When gamers explore post-apocalyptic settings, we're normally armed to the teeth with assault rifles, grenades, and stimpaks. Rare is the game that throws you into the chaotic aftermath of a worldwide catastrophe with no viable resources. Ubisoft's I Am Alive ventures off the beaten path by embracing the dreary realism of a fractured civilization.
Much like Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road or Gary Whitta's film The Book of Eli, the world of I Am Alive is desolate and barren, with few survivors inhabiting the devastated cities. Water and canned food are the most prized possessions those eking out a life in this cruel world could have. Weapons are few and far between; don't expect to come across ammunition caches or bandoleers. Developer Ubisoft Shanghai further drives home the bleakness of this reality with a muted color palette and a tense soundtrack.
My hands-on demo of the game begins with the main character returning to the outskirt of his hometown city of Haventon. He flew out east right before the catastrophe hit, and it has taken him a year to trek back. Though encounters with fellow survivors are rare, he holds out hope that his wife and young daughter are still alive. All he's managed to retain during his journey is a camcorder, a few batteries, a rope, and a handgun with an empty clip.
The once bustling city is in complete shambles. Making into the city center is tricky considering the one bridge into town has been torn and mangled by an earthquake. Getting to the other side won't be easy. I begin navigating the street full of abandoned cars and finally spot a ladder up the side of one of the bridge supports. It looks like I have to take the acrobat's way across the bridge.
As I start to navigate the twisted remains of the bridge, I realize this everyman doesn't have any Nathan Drake or Ezio Auditore genes in his makeup. He's a sure climber, but as I ascend each rung of the ladder, my stamina bar drops down slightly. If I drain the stamina bar completely, my health will start to diminish as well and I may plummet violently back down to earth. It's key to chart out a course before moving and to take any opportunity catch your breath and restore your stamina.
Halfway through climbing, jumping, and swinging through the mangled metal beams, I realize the next climbing segment isn't going to allow me to take it slow. My stamina drains completely before I have a chance to reach safety, and I'm forced to repeated pull the right trigger to make the character climb more quickly before the health meter drains completely. When I finally reach the ledge, I'm forced to use my last bottle of water and can of food to replenish my health.
Once I safely reach the other side and head into the sewers, I have my first run-in with another survivor. My presence perturbs this edgy character to the point that he draws a gun on me, which makes my decision to scoot quickly past him and continue my journey all the more decisive.
I emerge from the sewers a few blocks from the apartment. Another mentally disturbed survivor approaches me with a machete drawn. I instinctively raise my firearm to stop him in his tracks. He has no idea the gun isn't loaded, so while he stands with his hands raise I move in and clock him with the butt of the gun. As restitution for his act of aggressive, I steal his and find my first bullet in his pockets. This commodity will come in handy in this dangerous city.
Further ahead I encounter my first gang. This duo moves toward me with intent to injure, but stop in their tracks when I raise up my firearm. I try to pistol whip one of them. Before I can land the blow the other moves in and stabs me with his weapon when I'm exposed. With the situation spiraling out of control I decide now is a good time to use the bullet to even the odds. After the first guy hits the pavement with a bullet in his head I disarm the second guy.
With my health bar dangerously low, I thankfully come across a medkit. I don't hesitate to patch my wound, but I should have exercised restraint because right before I reach the apartment I walk past a mother pleading for help for her dying son. Had I not used the medkit, the Ubisoft Shanghai rep says I could have saved the boy. In doing so, the mother would have shared some vital information about the cataclysmic event and given me another replay token that would allow me to restart at a checkpoint if I succumb to the dangers of the city.
I finally reach my destination, and the apartment building is still standing. Unfortunately, there are no signs of life within the abode. I find a note on the mantle from the character's significant other. The letter says the wife and child were ushered off to the emergency shelter, but it's dated a year ago. It looks like the journey to find his loved ones is only beginning.
Ubisoft Shanghai says I Am Alive provides roughly six to eight hours of gameplay. Along the way players will encounter more dangerous platforming sequences, hostile survivors, and clues to what happened to the world and his family. My short demo of the game left me eager to jump back into the quest. Though the atmosphere is slightly reminiscent of survival horror games like Silent Hill, Ubisoft's steadfast commitment to presenting the aftermath realistically is something I haven't experienced in a video game before.
As one of the flagship titles of the Xbox Live Arcade House Party, I Am Alive is scheduled to release somewhere between February 14 and March 15. Look for the PSN version shortly thereafter.