- Publisher: Ubisoft
- Developer: Ubisoft Shanghai
- ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
- Genre: Action Adventure
- Pros: Strong sense of atmosphere, focus on dread over action, decisions that feel like they matter, striking visuals
- Cons: Repetitive structure based on memorization, some under-developed concepts
The game is broken up into episodes that seamlessly flow from one into another, but it does offer save points, which become essential as your gameplay gets more difficult. At the start of each episode, you're given a certain number of retries. There are checkpoints along the way, but if you don't make it to the end of that episode (there are several ways that could happen, which we'll get into later), you must use a retry or go back to the start. Some of these episodes can be as long as 15 or 20 minutes and getting near the end only to run out of retries can be extremely frustrating. It's a game design that's meant to force you to focus on your decisions more than you would in most action experiences, but I don't think the concept is refined enough to call it successful. Instead of enhancing the storytelling, the limited retry structure most often leads to frustration.
How can you die in the world of "I Am Alive"? Believe it or not, most of the time, it won't come at the hands of an enemy but rather by your own failing stamina. The world of "I Am Alive" is one that has been decimated, leaving incomplete train tracks, shattered stairs, and abandoned vehicles everywhere. Getting around is not easy. For most of the game, you'll have to climb sides of buildings and shimmy down poles much like in the hit "Uncharted" series. However, your climbing ability is not unlimited. The bulk of the gameplay is built around planning and completing your climbs. See a ledge above you that you need to get to? Climb that pole, jump to that rubble, etc. And your stamina drops the entire time that you're not on two feet. It can be improved by items in your inventory, but it's mostly a timed challenge. Run out of stamina and you will fall.
You'll also run into people looking to take whatever supplies you may have found. Once again, decisions must be made. Sometimes even pulling your gun (which often only has one bullet in it) will get you killed. Sometimes you need to surprise your enemy. Sometimes you should just walk away. While I like the attempt at strategy, it often feels like only one decision will work.
Sadly, the emphasis on stamina and specific combat outcomes leads to the sense that a lot of "I Am Alive" is built around memorization. That way didn't work, I fell, and now I’ll try the other way. It's not unlike a maze. Reach a dead end and try again. Early in the game, the strong sense of atmosphere makes the memorization less frustrating, but I found myself hoping for more freedom as the game got more difficult. I didn't like the sense that I was just repeating myself until I got it right. It distracted from the realism of the title and reminded me I was playing a relatively simple game in terms of there being often only one path from point A to point B.