I Am Alive First Look Preview – It's Alive! It's Aaaalive!
Written Sunday, November 27, 2011 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Years and years in the making, the name hasn't helped I Am Alive's case, with the slightest sign that the game might be finally launching being greeted with cries of “I Am Alive is still alive!” It's something we've been just as guilty of as every other games site out there, but now we can actually confidently report that I Am Alive really is alive this time, and we've finally seen it in its new guise as a PlayStation Network game. Rebuilt from scratch with Ubisoft Shanghai behind the wheel, the studio claims it's been able to take more risks with I Am Alive, so there are a few new mechanics being explored and a distinct – yet potentially unique - survival horror flavour to the game.
We're still looking at hands-off code though, so we're consigned to sit and watch a presentation of the game led by Creative Director Stan Mettra. I Am Alive is almost completely unrecognisable in comparison to its E3 2008 reveal and subsequent E3 2010 reappearance, but the core concept is still very much intact, and that's survival. The first thing we notice about the game in its current state is the almost monochrome palette with dashes of muted colour here and there. It's an art style that perfectly encapsulates the oppressive post-apocalyptic atmosphere of the game, with ragtag, cannibalistic gangs of feral survivors eking out a desperate existence underground, smelling blood whenever you dare to venture into their territory.
I Am Alive starts with your lonesome protagonist recording a video diary for his estranged family who he's striving to find his way home to, showing his last possessions, thus setting the template for his ordeal ahead. “I'm almost home. I'll see you soon,” he says before setting off into his home city of Haverton, which is a destroyed ruin. It's taken him the best part of a year to get this far and now “The Event” - as it's cryptically referred to – has left the streets engulfed in a permanent layer of hanging, caustic fog, forcing you to climb above it all lest you choke to death.
There's a lot of climbing in fact, governed by a screen-spanning stamina bar that gradually burns away as you scale buildings or structures. Should your stamina completely dwindle, you're able to make an extra effort to reach a plateau, but it'll eat away at your overall stamina, leaving you with less for the next climb. Thankfully, you have an inventory for storing food and drink that can be consumed to restore your stamina lost by accumulated muscle fatigue. If there's a particularly lengthy climb ahead, you can use a piton (a climbing peg) to buy you a few seconds to rest at any time. Lose you stamina and you'll fall, but once you're done clambering around, you'll regain whatever stamina you have left.
During this opening section of the game, your objective is to track down a radio transmitter to add to your backpack of paltry supplies. You start out with a pistol, a single bullet, a climbing harness, a flashlight and batteries, so you'll have to scavenge whatever else you can find during your dangerous journey through Haverton. For much of this journey, you'll find yourself feeling your way through the dark and dingy subterranean underground, where you'll more often than not run into hostile bandits. For our demo, we're shown the protagonist carrying a young girl named Mei on his back, making his way through a gloomy subway. Stumbling upon a group of enemies, you'll have to adopt a careful strategy given the rarity of ammunition. It's possible to avoid confrontation, as survivors will shout threats and push you around before immediately attacking. You'll put up your hands in a submissive pose, backing down and dispensing futile lines, like “whoa, chill guys” and “so much for foreplay” in an attempt to diffuse the situation.
At this point, you can weigh up your options and if you have a knife or machete to hand, you can perform a surprise kill upon your aggressor, but then you'll have to be quick about dealing with the rest of the baying gang. You can conceivably dispatch a group of hostiles quickly if you're smart, so a surprise kill can be followed up by a fast draw and a rapid succession of one hit kills. Things get slightly more complicated should you face armoured foes, so you'll need to carefully consider your tactics. Later in the game you'll acquire a bow and arrow, but even pointing an empty gun at a potential attacker will make them think twice, although they may eventually call your bluff if you take too long to make a move.
Should things go awry, you only have a limited number of retries, although performing benevolent actions like stopping to release captives will gain you extra continues. The idea is that you're always on edge, feeling unsafe and insecure in an uncertain environment where anything can happen at any given moment. It essentially pays to mistrust everyone you encounter, although you will occasionally run into helpful people who'll willingly share their supplies with you. At one point during our demo, we see a small group of survivors who happily give away some of their cooked meat that can be eaten to restore your flagging stamina.
I Am Alive appears to have all of the requisite ingredients to be a success on the PlayStation Network, although whether the gritty, grainy look will be to everyone's tastes is uncertain. Personally, we're fond of the dark, muted style and the few new ideas Ubisoft Shanghai is experimenting with display a great deal of potential. Will they conspire to make a game that's worth the wait though? That's another question that can only be answered when we get our hands on I Am Alive and unravel the mystery of what happened in the wake of 'The Event'.
We'll find out whether it's worth braving I Am Alive's post-disaster urban nightmare when the game launches on PSN this winter.