I Am Alive: a "More Mature" Post-Apocalypse

Ubisoft's "realistic" survival adventure looks to movies, not games, for inspiration.

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If the end of the world turns out like games told us, we'll do fine. With the scavenging smarts of a Fallout vault escapee, the immunity to infection of a Left 4 Dead survivor, and the expert gunshootery of all the rest, we'll have the wasteland bandit-free and society back on its feet by Tuesday.

Except the actual post-Apocalypse will be more like I Am Alive. Cities will be depressing rubble heaps; there will be no food or water, let alone bullets; and the great bullet famine will hardly matter, because a gun is dodgy defence against your feral neighbours when you've never fired one before.

I Am Alive is pitched as the antithesis of gaming's postapocalyptic power fantasy. "It's definitely the opposite of that," says Ubisoft Shanghai's Aurelien Palasse. "Post-disaster [in games] is often unrealistic, and I Am Alive is realistic. I think it's different from all the other games we've seen: it's more mature; everything is real."

So the game lifts its setting and atmosphere from movies rather than other games: the film adaptation of misery travelogue The Road, with a dash of The Book of Eli, which is inferior but has machetes. "We are definitely closer to the movie inspirations than the video game inspirations," says Palasse, "because no games have done this before."

The protagonist of I Am Alive is less a one-man army and more the beleaguered dad from The Road. Before a set of cataclysmic earthquakes laid everything to waste, he'd never fired a gun. Now, after a yearlong cross-country trek, he's back in his home city, searching for his girlfriend and young daughter, carrying only a bullet-less handgun and a climbing harness.

The city is an ashy mirage: a desaturated skyline, dust clouds, and city blocks turned to shadowy wreckage. As the game begins, our hero faces it across a broken bridge, poised for a climbing tutorial. His one pre-Apocalypse talent is climbing, hence the rope looped over his shoulder, but monkey-man Nathan Drake he is not. Stints of climbing are time-limited by a regenerating stamina bar which drains while you hang or clamber around. Further on, you get more mountaineering gadgets: a grappling hook and pitons to create temporary rest points on the long climb up a skyscraper.

He's a climber, not a fighter (mostly).

The feel of manoeuvring along broken girders and up bridge supports wasn't as slick as the equivalent clambering in, say, Uncharted, but at least our man is a cautious, sure-footed climber--you won't be carelessly steering him off edges or leaping into open space. The stamina gauge makes climbing sessions short and tense; when it's nearly empty, you can hammer the right trigger to have him overexert himself, but it damages your stamina reserves more permanently, and you have to later restore that lost stamina with food items.

Holding the right trigger (in the Xbox 360 version) makes him jog, while tapping the trigger makes him sprint, with sprinting also limited by stamina. The upshot is an easily winded protagonist who might frustrate players who'd rather control a superhero, but is consistent with I Am Alive's idea of an everyman's post-disaster scenario.

Fights, like climbs, are short and tense. The protagonist is vulnerable and underpowered; with no bullets, you have to bluff your way through confrontations with violent survivors. You can keep unarmed survivors at gunpoint to ward them off (aiming the gun pops the view from third-person into first-person), or surrender and let them get close enough for you to attempt the grisly one-button "surprise kill" with your machete. When you do scavenge a single bullet, you must use it strategically: look for the mouthiest member of a gang, take him out, and the others will back down.

You also eventually pick up a bow and arrow. Though the protagonist's ability to headshot body-armoured thugs with arrows undermines the impression of Joe Average's postapocalyptic adventure, it at least lets you shoot more things, since you can retrieve the arrow from the split skull of a victim.

In keeping with I Am Alive's take on grim realism a la The Road, there's sinister stuff on the streets of the city. Early on, we see a feral mob pursue a young woman into the thick dust haze. In the sewers, there are a few terrified survivors locked up by cannibals (you can sacrifice your single bullet to bust the lock, or you can walk on by). The cavernous, lethally dusty space below a monorail is littered with shrivelled corpses. Later, you find a leering gang trying to drag a little girl, Mei, out of her hiding spot; a portion of the game after that is spent protecting Mei--by giving her a piggyback ride through fights and climbs.

