way to absorb the player because it reinforces the senses of humanity (generosity) and a sort of primitive survival instinct (guilt) to an already emotionally fluctuating experience. Without a doubt, I can say that this game can produce amazing moral and emotional responses from many a player.
I Am Alive is available on the PlayStation Network, XBox Live Arcade, and Steam for $15; A very affordable experience for gamers of every console.