Review by iAmTheTot

"iAmTheTot and I Am Alive"

Developed and published by Ubisoft, this title was originally intended to be a full retail video game. The game got downgraded to just an arcade title due to circumstances I won't go into. The question many people were wondering was: will this lead to a truncated retail game, or an arcade game with a lot of punch? The answer may be up for debate.

The game begins with a somewhat indistinguishable character sitting in an ambiguous room pressing play on a video recorder. The playback shows our protagonist (unnamed) using the camera to serve as a video journal. He briefly explains that he is travelling back to the city of Haventon from the east coast to find his wife and daughter after something known as “The Event” rocked the country.

The Event was a devastating series of earthquakes which lasted for days on end which brought cities to its knees, toppling skyscrapers and inducing massive dust clouds and floods. Even a year after The Event, occasional tremors still keep what survivors there are on their toes. The crumpled city of Haventon houses many survivors, but not much food or clean water, and is plagued by constant ash and dust clouds.

Gameplay begins as the Protagonist is approaching a bridge which leads into Haventon. The bridge is utterly destroyed and long-abandoned cars clutter what little of it remains. We're treated to a simple enough tutorial to one of the game's most prominent aspects: the platforming. As we make our way across the haphazardly remaining bridge, the game prompts you with vital information regarding how to climb and how to maintain your stamina – a crucial thing to have in this game.

Not too longer after this, we're ambushed by a group of survivor thugs; in a world like this, it's purely survival of the fittest. With nothing but an empty gun and a recently acquired machete, the game explains how to combat groups of thugs like this by using intimidation and tactics. Your gun may be empty, but they don't know that. The game instructs you on how to land a “surprise attack” which will prove invaluable as the game proceeds, and then shows you how to use your gun to intimidate targets into either surrendering or luring them near a fire or pit, which you can use to dispose of them. You do obtain ammo, but the game makes one thing abundantly clear: use bullets as an absolutely last resort.

Immediately the combat in this game is fresh and unlike most other games I'd ever played. It was genuinely pleasant having to think out my approach to thoroughly, but quickly. As I progressed through the game I would quickly learn to keep my eye out for armed opponents (they are the first to go), fires and pits to dispose of others, and to generally be aware of my environment so as to not be cornered by a gang of ne'er-do-wells.

A series of events leaves you running around the city completing various tasks for survivors – some are entirely optional, while others are a part of the progression of the game. The overall goal is to find your wife and child, but survivors along the way offer suggestions and aid in the search. In this regard the game plays half as an open-world, and half as a dungeon game. It's split up into chapters, about half of which are in the open city, where you may wander as you please.

Wandering the city when you're capable is generally unsatisfying, though. At ground level you can hardly see anything because of the ash and dust clouds (which drain your stamina, so you usually don't want to stay at ground level anyway), and there are really only a limited number of “spots” you generally end up going to. A little exploration can definitely lead to finding some handy extra resources, which are typically scarce to begin with, and even optional survivors, so it's not entirely for naught.

The dungeon-esque segments are usually their own chapters, and are typically a destination that you wind up in as a result of an errand someone asks you to complete. You'll head to the location in the city during a free-roam session, and when you get there it'll initiate a load and a new chapter. These locations vary, like travelling through the subway system, seeking safe haven inside a mall, climbing to the top of a pair of toppled skyscrapers, and more. You generally wind up heading through these dungeons in one direction, performing various platforming or engaging groups of enemies, until you reach your goal at the apex, at which point you turn around and usually pass through the same dungeon using a different route.

The system works pretty well in this game and completing dungeons is usually pretty satisfactory, both in pure effort required and the reward you typically end up receiving at the end, which ends up progressing the story and gameplay (obtaining new tools or weapons). If at any point you die, you can use a retry to go back to the nearest checkpoint. Retries are limited, though, and are usually a reward for helping people; if you die with no retries, you must restart your current chapter. This system, coupled with scarce resources, can sometimes lead to a very genuine sense of urgency. If for any reason you're getting very stuck on a chapter, you can actually go back any number of chapters and try to complete those previous ones better, leading to you having a greater variety of resources or just overall better circumstances when it comes to the chapter you were stuck on.

For an XBLA title, I Am Alive usually looks pretty great. The crumbled fictional city has some great design and exploring it in this 3D action/platformer is usually a treat, as the textures get the job done. The very thick ash clouds present through much of the city may be a huge turn-off to a lot of people, as it's hard to see ten feet in front of your character when you're in these clouds. As you learn the lay of the city, this becomes less of a problem and I more began to appreciate the heavy atmosphere it offered. The bottom line is when you're in the ash clouds, you really get the feeling that you should be looking for high ground – which is never too difficult to find.

Because this game was meant for retail then downgraded to an arcade title, the entire thing has an annoying stench of “could have been.” The controls are pretty solid, until a platforming mishap costs you precious stamina. A lot of the features seem so cool at face value, but begin to seem shallow near the end. The progression is great, but ultimately it ends up seeming short. The graphics are good and the sound is okay, but they feel like something is lacking. It's unfortunate that this aura of “let's wrap this up” kind of hangs over the game, but we still get a memorable experience out of this fun title.

Achievements
The achievements for I Am Alive are mostly completionist ones. They consist of things like “help 5 people,” “help 10,” and “help them all.” There are a few story progression ones, and also a few that are purely side-content cheevos that could be missed if you're not looking, like the completionist ones. With no DLC, the game shouldn't be too hard for an achievement hunter to max this title out with a guide. Without one, it'd take some thorough exploring.
Achievements never affect the score of a game and are included by reader request. Only the categories below influence the final score.

Summary
Graphics: Very cool level design with graphics that get the job done may be marred only by the admittedly annoying thick ash clouds which can make navigation difficult at first.

Sound: Not one of the game's strong points, with music not really worth mentioning and sound effects that don't really stand out. The voice work is satisfactory, but nothing special.

Plot: A fairly cryptic, vague plot leaves room for imagination, but also may leave players wondering why they bothered to do whatever they just did.

Gameplay: Platforming and resource-management is complimented by combat that rewards quick thinking.

Length/Replay Value: For a single-player game, it has a decent campaign for an XBLA title. That's still pretty short all things considered, but high scores and two difficulties may encourage some players to go through at least twice.

Yea or Nay? This XBLA title sits at 1200 Microsoft Points, which is $15 USD. I'm having a hard time justifying that price with the game's length and lack of polish in a few areas. It's not a terrible game, but there's a few titles out there that are better and even cheaper. This is definitely a unique game experience that's out there right now, so I'll leave it up to you ultimately. If you catch it on sale, I'd recommend you pick it up.

Final score: 6.8


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 02/26/13

Game Release: I Am Alive (US, 03/07/12)


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