Every Monday, expect thought-provoking editorial to kickstart your week. First up, the rebirth of the Double-A game…
Have you played I Am Alive, Ubisoft’s much-troubled apocalyptic survive-em-up? While it’s a flawed game, certainly, it’s also an extremely important one. You see, we’re in a curious crossroads in the videogames industry at the moment. On one hand, Call Of Duty blasts the competition into small bloody pieces, breaks sales records and gives birth to these types of stories.
It’s enough to make you think the whole industry’s in rude health and anyone with the nous and cash to produce a hit game is driving around in a golden car and swimming in a room of coins like Scrooge McDuck. Look at the other hand, though. The closures of high-quality, reputable studios the world over. The sales of stuff like Bulletstorm and Vanquish. The doom and gloom of Game’s closure and subsequent buy-out. If you listen to these stories and nothing else, you’d be justified in thinking our industry’s on the way out.
And what about the third hand? (yes, this argument has three hands. And four legs, for that matter). Indie gaming is experiencing the greatest upsurge its ever known, kicked off by Jonathan Blow’s Braid, maintained by the likes of Limbo, VVVVV and Time Gentlemen Please, taken to the moon by Minecraft and legitimised by Kickstarter. This space is amazing, a birthplace for artists and auteurs, an ever-flowing fountain of creativity and promise. The only problem is, for me anyway, indie games just aren’t enough.
So this is why I Am Alive is important. Not because it managed to survive the kind of development hell that sees much more competent games sent to the recycling bin in the sky, but because it represents a style of game that was so much more prevalent just one console generation prior. The mid-level game. The Double-A game. Call it what you want, but I Am Alive is most certainly it. A game with a significant but not publisher-threatenening budget. One driven as much by ideas as commerce. A new IP. And most importantly of all, one that’s downloadable for less than half the price of a game on the shelves.
It’s easy to rave about the masterpieces on Xbox Live Arcade and PSN. Not everything can be Journey, though. Not everything can reach that level. In the past few weeks, we’ve seen the downloadable space graced by some really meaty offerings. I Am Alive was preceded by the massively underrated Alan Wake’s American Nightmare (stick with it, it really brings it all together by the end) and followed by the shiny but shallow Nexuiz.
None of these are going to win end-of-year awards, but they represent something else. They represent opportunity. Opportunity for developers and publishers to take risks and be creative without having to fret about day-one sales, in-store marketing, and DLC-schedules. Without having to make a 12 hour game out of a 3-hour idea. Without having to conform to the lowest common denominator ideology just to keep themselves afloat. It’s the Steam model, essentially, being embraced by the big guys.
So that’s why it’s worth playing I Am Alive. It’s like a throwback to the days where you didn’t know exactly how a game was going to play before you stuck it in the drive, to the days where you could forgive a few misgivings when they’re in pursuit of a bold new idea. Next time someone says the Double A game is dead, then tell them about I Am Alive. It’s a pretty apt name, really, isn’t it?