I Am Alive: 'Can survival + realism = fun?'
23rd Nov 2011 | 10:27
I Am Alive is a curious beast. Imagine Assassin's Creed if Ezio had to stop climbing every once in a while so he could have a breather. Alternatively, imagine Uncharted if Nathan Drake only had one bullet to spend on a room full of thugs. It's a survival sim that's striving for apocalyptic realism - but does that also mean that it'll also be fun?
It's a year after the strange world-ending occurrence known as 'The Event', and our hero has finally returned to his home town of Haventon. His outward four hour plane trip has turned into a painful twelve month return journey, seeing as the end of the world has played more than a little havoc with the US transport system. He wants to discover the fate of his wife and daughter, but before he can get back to his flat there's broken bridges to navigate and streets full of cloying poisonous smoke to choke his way through.
Throughout I Am Alive whenever you're clambering, or struggling to breathe, your stamina bar slowly drops. If you find yourself halfway up a building and you run out of puff you're in for a tumble: your depleted white stamina meter will be replaced by a swiftly descending black bar, and you'll have to scramble for a surface you can stand on. Alternatively you could, perhaps, use up a piton (essentially a climbing hook/spear) to hang onto while you take a breather - guzzling canned fruit and foraged fizzy pop to reduce your muscle fatigue.
In places, then, this is a Tomb Raider game in which Lara has a dose of arthritis and a dicky ticker - but the hope is that the realism imbued by the disaster zone will give your pursuit of survival an added weight.
Meanwhile its Survivor mode will limit the number of adrenalin syringes, climbing gear and canned food as you explore the smog-filled streets - occasionally coming up for air by climbing up and poking your head above the thick toxic cloud. The ships wrecked in city streets, occasionally monochrome colour filters and the crumbling skyscrapers, meanwhile, give this a graphical edge that's above and beyond most other downloadable games.
It's the NPC encounters, however, where things really get interesting. Everyone in Haventon wants to survive - if you are armed with a pistol and aim it at an unarmed man's forehead then they will grovel. If they're in greater numbers, meanwhile, they'll bully you before they attack.
While they're pushing you around, however, you can use the time to plan your own retaliation - looking out for who's armed, who's armoured and who you should take down first.
It's all extremely 'The Book of Eli' as you work out the best way to make the most of your potential single bullet - perhaps a surprise throat slash to your tormenter, a single bullet to the forehead of the guy with a pistol, another gang-member kicked into a fire and the final unarmed thug left kneeling on the ground and begging for mercy.
Indeed, another clear inspiration is Cormack McCarthy's The Road. For some of your adventure you'll be carrying a young girl to safety - asking her to shut her eyes while you dish out the violence that's needed to guarantee your shared survival. "Why is everybody so mean now?" she'll wonder, while you let free a tethered arrow from your bow that brings an armed thug to his knees.
Not all NPCs are hostile: one happy pair offer you both some roasted meat which you can readily accept and chow down on. A nearby trail of blood, however, will then reveal this flesh wasn't acquired in a Buy One Get One Free deal at apoco-Morrissons.
At the other end of the train platform is a cage of terrified prisoners - a cannibal's larder. You can liberate them, if you choose, though you'll refrain from telling them that you still have bits of their friend stuck between your teeth.
I Am Alive is a fascinating prospect, but it's also hard to tell just how much fun its straight-laced approach to physical exertion will muster. No-one ever said the collapse of society was going to be all fun and games though....