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SummaryThe title that was a lie; but does it suck?
The GoodIt amazes me how complicated games, and the process of making games, has become during my lifetime. Having recently played 'Fatal Labyrinth', a game cobbled together by probably less than 20 people, with only 2 or 3 doing the majority of the work, I didn't take for granted that they got it done. But along comes a game like 'I am Alive', a game that had a lot more people working on it, with a lot more technology at their disposal, and they couldn't finish it the way they wanted. So this is a review of a game that didn't achieve the potential it had even by the admission of the creators... Do you think John Romero would have admitted 'Daikatana' wasn't the product he envisioned at its release? I sure don't.
For the record, I'm just reviewing the games 'Survivor' mode; I didn't play the standard mode where you get continues and more ammo.
Stylistically, there is a lot to like in this game. This is a game made by smart people, and it shows through play and story. There is a lot of effort put into the look and feel of the environments. This game takes place 1 year after the disaster, and looking at the makeshift and now abandoned shelters, the picked-over and looted tenements, you believe it. While areas have to 'roadblock' the character, limiting your path between objectives, these roadblocks are convincingly constructed and varied. The game also rewards exploration and daring, placing valuable items in obscure or dangerous locations. There are many instances in which you have to sustain damage to either health or stamina to recover an item, and sometimes the item isn't worth it. The game uses both active and inactive elements to limit your path – while the roadblocks are self-explanatory, an old woman defending the street in front of her house with a shotgun is an active control. If you approach she will shoot you dead. If you run – even past her – she will shoot you. This requires you to 'play along' and slowly walk by, while she trains a gun on you - which really works to put you in the protagonists boots.
The main protagonist is well rounded; his abilities in climbing and combat are impressive without being unbelievable. This lends a feeling of vulnerability to the elements in the game, while still allowing some degree of feeling empowered.
The environment is one of the primary antagonists, along with your physical limitations. It is a very refreshing approach, especially considering the slew of zombie games out there. Exploration of the lower levels is made difficult because of the dust clouds – you can only spend a certain amount of time down there, in poor visibility, and with your stamina gauge dropping slowly. You need the same stamina to climb back up into the clean air, so there is an air of constant anxiety. Seeing the glow of an item in the dust, debating whether to turn back or to push on a little bit further before turning back, it makes for tense play.
Graphically, what I have to appreciate is mainly from a design point of view. While the main characters are detailed and well animated, the environmental graphics are lacking for the PS3 and 360 console standards. I understand that this is a digital release – but so is my copy of Mass Effect 3...
Encountering other people is also exciting, for multiple reasons. In the 'Survivor' mode, ammunition and resources are very limited. I very rarely had more than 1 bullet for my pistol, in fact, you start the game with zero bullets! You literally have to bluff with the gun in your first hostile encounter. The game uses an almost 'rock, paper, scissors' type of conflict model. If the opponent has a gun, you feign surrender and allow him to get close to you, when he is close enough you surprise kill him with your machete and take his ammo (unless he was also bluffing). If your opponent has a knife, you intimidate him with your gun. If you can coax him to surrender you can knock him out, or you can get into a 'struggle fight' to stab him with your machete. This is simple until there are multiple opponents, in which case you will have to identify the morale leader and execute him with your gun, hopefully prompting the others to surrender. When it works it is rewarding.
The game also tests your karma by keeping track of how many people you help with resources, as well as if you choose to eat human flesh or leave people to die. I always find these kinds of moral dilemma's in a game to be very rewarding and involving, because they ask what you would do in the characters shoes.
My favourite weapon in the game is by far the bow. You get it about 2/3rds of the way through, and it really solves the 'revolving bullet' dilemma. The idea that you can recover the arrow so long as it isn't broken by hitting a hardened surface or landing somewhere inaccessible to your character.
The characters in the game are all well rounded; I really enjoyed a segment where you have a young girl strapped to your back during a climbing sequence, I felt that this really exemplified the potential of this game. Similar to the 'escorting Emma' scene of MGS2, but without the need to resort to pee jokes.
The games view of humanity in the wake of disaster – with gangs of men capturing and using women for prostitution, is done in a mature way that I appreciate. Although dealing with such a mature subject, the game does not stoop to voyeurism, but also doesn't censor the subject. I also appreciated being able to rescue someone from that situation.
The BadI'm happy that I don't have any game-breaker glitches to complain about. The engine at least was pretty solid that way. Unfortunately, it is obvious during play that the game is not as 'free' as many others I've played. The initial scene involves a platform jumping sequence on a ruined suspension bridge. I was sweating bullets trying to line up those first few jumps – only to realize that I didn't need to be accurate or careful, just recognize where to jump from and my landing was guaranteed.
The graphics start out okay, and despite some stand-out locations and very nice use of layout, they tend to decline towards the end of the game. It is pretty obvious where the second team stepped in to 'brush in' the unfinished sections, and equally obvious when they had established concept art to create an environment from.
The 'auto-aim' system is clunky. It works, but it robs you of the feeling of pulling the trigger. Luckily, on most opponents, it doesn't seem to matter where you shoot them. The manual aim system is even worse – having to make an aimed shot on an armoured opponent takes too long. You could argue that I might be the problem – that I'm not good at aiming – but I'm pretty good at making head-shots in Siphon Filter and MGS – which are similar 3rd person games with 1st person aiming options.
The grappling hook, an item you get about 1/3rd into the game, had the potential to be a great addition. Sadly it is criminally under- used. When I got it I had visions of being like Spider-man – swinging through the air and knocking bad guys into pits, or using it to escape my enemies. I think you use it 4 or 5 times in the entire game and just to swing between platforms.
The Bottom Line'I am Alive' is the wrong title for this game. It's a good title by industry standards, to be sure – intriguing, bringing questions of why and how out of the mind – but it is a lie with the game in its current form. Completing a game, and seeing the ending, is as much a reward as playing the game is. You could call the ending the point of the game. When I beat this game, on hard mode, I thought I had gotten the 'bad' ending. And it bothered me, because I had gone out of my way to be a good person, to play conservatively, and to help others.
I got the 'only' ending though – because the game wasn't 'finished' the way the developers wanted. And as much as I understand having to hand something in unfinished, and wanting people to know that it wasn't 'done yet', I refuse to believe that they lacked the time to even give a scrolling text over still frame 'good' ending. Yeah, that's pretty lack-luster nowadays, but it would have taken maybe a few hours to put together to reward the players who tried to retain the humanity of the character throughout the game. As I player, I deserved better.
The game was pretty short, and with no reason to re-play through it, it's a good thing I got it on discount through the Playstation Plus membership. I recommend this game, but only at $15 or less.