I Am Alive – Review

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Six years in the making. A troubled development cycle. Is I Am Alive a survivor?

I’m a sucker for post-apocalypse fiction. I love the idea of an exciting and dangerous new world, I guess. Okay, so billions will have to die so I can have my fun, but you can’t make an omelette without cracking some eggs. I Am Alive is a post-apocalypse survival game, where you play a normal man trying to survive in an anything-but-normal world.

So, the end. I Am Alive takes a leaf out of Cormac McCarthy’s book (pardon the pun) and doesn’t explain exactly what ‘The Event’ is. All that we are told is a number of earthquakes shook the planet for weeks, causing buildings to collapse and a thick layer of choking dust to appear on ground level. The Event killed millions, though the game isn’t clear on how much of the planet is affected.

You play the role of an unnamed man trying to get through the skewed and dangerous landscape to his wife and child. The problem is that the dust shaken from the earth is impossible to survive in, so much of the game is spent traversing toppled skyscrapers and climbing around modern day ruins in order to survive. The other big danger is the other survivors who – after a year surviving in the wreckage – have grown to be untrusting of others as society has become survival of the fittest.

i-am-alive-pc-ps3-x360-screenshots-2-580x323The climbing sections of the game are tense to say the least. Rather than being some kind of superhero character like Ezio from Assassins Creed, you have a stamina meter that slowly decreases during your ascent. When it reaches zero, you will fall and die. This is a game changer for the climbing/platform genre as you need to prepare which way you will go first. You have a few helpful items on hand, like pitons that you can shove into the face you are climbing for a life-saving rest, but they are few and far between. The climbing isn’t hard to control, but planning your route up the side of a skyscraper can be difficult when your stamina is diminishing in front of your eyes. When you finally plant your feet on the roof, you and your character will sigh with relief in unison. The only real complaint I have with the climbing is it can occasionally be difficult to see what is climbable, which can cause some frustrating retries of a section.

Another feature to keep the tension up is the lives system. For each checkpoint, you have a base amount of 3 retries. Once those are used up, you go back to the last auto-save, which are also pretty scarce. In the hardest difficulty mode, you have no retries. Once you die, you start again from the beginning of the game. I Am Alive likes tension. And frustration.

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I Am Alive isn’t all climbing. You will come across groups of survivors who may be hostile, cautious or in need of help. While these encounters aren’t all that varied, they do take some thought to beat. For example, you very often have no bullets for your gun. So, you can bluff by pointing your weapon at the enemy. They will back off and raise their hands in the air. You can tell them to move back, giving you time to run, or you can kick them off the edges of buildings. Occasionally, they will drop to their knees and surrender, giving you a chance to knock them out instead of killing them. Other times, they will see your bluff and come at you, machetes in hand.

Sometimes you will need to feign surrender. By default, your character will raise his hands and try to placate the hostiles. They will move in to surround him. During this time, you need to prioritise who is the biggest threat. So, the guy with the gun comes up close, you slash his throat with a surprise attack and collect the ammo from his body. You can then shoot the next closest enemy and force the other one to surrender. Whilst this combat isn’t overly fun, it fits the mood of the game nicely and is another tense addition to the survival.

The graphics engine is a little dated, using the LEAD engine that was used in Splinter Cell: Conviction. But we’re talking about an XBLA game, not a full release. It looks great for an arcade game. The animations are mostly smooth, but the lip-sync during dialogue or cutscenes is terrible.

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The dust layer works well as a mask for the obviously limited draw distance, and is suitably bleak and moody also. There are never more than a couple of colours on screen, as the colours are all but de-saturated. This has been criticised in other reviews, but I think it lends itself well to the atmosphere of the game.

The sound is so-so, and probably the weakest part of the game. It sounds like the directional sounds aren’t working correctly, so when you hear a voice in the distance that sounds like it’s coming from in front of you, it’s actually above and behind you. It takes a while to get used to and is a bit jarring. The voice acting is average, with no real emotion given to any of the characters, but there aren’t any dodgy accents here either.

The game lasts around 6-7 hours and has a strange, out-of-place scoring system that gives you a percentage score that takes into account how often you’ve died, how many survivors you’ve saved and items collected. I’m not sure if this would make me want to play it again, however.

I Am Alive probably isn’t all that it could have been, but it provides an interesting, tense experience that you’re unlikely to forget for a while. Having said that, with the dated engine and limited combat options, I hope Ubisoft will work on a full retail release over the next couple of years.

9mm – Android Game Review

Is a lot of swearing, Max Payne styled shoot-outs and a storyline heavily inspired by The Shield a formula for a great game? Well, no.  Read why.

After watching a three season marathon of The Shield, this title seemed worth a go. It was my first foray into the world of mobile 3D gun action games. Turns out for every plus, there’s a minus…

So, I can deal with cheesy names, but John “Loose” Kannon is a pretty overpowering cheese-fest. You play as the owner of this facepalm worthy moniker, and you are – in fact – a renegade cop. You and your ethnically balanced team of corrupt cops steal some money from a drug dealer. And his brother swears vengeance will be his. Or something.

