After three years of mostly silence, we finally find out what I Am Alive is really about.
At the 2008 Electronic Entertainment Expo, Ubisoft first revealed I Am Alive. We were under the impression that it would be a survival game that took place in Chicago with you playing the role of Adam Collins, a white-collared worker trying to stay alive after a massive earthquake destroyed much of the city. The game went dark shortly thereafter with rumors of its cancelation surfacing. A few weeks ago, we finally got word that it is still in development and coming this winter as a downloadable game. With its release just around the corner, there's a good chance that any initial thoughts you had about the game were wrong.
First off, your name is not Adam Collins; you play as a nameless character that has spent the past year trying to get home. You begin the game in the outskirts of downtown in search of your wife and child. You don't get any sense of the backstory apart from the fact that Adam has been away from home for a year and is trying to get home. Your only possessions are a camcorder, a bag, a flashlight, and some batteries. You have no idea if your family members are still alive or even if they are where you think they might be, but you're hoping for the best and desperately trying to a find a way to reach them.
This is still very much a survival game but not in the same sense as other games in the genre. You won't encounter mutated people or fight monsters; for the most part, these are just a regular group of people who are trying to stay alive. Some have good intentions; others do not. You will be able to help, fight, or avoid others, and your decisions will factor into how the story progresses. Rations and supplies are limited, so you will have to make a choice as to whether you sacrifice food to help those in need or save it for yourself.
The plot does not actually branch out based on your decisions, but your "score" or the ability to retry a scenario does. Saving the game is done by checkpoints, but if you die during combat, you can use a retry that allows you to try a specific area again without having to go all the way back and restarting a section. At the same time, if you didn't like how you approached an area and want to try it again, using a retry will let you try to play it out differently.
I Am Alive is also an action platformer. The beginning of the game takes place in the outskirts of downtown, and the only way to progress is to cross a bridge; the problem with the bridge is that it has been destroyed and getting across won't be easy. This is where I Am Alive becomes a platformer. Areas like this particular bridge and torn-down buildings will need to be traversed; to do this, you will have to climb, shimmy, and leap across to get to your destination.
Climbing and all other actions are not straightforward affairs. You won't be able to just rush across and move onto the next area. You have energy, and being cautious of your stamina is a very important aspect of the game. Every action you perform--from a small shimmy on a ledge to a jump across two beams--will result in a loss of energy. Even hanging onto a ledge without moving will use energy, so deciding the best course of action is important. If you decide to hold off on giving that stranded person your last bottle of water, then you can drink it to restore your energy. But if you don't, then you better not waste time trying to get to safe or solid ground. When you run out of stamina, you'll hit your breaking point and begin to struggle. You may have that extra bit of adrenaline to get to safety, but it will result in your losing a piece of your stamina bar that won't be recovered until you replenish your health.
During your travels, interactions with others may lead to confrontations that require you to fight, and combat is fairly straightforward. In some areas, you will be able to avoid confrontations, but in some situations, you will have to confront others. Your arsenal will be sparse; outside of a pistol and a few bullets, don't expect a lot of other weapons with the exception of maybe a machete and bow & arrow. Because of this, it's important to know when and whom to attack. This is part of the game's intimidation mechanic. If you manage to take out the tough guy of a group first, then chances are that the others will surrender fairly quickly; trying to kill someone with a knife while he is wearing a Kevlar vest will only result in that person turning around and shooting you dead. At the same time, you can try to threaten others with an unloaded gun and hope that your bluff is enough to have them let you pass.
I Am Alive might be considered an amalgam of different games, films, and books. The platform and action situations may remind you of other Ubisoft-published games like Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands and Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction because it uses the same LEAD engine as Conviction. In terms of visuals, films like The Book of Eli and The Road will instantly come to mind because of the game's heavy use of grays, its postapocalyptic setting, and its dust-filled environments.
Lastly, for those wondering, I Am Alive went from being a planned disc release to a downloadable game because Ubisoft felt it was a risky game to put in stores. It has been a challenging game to produce and may not have seen much success had it been mass produced. Ubisoft expects it to be the largest disc-sized downloadable game; at the same time, though, it will be one that gives the impression it could have been a retail release. Thankfully, we will actually see if this change is a good one when it arrives on Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network this winter.