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Review

I Am Alive Review

  • Game release: March 7, 2012
  • Reviewed: April 6, 2012
  • PS3

Constant tension and difficult emotional decisions make I Am Alive a powerful adventure.

by

Your city is in ruins. Destroyed cars litter the decimated streets and lie dormant beside the crumbling buildings that struggle to rise above the twisted train tracks. Dust swirls and cloaks, choking anyone unfortunate enough to be caught in its suffocating gusts. And the people are in even worse shape than the tattered city they still call home. Society has disintegrated as quickly as the structures that used to cage in its residents. Some people travel in wolfish packs, scrounging on the weak to feed their insatiable desires. Others huddle with their loved ones, thankful just to survive another day. How will you react in this bleak world? I Am Alive effectively conveys the broken state of society when devastation hits and no police force exists to keep order. There is no good or bad here, just alive or dead, and the tough decisions you make to keep breathing ensure I Am Alive's emotional depth.

The protagonist is an unnamed man in search of his family. On the surface, the decision to leave the main character nameless seems strange, especially when the supporting cast members all have a moniker to call their own. But it makes sense when you consider the purpose of this survival-themed adventure. Through difficult decisions and a constant feeling of dread, you are the main character in I Am Alive. By painting only a cursory character in the starring role--determined, loyal, loving--and leaving the rest of his details unstated, I Am Alive immediately draws you into this world and establishes that you, not a digital construct, have to make the tough choices.

When the event hit, you were on the other side of the country. Four hours to fly across the country, almost a year to walk back home. But your family needs you. Hints of betrayal, where you somehow let down your kin at some point in the past, are touched on and make you wonder what unforgivable act was committed to bear such a terrible penance. Like most of the details, you never find out exactly why the main character is struggling with guilt. It's never explained what "the event" entailed, either. Was it an attack by a foreign nation? Homegrown terrorism? Natural disaster? It's left to your imagination, but the cause isn't important. Only the effect. And when he arrives at his apartment, long since abandoned, with no clue as to where his family has disappeared or if they're even alive, you care.

Prepare yourself for the event by working on your upper body strength.

That bond is further strengthened by the appearance of a young girl. Mei is surrounded in a parking lot by angry men with bad intentions. She's alone, scared, and looks strikingly like your own daughter. In a flurry of violence, you slay those men because doing nothing would have made it impossible to live with yourself. Mei begins to trust you. Her mother has gone missing, and your protective instincts take over. Tied to your back, you carry her through the desolate remains. You establish an immediate connection with Mei because she's helpless, sweet, and doesn't deserve to live in this terrible world. She can't even remember what the city was like before the event hit. When she develops a fever, you rush to find medicine--it's an objective you must complete, but you need no encouragement. She's your only companion and your closest connection to your own family, so you do everything in your power to keep her safe.

Story details are kept to a minimum. Instead of pulling you out of the action with long cutscenes, most of the information is conveyed as you walk through this wasteland. At one point, you come across a group of survivors huddled together by a roaring fire in the heart of the subway. They see Mei on your back, tired and hungry, and they offer you some meat. You greedily accept their present because a piece of meat replenishes most of your health and stamina in one bite.

As you survey their camp, you come across a cage that is now filled with bones. Dog? Cat? Human? You can only wonder what sort of meat was handed to you. Later on, you find a starving, desperate woman struggling to carry onward. When you hand her a can of fruit, she shows her thanks and you feel good for saving someone in need. Walk by her position later, you find her hanging from a noose. You didn't need to go back, but you wanted to see how she was doing, and now you can't get that image out of your head.

Caring for Mei draws you into this world.

With direct routes destroyed by the event, you have to climb to get to new areas. You go up drain pipes, across rails, and down ladders as you take hold of anything that supports your weight. As soon as you grab on to a ledge, your stamina drops, and the pounding music solidifies the idea that time is running out. You're not superhuman, just a regular man, and you will die if you run out of strength. So you move as quickly and precisely as possible. Your limited reserve of items can be used to recharge your stamina in a pinch, but each morsel is precious. You have to make your resources last, which tinges every climb with the pressure of failure. If you press too far and let your stamina go below its breaking point, it won't regenerate fully when you step back on solid ground. There's permanence to your actions in I Am Alive that makes everything you do take on added importance.

