Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Review: I AM ALIVE

Developer: Ubisoft Shanghai

Rating  M for Mature (Blood, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language)

Players: 1

Platform: Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA)

Price: 1200 MS Points ($15)

When I AM ALIVE was first teased at E3 last year, I was intrigued. What happens when civilization collapses?  Who do you trust?  TV series like Jericho and The Highschool of the Dead touch on this topic, but I AM ALIVE takes a slightly different approach.  Everybody loves earthquakes!

I AM ALIVE is set one year after "the event," in which an earthquake destroys civilization as we know it.  You play a man who was on the other side of the United States when the event happened, and has finally arrived in his hometown of Haventon.  Upon arrival, he finds that society has devolved and armed gangs rule the streets.  His ultimate goal is to reunite with his wife and daughter.  The story, while intriguing, is generic and lacking individuality.  There's nothing in here that hasn't been seen in any generic adventure game.

Chasms like this are commonplace after earthquakes
Gameplay involves traversing dangerous ground, finding resources like food and water, and dealing with less than friendly people.  The climbing sections use a stamina meter, which gradually decreases as you climb.  If you reach a ledge to stop and rest, you'll recover your stamina.  If you use up all your stamina, you have to rapidly tap the right trigger to force yourself that final bit to the ledge.  This lowers your stamina capacity, which can be replenished by eating food or drinking water.  It's an interesting dynamic, especially considering that so few games include anything like this.

I AM ALIVE also employs a "life" system of sorts.  You have a certain number of retries at a particular checkpoint before you have to go back to the start of the chapter.  It's kind of nice to have something along those lines.  This system kind of reminds me of the save points from PS1-era games.  The whole "go back to your last save point" is pretty slick, if you ask me.  If only this awesomeness wasn't mired by the problems facing I AM ALIVE.

Yeah, you better surrender!
Combat sequences were clunky at best and downright unplayable at worst.  You could only draw your gun or bow, and you would only pull out your machete to do a surprise kill or to engage in a QTE "struggle kill," which had you mash the right trigger as quickly as you could to defeat your enemies.  I AM ALIVE does not really give any tutorials about the combat controls, it just tosses you into a fight and then tells you about it after you've wasted a precious retry.

Further, you run into groups of "tough guy/weak guy" enemies, where you kill the tough guy and the weak guy surrenders.  That's a neat idea and all, but would it kill Ubisoft to make them not look the same?  There was this one scene that I had to restart from the chapter at least three times, and the game was almost mocking me. "You killed the weak guy.  You need to kill the strong guy.  Then the weak guy will surrender."  The game felt like correcting me, but it seemed like it took delight in my wrong choice.

Not everyone you meet is out to kill you, however.  As you progress, you'll come across "victims" who need help.  For some, you give them food or a first aid kit, others need to be rescued from groups of aggressive people.  Helping them is optional, but if you do, you get another retry.  There's also an achievement for rescuing every victim in the game.

Whoa! Good old pipe...
Visually, the game jumps from impressive particle effects to bland, monotone textures at a schizophrenic rate.  Dust clouds form an impressive grainy haze, even at high resolution.  Then you get out of the dust storm and the pavement is a bland gray color that looks like something out of a children's coloring book. Some parts have me wondering if Ubisoft actually spent much time at all with the texture artists.

My Face When...
Then, there's the voice acting.  What the ****, Ubi?  Straight up and down movements with no mouth flaps were fine in 1999!  This is 2012!  What invisible leprechaun told you that this would be a good idea?  Not to mention the main character talks for half a second before the mouth animation moves.  Seriously?  Did you get that lazy with the development?

Aside from the bad animations with the dialog, the voice acting is actually decent.  The characters sound like something out of big-city Americana, which is essentially what Haventon is.  I have no gripes there.  There have been plenty far worse dubs than I AM ALIVE. But the mouth flaps, why?

I have a hard time recommending I AM ALIVE.  The game itself had plenty of innovative ideas, and actually achieves some of its goals. However, I found myself getting frustrated with the combat.  I trudged through a lot of crap, and got increasingly frustrated at the game, hoping for a justification or payoff that never really showed up.  For a game that markets itself as survival, it really falls flat on its face and doesn't do the genre justice.  Survival games that don't include horror are a rare breed, but this is not a good representation of the genre.

My verdict? Skip it.

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