I Am Alive's post-apocalyptic America feels refreshingly distinct - and at heart, that's a simple question of timing. This isn't Fallout's irradiated land of opportunity, with its shell-shocked yet prosperous civilizations, but the immediate aftermath of an unnamed cataclysm. It's too early to talk about picking up the pieces, let alone putting them together, and Ubisoft Shanghai's fictional Haverton is accordingly a city of barriers: rubble-heaps flagged by Silent Hill-esque map squiggles, signs threatening death, terrified stares as you approach a campfire.
And you? You're no upgradeable Vault-dweller flushed from a cryotube, but a dishevelled, middle-aged man with just a roomy knapsack to rely on. Its contents, as the game begins: a rope, a few soda cans, a digital camera that doubles as an old-school "Continues" system (with more awarded for every checkpoint you reach) and an empty pistol.
The game's influences are many, but the one that screams loudest is The Road. Cormac McCarthy's bleached novel informs every inch, from the paper-grey, cartilage-white visuals to the choice of mechanics. Bullets are hard to come by, so guns are often things to intimidate with rather than use. Canned food and bottled water are vital, giving you the energy to scale Ubisoft's patented handhold chains and so escape the dust cloud that chokes Haverton's streets.
You're ostensibly here to find your wife and child, but that's no more than a launch pad for I Am Alive's occasionally brilliant investigation into how human beings rebuild trust amid total deprivation. Not everybody you'll meet is hostile. Share your resources with needy survivors, and (besides Achievements and extra continues) you'll be rewarded with the sense that it's still possible to make a difference. Rob or ignore them, and the consequences may haunt you long after you've put down the pad.
It's a harrowing tale, but a frustrating one too. Odd arcade touches and cost-cutting measures poke through the skin like broken bones. Bluffing your way out of a fight sounds promising, but it's a clunky, repetitive business and bodycounts are high. The stamina mechanic is irritating thanks to a melodramatic audio loop, and despite some great set pieces, the game's chewed-up world feels artificial: at times, you're actually told you're going the wrong way. There are moments, particularly during a skyscraper ascent, when I Am Alive is remarkable. But too often, the game slips back under its own blanket of fog.
I Am Alive is out tomorrow, 7th March, for 1200 MP.
Alive but not quite kicking
- Silent Hill meets Cormac McCarthy
- Great survivor aiding mechanic
- Fantastic level design
- World feels cramped
- A waste of potential