When you aren't clinging frantically to the side of a wall, you weave through the chaos of your new reality. Although you only travel through a small part of the city in I Am Alive, it feels like an entire world. The devastation cuts off the quickest path to your destination, so finding out how to get where you want to go takes patience and determination. On the street, a poisonous fog continually saps your stamina, so you have to find ways to rise above the cloud. If you climb up to a fire escape to catch your breath, you can survey the landscape. You may walk in the wrong direction for minutes at a time, trying to find a way to cross seemingly impassable obstacles. There's a feeling of dread that permeates all of your choices. If you go off to the wrong place, you might not be able to climb to clean air. You might die on the street. So your heart races, but you press on and hope that you don't get caught in the fog.

There are times when the illusion is tarnished. You walk down an alley and the game boldly warns you that you're going the wrong way. Getting completely lost is difficult, given that you have a map you can access anytime, so such hand-holding is unnecessary. An intrusive heads-up display also strips away some of the realism. A giant red and white bar stretches across the top of the screen at all times, giving constant updates of your health and stamina. Handy? Yes. But there could have been a more elegant way to handle such concerns. I Am Alive is so effective because it removes many artificial barriers and forces you to make intimate and emotional decisions. The few unrealistic elements are a stark contrast to the engrossing world and only lessen the experience.

Such concerns won't matter when you're engaged in a tense fight for your life. Some people on the street want to attack you. They want to kill you. Aggression is a last resort for a man desperate to stay alive to see his family once more. So when you're approached by an armed thug, you hold up your arms instead of your gun. Slowly back away, try to calm him with your words, and lure him into thinking he has the upper hand. And then, when he lets his guard down, slit his throat with a quick slash from your knife. His companion will know you were playing possum. He rushes toward you, but you freeze him in his tracks with your gun. With sights aimed at his head, he doesn't realize the chamber is empty. You yell at him angrily and order him to back away. Steer him toward the fire and kick him into it. You've now killed two men and didn't have to waste any ammunition to do so.

Combat in I Am Alive is psychological. Because picking up one bullet feels like a bounty, you need to be smart and resourceful to stay alive. Reading the emotions of the aggressive survivors who are intent on your death is key if you want to make it through unscathed. When a group ambushes you amid the wreckage of a highway-turned-parking-lot, you need to immediately assess the situation. Who's armed? Do any of them have guns? Those are the most likely to cause you harm. But analysis goes deeper than that. There may be four or five attackers closing in, and you can't expect to kill that many with two bullets. So you listen to their words. You watch their actions. Who's weak? Who's following orders? And who's strong? If you can eliminate the leader, his subordinates surrender. Such mind games keep you on edge during every fight because you're never sure going in what mask your assailants wear.

Locked gates offer little resistance once the apocalypse hits.

Of course, there are people who don't want to kill you. Maybe they have their own stash of valuables to guard or their own loved ones to protect. When you approach them, they threaten you. They shout and yell, even pointing a weapon your way. But they don't want to fight. They just want to live. Keep on walking if you want. You're not a street thug, after all; just a desperate man in search of his family. But you can see a precious bottle of water just behind the man yelling frantically for you to keep moving. He sounds weak, scared. His gun probably isn't even loaded. So you take one step closer to him--just to see how he reacts. He yells but doesn't shoot. You take another step and then another. And then you're face to face. Do you kill him? Take his bottle of water? Or do you leave him be? The choice is yours. There is no punishment, either, because there's no police force to keep order. You have to decide if you want to kill the innocent or let him live.

Other people want your help. They're desperate for it. "It's my son! They stabbed him!" one woman cries. "My asthma is getting worse with every breath," a stranded man coughs. If you save these people, you earn another chance to retry should you fail. But think about the cost for a second. You have exactly one first aid kit on you right now, and the only other item that can cure you is the mystery meat you were given in the subway. Are you willing to give up your first aid kit for an extra life? Especially because you're more likely to die without that health? Sure, you find out pieces of the backstory when you rescue a survivor, but that's a hefty price to pay just to find out the women and children were evacuated to a northern city. And how about those people locked in a cage? You would have to fire your only bullet to free them, and you might need that bullet to protect Mei.

