The world is in ruins; everything is covered with ash. Constant earthquakes and toxic dust storms continue to batter the city. Armed with only a flashlight, rope and an gun empty of bullets, our protagonist embarks on a quest for his family.
Right from the start I Am Alive's oppressive atmosphere is clear. The world's a dreary, grey place. Everything is filtered through a coarse-grained, dusty viewpoint. There's hardly any colour. You transverse this hellhole with a mounting sense of loneliness. What few survivors there are scrap over the few remaining resources. It's the law of the jungle - and even your kind can look upon you as a potential meal.
The title has clear parallels to Cormac McCarthy's The Road. The unnamed man, the events and dangerous encounters with other survivors - all familiar to readers or watchers of novel or film.
Implementing the drama that comes with the struggle for survival in a game is no easy task. Not with a genre established with the saving grace of Continues or Retries. As such, despairing searches for food, and clashes to survive shouldn't be anywhere near realistic. But that's exactly what I Am Alive does.
We're used to the Survival Horror tricks. Ammunition shortages, groping in the dark only for a short sharp shock. Even with the obligatory flashlight are mere parlour tricks. The real achievement is an ingenious principle of endurance and health.
Running, climbing and straying into the toxic dust clouds that swirl through the city streets reduces our stamina bar. Rest, and the stress is quickly forgotten as the bar shoots back to full.
But if we spend too much on length climbs, the bar's permanently shortened and doesn't dull recharge. So in addition to our health indicators, we have to keep an eye on our endurance, else we get out of breath too quickly, even when climbing a short ladder.
Thus food and medicine become precious commodities. Overwork, and only digesting food-stuff will health and endurance levels be fully restored. Refilling fully also depends on what kind of food we consume.
Such a little trick, but it transforms simple climbs into nerve-wracking and incredibly exciting situations. It also offers a well thought out save and retry system for real survival anxiety. The number of retries is limited even on normal mode. Use will throw us back to the last checkpoint. Exhaust them all, and the level will need to be replayed in full. On the higher difficulty, its Game Over.