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I Am Alive review

AT A GLANCE
  • Extra realism. Extra intensity
  • A hauntingly believable story of survival
  • Strategizing every fight and every climb
  • Extra realism. Extra dying
  • Enough brown to choke on
  • The innovative too quickly becomes the familiar

Realism. It’s what defines modern gaming… less and less whimsical 2D platformers, more and more hardcore 3D shooters set in the Middle East. Every year, we expect a technological leap forward in detailed graphics, believable sound, and immersive control, all in the pursuit of realism.

Then a game like I Am Alive comes along, gives us a gritty taste of true realism, and reminds us why rule-bending escapism is easier. If you’re searching for a do-or-die intensity and honest difficulty not often found in games these days, you should definitely play I Am Alive – just remember that the real world can be an unforgiving and, occasionally, uninteresting place.

Here’s the high concept that makes I Am Alive uniquely authentic: One year after a cataclysmic earthquake shakes the world to post-apocalyptic dust, you play an unnamed man returning through the wreckage and rubble to reunite with his wife and daughter. Over the course of a 4-5 hour campaign, you’ll scale the sides of crumbling buildings, fight off violent looters, and navigate smoke-choked streets. It’s a little like Uncharted by way of Silent Hill, with a rather compelling story of survival and sacrifice told along the way.

The key difference between this protagonist and a character like Nathan Drake, however, is limitation. I Am Alive’s hero can’t sprint or climb for long before he runs out of stamina… and if that stamina bar comes up dry while you’re hanging from a cliff or clinging to the girders of an elevator shaft, you’ll lose your grip and fall to your death. Just like real life. I Am Alive’s hero also can’t shoot an endless number of bullets, because he often only has one or two in his weapon’s chamber at a time... and if an enemy hears the click click click of that empty clip, he’ll rush and kill you instantly. Just like real life (we assume).

This everyman nature leads to some seriously nerve-wracking moments and pulse-quickening gameplay mechanics. When you’re surrounded by more thugs than you have bullets, you’ll quickly have to decide: Do I reveal I have a gun and try to frighten them off? Or keep it concealed, wait for the leader to approach, then surprise him with a machete to the throat? Should you waste multiple bullets, or risk equipping your bow and try to take multiple enemies out with the single recyclable arrow in your quiver? Which enemies are more likely to surrender, and which are more likely to call your bluffs?

Climbs are just as strategically harrowing, with careful timing, controlled sliding, scattered footholds and frugal inventory management the only tools at your disposal. Later in I Am Alive, you must even plan the simple act of walking down the street, as heavier, deadlier smog forces you to find pockets of fresh air (or steal a gas mask from a fallen foe) to survive.

It's all very interesting and intense... until it isn't. At some point, probably with a couple hours of playtime still ahead, you'll realize I Am Alive has a limited number of these ideas and is merely going to replicate them for the remainder of the game. That's not to say the second half is any worse than the first - you just won't be as caught off-guard by its innovative tricks. The unusual becomes the familiar, and unfortunately, it's right around the same time that enemy encounters increase in size and the game's stingy replay allowance starts working against you. Or around the same time that your eyes glaze over from the endless palette of dusty brown visuals.

Yes, you may tire of I Am Alive before you reach the credits, but the overall experience is still an intense and worthwhile one - the game not only forces you to take risks, it takes some great risks itself. If you’ve already tired of every other shooter’s and climber’s formulas, this hybrid will surprise you, test you, and remind you why experimentation in games is always a good thing, even when it doesn’t fully work out. 

More Info

Release date: Mar 07 2012 - PS3
Sep 13 2012 - PC
Mar 07 2012 - Xbox 360 (US)
Available Platforms: PS3, PC, Xbox 360
Genre: Adventure
Published by: Ubisoft
Developed by: Ubisoft
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language

19 comments

  • MasterBhater - March 6, 2012 9:28 a.m.

    All of the mediocre-at-best gameplay trailers sort of pointed towards this score
  • db1331 - March 6, 2012 10:10 a.m.

    Yup. I knew this would be garbage months ago. A 6 is probably being generous.
  • comaqi - March 6, 2012 9:33 a.m.

    In the beginning this game looked really cool.. Kind of a shame.
  • GamesRadarCharlieBarratt - March 6, 2012 10:29 a.m.