Weapons include knives and a bow and arrow.

I Am Alive has 10 levels through which you explore the ruins of the city, climb, scavenge, and deal with other survivors. It isn't an open-world game, though levels aren't entirely linear. You mark the map with red scribbles as you encounter the obstacles that narrow your options down to a single path, but there are some areas off the beaten track in which you might find survivors who can shed light on what happened to his family. Though Palasse won't be drawn on the campaign's length in hours, he calls it "longer than a lot of triple-A [campaigns] now on the market."

Checkpoint retries are almost as scarce as bullets (after you've spent the few you have, you must restart the level), as are first aid kits; at one point, we couldn't save a woman's injured son because we'd already used on ourselves the single kit we'd seen in an hour of play. It was a pleasingly harrowing moment of helplessness in what could be a routine fetch quest in another game. For a postapocalyptic experience that has you scraping by instead of conquering all, we're looking forward to I Am Alive, available for download on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 before too long.

Discussion

178 comments
zzanzabar
zzanzabar

This is a game I'm dying to play (no pun intended). I have grown tired of being a 'superman' battling non-existent zombies, infected, aliens, mutated monsters. This is just a survival game where I do things that seem realistic against (and with) characters that are pretty much the same as me. If there is such a thing as a 'boss battle' in this game it will be because the opponent is either physically bigger or better armed (and and DON'T mean he has more than two arms). I could get into that type of game.

kollin_1
kollin_1

@playniko69 The size of the game is limited because it's a downloadable title, so an open world isn't too practical, although it would be cool! Keeping the world small excites me, because there is an opportunity for the developers to spend more time creating real emotion through the gameplay and the story.

chang_1910
chang_1910

@playniko69: i think the "mature" part was refering about the decision you have to make and you being very limited, "no a hero" like in most post-apocalyptic game... this guy is just that, a guy trying to stay alive. And even thought I will love a open world, is a low budget game. And i guess I`m minority here, but some ppl are ok with a "semi linear" game that give them Xtime of fun. They are many games that are not open worlds and are GREAT (e.g. uncharted 2, thought it gave some difference path to choose from) No, I`m not saying that I am Alive is going to be even close to those masterpiece, but no all have to be open world, in the same way not all have to be co-op :P

chang_1910
chang_1910

omg.. I`m surprise to read some of the comments here anyway.. for me it looks great. The graphics may not be great, but a DLC game with 10lvl, that i`m expecting to run for 30US is OK in my book. To that you add, a true survival game: where bullets are not given like candy, u have one arrow that you can pick up again ( freaking awesome idea, remind me of that guy in walking dead with the crossbow and the 3 arrows), where u have to choose to be wounded or to help others; to use your last bullet and save someone or keep it for just in case. This game have to get a REALLY bad review for me to get dissapointed. Also limited checkpoints... for some reason this remind me the RE typewriter (that for some reason so many ppl hates :( ) dont know why oh, and don`t get me wrong I LOVED borderlands (cant wait for the second) and fallout, but nice to see a new nice idea... and more imp, to see attention to survival genre. :)

anothereviewer
anothereviewer

A good idea but this game could be so much more if it pushed for that extra mile. This game should be open world.

Lucasrolender
Lucasrolender

I don't see why everyone is complaining, this is a downlodable game. Not a full fleged $60... Don't expect a psn/arcade game to have graphics that rival battlefield or crysis

playniko69
playniko69

That's not being mature, it's being lazy...using the dusty atmosphere, just so they don't have put any effort on map details and graphics. No open world? Instant fail. Sorry developers, but people don't like invisible walls and caged levels. Why should there be any boundaries when the entire city is a total landwaste. Oh and no customization? 10 points from Gryffindor.

moonkill3
moonkill3

Trying to survive with limited bullets sounds fun,but only for one playthrough.

