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I Am Alive review: A new breed of survival horror?

Why you're your own worse enemy in Ubisoft's innovative disaster survival sim

A dead end, or end up dead? Your first meaningful contact with humanity in the ghost town of Haventon throws up a quandary that's typical of I Am Alive's obsession with fleetness of foot and fleetness of mind.

Here's how it goes down. As we struggle to wrench open a locked-up gate separating us from our former home, our ears prick up. We hear a sound we hadn't been expecting to hear - footsteps.

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Company is a rare mistress in Haventon, and indeed the world over in I Am Alive's grim vision of the near-future. A cataclysmic event has wiped out almost the entire human population, leaving behind in its wake a deserted mess of ash, ruin and smog. I Am Alive places us in the dusky shoes of a traveller intent on returning to his hometown to learn the fate of his estranged family.

Over a motorway bridge and into the sewers, we manage to make it to our old neighbourhood with only one incident of human contact - a vagrant who warns him off his patch by waving a gun in his face. We defuse the situation by keeping our distance with our hands in the air, and the confrontation ends without incident.

Diplomacy doesn't wash the second time round, though. Although we adopt the same non-confrontational stance that served us so well in the sewers, this thug ain't buying it. Food and supplies are scarce in this new world, and he's got designs on whatever might be lurking in our backpack. He's armed with a machete. Us? An empty gun and a bottle of water.


The solution? Play it cool. Wave the gun in the goon's face and he'll unconditionally surrender, unaware that there's nothing but air in the chamber. Accidentally tap RT and the give-away 'click' will call our bluff, but for now we're calling the shots.

Barking at him to keep his distance, we back him towards a cliff edge and opportunistically shunt him over as he pleads for his life.

It's a memorable set-piece which explores the kind of psychological warfare you rarely see in video games. It's also one that encapsulates everything I Am Alive was originally supposed to be about, before it morphed into something quite different but every bit as intriguing.

Before the change in developers from Darkworks to Ubisoft Shanghai, and before its shift from full retail release to XBLA/PSN download title, much was made of I Am Alive's focus on how you interacted with the other survivors. Indeed, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot was once moved to name-check it as one of their so-called 'Pink Games' - games designed to appeal to female demographics. "It's more oriented toward drama, more life in characters, more depth," he told the International Herald Tribute in 2006. "It's still about surviving, but you can't resolve things by shooting only."

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