This is a tough title to recommend, but after an hour or so of play I felt compelled enough to put down the controller and note some thoughts as to why anyone with even a casual interest in important game experiences should give it a try. It’s a hard sell because it’s a videogame approximation of Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalypse horror ‘The Road‘, and those familiar with this grim tale will know exactly what that means. Civilisation has gone to hell following ‘The Event’, which flattened cities and caused societal collapse, leaving a landscape in its wake in which every man must fight for themselves to survive. It’s a friendless world in which every person you encounter wants to rob, kill, and possibly eat you, and while it’s frightening enough to read about in McCarthy’s excellent futureshock tale, it’s utterly fucking terrifying to play through in Ubisoft’s awesome shocker ‘I Am Alive‘.
You play the role of everyman Adam (“Hey! His name’s like my name!”), an average Joe trying to find his wife and daughter after almost a year apart during chaos that’s engulfed the country, if not the whole planet. This simple and relatable story is what drives the player headfirst into a nightmare journey across broken cities and haunting landscapes, in which the status quo is very much kill or be killed. Beginning the game by making your way across a destroyed bridge – a tense action set piece in itself, recalling Uncharted 2’s superb train climb opening – allows you to familiarise yourself with basic controls (which amount to the climbing mechanics of Assassin’s Creed) and provides a thrilling visual backdrop as the player shakes off their training wheels. It’s at this point that you reach the nearby city. And that’s when things take a serious swing into Worse.
Having started the game with a pistol but no bullets, you soon discover this can be used to intimidate the threatening strangers you stumble into among the wasted environments. It’s not long before your first interaction, and you quickly grow accustomed to the hostility with with you’re constantly met; at best people just want to scare you away, but at worst they’ll come right for you with knives, guns or even bared teeth… and you do whatever you have to in order to survive. There’s a scene-setting moment early on in which you watch helplessly across a chasm while three men harass a lone woman. She staggers to her feet and takes off, and the three men holler as they give chase, disappearing into the dust-laden distance. You don’t see or hear what happens next, but imagining is somehow so much worse, and this utterly horrifying snapshot let’s you know exactly what a nerve-shredding world this story is taking place in. It’s hell in a hand-basket, and we’re all along for the ride.
What makes the game special, if deeply unsettling, is that you know nothing of these characters you meet. For all you know in many cases, they’re just trying to find a way to live, the same as you are. But this isn’t a world where you can necessarily afford to take a chance. In this regard you can make choices; by playing villainously you can essentially maraud your way to success, or you can take the moral high ground and have a tougher experience while remaining virtuous, and that’s what makes this game great (so far). How would you play? How much good in yourself would you sacrifice in order to live?
I haven’t decided yet, but I can’t wait to find out.
– I Am Alive is available on XBox Live, PSN and PC, priced £9.99