To be fair to the game, I didn’t watch the cutscenes after the first couple. They’re detrimental to the game in my opinion, with some really shonky voice acting and a pretty incoherent script. Usually, I won’t even bother talking about cutscenes in my reviews, but 9mm makes such a point of its graphics, and ‘gritty’ dialogue that I have to point out that unless you’re twelve, you’ll not likely appreciate it.

Also worth noting is I tested the game on a HTC Desire S. A mid-range Android handset.

CONTROLS

This is what killed the game for me, if I’m honest. With a similar system to Modern Combat, you have a virtual stick on the left to control forward, backwards and strafe movement. You swipe the screen left or right to turn left or right, and there is a dedicated fire button at the bottom right-hand side. The weapon icon in the top changes weapon if swiped. There is also a dive stick on the right hand side. If you swipe over this then you will dive in slow motion in that direction.

So as you can see, quite a lot going on here. Now, I’m no newbie to games in general. But my hands were all over the screen, 90% of the time during firefights. This approach may have worked in FPS games, but it definitely does nothing for this one.

I sprint out into an enemy-infested corridor. I pull out my 12 gauge, and flick all over the screen like I’m playing Fruit Ninja. It probably takes a lot of practice to be any good at this, but ultimately with the complete lack of charm offered by the other aspects of the game, I didn’t feel compelled to.

GRAPHICS

For a mobile game, 9mm looks pretty good. It’s on a par with Grand Theft Auto 3, I’d say. So it looks nice, when you’re not watching the cutscenes. These can be skipped, so I’m not going to complain about them too much. Quite a lot of frame drops on my Desire S, though.

SOUND

The weapons sound pretty good, but there is terrible voice acting throughout. An example is the Mexican crews that you shoot your way through. They will shout things out during battle, but it sounds like a white guy doing a slightly racist impression of a Mexican. There are all sorts of things like this with the sound. I think they would have been better off just having text instead of voices, as this really shows the limits of a budget for developers. The soundtrack has few licensed tracks and suits the mood really well. Mostly urban hip-hop stuff.

MULTIPLAYER

There is a multiplayer function, and it seems to work rather well over Wi Fi. I just kind of wish I could control my character a little more! Pretty bog-standard deathmatch options.

OVERALL

Feels like a tech demo more than a game. The graphics will make you say “ooh, I can’t believe my mobile can do this”, but the actual controls and terrible audio experience will have put you off long before you finish the story. The Shield this isn’t.

Fear in Video Games

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There’s something about sitting in a darkened room, guiding your character through an eerie forest at night just waiting – hoping – for something to jump out and scare the hell out of you. There’s something very attractive about scenarios that make you feel like you could die at any moment. It’s a stark contrast to what a lot of top selling video games promote. Where many FPS games will cast you as a rugged, heroic, killing machine, horror games usually make you feel very vulnerable indeed. They touch you on a very primitive level.

I figure the horror genre is so popular because it manages to consistently provoke emotional responses from the audience, whereas  action genres seem to have a tougher time to get us to sympathise or empathise with the protagonists, especially after so many years of desensitisation from explosions, bullet wounds and instances of heroically saving the man that was left behind.

The past decade has seen some excellent horror video games, the stand out ones for me were Alan Wake, Dead Space, Condemned and F.E.A.R 2. All of these managed to completely immerse me in the ongoing story, with great characterisation and original mechanics.

I just wish that other genres of games were as interesting.

Alan Wake’s American Nightmare – Quick Review

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Alan Wake was a triumph in videogaming. It had emotion, excellently written and performed dialogue, and also offered a new, twist on the horror genre. How does American Nightmare stack up?

As an Alan Wake fan, my expectations for this were quite high. The original had a compelling story that left me wanting more, and an uncompromising level of dread and tension that didn’t let up until the credits rolled.

So, is Alan Wake’s American Nightmare any good?

The answer is yes. If you liked the original.
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AWAN is more of the same in terms of game play, with a few tweaks to the camera and a slight increase to the pacing of firefights with Taken. There are loads of guns to collect, which alter your play style significantly. You will want the enemy up close when you use a 12 gauge, but will want to whittle them down from a distance with the pistol. The new weapons allow for a more action oriented experience.
The light mechanic that worked so well in the previous game makes a return, so you will need to use light to destroy a Taken’s darkness shroud before you can dispatch it with whatever you have handy.

There isn’t as much tension in this entry to the series, but it’s obviously going for a different mood, with a grindhouse feel to the area and narrative as opposed to the claustrophobic environs of the first game.

The storyline is a little tricky to explain, but you should play Alan Wake before this if you want to make sense of it. Let’s just say it will have you confused at least once. I don’t want to spoil the game for anyone, so I’ll just say that this is more of a spin-off than a sequel.

A new feature outside of the story mode is arcade mode, which challenges you to stay alive for ten minutes against increasingly difficult enemies. Chain successful attacks and dodges together to earn multipliers to increase your rank on the leaderboard. This gets tricky as new enemy types come into play. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything here, so I won’t go into too much detail.

There’s a fair bit of replay value to be had if you like the game, too. Unlockable weapons, story snippets and flares all await the explorers amongst us. Add that on top of the lengthy 6-7 hour campaign, and you’ve got great value.

All in all, Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is an excellent game and easily worth the 1200 points. Get yourself a flashlight and get comfy. It’s going to be a long night.