Six years. That’s how long it took for Ubisoft’s I Am Alive to arrive, from announcement to release. For many, this amount of time builds up insane amounts of hype. After all, doesn’t the wait make something taste that much sweeter? For some, yes, yes it does. For others?
Well, they just couldn’t give two damns about the length of time a game takes so long as it’s good. So how do Adam and Jonny feel about this game? Was the wait worth it or should this be another XBLA/PSN title that you just happily avoid? The Baby Factor: Imagine if Prince Of Persia’s platforming learned to calm down a bit, then had an apocalyptic soiree with Gears Of War 3’s rubbly cities, and contracted an STD only to find out that the unbearable itching was caused by Silent Hill’s graininess.
Jonny: So, I entered this game without much in the way of previous knowledge. I hadn’t seen a trailer, I hadn’t read much about the game… Honestly, all I knew was from (Aural Pleasure podcast host) Bill and what he told me. So, when I got the opportunity to interview composer Jeff Broadbent (check it out here), I told the guys that I wanted to play the game to know how the music fit in with the actual gameplay. It’d be like listening to the soundtrack to a movie without ever seeing the film and expecting to know how well it worked. Not gonna happen.
Adam: I saw the announcement trailer back in 2008. You know, that one that borrowed heavily from a scene in Children of Men. The music in this game is fantastic, and I’m especially fond of when developers use the music in the game in interesting ways. In Left 4 Dead the music can warn you of an oncoming horde, a tank, or a nearby special infected. In I Am Alive, the music crescendos when you’re running out of stamina, letting you know you need to get your out-of-shape ass up the wall you’re scaling before you fall to your death.
Jonny: Oh yeah, I remember that Children of Men scene! But I totally agree with you. Games that use music and/or sound as a means of conveying information are always something I enjoy. It’s like a weird “rule of thumb” for me. So I get the game and I start it up and, whoa, I’m actually really enjoying it! Sure, it’s not a fast-paced shoot ‘em up or some breath snatching survival horror. Rather, I felt that the game was aimed towards players who grew up with a lot of the old-school point-and-click adventures. This game requires players to do a couple of things: have patience and be curious. Running into situations is pretty much the worst thing you can do. It pays to take time and look at what the challenge ahead of you holds.
Adam: I found myself crouch walking a lot in this game, and for exactly that reason. People are hidden all over, just trying to survive in this desaturated urban wasteland. Not all of them are hostile, but it’s difficult to distinguish the harmless ones from the ones who want to steal your supplies and mount your head on a pike.
Jonny: I found that I had to really think about my choices and the consequences that resulted. Was it worth it to face off with someone who just wanted to live life on their own for their supplies? Quite possibly. But I felt like a total dick after killing them! That being said, the game pretty much demands that you explore the city of Haventon. Supplies and resources are invaluable, not only for your own preservation, but also to help victims around you. In fact, helping victims can be incredibly rewarding, depending on the victim.
Adam: I enjoyed the moral choices of using what little supplies you have to help total strangers. You don’t know if your gift is going to get you anything in return, and with so little food and water available, it’s a tough decision to make. Thankfully, I’m a super nice guy, so I totally helped everyone I came across. In return for bitter, post-apocalyptic handies.
Jonny: That is quite possibly the fastest way I can think of to get a post-apocalyptic UTI. But hey, whatever jerks your chains. Ba-ZING!
Jonny: Visually, I found the game to be almost too colorless. There was an obscene amount of grey and light brown, but even when there were other colors, they were so muted that it didn’t feel like they added anything. Stand on top of a roof and look at the sky and the blue doesn’t pop out, nor does the wealth of colors from the setting sun. It’s a shame, because a few splashes of color would’ve been rather nice to look at.
Adam: This game suffers from a serious case of Gears of War, in that its color palette is lacking any real variety. At first glance it looks like a black and white game, but then you start noticing hints of color everywhere, only they’re muted by the dust that’s still thick in the air after “the event.” This is something I liked, because it matches the game’s incredibly depressing and subtle nature very well. Sure, I can’t really play the game for extended periods of time without wanting to walk into the bathroom and cut my wrists, but I wouldn’t want this game to look like Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, either.
Jonny: Yeah, I can see how the muted colors suited the atmosphere, but I still feel that a little bit of bright red from a Stop sign or something similar would’ve broken up the monotony a little bit. Remember when, near the end of the game, you have to navigate over water? It looked gray, not blue. I call shenanigans!
