by Quinn Levandoski
previewed on X360
A picture of health (cntd)
Gameplay in I Am Alive is a hybrid of Uncharted-inspired climbing, survival-horror style resource management, and open-ended choice based combat. When out in the city, the world is your playground. Huge buildings create intricate labyrinths of steel and concrete that seem to beckon you to explore their interconnected workings. You can do this by running, jumping, climbing, and dropping from one spot to the next with an impressive degree of freedom and console. However, unlike most other games that involve a good deal of vertical traversal, I Am Alive adds an additional layer of strategy.
During all of their climbs, players will have to pay careful heed to the stamina bar. With every leap and lunge, a portion of the stamina bar will drop. Finding a place to climb up and stand will add stamina back. When the bar gets to zero, you run out out of energy and fall to your demise. This means that when climbing, preparation is key. Visually scouting out climbs before hand to find platforms suitable for taking a break is key to avoid getting stuck thirty stories up with nothing left to do but fall. You can also carry food and limited climbing supplies (such as a portable platform that can be deployed at most places in a climb to provide an instant stamina boost) to aid you, but you only have the option of carrying a very finite number of things, so planning out your cargo is immensely important too.
Pockets of resistance
Climbing isnít all you do in I Am Alive], however. While most of society has perished in the year since The Event, there are still pockets of people scattered around for you to encounter. Some of them may be friendly, but for the most part itís best to trust nobody. With resources such as food and water rare at best, people are at their limit and willing to do whatever acts of violence it takes to take whatever you may be carrying for themselves. This is where one of the more interesting aspects of the game comes out.
Combat isnít limited to simply running and gunning, popping from cover to shoot, or any other singular play style. Instead, the game handles combat extremely openly, letting you decide how to best tackle the situation at hand. For example, pretend youíve found yourself on to top level of a destroyed skyscraper trapped in a room with a handful of hostiles who havenít noticed you yet. All you have on you is a pistol with two bullets, a bow and one arrow, and a machete. You could try to harness your inner Sam Fisher and sneak up behind each one, taking them out quietly with your blade. Or you could try to find the high point in the room and pick them off with your bow, retrieving your arrow after each shot. Thirdly, in an interestingly unique gameplay option, you can make your presence known, hold out your gun, and attempt to bluff your adversaries into thinking that you have more bullets than you do and that they should leave without a fight. Or, of course, you could try some crazy combination of the three and anything else you might think up as you go.
You really do have a great deal of freedom when it comes to fighting, and each one comes with a delightfully edgy sense of tension because if you dies, you canít just keep spawning at the last checkpoint which introduces I Am Aliveís other gameplay innovation. You only have a finite amount of ďretriesĒ to use after you die which let you restart very shortly before your death. Die again, and youíll be forced to go all the way back to whatever mission you were currently working on. Iím not sure if this mechanic will turn out to be a brilliant way to add a sense of meaning and importance to your actions, or if it will simply cause frustration, but if nothing else itís nice to see someone trying something different.
So, after a long wait, it finally appears that I Am Alive is, well alive after all. Though itís travelled to development hell and back again, itís finally ready to see the light of day and show us all what itís been hiding for so long. Will the move to digital distribution prove to be a smart move for Ubisoft, or will the lack of physical copies result in the lack of physical dollars? Will the gameís unique aspects be enough to set it out from the crowd, or are gamers already too busy to survive another apocalypse? We wonít know for a few months yet, but I for one canít wait to get my hands on the full title and find out.