Monday, January 14, 2013

I Am Alive... And Very Disappointed.

So far this week, I’ve put around four hours into I Am Alive, and the damn game is breaking my heart. It’s not the story, I haven’t found anything resembling one of those things yet. It’s the volumes of wasted potential. It’s like the developers immediately pulled back every single time they brushed up against something awesome.

An open world survival game where the player has to hunt for resources to stay alive
No, not open world. Let’s limit the player to designated platforming sections, and instead of needing resources to live, you need resources to regain your stamina capacity.

The restriction on where you can climb is the biggest sin of I Am Alive. You can’t just climb around the burned out buildings, exploring for scarce resources and survivors. Instead you have to walk around looking for a pipe or rebar to use to climb up the side of a building. To make it more frustrating, sometimes there are pipes and rebar that look like the kind you can climb on, but they’re not. So when I would come across a metal bar sticking out and told my gamepad to take me to it, nothing happened. Meanwhile my stamina bar was almost empty, and I was absolutely screwed because I couldn’t quickly end the climb.

The game would have been much better if it were truly open world. Fallout 3 has already shown us that searching through wastelands for small items can be a lot of fun. I imagine that being able to platform through those wastelands would have been even more exciting. Unfortunately, in I Am Alive, you simply walk the streets (usually choking on dust, which also drains your stamina), looking for pipes to climb or glowing objects to pick up in some dead-end alleyway.

The game also presents you with opportunities to rescue people, but as far as I can tell, doing so only nets you a tip about the game and a retry. The retries are basically the “continue” function, which prevents you from having to restart at the very beginning of the level when you die. Unfortunately, you cannot horde the retries. If you have a retry, and die right at the beginning of a level, the game forces you to use the retry. It doesn’t matter that reloading the save would take you to the exact same area, if you have a retry available, you have to use it.

The combat is repetitive, and much more frustrating than fun. You stand still while an enemy approaches you, then execute a “surprise kill”, where you take your machete out and slash their throats. After this, you will usually pull out your pistol and aim it at the nearest enemy to you. Now this is actually interesting, the enemy will become intimidated by your gun, even if you’re out of bullets, and stand there with his arms up. How awesome is that?
Unfortunately, the developers always pull away from anything awesome. After around thirty seconds, the AI will somehow magically know that your gun is empty, and rush you. This is a losing proposition, as you cannot survive a three on one fight if you get rushed. Even if you activate a “struggle kill”, the other AI enemies will stab you in the back and kill you before you can complete it. So if you don’t do something in those thirty seconds, you might as well reload.

If I were designing this game, I would introduce sneaking to avoid combat scenarios. In fact, I would deemphasize combat all together. In a survival situation, I imagine I’d be much more likely to run and hide than risk injury trying to take on three guys at once. Then, to emphasize stealth, I’d have made multiple paths through an open world area, so the player could avoid combat entirely if they chose to do so. Thus the heart of the game would focus on climbing to avoid enemies and find resources.
As for the resources themselves, I find the idea of eating to refill a stamina bar too gamey. In real life, your body generally gains a greater stamina capacity through exercise and exertion, but in I Am Alive, it is decreased. I would trade this in for a starvation mechanic. Your health bar is reduced over time due to starvation, making avoid combat even more necessary. Finding food will make it easier to survive the harsh environment, and give you the strength needed to recover from injury. Water would be necessary to avoid dehydration, and override food in levels of importance.
I’d keep the intimidation by pistols, but I would dump the QTE combat scenarios. If you have to fight, you better hit and run. That’s how I would have designed I Am Alive.