Adam: Unless the water is gray because it’s filled with the ashes of countless men, women, and children that burned to death in the Event.
Jonny: When it comes to graphics, this game does really well in some regards but fails in others. The lighting and shadows are beautifully done but many of the characters in the game are uninspired. Navigating the city can also become confusing as all the buildings begin to look alike very quickly. The unending cloud of dust doesn’t help things either.
Adam: When I was playing this game my roommate glanced at the screen as he was passing by and asked what PS2 game I was playing. I Am Alive really does look like it released near the end of the PS2 era, and I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way. Because of the restraints that come with being an XBLA title over a full release, this game borrowed heavily from strategies used in games like Silent Hill. You’re exploring an expansive, thoroughly decimated world, but it’s only revealed to you in small parts because of the dust-laden air. Silent Hill did this too, only with thick fog. Also, I totally agree with your comment about the characters. None of them look interesting, and that’s disappointing.
Jonny: I love when people are creative with their limitations. James Wan did it beautifully with ‘Insidious’ and ‘Saw’, so when video game companies do it (even if it’s a rip-off of a previous technique), I’m all for it.
Jonny: I found the controls to be pretty good, although there were a few times that I found myself talking to my TV, saying things like, “No! I want you to go down, not left!” Also, the combat controls can be clunky, especially when you click the right-thumbstick for free aim. I’ve wasted a couple of bullets because that aiming system just doesn’t work 100%.
Adam: The controls are something I have a serious issue with. I had the same issue where he didn’t really do what I wanted him to do, and that unresponsiveness killed me more than once because it usually happens when I’m desperately trying to climb a steep wall. As for the combat, I hate that you can’t use your machete whenever you like. It makes no sense that I have this blade, this incredibly useful tool, and I can only use it in contextual events. Someone explain that to me, because I’m not getting it.
Jonny: I’m guessing that these issues stem from the fact that, often times, there are SO MANY different paths to take! The game deliberately offers many ways to tackle a situation, even though many paths lead to nothing, which means you’re SCREWED!
Oh, and I want that machete issue dealt with. I feel that it is my right as a post-apocalyptic American citizen to hack away at whatever I feel like.
Adam: Let’s start a petititon! Maybe if we get a dozen signatures Ubisoft will let us hack up innocent people, the way you would in a real apocalypse.
Jonny: I Am Alive is also probably the first game where I looked at my ammo counter and thought, “Three bullets? I’m fucking LOADED! Nobody can stop me now!” It’s a weird thought but it was done so effectively that I can’t help but admire them for making me think like this.
Adam: Yeah, the scarcity of any resources, and particularly the ammunition, was a great idea. I savored every can of food or bottle of water I found, and when I found another bullet to add to my vast arsenal of three bullets, I felt like Rambo.
Jonny: When I started getting other weapons, that’s when I felt like I was the supreme badass of Haventon. Oh, you have body armor? Well, I have an ARROW FOR YOUR FACE!
Adam: I wore body armor once, then I took an arrow to the face.
Jonny: The music and sound of the game was actually really well done, in my opinion. I felt that the creepy music that signaled you were running out of stamina really amped up the need to replenish yourself. I always felt my heart rate quicken as my stamina bar fell lower and lower.
Adam: When it isn’t reminding you that you’re about to plummet to a quick death, the music provides a fantastic backdrop to the rest of the game. I could totally picture Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka’s muted industrial tones playing quietly in the background while I searched the deserted city streets for supplies, but what is there is great all on its own.
Jonny: Yeah, Jeff Broadbent really captured the decaying industrial feel of the city in the music. And no matter what, that plummeting death music always got my heart racing.
Jonny’s Final Word: In the end, I actually really enjoyed I Am Alive. Sure, it’s not a game that I could see being a full-length release, but as an XBLA title? Totally worth it.
Adam’s Final Word: This is a depressing experience, and it comes closer than most other games before it to offering a more realistic look at what it would be like to fight to survive in a world long bereft of humanity. I Am Alive is what I picture a video game adaptation of Cormack McCarthy’s The Road would look like. It’s a haunting experience you won’t soon forget, and it’s also one of the bleakest games I’ve ever played.
Jonny: Wow…that is one of the most depressing positive game recommendations I think I’ve ever read.