These decisions carry even more weight if you play on survivor difficulty. You have two choices when you start the game: normal and survivor. The only differences between them are how many items are scattered throughout the world and how many retries you have should you die. If you run out of retries, you could be sent back a half hour or more. It's a punishment that fits with the themes of the game. This is a cold, hard world, where your actions have severe consequences, so losing your retries has to communicate that you failed. On normal, you might have enough resources to spare a bottle of painkillers to a person in need, but on survivor, everything is different. There is no good or bad in I Am Alive because there's no telling how far a person would go to survive. Is it really wrong to withhold your only first aid kit from a complete stranger? Or to take medication from a person who most likely will be dead before the sun rises anyway?

Deciding whether or not to help people in need is tougher than it sounds.

The emotional weight is amplified by the stifling artistic design. Grays and browns populate this world, with the faded red, white, and blue of an occasional American flag the only striking colors. When the dust swirls, draining your stamina with every step, you can hardly see 10 feet in front of you. Hazy outlines hint at an upcoming oasis or deadly danger, and you have to walk closer just to make out what's right in front of your face. When you find safety at one point in the game, the bright colors are almost blinding. It's clean and pure in ways that you've forgotten could exist, and you want to spend the rest of your days in that brightly lit dream world. But you have to leave. And the dust engulfs you as you walk into the black night.

I Am Alive effectively draws you into a city gone to ruin by relying on instinctual human reactions to establish a strong emotional connection. From a technical standpoint, there's nothing special here. The controls are stiff, the graphics are murky, and the voice acting hits odd notes. But I Am Alive rises above these basic concerns to offer an engrossing experience that's difficult to forget. If you let this deliberately paced adventure get under your skin, it draws you into a world that shows how humans react when the rules are stripped away. Some just want to survive while others want to impose their will, and you're left to decide your own path. I Am Alive is a smart and well-crafted adventure that keeps you tense throughout, and it makes you desperate to know the fate of the family you so anxiously want to find.

The Good
Tough choices affect your and others' survival
Unnerving psychological combat system
Constant tension in all of your actions
Intriguing story elements conveyed through background details
Suffocating visual and audio design heighten emotional connection
The Bad
Intrusive heads-up display clashes with the raw aesthetics
Unnecessary moments of hand-holding
8
Great
About GameSpot's Reviews
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Discussion

34 comments
sw1000xg
sw1000xg

Are you lot sniffing something? 


IT'S... AWFUL!


Press this button, to open, gate!

Press this button, to shoot!

Press this button to engage in a button mashing event!

Press this button, so you don't fall!

press this button, to climb!


Press this button, so you don't run out of stamina!

If you don't press a button of some sort when it says too, that's it retry? That's not a game! 


Games like this where slated because you don't do anything, i.e. Night Trap...  All you do in this game is just move the character, then press a button when it tells you too!


The entire game is just one quicktime event... No wonder games today are so damn bad!

gusnd
gusnd

Thanks God is not about zombies!

gameface666
gameface666

I enjoyed this game it was unique, and more realistic than other post apocalyptic games. 

 

mr_azim
mr_azim

How long does the game last/play for?

squidbilly22
squidbilly22

i prefer more free style combat not timed button presses..otherwise i would dl it...playing daddy day care doesn't seem appealing either .....its a bummer i wanted to like this one.

majidrailway
majidrailway

it is really good game and def rant game puzzle game

teknotel
teknotel

This game looks good, but I really struggle from the review to get anything from it about the actual gameplay. In fact I get nothing about the gameplay. This review is good at describing the world and atmosphere, but really I want to know about the combat system, is it a open world, does your character level up like rpg element? You get absolutely nothing about this. I think this is very important especially when reviewing a game from a newish genre like this. Basically what I am saying is that the point of a review should be to help the reader decide whether to purchase the game r not. Based on this review i still dont know whether I want to as I know nothing about the actual game play, only that you have to make decisions along the way, as you do in almost every other game ever made. 

entereddanny
entereddanny

Reading about this game makes me jealous for Playstation 3 owners.

stormlord87
stormlord87

The premise sounds similar to Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling (good book, go read it). Too bad this is only on PS3. Hoping that a PC port will be made available soon.

vivalatour
vivalatour

i'M GOING ALONG , BUT STILL EXPERIENCING FUNKY CONTROL PROBLEMS , I KEEP STARTING OVER BECAUSE if THERE IS A CHANCE OF PERFECTING THIS GAME I'M GOING TO FIND IT !

naryanrobinson
naryanrobinson

All these butthurt Tom haters are really getting old. Great game, great review. Keep it up.

