If you were to ask me what my favorite genre of novel is, I'd answer "Post-apocalyptic". Similarly, if you were to show me five movie trailers of different genres, and ask me which most interested me, I'd pick the post-apocalyptic one. For someone who loves the modern world with all its conveniences as much as I do, I'm certainly enamoured by the thought of it all going to heck and starting over with nothing.

So, when I heard about I Am Alive I knew I'd have to play it. Ubisoft, publishers of the Assassin's Creed series of games (one of my personal favorites), released this game as a download from Xbox Live Arcade (and later on the Playstation Network), which intrigued me doubly. I assume that when a game releases in this manner, I'm going to get a game that's short on depth and light on characterization. While I Am Alive isn't as long as some of Ubisoft's other games, it shows the same attention to detail, depth of plot, and graphical beauty that I've come to accept from their offerings.

You, as the protagonist of I Am Alive, play a man who was separated from his wife and daughter during the catastrophe that launched society back into the Stone Age. He's spent almost a year on the road trying to get back to his family, and you pick up the game just as he's getting back to the city in which he formerly lived.

As you may be able to guess, your family is no longer at the house where you left them. You do find a note from your wife telling you they had to leave to find a better place, and hoping that you can catch up to them eventually. You also discern through the contents of the note that relations have been strained between the two of you. The rest of the game is based on you trying to reunite with your family, while staying away from dangerous situations and assisting those you come into contact with who want your help.

The vast majority of the game is spent navigating puzzles in the terrain (climbing wrecked buildings, negotiating through dust storms, etc.). The player has a level of stamina, as well as health. Your stamina is utilized by climbing or running through storms, and once stamina is fully consumed, health drops at a rapid pace. Using stamina as you climb buildings (for instance) is an interesting mechanic that I haven't seen before, and requires you to search out items that replenish your stamina (food items or pitons to hang from) before taking on a lengthy climb.

Any good post-apocalyptic story has roving bands of undesirables, looking to take your stuff (or worse). You find an empty pistol and a machete early in the story, and have to use them wisely. Ammunition is not just lying around in the environment (I recall having two bullets at one point in the story and thinking I was ready to become a crime lord), so you have to use force very wisely.

Some potential enemies can be intimidated by an empty weapon, but many will call your bluff, and you have to be ready to accept the consequences. Additionally, you can take two hits with a machete by an enemy, or one bullet, before you die. This game is not forgiving at all in that department, which, combined with the very limited saves (and lacking the ability for player-initiated saves) make it a very challenging proposition to complete.

I Am Alive captures the bleakness and despondency that I feel are imperative in a post-apocalyptic setting. You as the player are made very aware of a sense of despondency, constant want, and loss. There isn't any new ground here that wasn't covered by other works (such as Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road), but I Am Alive does it so well that you won't mind at all.

I Am Alive is rated M for Mature by the ESRB. I noted the following things that may be of concern to some of our readers:

Language: Pretty much what you'd hear in any R-rated film today.

Sexuality: The warning label states that sexual themes are present in the game. I must have missed them, or they weren't very prominent. There is one situation where it's hinted that you save a young girl from a group of men who have less-than-honorable intentions, but nothing is explicit

Violence: The world of I Am Alive is inherently violent and the characters within conform. You will have to pre-emptively attack individuals in certain situations in order to succeed, and your kills will be bloody.

*This Review First Published 5/23/2012