There’s a fine line you have to walk when looking into a game. On the one hand you want to know enough about it to make it worth your time but you also don’t want to dive too deep into them lest you ruin the best parts of the game. Over the…geeze it is a decade now isn’t it…long time I’ve been reviewing games I’ve come to note a few tell tale signs for games that I know I’ll enjoy and others that are better left unplayed. However whether it’s my ever shifting tastes which no longer align with what I once deemed good or perhaps games themselves deviating from the formula I once came to appreciate I find myself playing more games that I thought I would like but end up not. I Am Dead is the latest unfortunate casualty in this regard as whilst it is a nice, casual exploration of life and our interactions with each other for me it just felt like a boring exploration game whose story couldn’t carry it.
You are dead, have been for some time. It’s not all bad though as you can still spend all of your days wandering around the island that you called home for all of your life, watching those who live on go about their day unaware that you exist right beside them. One day you decide to take a trip back to the old museum, the one you were the curator of since its inception. It’s there that you reminisce about the time you spent with your old dog sparky, looking at her old dog tag, when suddenly she pops into existence right before your very eyes. She informs you that the island’s volcano is about to erupt if they can’t find a new caretaker for the island, one who will commune with it for many years as the current one takes off into The West. So you follow her on a journey to talk to some of the other dearly departed island residents to see if they’ll take up the mantle.
I Am Dead’s art style reminded me heavily of other low poly/low texture games like Donut County with its bold colours, simplistic models and heavily stylization. There’s also an element of hand drawn animation mixed in as well, reserved for some game elements which need to stand out a bit more from everything else. With environments as busy as the ones in I Am Dead visual confusion is a real thing that will happen from time to time, something which I think is partly deliberate given the nature of the game is exploration. Overall it’s a nice enough visual experience, nothing to write home about but nothing to seriously complain about either.
Exploration with a slight twist is I Am Dead’s claim to fame which will see you spinning the camera around a variety of different environments looking for objects that meant something dear to the people you’re trying to track down. For the most part this is just clicking around different places until you find where the particular item is hiding although about half the time the object will be inside something else. This is when the game’s unique mechanic of “slicing” through the objects comes into play; basically you just clip the camera through the object to see inside it. This does mean that some objects can be hidden in really obscure areas but at least the game has the courtesy to tell you when you’re in the right area. Other than that there’s really not much more to I Am Dead’s game play, it’s simple and straightforward.
For each of the characters you’ll have to track down 5 different items. To do this you’ll first relive a memory of that person through someone who’s still living and they’ll give you a bit of backstory as to why that particular item is meaningful to them. They’ll also usually drop a clue about where it might be like some whiskey being buried out in a field somewhere or an item being thrown over a cliff. Of course it’s not always that straightforward of course and so you can find yourself spinning around, clipping through things madly for a good while before you actually land on it. However you’re unlikely to be stuck on any one section for too long as the environments are deliberately constrained to stop you spending hours looking for one thing.
The vignettes themselves are interesting enough but none of them really give enough time to develop the characters out sufficiently. Each of the replayed memories goes for maybe a minute or two before you’re dumped back out again to search the world for a particular object. To be sure there’s more tidbits you can glean around the place if you look under every single rock but that’s really just an exercise in frustration more than anything. Even the interactions between the main character and the dog talking about the people doesn’t add a lot to them either so what you end up with is a bunch of loose chunks of story that don’t really add up to much else.
Which is a shame as there has obviously been a lot of attention paid to building out the environments, getting a good chunk of the dialogue voice acted (quite well for the most part I must say) and building out the world of Shelmerston’s narrative. I really wanted to enjoy the game but the thing was that even playing it in bursts, one person per day kind of thing, I just got bored after the third one. The overarching story didn’t develop at all in that time and the characters themselves don’t really have much to do with each other so it all feels a bit rudderless. Perhaps things start to come together if you play past where I was but for me, at this point, I just don’t feel the pull to come back.
Maybe I’m losing my patience as I grow older. There is certainly a lot to like in I Am Dead: the graphics, the lovingly built out environments and the good voice actors, but that’s about where it ends for me. The exploration isn’t particularly rewarding, the ancillary objectives aren’t worth it, the story (whilst it has some good moments explored in the memory vignettes) fails to weave those bits together to build up a story that feels like it’s going somewhere. Even the overarching plot, something I’ve chided many games for not including in the past, doesn’t do much to drive the story forward. Perhaps I approached it in the wrong way as maybe it’s something better enjoyed over a longer period rather than blasted through like I attempted.
I Am Dead is available on PC and Nintendo Switch right now for $28.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 94 minutes play time and 20% of the achievements unlocked.