GhostofWar75
GhostofWar75

I hope the climbing and stuff is fun. Grapple hook sounds cool. SPIDER MAN!!!!! lol jk

GeneralxxSniper
GeneralxxSniper

This game looked nice at first...but its going to be slow and frustrating..not looking forward to it

Infinity_Gauntl
Infinity_Gauntl

Why does this have no release date. I hope this doesn't end up being a let down,

dodgingbullet
dodgingbullet

looks interesting, gonna wait for the review to make decisions. ah, decisions, decisions....

bloodsoulless
bloodsoulless

since 2005 when i first saw the trailer on youtube . i was like WTF , im gonna get the game ,, after 7 years , now in 2012 i disapointed ,, graphcis looks very bad ,, not good gameplay ,copies from uncharted . is ubisoft kiddin or they are just f*ckin with me? ,, alright if this comes on PC , im gonna get it for fun and of course for free ,, not paying for failure games ))

Arranik
Arranik

This game looks like...a disappointment.

Lamachina
Lamachina

promoting a new IP by saying its different then some of the greatest games(Fallout 3, left4dead, halflife 2, borderlands) of recent years and in some cases of all time does not sound like a winning strategy.

xsonicchaos
xsonicchaos

yes. the game seems too slow paced, even the combat. who the hell just walks around like a smug while waiting for a guy with a damn bow to shoot an arrow into his brain? just doesn't make sense. also, i think there's too much blur over the too much mist. if climbing feels also slow paced, it's ok, but if you can't choose where to climb, that's nuts! hopefully the story wont suck, Ubisoft!

Angel_Grigorov
Angel_Grigorov

The guy looks stiff and the game seems to be about walking around slowly. I don't get it.

sneezebox
sneezebox

A realistic post-apocalyptic video game would have women being more than just victims. If I was a woman I wouldn't just lie down and wait to get raped.

offspring94
offspring94

@Pffrbt Your clever comment fits with my general reaction to the video. I really like the idea of a "realistic" apocalypse game...but the video made it look like just another stylized apocalypse game. I hope it's awesome, though.

guitarandbanjo
guitarandbanjo

Interesting game play mechanics. Although, I feel there will be a lot of frustrating moments in this game because the game might be too tedious.

TWO1FIVE
TWO1FIVE

Sounds good want to support new original games. I will wait to see the reviews but sounds like they have some good ideas going into this game.

ProdjectAUSM
ProdjectAUSM

This does sound like a nice game. Although I feel like this is just another cash grabbing post apocalyptic game. Except instead of copying everyone else, they're just taking it in a different direction. It's like, "we want to make something based on games that rake in a lot of money, yet we want to give the illusion that we're innovative." Insert Nintendo reference. "Wait and see" is my opinion.

BonEcho
BonEcho

This game sounds interesting and I can't wait to hear more. The linear part surprised me, but they must have a good reason for choosing linear over open world.

ReviewerDrake
ReviewerDrake

No open world just made me not want this game......

Jack_Rav
Jack_Rav

Whilst I probably won't buy it on the opening day, I'll definitely consider getting it depending on reviews/money I have at the time.

amaan4ever
amaan4ever

i used to climb buildings like him but i......... oh never mind

qUaRaNt1n3
qUaRaNt1n3

im actually pretty intrigued by this. will prob get..

lilflex1
lilflex1

atleast there tryin to make it a scavenger post apocalypse game a bow & arrow and knife are the two main weapons that can be made and found over a gun

hlmcpherson
hlmcpherson

sounds like a pain that I can do without in my video gaming time. too bad cuz I was kind of interested when i first heard about this but now that they explain how the game plays its like, huh?

edgewalker16
edgewalker16

I really dislike it when they feel compelled to tell me how long a game is. I like the idea of not knowing when a game will end. By all means, tell me how long it took you to complete it, because that will vary on a player-to-player basis, but don't tell me it will be 10 chapters long. That just...ruins it somehow.

