I Am Alive Preview (PS3)

RAGE, Fallout and Left4Dead have proven in recent years that there’s still a thirst among gamers for an engaging post-apocalyptic adventure, but rather than piggyback on the success of others by creating a “typical” action-packed, bullet-soaked crusade, Ubisoft has dared to do something a little different with its latest Xbox Live and PSN title, I Am Alive.

Combining third-person puzzle platforming with a hybrid of combat and stealth play, I Am Alive is a slow-paced survival game that is all about man’s battle against the odds as he desperately tries to find his wife and daughter following an earth-shattering cataclysmic event.

Ubisoft creates scale and drama with a graveyard of different vehicles

The action begins one year after this mysterious event which has left the world in tatters and humanity on the brink of extinction. Footage from a camcorder introduces you to the game’s main antagonist, a dogged-looking man, probably mid-thirties, who’s spent the last 12 months desperately in search of his family. The shaky-cam footage reveals he’s finally arrived at the town where he hopes his wife and child have also survived.

From that moment, players are thrust into the muddy shoes of this rugged survivor who has spent the last year adapting to life on the streets of the fictional American city of Haventon. A helicopter is embedded into the side of a building, a skeleton lies in a quiet alleyway and dilapidated buildings are battered and bruised from the traumatic event. Rubble is piled high in the street, abandoned cars are left to rust, and the silence is deafening.

Gameplay largely involves scouring this crumbling city environment like a rather stiff-moving Ezio Auditore, climbing buildings and making huge leaps of faith as you try and find your way around the rubble and debris that blocks off your pathways through the quiet city streets and fenced-off alleyways.

Though the preview levels suggest that I Am Alive will largely be a linear adventure, impressively long draw distances, towering buildings and grand scenes of devastation give the environments a real sense of scale and drama, while the thin veil of dust that swirls around the landscape paints the city in a monochromatic tone, giving it a gloomy feel.

Though these long draw distances ensure a suitably dramatic horizon, and the myriad of alleyways and buildings leading to precious supplies make it an attractive prospect to the budding explorer, most roads are blocked off. Consequently, I Am Alive teases the player with the imagery beyond bolted gates and piles of rubble. Knowing that you won’t be allowed to fully explore what could have been an incredible post-apocalyptic playground is a little disappointing.

Nonetheless, Ubisoft has captured the feeling of isolation superbly. You feel dwarfed by the scale of the city environment, slightly shocked by the devastation that lies around ever corner and totally alone as you scavenge for food, medicine and water on the city streets. And…just when the tension hits its very peak, the silence is delightfully broken by the sound of other survivors that you bump into around the city.

There's plenty of dangerous leaps to take your chances at

While you’re just trying to survive and go about your business in search of your family, others are protecting their territory and supplies, or actively seeking to rob you of your precious goods. There’s a choice to make in these situations. Though you have access to a gun, ammo is hard to come by, as are medical supplies, food and water.

To compound that fear of dying and getting involved in any sort of conflict, I Am Alive incorporates a retry system. Depending on which difficulty setting you have the game on, if you die during a level – three times in our case – you have to start again.

Each meeting with an NPC results in a short, tense and exciting stand-off where you need to ponder exactly what action to take. Sometimes you’ll want to flee because you’re outnumbered, other times you’ll take a risk to steal an extra piece of ammo or supply because they’re so hard to come by. Or, you may simply have no choice and need to defend your life. You can bluff, calling someone over, before drawing your weapon at the last moment and stabbing them in the mid-riff, which culminates in a short, satisfying cinematic sequence, or you may choose to embark in a struggle for survival drawing your weapon immediately and attacking your foe. Encounters are short, tense and often brutal.

When you do have a bullet in your possession it feels like it’s of immense value. Ganged up on by a group of enemies, you may notice that only one of them has a gun and the rest are armed with clubs. In this situation it made sense to shoot the one with the gun in the head from a distance and then tackle the others with the sharp end of our machete. Nonetheless, drawing a weapon is always the last option because one blow can be fatal. Though it doesn’t always make for the most thrilling of fight sequences, it’s that touch of realism that makes you feel like you’re a second away from death at any one point in the game.

Ammo, painkillers, food and water are therefore vitally important and environmental-based exploration plays a huge part as you attempt to reach each marked section on the map by scaling each location and working your way past numerous roadblocks. Though the main character doesn’t quite move with the same swagger as Ezio from Assassin’s Creed or Nathan Drake from the Uncharted series, Ubisoft makes the slow-paced climbing sections feel intense by using a clever new mechanic.

Each time you climb, a timer comes into play and you only have a minute or two to get to solid ground before it expires. If the timer runs out you drop to your death and lose a retry. This adds tension to every climbing situation because it makes you rush, which can often lead to mistakes. To make things a little more exciting you also have moments where you need to bash the right trigger frantically to give you a few extra seconds after the timer has run down in order to reach your destination safely.

The higher you climb the bigger the drop!

The further you progress in the game, the more items you gain, including a piton that you can plant on a wall which allows you to stop and refill the timer. A bow and arrow gives you an edge in combat, but arrows are so scarce that you’ll be picking the ones you shot out of the bodies of enemies to reuse. Judging from our preview experience, we’re expecting little help at all throughout the journey. I Am Alive s is about managing resources well, making the right choice during conflict and being agile and intuitive during the climbing sections.

Though its slow-pace won’t be for everyone, and the one hit kills from certain enemies may frustrate some gamers, it’s clear that I Am Alive is a title that is set to be a “survival” game in the truest sense of the word. That alone makes it a very exciting proposition when it lands on Xbox Live and PlayStation Network in March.

Most Anticipated Feature: The tension is terrific. We can’t wait to find out what other ordeals lie ahead.

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