I Am Alive Preview

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A post-apocalyptic setting is pretty typical for games these days, but very few make you feel like you’re actually feeling the effects of being in such an environment.  Most of the time, you’re just a survivor using his combat skills in order to keep up with day-to-day proceedings.  That’s what makes I Am Alive so unique – you’re actually playing a guy who just wants to reunite with his family, and battling the odds just like a real person would, rather than brushing it off with Mad Max-style bravado.

I am Alive

I Am Alive has been in production for what seems like ages, but Ubisoft had a pretty much near-finished build for us to try last week at the Consumer Electronics Show, and we’re happy to say that progress on its development has moved along swimmingly.  We got to play through a few minutes of the opening stage, where the nameless hero in question has sent a pre-recorded message, via an abandoned video camera, to his wife and kid.  Considering that all other means of contact have been desecrated by a so-called “Event” that has left the city of Haverton in ruins, the man can only hope they’re still at their old apartment.

The journey isn’t easy, however.  The first part that the stranger will have to contend with is the wreckage of the city itself.  He finds himself needing to get across a river, but instead of being able to mosey across a bridge, he has to crawl around bits and pieces of it, climbing to new heights and scurrying across with limited athletic ability.  Each move you make in I Am Alive actually affects an included stamina bar.  With each of your maneuvers, a small chunk of the bar dwindles away, emptying out.  Once it actually reaches zero, only a bit of precious energy remains, and the bar actually shrinks with each desperation move you make on minimal energy.  To survive, you’ll need to find a place to stand in order to refill the stamina bar and start all over.  This alone is sure to add some challenge to the game, as some of the areas require a whole lot of climbing to get around.

But getting around in this post apocalyptic world is only half the battle.  There are fellow survivors out there who are just as shaken as you by the “Event”, only they’re doing whatever it takes to assure they stay alive.  That means resorting to weapons and, in some situations, violence.  The nameless hero knows his way out of a combat situation, but running in guns blazing isn’t always the smartest way here.  Midway through the demo, while working through a sewer, you stumble across a survivor, startled, who draws a gun on you.  Rather than try to disarm him, the best thing you can do is walk away slowly.  Try to run – or even get the jump on him – and it could be a damn near instant game over for you.

Cautious is a good way to play some of these situations, but other times, you’ll need to rely on pure brutality in order to get by.  In a later section of the game, you’ll come across a fence that requires prying open, and a stranger coming at you with a machete.  You can draw your pistol – with bullets or without, and they’re sparingly provided throughout the game – and intimidate him, making him walk towards a ledge and then knocking him up, using the machete to force open the gate.  Later, you’ll find yourself forced to use your newfound weapon to slice up a pair of thugs looking to do you in.  This is done through button-tapping quick time events, though they’re brief enough that they’re not nearly as painful as what we’ve seen in previous games.  Just being forced to think twice in order to survive each situation is what makes I Am Alive so refreshingly different.

Along with the gameplay, Ubisoft has also done wonders with the game’s presentation.  With stunning black-and-white city details throughout, including waving flags, buildings that look like they’re ready to collapse, dynamic lighting, and smooth animations, it almost appears to be on the same level as a retail product, even though it’s downloadble.  The audio is quite respectable too, between the quality voicework and the small music cues that remind you that you’re living in desperate times.

I am Alive

I Am Alive is definitely a strong way for Ubisoft to start its 2012 gaming season, and we can’t wait to get our hands on it and see how the story ends up.  The gameplay really forces you to think in some situations, and the presentation simply can’t be beat.  We’ll let you know if this title’s worth striving for when it releases as part of the Microsoft House Party block next month on Xbox Live Marketplace.  (And don’t worry, PlayStation Network subscribers, you’ll get your shot with it later this spring.)

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Robert Workman
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