I Am Alive: Hands On Preview

I Am Alive

Ubisoft surprised everyone late last year when they revealed that the oft-delayed action/adventure I Am Alive is not only still in development, but is nearing release. Fast forward to today, and a quite a bit more information has surfaced about this elusive title. Firstly, it is set to be one of the featured titles in the recently announced XBLA House Party promotion. Don't be discouraged by IAA's new XBLA format; it is a full retail title that Ubisoft just so happened to distribute via digital download. Whereas so-called "traditional" Xbox Live Arcade games tend to be shorter titles, that lack the depth and visual fidelity of their physical counterparts, this is simply not the case with this game.

Taking place after a year after an apocalyptic occurrence referred to simply as The Event , I am Alive follows the story of a mountain climber's desperate attempt to reunite with his family, amid the ruins. In the process, our hero will encounter a wide variety of characters, some helpful, some needy, some malicious; but never undead. In a refreshing twist, developer Ubisoft Shanghai is avoiding the traditional - and often cliched - adherence to the usage of zombies, demons, or other such monsters; instead focusing primarily on humans.

In addition to refraining from the usage of fantastical creatures, IAA takes a new approach to gameplay mechanics, opting for a more realistic experience than one would come to expect from a survival game. Players expecting common action staples; such as ammo drops, mindless foes, and high powered weaponry are in for a surprise, as none of these exist in game. For example, in the first chapter, the protagonist has a pistol on his person, but no bullets. Conventionally, this situation would render said weapon all but useless - here, the player can attempt to call an NPC's bluff, by brandishing the unloaded gun in their general direction. Depending on the NPC in question, the mere sight of a weapon in their presence could be enough to scare them into being submissive. Again, this is character specific, and may wind up further provoking them, or inciting a retaliatory action.

Further emphasizing the overall theme of realism, while movement does at times take on an Assassin's Creed like quality, and the protagonist is capable of various feats of athleticism (such as jumping, running, and climbing), doing so comes at a price. Anything outside of walking uses up the player's stamina meter; fall below a certain level and be forced to attempt an extreme effort, fail on an extreme effort, and face certain death. The stamina meter doubles as a sort of life bar - keep in the white/healthy area, and it will regenerate over time. Try not to allow the stamina meter to dip into the red/unsafe level, as it can lead to exhaustion, and ultimately lower the player's stamina.

Over the course of the demo, obvious comparisons to Cormac McCarthy's The Road can be drawn, especially in terms of theme and characters. NPCs aren't simply quest givers, or random people to talk to; they, like the protagonist, are fellow survivors, for whom self preservation is the ultimate goal. A great deal of care has been placed in making interactions feel authentic, giving the player a very real sense that their actions, as well as the respective consequences behind them, are reflected. While there are, for instance, certain choices that could be construed as moral dilemmas, the player isn't forced into making a particular choice. (Do you use the first aid kit you found to heal your own wounds, or help the child who has just been shot?)

I am Alive will be available on XBLA on March 7, 2012 for 1200 Microsoft Points ($15); with a PSN release to follow at a later date.

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