Thursday, 26 April 2012

Video Game Review | I Am Alive, dev. Ubisoft Shanghai

If it is recalled at all - and let me say off the bat that I absolutely believe it should be - I Am Alive is likely to be remembered as 2012's best worst game. It's not a fundamentally broken product, as a few frustrated industry critics have alleged, but it is clunky, ugly and oddly arcadey in spite of its self-professed video game vérité aesthetic. In terms of certain aspects of its conception and execution, additionally, I am afraid I Am Alive looks and feels tragically misguided.

That said, I had a hell of a time with it.

In the first, because it's no small wonder that I Am Alive is alive, in any way, shape or form. Understand, if you aren't already aware, that it was five years in the making under the the care of various different developers working out of several entirelyseparate studios, and that's just going from the information available in the public domain; I don't doubt the whole story is still more sordid. Be aware, also - be very aware - that I Am Alive was scrapped and restarted who knows how many times before Ubisoft Shanghai hit upon the downloadable, Uncharted-esque design let loose upon the Xbox Live Marketplace and latterly the PlayStation Store this Spring.

Thus, the extent of I Am Alive's existence as an actual buyable entity is an achievement in itself. And though some amount of the tumult behind the scenes of this strange game's creation comes through in the final product, as a matter of fact there's less of that than I'd expected. Seems to me the single greatest issue this latest iteration of the core idea animating I Am Alive suffers from is a rush to get it out of the door well before it was primed and polished for public consumption.

Needless to say, I have no inside information here... only the knowledge that I Am Alive plays, in a lot of ways, like a preview build of an incomplete product. Like a game with a couple months of beta testing ahead of it yet. I wouldn't dare to damn the thing in this fashion if Ubisoft - the erstwhile purveyors of annual installments of the Assassin's Creed franchise - hadn't crapped it out in its current state.

But I Am Alive is what it is, and what it is isn't all bad... not by any stretch of the imagination. Speaking of which, there's another thing I Am Alive lacks: imagination. That is, in terms of its narrative, its characters, and the awkward way the player interacts with both and neither. The story, to be sure, is a derivative dreg. A filthy swill of the begged and the borrowed distilled from any number of better, smarter, more exciting apocalypses. The people you meet, meanwhile - you being Adam, a husband and a father separated from his family by the lack of a proper public transport infrastructure in the immediate aftermath of The Event - are flat, uninspired, or outright insipid to a one.

Still and all, I Am Alive is incredible. Or else: it very nearly is.

Much as I might like to, I don't suppose I can overlook all its problems. The unresponsive, generations-removed controls that make simple platforming an almighty chore; the ghastly map which puts paid to any notion of either planning or on-the-fly navigation in the city of Haventon; the frustrating dead ends in the level design, a la Silent Hill's shattered streets but lacking that series' rhyme or reason; the crappy combat. Oh, the crappy combat!

But we needn't get into that, and we certainly won't so late in the game. Like so many of the crude component parts that factor into I Am Alive - like the cheap checkpoints and the fetch quests - once you get your head around how combat works, it... well, it works, and that's all it needs to do, really. I mean, say it had looked or felt more satisfying; presumably players would want to do more of it, and that'd be a complete contradiction of I Am Alive's bleakly unique take on the survival horror genre, which casts you as a half-dead dude instead of some superhuman, with a single bullet in the chamber of your rusted old gun if you're lucky - and only then if you've used your exceedingly rare resources sparingly - or a paltry box-cutter if not. Versus the world.

And what a world.

That's why I love I Am Alive, for all its faults. Because of what it tries to do, and what to some extent it succeeds in doing. Because of the breathlessly oppressive atmosphere it evokes, and the insensible terror the presence of someone who hopes to hurt you invariably brings about. Because of the fear, basically. I love a good scare - don't we all? - thus this last outweighs all else: I have rarely felt so afraid playing a video game as I did in the midst of this inimitable, if shockingly unpolished eight-hour experience.

I Am Alive is essentially the Dark Souls of survival horror. Punishing, practically impenetrable, and resolutely old school. Given its relatively tiny price whatever platform you buy it on, I'd recommend you give it a go. Just be sure to bring spare underwear...


  1. Great article, I love I am Alive, I think that it will be one of those games with a small cult following. Well worth a play

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  2. I'm alive fell in with the same genre of Silent Hill, Alan Wake, and Hard Rain most of it based on the horror games and a survival type of game.