    "Decent" is not a bad adjective, last time I checked. I enjoyed I Am Alive - just not enough for a 7 or higher.
  • kyle94 - March 6, 2012 6 p.m.

    Don't you know? If you don't give a game a 9 or 10, then that means you absolutely hate it and it doesn't deserved to be played. At least, that's what I learned from the interwebs.
  • Rhymenocerous - March 6, 2012 10:54 a.m.

    To be honest, your review makes it sound absolutely brilliant (minus the sceond to last paragraph). I want this, but I don't buy download-only. That's just how I roll.
  • BladedFalcon - March 6, 2012 11:42 a.m.

    Yeah... I also am not sure the score reflects what's been said in the review. I mean, even if taking into account that the new mechanics get overused later, it's even admitted the second part isn't really worse. Aside from what it seems to be a high degree of difficulty, (Which depending on who you ask is not a bad thing at all.) I still quite don't grasp why this game got a "decent" at most. You said the story was good, the characters are realistic. And it still sounds like there's nothing similar to it. So yeah, agree to disagree, I think I'll give this a go anyway.
  • Darkhawk - March 6, 2012 11:37 a.m.

    Very tempted... will wait for discount (i.e. Hydrophobia)
  • ArmTheBomb - March 6, 2012 11:57 a.m.

    That's why the number system is flawed, Mr Barratt. If the adjective was the only thing there, there would be far less confusion.
  • Redeater - March 6, 2012 12:05 p.m.

    God damn!! I should have expected this when it went from disc to download but still. The original trailers looked great. I might give this a chance if it ever goes on sale but that is most likely not for a long long time on xbla.
  • jackthemenace - March 6, 2012 12:33 p.m.

    Well, I thought this was still months away, but then, I haven't been following it much. Reading the review, I'd love to give it a try, but it sounds a lot like something that'd be better to rent and play once than buy and keep forever- and since it's download only, I don't think I'lll ever get a chance to play it, since all of MY gamer friends are the Call of Halo: FIFA's Creed types. As in, the ones that don't like ANY kind of inventiveness in the games they buy.
  • JaySmoov - March 6, 2012 12:53 p.m.

    I wonder how can you complain about getting tired of a game before finishing it when we had three Uncharted games that was very predictable. Even when you know the action is rising, it's still a thrill ride to be able to be apart of it trying to survive whatever situation your you've crawled into.
  • DevonOO7 - March 6, 2012 1:50 p.m.

    I'll buy the silly Mass Effect DLC instead
  • Limbo - March 6, 2012 3:40 p.m.

    Well now I'm not sure what to think of it. When I first heard of it I was pretty pumped for it, but then over time it just looked worse and worse. And now it's apparently really innovative and unique, but you'll be done with the game before it actually finishes. Meh. Depending on the price I might give it a try.
  • EwoksTasteLikeChicken - March 6, 2012 5:05 p.m.

    Really want to play this game now. I'm surprised by the score though, even with all the negativity, I still expected at least a 7.
  • ConfidentSheep - March 7, 2012 2 a.m.

    Sadly, that's often the problem with innovative games. The idea is interesting but they haven't figured out how to make that idea translate into fun gameplay yet. In a year some other publisher will probably take the best of the new ideas and produce an amazing game and we'll forget all about this.
  • Ravenbom - March 7, 2012 10:46 a.m.

    Glad to see you (Gamesradar in general) using more of the full 10-point scale. I'm not rushing out to get this but I'll probably still give it a try down the line.
  • closer2192 - March 7, 2012 2:48 p.m.

    Like some of the other commenters, I'm moderately confused about the disconnect between the words of the review and the score. After gushing praise about everything but the color scheme, you (seemingly) dock the score based on the complaint that "innovation quickly becomes repetition". But how is this so different than other games? Most games introduce their new features fairly early, and then by the end of the game it's not new. For example, Bioshock (which won GOTY from some publications) featured the plasmids. They seemed pretty innovative at first, but by the end of the game there was a repetition - use appropriate plasmid, mix with guns as necessary. Or how about dual-wielding in Halo 2? It was pretty sweet at first, but by the end of the game it was what a stereotypical Brit might refer to as "old hat". I won't dispute the score itself, as I have yet to play the game, I just wonder about some of the reasoning behind it.
  • joabbuac - March 8, 2012 8:27 a.m.

    This review made me want to play it, something about it appeals to me - ill get it somewhen after mass effect 3.

Showing 1-19 of 19 comments

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