KorialFox
KorialFox

Lack of colors hurts my eye, but it might be quite inovtive and amusing game, or not.

Pffrbt
Pffrbt

"it's more mature; everything is real." I can certainly tell by the washed out, bland color palette. Realistic = being color blind.

Kickable
Kickable

a couple of the top open-world games are GTA4 & Saints Row 3. sure they've got alot of stuff to do, but it's really just a mess of mediocre to average mini-games(some would rather say chores) repeated over and over triggered by very typical storytelling. not saying this game will offer improvement in its similar elements, or innovation but we don't know exactly what to expect, and all this discontent is based on something that is out and isn't as spectacular as you think. look at Limbo or Shadow of Colossus(which the atmosphere of I Am Alive kinda reminds me of visually), 2 extremely short games with dismal visuals and simple gameplay mechanics and people went nuts over them and why would a post-apocalyptic game be required to be open-world? structures are rubble and everyone's freaking dead or hiding. just face it, there is a market for "artsy" atmosphere-over-content games and this is probably going to be one.

franzito
franzito

"Post-disaster [in games] is often unrealistic, and I Am Alive is realistic" It''s because games are about fantasy, don't you think?

Icky27
Icky27

It's a AAA game in the style of the survival aspect of Minecraft.

western077
western077

They still make games like this that aren't open world? Surely they would have learnt from other's success that open worlds are highly desirable.

Kaeban
Kaeban

It's impressive, but i rather wait for the review...you never know what can go wrong.

Flav44
Flav44

@Raxyman I'd agree with that. I'm also a bit gutted about the whole "downloadable/no PC version" thing.

CruiserCaptain
CruiserCaptain

I was excited until I heard "10 Levels" and "not open-world" This game needs to be open world. Deep down we all know this type of game needs to be open world.

Raxyman
Raxyman

@Flav44 True, my statement at Fallout 4 being a better post apocalptic was very hasty, there's no way to know since it's two games that aren't even out. But i DO want I Am Alive to be a failure, Ubisoft already pulled of some stunt with the DRM, and now a full retail priced downloadable game? And ignoring PC users? That's a lot of disagreements with their customers, you don't sell good to your clients by spitting in their faces. So that's why i'm terribly against this game. I still think a climber isn't exactly fit for a "realistic" game as they would have us believe.

RogerioFM
RogerioFM

@eoin Overall your concerns are sound, true game is seen as an inferior artform, still, it is evolving, in the past it wasn't considered as art at all. But again, as I said overall your concerns are sound, butthe game does seem rather unique. It remains to be seen whether it will be a winner though.

brotherscampos
brotherscampos

I love Fallout games that is a good option on that way, Maybe nerver happen but if the MAYAS are right and this years end the world I want to be prepare for Survivor. Bendiciones

MooncalfReviews
MooncalfReviews

Finally a game that concentrates on art (and not just visual!) instead of action. More of this please.

eoin
eoin

@RogerioFM In some cases yes but my problem is ONLY movies being used as references. Film and computer games are both visual artforms fundamentally, if one influences the other over and over youre left with derivative stories and characters, which is what ruin games. Point being if you gave a film maker and game maker the same book and ask both to interpurate the book in their medium, you will get two unique and at least interesting results. Games that continue to draw inspiration SOLELY from movies, are accepting that games are the inferior artform (If even) and should just continue trying to be like movies. Personally I dont want to play a game that can only manage to give me a brief smile as I think " hey that reminds me of the bit in that movie....", Id rather have a game immerse me in something its created itself not drawn from something both me and the creators have already seen in the theatre.

RogerioFM
RogerioFM

@eoinI don't agree completely, I think movies are as much good reference to create a game than a book. Movie is just other form of art and thus can be studied as well, after all the mechanisms of a game more resembles those of a movie. There are a great quantity of movies with great story and convincing characters, you just have to look harder. But I do admit that he mentioned the movie The Road and not it's source, still they are very similar.