Originally published on GameInformer.com March 12, 2012, at 8:30 PM.
Selected for Blog Herding -- The Best Blogs of the Community, 3/22/12.
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Update 6/4/18: Select screenshots from this pictorial appear at bottom.
It's been said that there are no original ideas. If true, the sources of one's inspiration and the extent to which one can mimic their success or overcome their failure will help dictate the hold on the imagination. Lately, the downloadable game I Am Alive would appear to be a case study in carving one's own niche.
I'm surprised by how little has been made of its resemblance to last gen title Disaster Report. Granted, that game was a relatively obscure one and I Am Alive is no heavyweight either. Indeed, such comparisons seem limited to a few comments or discussion threads here and there.
But knowing only the basic premise of I Am Alive reminded me of the concept behind Disaster Report. I've only played the game trial of I Am Alive on Xbox Live, but the 45 minutes to an hour that I spent (I do take my time) was so reminiscent of Disaster Report that I had to replay the beginning of that game for comparison's sake.
The setting of both games is a city following disaster. Your character is traversing the shattered urban landscape. In IAA, you're searching for family, in DR you seek an escape. In both cases, the opening sequences involve you navigating a large damaged bridge in attempts to get to the city center.
As each story unfolds you realize that earthquakes and their aftershocks have reduced both metropolitan areas to rubble. In IAA, the narrative is told by victims as well as your character (via camcorder); in DR, the story is revealed over news reports and investigative journalism (your character is a reporter).
The gameplay involves platforming, whether leaping across gaps, climbing ladders or walking across beams. Debris forces constant review of one's surroundings and the navigation of obstacles throughout each area. Even the controls are similar despite playing IAA on Xbox 360 and DR on Playstation 2.
One element that emerges in DR is swimming (I'm unaware whether this is an option in IAA). The city's misfortunes are compounded when portions of the city appear to be sinking into the adjacent ocean. It's not a common feature from what I recall, but a welcome variation on gameplay.
Aftershocks are a key gameplay variable in DR though I don't know whether they likewise impact one's experience in IAA given my limited time with the game trial. In the former, they strike often and can injure or kill unless you either move quickly or plant yourself on the ground.
When they hit, visual and audio cues will warn of their threat. A scripted sequence might also appear, though generally you will have to rely on your own instinct to decide where to run (away from structures like buildings and freeway overpasses or from edges of bridges or exterior walls). In general, they are a welcome element that increase your immersion.
In either game's scenario, your character depletes their health through physical exertion. Over time, you'll need to replenish your strength with water or also, in the case of IAA, food. These can be stored in your inventory until your respective health/stamina bars dictates their use. However such items are rare so will need to be rationed.
Production values for IAA are serviceable though substandard in general, though DR was much worse compared with its peers. That said, IAA resembled The Book of Eli's art direction, while DR's depiction of a crumbling city nonetheless impressed. And as with most games, glitches are present and are even comparable.
Both do evoke disaster well. Whether the crumbling infrastructure; scared, maimed or dead victims; or generally bleak environment, the sense of tragedy as well as impending doom is everywhere present. I even appreciate small details like found memos or other items and ambiguous, morbid scenes.
Danger is not only represented by the environment but by the plight of survivors as well, some of whom require aid that might involve personal risk, and others who threaten bodily harm if their demands are not met. Indeed both titles feature hapless victims and dangerous, armed combatants.
In both titles, danger -- especially in the form of armed men -- is best avoided. However, unlike in DR where stealth plays a role in escaping such encounters alive, in IAA you have the option of melee combat, limited shooting, or even issuing threats. Your survival will depend on knowing when to resort to each.
There are items to be collected in both games, especially food and drink. IAA, however, also provides retries that allow for checkpoint reloads. You might find them or be awarded one for helping someone. On the other hand, DR features an element of RPG style loot grinding where all manner of items can be recovered to help you survive.
They range from the practical, like a lighter, gauze, bandages, hardhat, gloves, umbrella, fire extinguisher, etc. to the whimsical particularly in the form of your HUD's compass. Items degrade realistically and your limited backpack space requires strict management.
In fact, RPG elements are strong in DR. Recovered items such as memos or other documents help piece together the story, dialog options make conversations more dynamic and compelling, and even resource management will help determine your survival, including to what extent you care for your companion.
Indeed, you acquire a companion early and use her to overcome obstacles. Granted, many such sequences are scripted, but it's an interesting element nonetheless. The one caveat is that you have to manage her health by providing her with water and first aid as necessary.
Speaking of story, DR had an interesting one as your reporter discovers there's more than meets the eye with regard to the natural disaster that's befallen the city. Uncovering that with the help of companions that include a photojournalist is part of this game's allure.
One last observation: I loved the environments in DR. Figuring out how to get through a collapsed office building reminded me of the Poseidon Adventure, whereas trying to outrun a crumbling construction site evoked images of Indiana Jones escaping certain death.
I will unlock the full version of I Am Alive at some point though I'll likely wait for a discount. In the meantime, it did remind me of the fun I had playing Disaster Report. The latter was not a perfect game but still is one of my favorites. I Am Alive could do worse than use that as its inspiration, though based on my admittedly limited gameplay it falls short of that mark. I'm hoping the full game proves otherwise.
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