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Sep
08
2012

Console Ports :-(

Decided to buy the game “I am Alive” from Steam today because it was only $15 and the setting sounded interesting: a psychological survival horror adventure taking place after some unnamed apocalypse.

The first thing that greeted me was this:

Screenshot of an error message from the game "I am Alive"

The moment I see such 1990s-typical “System Check” idiocy I’m already appalled by its developers. You can’t check anything useful that way and it will only serve to break your game in the future. Like those 1990s games complaining about not enough RAM when they check 16 GB as a 32 bit integer, this one complained about Windows 8 being an unsupported operating system – unthinkable that future OSes might run the game.

Of course, no care has been taken to support anything but 96 DPI, so I don’t know if there is an ignore button or just a close button in that dialog. There also seems to be some text on the very bottom which I can’t read since the dialog is not resizeable.

Gameplay

The gameplay seemed sort-of interesting for a while, but like any game these days, you’re running through cordoned off tubes of scenery so the developers can put scripted scenes in your way. Good to lower production costs, bad for immersion.

Also typical for consoles is the lack of direct control you have over your character. You can only jump when you stand at the edge of something you’re supposed to jump onto or off from. You can only slash with your machete if you are in the right position and at the right distance from the enemy so a cool-looking prepared animation can be played.

Even worse than the "press space to play animation" control style is that the mouse look is badly broken. I often find myself unable to change direction because it seems mouse movements get lost whenever the game is loading assets in the background, forcing me to pick up the mouse every so often.

 

Then there was the novel psychological aspect which might have made the game worthwhile: you start with an empty gun that you can still use to threaten enemies. The game requires you to decide whether it’s wise to pull that gun, or if that would start a firefight you can’t win. Also, whether it’s wise to back away, run away or make a surprise attack using other means. And which enemies to pick first – if you do have a bullet and shoot the guy with a machete, but the second guy has a gun, that’s a bad choice obviously.

Sadly, I found the actual gameplay to be more annoying than thrilling, controls doing sometimes this, sometimes that. It’s best explained with an example:

(small spoiler)

At the beginning a guy comes at you with a machete and you have to put him in check with your empty gun. You make him back away to the edge of the broken road, then, as instructed by the game, press E to kick him down.

A few steps further, you’re put in check yourself by two other guys, one wielding a gun and another wielding a machete. When the gun guy walks up to you, the game tells you to slash his throat by pressing E to trigger a surprise attack. Then you hold the other guy off with your gun, this time the game tells you knock him out. Which key? E of course.

Two more machete-wielding guys come at you. Using your gun, you drive them back to the same edge you kicked the first guy into but – surprise – E won’t kick anymore. It also won’t make you knock the guy out. Now E starts a struggle machete vs. machete (hey, I’ve got a gun in my hand!) that gives the other machete guy time to cut you up nicely.

In short: instead of having a bunch of moves available to you, you have to guess how the level designers wanted you to resolve a confrontation and you better guess right.

Combine that with uninterruptible cutscenes and a checkpoint save system and you find yourself doing the same 5 minutes over and over and over.

Conclusion

Uninstalled.

Pro: Nice idea. Does not include Ubisoft launcher, so I’m not forced to read their marketing department’s tweets, patch the game or join some community.

Contra: badly ported console game, mouse look broken, tube levels, controls do random things depending on scene, lack of direct control over the character, no immersion, game feels like an interactive movie, forced to repeat scenes endlessly.

5 comments

  1. Postie says:

    “I am Alive” sounded like a game that was right up my alley, (I love survival games), but I once I heard it was a console port I decided to read reviews first – and I’m glad I did.

    In my opinion there are two levels of console influence. There’s games that were designed to work with console and PC, but some barely noticeable design concessions were made to simplify aspects of the game for the console’s controller. The main thing I notice here is that it plays like any other pure PC title, but the UI will be a bit odd or clunky to use, as though they added mouse support in menus as an after thought. Skyrim is a good example of this. Awesome game, terrible inventory/UI system.

    The other level of influence is a game that was originally designed with console in mind only, using all the common console ideas like quick-time-events, cinematic cut-scenes every time you walk another 10 steps, narrow FOV and fixed 3rd person camera angled downwards. This type also has a vastly simplified control system, often includes auto-aim, and makes heavy use of contextual actions triggered from the same button. These games are the most insidious and I don’t understand how they even sold on console, as they are basically reduced to an interactive movie where the player occasionally has to “press e to not die”.

  2. Cygon says:

    Your categories ring definitely true :)

    I wonder why mice are a taboo for consoles. We’re still stuck with those game pads originally designed to play jump ‘n runs and shoot ‘em ups. Is it just because a mouse would need a table to rest on?

  3. Darren Evans says:

    I agree with you. This game is more of a chore than a challenge thanks to clumsy controls and design decisions, which is sad because the concept of the game is interesting, just poorly implemented. The problem you had with trying to use E to kick when dealing with the two final guys that ambush you is a perfect example.

    The E to kick tactic does actually work but it’s extremely fussy about your distance from the NPC. I also suspect that the level design is off with regards to detection of spots where an NPC can be kicked off that also serves up more frustration.

    I’d also like to thank you for your great c++ tutorials. I’m a bit of a noob with C++ but did some programming in assembly way back on the Motorola 6502 and 68000 during the 8 & 16-bit Atari and Atari ST era. I also used to be editor of Atari ST User magazine, which is where I caught the programming bug. I got sidetracked but am now forging ahead trying to get my head around C++ and the latest developments in C++ 11. I’m especially grateful for the ‘Simple Main Window Class’ tutorial. It seems it looks to be an ideal starting point during my Win32 game programming adventure, though I’m struggling to get my head around a few techniques you’re using in the code. I’ll probably figure it out as I learn more C++ :)

  4. Cygon says:

    Wow :) – I used to write small, pointless games in Omikron Basic on an Atari STe, but it took me until the 486 to finally get around to C and assembly.

    Since writing this, I played “I am Alive” a bit further. The game had its moments, though what I will remember it for will be doing the same few things over and over, like repeating a boring cycle of “climb down pipe, pick up thing, climb up pipe, continue along wall” several dozens of times because there was a difficult section ahead.

    I stopped playing for good when I had to explore a ship, shot a guy on a staircase (with my last bullet), walked up the staircase (he had dropped 2 bullets, yay!) then died a littler later. The game loaded a checkpoint with me on the staircase, out of bullets and with no dead body or ammo drop in sight. The next section pretty much required the gun, so it was a choice between doing the whole level from scratch up to the next checkpoint or using my time for better things.

  5. Vejita says:

    I also bought this Game i while ago and actually seen it all the way through to the end. But it was no pleasure.
    Surely there are some moments and it had great potential, but after all its only a bad port with good ideas that dont work too good and an atmosphere / story that is not bad but didnt grap me at any given time…
    Furthermore i though all the characters are rather exchangeable.

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