NeleNel
NeleNel

Honesty have to say I've enjoyed this so far. Really emotional story reminds me of Heavy Rain, with a bit more action and personal choices IMO.

LucentWolf
LucentWolf

For all those asking, no it didn't come out last month along with the 360. Unfortunately we had to wait a month on the PSN. Probably the usual Microsoft buying their way into stuff. -.- Anyways. The game's great. Amazing atmosphere. I scared the hell out of myself on accident, firing my shotgun in a quiet room. The constant stamina drain effecting everything you do keeps you on your toes and constantly looking for the best way out. The story is also rather touching, and you do find yourself feeling for the characters. I'm about 75% into the game and have around 7 hours put into it, I'm not looking forward to finishing it, I want more.

AnyKeyz
AnyKeyz

Arf, thought I found a cool game, but the review is from McShea...Back to square one...

Cocotroid
Cocotroid

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

dutchgamer83
dutchgamer83

Whats with the repost? Or rather, why does the console always gets a ps3 and xbox review where gamespot doesn't do a pc review when it also appears on the pc. But realyl why is there a PS3 review i thought it came out the same time as the xbox?

joshnabours1
joshnabours1

interesting plot nice story behind it. really makes me want to play it.

digi-demon
digi-demon

Didn't this get released on 360 last month?

BloodMist
BloodMist

Yeah well at least it's better than paying $60 for an emotionally empty shell of a game that lasts slightly longer.

GameYakuza
GameYakuza

these downloadable games with high production values are weird, because they play as an adventure game with some novel game mechanics, but they are over as soon as we get used to them. I think a good adventure game should have at least 10 hours of gameplay.

BloodMist
BloodMist

Unique, atmospheric, intense?Sounds like my kinda game.

starduke
starduke

Hmm, sounds like a pretty good reason to get a PS3. Of course, I'd rather it get a GOOD port to PC.

qweasd54
qweasd54

well deserved ..this game got alot of unnecesary hate..but in reality its a well done game.

SamehH99
SamehH99

looks good, i love those kind of games

somerset99
somerset99

 @teknotel Yes, the review failed to describe the playability, well, here ya go, it wasn't really that good, it was rather bland, and you might be able to do one thing in only one area, the AI was amazingly realistic, the attack system with the melee weapon was always the same thing which bored me, because you couldn't really attack them, you just always got into a struggle where you would have to mash R1 to stab the other person, it isn't an open world, over all, I think this guy over rated this game, the only thing that constantly impressed me was the stamina system, it was arguably better than any of the Elder Scrolls system, but for this game, I'd give it a 7. The playability was not great. 

teknotel
teknotel

 @somerset99 I ended up downloading it blindly so to speak .. I actually didn't think it was very good which I guess is a matter of opinion. To the guy moaning about 'butthole Tom haters'.....  I don't hate anyone, I have never even noticed a review nor was I aware there are people out there who hate 'Tom'. Constructive criticism is a good thing, gamespot is a fantastic site and I just struggled to learn anything about the gameplay, which is why I commented as I buy a lot of games. This is the first time I have ever commented on a game review. FYI.

veskalin86
veskalin86

 @evilweav would you now.... why dont your get a grip and grow up. you were the one that insulted me first... all i did was posting my opinion, if you did not like it, i dont give a s***...

wavelength121
wavelength121

@teknotel @somerset99 Maybe the atmosphere IS the gameplay, sherlock. Here's a hint: if a professional game critic doesn't mention specific things about the gameplay (which he did, you just didn't pay attention or didn't watch the footage) it's because there is nothing TO say. Hmmm what a concept i know. If something is clumsy and non-intuitive it will stand out. Hope it was worth trolling gamespot for you

I Am Alive More Info

First Release on Mar 07, 2012
  • PC
  • PlayStation 3
  • Xbox 360
Ubisoft brings a new survival adventure game to current-generation game consoles.
7.4
Average User RatingOut of 757 User Ratings
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Developed by:
Ubisoft Shanghai
Published by:
Ubisoft
Genres:
Open-World, Adventure, Action, 3D
Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
Mature
All Platforms
Blood, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language